Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Photo Gallery Back up... Again!
Looks like it was an issue with the powersupply. Luckily it wasn't the disk containing the photo gallery and everything was the way I left it once I got a replacement PSU installed. The one that failed was from an Antec Sonata computer case. I've read several negative reviews of Antec's NeoPower power supply which I believe is the same as the one they put in my case. The case plus power supply was less than a Ben Franklin. Comparatively, my new standalone PSU was $75 so I'm guessing that Antec went on the cheap side with their included PSU. My new PSU is the ENERMAX Liberty ELT400AWT ATX12V 400W Power Supply. Its nice that it has modular cable management system, meaning that you don't have to find a place to put those 500 unused cables coming out of the box. Now my case looks much cleaner and the computer appears to be rock steady stable. Now I just need to find a good UPS for everything since the battery has gone out on me.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Ahhh, the PAIN!!!: My struggle with shingles
This past Friday I was diagnosed with a case of the shingles. Nope, not the kind you find on your roof. Shingles is an encore presentation of the same virus that causes chicken pox, varicella zoster virus (VZV). When you get over chickenpox, you really haven't killed it off. The virus merely retreats into your nerve cells next to your spine and lies dormant waiting to strike again when the conditions are ripe. When that happens, the virus travels down the nerve endings like its on a highway until it reaches your skin where it forms a rash with blisters and lesions. At this stage it is called herpes zoster and the fluid from these blisters can be highly contagious, but ironically you can only develop chickenpox from this exposure, not shingles.
Despite the fact that the disease only affected small area of my head and the area around my left eye, I can say that Shingles is a REAL bitch! The problem is that at this stage, the virus is attacking my nerve cells and when nerve cells want to communicate that they are in trouble,...they don't speak softly. So what appears to be a small rash with blisters feels more like a nail being driven into my head. I had to shave my head because the weight of my hair was putting an excruciating amount of pressure on the affected area.
My doc, prescribed me some acyclovir and anti-viral med that stops the virus from reproducing. At this stage it looks like my condition is under control. My blisters have scabbed over and the pain greatly reduced, but I wonder??? After doing some research on the net, I find that its relatively rare for someone my age (27) to get this, without using some sort of immunosuppressant drug or being overly stressed or afflicted with some immunity supressing disease (eg leukemia, AIDS). Should I investigate my own condition further?

Monday, October 23, 2006

Hacking Google Maps
Recently, I've been playing around with Google's Mapping API. The way in which you enable GoogleMaps on your website is by including a small snippet of code on your website which gives you access to all their Javascript functions. If you're familiar with Javascript then seeing a line like this isn't new for you:

<\script src="http://maps.google.com/maps?file=api&v=2&key=" type="text/javascript">

Same as usual, Right? Well the complication starts when you want to dynamically load this javascript. Since this line makes a request to Google everytime the browser loads it, I don't really want my page to load any slower if Google's website isn't working. To do this I first went to this site
Dynamically Loading
External JavaScript Files
which demonstates how to do dynamic javascript loading. Unfortunately, when I tried it with GoogleMaps, it didn't work. Furthermore, all my attempts to post questions to the GoogleMap's Google Group discussion board failed (my posts never showed up!). It wasn't until I ran the script debugger that I discovered that GoogleMaps is using their own function to load javascript, but their version doesn't support dynamic loading! To fix this, I had to create my own javascript proxy. It simply fetches the javascript from Google, then replaces their script loading function, with my dynamic version, and returns it to whoever requests it. Then in my webpage, I use another dynamic loading function to load the javascript coming from my proxy.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

I'm on flickr now (Don't worry I'm still maintaining my photo gallery website which is still down with hardware issues.) The photos on flickr can be quite amazing. I've never seen such beautiful shots before. Makes me wish I had one of those high-end digital SLR's, but alas my wifey wont let me spend so much money on a new camera when we already have a relatively good (but old) one, the Canon Powershot G1. For the most part, I agree with her. Photography is like most other forms of art, the more/better tools you have, the more flexibility you get. The real difference between a great shot and a bad one is in the photographer, not the camera. To kickstart my point, check out some of my photos taken with my canon: Link to flickr
In my upcoming blogs, I'll be writing about how to take great photos with whatever camera you have. I'll also write about what things you will want to get if you have some spare cash lying around.

Why is flickr so cool? Well, the main reason, I think, is that you are limited in the amount of photos that you can upload to their site. Even if you pay the $24.95 per year for their subscription, you can upload at most 2Gigs of photos per month (Not that I would ever exceed that (except for the initial upload). However, their free version limits you to only 20MB per month which means you gotta be really discerning about which pics to upload if you expect anyone there to look at your photos. On top of this you can join multiple Groups which let you post your shots to the group's pool of photos. For instance I'm a member of the Thai and Peru groups now and so have posted several of my photos into their pools, which draws members to look at my photos which means my photos show up more often when you search for them.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Long Live the Hamster
I found out yesterday that one of my favorite TV personalities Richard Hammond aka "The Hamster" was seriously injured in a 300 mph crash while filming an episode for the upcoming season of TopGear. Doctors say he suffered serious brain damage, but the damage was limited to the area of the brain responsible for higher level brain functions such as personality. So far he's had a miraculous recovery, but time will tell if there will be any long-term mental effects. Lets pray he makes a speedy recovery back to TV.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Those Germans are Frick'n Smart!
I was watching one of my favorite show Fifth Gear and discovered that the germans at Volkswagon created a Golf that can actually race around the track as well as any human can! You just lay out a bunch of cones to describe the track like in a autocross event. The car does an training lap at around 25-35 mph to calculate the fastest line. Then its able the race around the track. In the test, the car managed to get within 1 sec of the human racer's time even with an extra person in the car. Not too bad, i'd say.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Why you should call your kid 'Loser'
For someone who doesn't read books, I still managed to take in a few chapters of this great book on why things happen from a statistical point of view. The book, titled Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything is a great read, even though I haven't read the whole thing. A fundamental issue with most statistics is that they can lie! How many times have you heard that a recent survey discovered that coffee is good for you, and then see another survey discover how bad it is later? Unfortunately, too many people in our society take sureys and studies too seriously without thinking about other explainations for the perceived outcome. The statistics themselves don't lie, but often enough, the interpretation is often skewed to match the desired conclusion (Hopefully, you've figured out that the Smoking doesn't cause lung cancer studies sponsored by the tobacco companies are indeed false!). Before you believe any other study in your life, remember this phrase Correllation is not Causation. What does this mean? Well, just because you see two separate things happening together, it doesn't always mean that one caused the other to happen. Sometimes there is a third reason that something happens and those two incidents are the side effect. This concept is fundamental to every statistician in the world, yet oblivious to the general population. This book shows that to really understand the world, you really have to see it from all sorts of angles. Although nobody's perfect, a good statistician must test all possible factors to a situation before interpreting their outcomes. The book shows us how we really should be getting out studies from the 5 o'clock news, but never do.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Netflix Prize for Nerds
A million dollars is up for grabs for the nerd or geek that can improve the accuracy of Netflix's recommendation system, called Cinematch, by 10 percent. The recommendation system works by asking the customers to rate several movies that they have seen on a 5 star scale. Then based on the ratings that all the other customers have given, the system will predict how many stars that customer would have given a movie that they haven't rated. Contestants will be given a modified dataset of anonymous customers and their ratings for many of the movies that Netflix carries. Your task is to create your own prediction system, train it with this dataset, and put it toe-to-toe with Netflix's own Cinematch. If there is no winner, a $50,000 progress prize will be given out to the contestant who has done the best so far. Given that I am a geek and a nerd I will be partaking in this endeavor so wish me luck!

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Acronym of the day: WAF
WAF stands for Wife Acceptance Factor. Essentially it means how well your new Dolby Digital, THX Certified 5.1 Surround Sound system fits in with your wife's Pottery Barn catalog inspired living room. I picked up this acronym while searching for a replacement to my 1000 watt Onkyo 6.1 system (which is now for sale if anyone wants it). WAF is talked about frequently on all the audio/video forums like Audioholics, AVSForum, and the HTPC/PVR sites. Apparently, there are a lot of husbands with wives who can't see the beauty of massive vibrating wooden boxes pointed at their heads with wires splayed all around the living room.
Nowadays, it seems like everybody is making up some sort of certification/approval/rating that is conspicuously placed all over various products and its packaging. Looking at a modern audio system, you might expect to see these badges: DTS 96/24, DTS decoder, Dolby Digital, DTS-ES decoder, Dolby Pro Logic II, Dolby Pro Logic IIx, Dolby Digital Surround EX, THX Certified. Even the box that my router comes in has all these badges: WiFi Certified bg, SecureEasySetup WPA2 & WMM, Compatible with | Wireless-B (802.11b) Wireless-G(802.11g), Symantec Internet Security.
Some of these badges also carry a monetary value. You can't just willy-nilly stick one of these badges on. In some cases you gotta pass some form of actual certifcation and pay some guy a lot of money to do it. Since this could be a very lucrative venture, I'd like to be the first to introduce my own certification... The WAF Rating. The purpose of this is simple. Customers who buy things with badges are typically guys. These guys may not always involve their wifes in the buying process (how may women do you see at BestBuy?). Rather than buying something that may force them to sleep on the couch, it would be great to have a product independantly approved by a jury of wives so they could know how likely they can get away with buying it. My rating system is also very simple. It incorporates your wife's best friends....diamonds. It is based on a 5 diamond system. Every diamond you see here is one less diamond you will have to buy her to let you keep this product. If you see 5 diamonds here, you're off the hook. 4 diamonds, a small diamond ring. 3 diamonds, a pair of diamond earrings. 2 diamonds, you better open an account at Tiffany's, etc.

If you're interesting in certifying your product for a WAF rating, please leave me a comment.