Sunday, November 30, 2008

My Oven Baked BBQ Spare Ribs Recipe

I grew up in Memphis, Tennessee, BBQ capitol of the world (at least that's what we say) and having great BBQ joints around every corner meant that we didn't have to spend hours perfecting our own BBQ. Now that I've moved out the Bay Area, I'm struggling to find something even remotely as good as the stuff you get at the fast food BBQ joints back in Memphis.

The folks out here still don't know the difference between grilling and BBQ'ing. Grilling is when you expose the food to direct flames with the intent on searing the meat. BBQ is all about cooking "low and slow" and smoke. That is, using indirect heat to gently tenderize the meat while imbuing it with a pink ring of smoky flavor. In scientific terms, the low heat breaks down the connective tissue in the meat, turning it into collagen and other molecules that are much easier to bite through.

When I looked for oven baked BBQ recipes on the net, I mostly found recipes that asked you to cook the ribs at up to 350 degrees for around 1-2 hours. This is not "low and slow" and when I tried these recipes, my ribs came out much tougher than I expected. On top of that, the smaller pieces were overcooked, the bigger pieces still raw, and everything was pretty dry.

After more extensive research, I pulled together several techniques I got from various places and have created the best oven baked ribs I've ever had. The recipe is interesting because, it is one of the few that relies very little on the quality of the ingredients and is almost entirely the result of using the right techniques. Therefore, my ingredient list will be fairly generic, and I'll focus on the techniques that matter.

2 racks of spare ribs
1/4 cup Apple Cider Vinegar*
1/4 cup your favorite BBQ dry rub*
1 cup your favorite BBQ sauce*
1 can beer or water

* No need to measure, just use enough to coat the ribs.

First remove the silver membrane on the back of the ribs. Starting from the smallest rib, use a knife to separate the membrane from the flesh. Once you separate it from the first bone, you should be able to pull it all off the whole rack like a piece of tape. Use a paper towel if you're having trouble getting a grip on it. Why? The tough membrane will stick in your teeth and also prevent the dry rub seasoning from penetrating the meat.

Next, place the ribs on a large cooling rack inside a large sheet pan. Pat the ribs dry with paper towels and coat the ribs with the apple cider vinegar. Why? The vinegar will open up the pores of the meat allowing the dry rub seasoning to penetrate.

Coat and rub the ribs with a generous amount of your favorite BBQ dry rub. Knock off the excess. I use a mix of brown sugar, paprika, black pepper, celery salt, mustard, and garlic powder. You can make your own or use a store bought brand.

Then loosely tent a sheet of aluminum foil over the ribs and place the baking sheet full of ribs into a 250 degree oven. Pour the beer onto the baking sheet, under the cooling rack keeping the level just below contact with the ribs. Why? The foil, keeps the moisture around the meat while the beer steam bath ensures that our ribs never dry out.

Bake for around 4 hours or until the ribs are easy to bend but before they can easily break in two. If you are able to put a whole can of beer in the pan, you probably won't need to add any more during the process. If your cooling racks are shallow, you may have to add more beer as it dries out.

Once you're close to the desired tenderness, remove and uncover the ribs and turn on the broiler. Brush on a thin, uniform layer of BBQ sauce (I use Bulls-Eye) and stick it back into the oven. After a few minutes the sauce should bubble and eventually darken and burn just a little around the edges. This is caramelization and its a good thing. Take the ribs out again, brush on another layer, and stick it back in until the sauce caramelizes again (you can repeat this as much as you like, but I find once or twice to be enough). Why? Heating sauce to a high temp causes the sugars to develop a "caramelly" flavor and become sticky. The heat also dries up all the moisture in the sauce giving you a layer with a nice "bite" next to the tender meat.

When you've achieved your desired BBQ sauce coat, take the ribs out, replace the foil tent, and allow them to rest for at least 5 minutes before cutting. Why? As with all meats, rest after cooking reduces the juices we worked so hard to keep from oozing out of the cuts.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Prop 8: The Ban on Gay Marriage

We are at the dawn of a new age of civil rights for our country. A time when we elect a president who only 200 years ago would have been a slave. Who only 100 years ago would have endured Jim Crow laws and the "Separate but Equal" doctrine. Who only 50 years ago, would have been able to get a job based on his qualifications rather than the color of his skin. Yet, today I am sad to hear that California may take a big step backwards for civil rights. It looks like California may actually pass Prop 8: The Ban on Gay Marriage. As the mayor of San Francisco Gavin Newsom said, for the first time in the history of our country the people have used the constitution to take away rights from a group of people. This is the same state that overturned the ban on inter-racial marriage 19 years before the rest of the country did.

I'd like to know why the people who voted yes did what they did.

I'd like to know if those who said they were "protecting marriage" or afraid that their children would be taught about gay marriage were genuine in their motives. Are they truly concerned or are they simply using these as excuses to hide a real intent to condemn the gay and lesbian lifestyle?

If someone was afraid that their children would learn about gay marriage, I wonder, what harm would come of it? Does one believe that the knowledge of the possibility that two people of the same sex who want to spend the rest of their lives together can form a legal union would somehow make their children gay?

I would ask these people to imagine the worst possible scenario. Suppose allowing gay marriage meant that it must be taught in elementary schools and that their children had to learn about and on top of it you would be forced to explain it to them at gun point. Now imagine what you would say. Would you start talking about homosexuality? No, you wouldn't even talk about heterosexuality when explaining "traditional" marriage so why would you introduce any form of "sexuality" to elementary school students... you perv. If you really thought about it, you would say something like "marriage is an agreement between two people who love each other to care for each other for the rest of their lives no matter what happens.".... See, that wasn't so bad. Do you think this would scar your children?

If you're worried about confusing your children, then let me ask you this. Is your job as parents to avoid educating your children about everything that might confuse them? Is it your job to keep them naive and afraid of everything that is different from them? Do we condition them to be intolerant of other peoples beliefs because they are not your own?

I am a proud parent of baby girl and I hope that one day, she will be a peace loving human being who is tolerant and respectful of her fellow man despite his/her skin, race, religion, or sexual orientation while still retaining her own belief system. And I hope that she will be treated with the same respect regardless of her beliefs or sexual orientation and that she be judged solely on her character and her ideas. Is this the world you want for your children? A world free from bigotry and discrimination.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

How I Beat my Speeding Ticket (Part 3)

Motion to exclude Evidence and Testimony
Hopefully, you've waited 15-20 days and NOT gotten any evidence from the prosecution. You will want to file a motion to exclude the evidence and testimony you requested in discovery, but did not get. At this point you can either file your motion immediately, or wait till you are a bit closer to your TBD date and file it. I can't say what's best for you, but here are some things to think about. First, if your court is unlikely to hear your motion, then filing it sooner allows you to say that you've done everything in your power and if the courts procrastinate, then they must exclude the evidence during trial. On the otherhand, filing too early may give the court time to order the prosecution to provide you with the requested evidence in a timely manner.

Now suppose you were able to submit your motion, and a judge is willing to hear and decide on it. If the judge says that he can only order the prosecution to pony up the evidence, remind him of your TBD date and the timely requirement for discovery. At that time the judge may tell you that you should ask for a continuance (ie an extension), but you should kindly remind him of your rights to a speedy trial. If he says you must pick either timely evidence or a speedy trial, tell him you are guarunteed both under the constitution, and that the evidence should be rejected if it cannot be produced in time. If on the other hand, the judge says that you forfeited your right to a speedy trial when you requested a TBD, kindly remind him that VC 40519(b) only applies to people who entered a written non-guilty plea and since you plead not-guilty in court, you still have the right to a speedy trial.

Writing your motion
My motion is very specific to my case, so I won't be sharing it, but here are some tips on what to include in it:
  • Structure your motion into five sections: What you want, Relevant Facts, What the Law says, Your legal argument, and your conclusion (which reiterates what you want).
  • Use PC 1054.5(c) in your Law section as the basis of excluding testimony. You may also use other parts of PC 1054 to support your motion also.
  • Ensure that you legal argument is sound and makes use of the laws you stated.
  • Include copies of all the documents proving that you sent the discovery request and that it was received by someone there. These should be labeled Exhibit A, B, C,...
  • Make sure your argument is striving towards a legitimate reason why evidence or testimony should be deemed inadmissible.
  • Include a statement at the end saying in effect that you swear this is the truth under penalty of perjury.

Submitting your motion
I'll be honest, in that I don't really know what's the best way to submit my motion, since event the court clerk didn't know. I would suggest that you call the courts and find out. If they tell you to go to walk-in-court get them to tell you how to get an appointment or if there are special days where more cases are heard. You can also try going to the booth where you're suppose to pay your traffic fines and asking them to attach a motion to your case, but i'm not sure that counts as having your motion submitted to the courts.

Go back to Part 1
Go back to Part 2

Friday, October 03, 2008

How I beat my Speeding Ticket (Part 2)

I've received several requests to see the documents I used, so here they are. If you use them, be sure to replace the relevant portions with the particulars of your case.
Remember this is a Request for Discovery, you will need to send this via certified mail w/ signature confirmation (get a print out of the signature online once its delivered) to be able to prove that the prosecution received it. To be really sure this is valid, have a friend fill out a Proof of Service Form(there are a ton of em on the net) and do all your mailings. Be sure to keep a copy of each signed form.

Who to send this to?
Technically, you must send this to the prosecution, but who is the prosecution? In most cases, if you were stopped by the city police, it will be the city attorney. If you were stopped by the CHP, then it is the county DA. If you want to cover your bases, you could send it to both (like what I did), but you do run the risk of having one of the agencies actually responding to your request.

When do I send this?
I would suggest that you send this the same day that go to court in person and plea NOT GUILTY and request a trial by declaration (TBD) (I believe this part is called arraignment). When you request TBD, the courts will immediately set a deadline for you to turn in your TBD a few weeks after arraignment. This is good because, by law, the prosecution is allowed 15 days to provide you with the evidence you requested. So if the 15 days are up, and you're only a few days from trial (TBD due date), then you have good cause for having all that evidence you requested deemed as inadmissible because it cannot be given to you in a timely manner.

What do I do next?
You wait 15 days (possibly 20 if you make your request by mail). Hopefully, the prosecution didn't send you anything. If they didn't, then you should try to submit a pretrial motion to get the requested evidence rejected (I'll talk about this in Part 3).

Here is my Request for Discovery:

Your Name
My Street Address
My City, My State My ZIP
My Phone Number
Pro Per




Regarding Citation Number: XXXXX

Pursuant to California Penal Code sections 1054 and 1054.1, and California Government Code section 26500, the defendant in the above entitled matter does hereby request under discovery the following:
1)The names and addresses of all the witnesses who may be called to testify against the defendant at the trial
2)Relevant written or recorded statements of witnesses or reports of the statements of witnesses whom the prosecutor intends to call at the trial, including any reports or statements of experts made in conjunction with the case, including the results of physical or mental examinations, scientific tests, experiments, or comparisons which the prosecutor intends to offer in evidence at the trial.
3)The citing officer's daily log for the night of THE NIGHT OF YOUR TICKET
4)A list of all method(s) used in the determination of the defendant's vehicle speed
5)A copy of all records regarding the maintenance and calibration of any device used to determine the defendant's vehicle speed.
6)A copy of each and every certification issued to citing officer involving the use of said device(s)
7)A copy of all of the citing officer's notes on this case including copies of the front and back of the officer’s copy of the ticket.
8)If a radar device was used to ascertain the defendant's speed,
a)Include a copy of all certificates of accuracy, repair records, and calibration records of the tuning forks used to calibrate those radar devices
b)Include a copy of the manufacturers manual and specifications of the radar unit
c)Include a copy of the Department's FCC License to operate the radar unit
d)Include a copy of all documents certifying that the officer operating the radar has completed a radar operator course of not less than 24 hours on the use of police traffic radar.
e)Include a copy of all documents proving that the radar operator course was certified by the Commission on Peace Office Standards and Training
9)If a laser or any other electronic device was used to ascertain the defendant's speed, then include the documents in (7) (d) and a document certifying that the officer took an additional training course of no less than 2 hours that was certified by the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training.
10)If the defendant's speed was determined through visual estimation, then include a description of all visual indicators and/or reference points used by the officer in his estimation.
11)Copies of all photos or videos taken of the defendant or of the vehicle he is alleged to have been driving, at or near the time of the alleged violation in this case. Please assure that all copies of photographic materials (still or video) are the same resolution as the originals, and that all copies of videos are the same length and "frame rate" (frames per second) as the originals. Please also assure that if the original photos were "digital," the copies provided are also in a digital form.
12)Information and materials favorable to the accused and material either to guilt or to punishment (Brady v. Maryland (1963) 373 U.S. 83, 83 S.Ct. 1194.), or mandated by the United States Constitution (Penal Code Sec. 1054(e).), as follows:
(a). Exculpatory evidence, i.e., any evidence, information, documents and other materials favorable to the defendant in the possession of the office of the city attorney, or of any police department involved in the investigation of the case against defendant, or of any agency or person and available to the prosecution through the exercise of due diligence. (Randle v. City and County of San Francisco (1986) 186 Cal. App.3d 449; Evans v. Janing (8th Cir., 1973) 489 F.2d 470; U.S. v. Eley (N.D. Ga, 1972) 335 F.Supp. 353.)

Please note: PC 1054.1 uses the imperative, “shall disclose.” The only place in the law where we find any choice in this matter is in Government Code 26500, which states in part:
The public prosecutor shall attend the courts, and within his or her discretion shall initiate and conduct on behalf of the people all prosecutions for public offenses. (emphasis added)
Obviously the public prosecutor would not violate the law, therefore we will have to interpret a failure to provide the documents requested under discovery as an exercise of the discretion provided for in GC 26500 and a decision not to prosecute this case.

This request is made on this the THE DAY YOU SEND THIS.


Goto Part 3
Go back to Part 1

Monday, September 29, 2008

Taking Close-Up Photos

I've barely had any time to sleep let alone blog so I'll make this short and find a way to work it into my photography guide later.

A good close-up shot requires two things, a properly setup camera, and good framing.


  • Use the largest aperture that you can while keeping the main subject in focus. Depth of field will really make the subject pop out.
  • When making the closeup, use more zoom (increase the focal length) rather than moving closer to the subject. This will reduce the effect of perspective, which makes objects up close look fatter than normal.
  • If you have them, set your camera's focus points to the part of the frame you intend to put the subject.

Framing the Shot

  • Avoid the temptation to put the subject in the middle of the frame and zooming out until the subject is completely visible. Here you can see how my daughter is off to one side. If I had tried to capture my whole daughter's body, the attention would have been drawn away from her playing with the puzzle pieces.

  • Use the entire frame. Just like in the previous shot, rather than zooming out to get the whole subject, we actually zoom in to fill up the entire frame. This makes the the entire photo interesting.

  • Use perspective to your advantage. I know earlier we wanted to minimize perspective to minimize distortion, but sometimes you can use this distort to make things appear to be coming right at you.

  • Don't be afraid to crop the subject. Cropping is where you select a rectangular portion of a image and eliminate the rest of it. Usually you will size the rectangle to include all the important bits, but here you can see that I cropped a part of my baby's face. Doing this let me split the viewer's attention between my daughter and my wife in the background.

  • Experiment! This by no means encompasses all the techniques that you can use. Remember digital photos are free, take lots and try different things. There's no better teacher than experience.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Stock Photos

Since my name sounds Indian, I sometimes get junk mail targeted to Indian families. They even go as far as changing the ad to include photos of Indian families. But I guess there's a shortage stock Indian family photos or this family really likes Bank of the West and Kaiser Permanente.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Super Karate Monkey Death Car

This is probably one of the funniest moments of any sitcom I have ever seen. Its from the show News Radio. Here, the owner of the radio station, Jimmy James, is about to give a reading of his autobiography; however, this is an English translation of the Japanese translation of the book. Apparently, the original didn't do so well here, but when the Japanese translation did well, they decided to translate that version back into English.
Here's the clip. Enjoy!

Monday, July 14, 2008


Is this behemoth monstrocity really a vehicle for a handicapped person?
It is not so apparent in the photo, but the truck has been raised several inches from its stock ride height making it much harder for ordinary people to get into, let alone a handicapped person.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

How I beat my California Speeding Ticket

I got the results of my Trial by Declaration in the mail today. My case was dismissed and noted at the bottom of my Decision and Notice of Decision, the words "insufficient evidence" was written. Unfortunately, I don't know if I won because of the motions, objections, and arguments that I presented, or because the officer never bothered to send in his side of the story. However, since I won because of "insufficient evidence" instead of "failure to prosecute" I probably won this out of my own merit.

Anyhow, the preparation that I did for my case provided me with a lot of information that might help some of you in the cases that you might face.

Know what you were cited for
I think most people would be surprised after reading the actual law behind the citation they got. Take for example a common citation, VC 22350, aka The Basic Speed Law:

No person shall drive a vehicle upon a highway at a speed greater than is reasonable or prudent having due regard for weather, visibility, the traffic on, and the surface and width of, the highway, and in no event at a speed which endangers the safety of persons or property.

Notice how there is no mention of a posted speed limit sign. As long as you can show that you were driving a safe speed for the conditions, you have not violated this law. I read of one case where the driver asked the officer if he thought he was driving at an unsafe speed. The officer responded no, and noted the conversation down on the ticket. During the trial, the driver said that by the officer's own account, he was driving at a safe speed, therefore he had not violated the law. The judge was then forced to rule in his favor.

Unfortunately for me, I was cited for a violation of VC22349(a) The Maximum Speed Law:

Except as provided in Section 22356, no person may drive a vehicle upon a highway at a speed greater than 65 miles per hour.

This is much harder to defend against since the officer only has to prove that I was going over 65. In addition, there is a popular defense known as the Speed Trap Defense which doesn't apply to this code.

Read the laws
I know its a pain, but California laws are actually quite readable. You don't need a law degree to read them. Just know that when they say "Notwithstanding XXX", it means that the following decree overrides the XXX. So if you are planning to use a part of the law like subdivision (b) of Section 22351 then make sure there are no other laws with the phrase "Notwithstanding subdivision (b) of Section 22351",... Like there is in VC22348. You don't need to read everything, just try to find anything that might be relavent to your case. If you can connect your defense strategies to an actual vehicle code or penal code then it will become much, much stronger. Even if you find out that a particular code that you want to use is negated by another code, you can still employ it as one of your many defense strategies. Just because you know it shouldn't work, doesn't mean that the judge, officer, and prosecutor will know.

PC 1054.1 is your Friend
Discovery is the process by which both the defense and the prosecution must share evidence and disclose witnesses with each other before they may be used at trial. Discovery is one of the cornerstones of due process in our judical system. Without it, prosecutions could easily ambush the defense with falsified or illegal evidence. They could also put on the stand witnesses that would otherwise be unfit to testify without fear of rebuttal from the defense. The key to using discovery to your advantage is that once you are in discovery, only evidence and witnesses presented in discovery will be allowed in court (you'll have to make an objection of course). So the strategy here is to make sure that you get into discovery (by sending an informal discovery request to the prosecution) and hope that either the prosecution doesn't send you anything or that they send you "exculpatory evidence" (ie evidence that will show your innocence). Make sure that for every discovery request you submit, you have your friend deliver it for you (to the post office) and have him fill out a "proof of service" form that you keep to prove that the request was indeed sent to the post office. Then make sure that you get signature confirmation for the delivery from the post office. That way, if the prosecution fails to send you anything, you can prove that somebody there received it. I sent a request to both the city attorney (where I was cited) and to the district attorney. Its very important that the request goes to all the people that could claim to be the prosecution. Luckily, none of the prosecutions gave me any evidence, therefore, at trial I could object to any evidence or witness presented against me.

Find out how to get a hearing at your court
I wish I had known about this sooner. Courts don't want to deal with traffic violations. Some courts, like the one I went to, have an ingenious plan to provide the least access while appearing to make the courts seem even more accessible. They call this "walk-in court". It really should be called, "wait outside in the cold for a few hours and hope court" because even if you waited all morning, the courts will only see a set number of cases that day and the rest get to go home (unless of course you wanna just pay up your fine). If the court you are assigned to has walk-in court demand that you want a scheduled court hearing as soon as possible, even if you don't know what you want it for. The court clerk on the phone told me, that I had to go to walk-in court but it wasn't until I got moved to the "get to go home" line that they told me I could go to a super tuesday night court session two weeks later. Remember that you can probably extend your due date by 2 months online if you search for it on the back of your ticket or courtesy notice. That should give you enough time to secure a hearing.

File your Motions
If you've secured your hearing date, then you should try to submit any motions you have a few days prior to the court clerk. Since no evidence was provided to me at discovery, I made a motion to exclude all evidence and testimony. The clerk I spoke with had no clue as to how to accept the motion so I was forced to submit it during my walk-in court hearing. At the hearing the commissioner said that she couldn't make a ruling then and alluded to the fact that I should have submitted it earlier if I wanted a ruling now! If I had know better, I would have gotten the traffic clerk to go talk to the criminal clerk and ask them how they accept pre-trial motions.
This also could have been a blessing in disguise. I read of another case where the judge refused to exclude the evidence and instead made a court order to compel the prosecution to produce the requested evidence. If this had happened to me, I would have argued that if the prosecution does not intend to produce the evidence at trial, then I don't care to have the evidence either.

Trial by Declaration
My trial started with more pre-trial motions reiterating my submitted motion to exclude evidence, followed by motions to dismiss due to lack of evidence. If the motion to dismiss did not work, I brought up objections to the prosecution use of any evidence not found in discovery as being a failure of due process. The only card left for the prosecution to pull out of the hat, was that courts often consider an officer's visual estimation of speed as an accurate measure of speed. I made a objection based on lack of foundation to any visual estimation. I that the prosecution needs to establish with evidence that the officer can accurately determine speed visually. Since all evidence is excluded, he has no foundation to support that claim. The officer would not need foundation if he could claim that he never calibrated himself using any devices. But, of course, if he never calibrated himself then, he's declaring that the even he doesn't know if he is accurate.

Additional Tips

  • Be nice to the court clerks, even if they aren't nice to you. You'll probably be asking them questions they never heard before and the last thing you need is to be labeled a troublemaker. If they ask you if you are a lawyer or a law student or a wanna-be lawyer always say "law student". You studied the law right? Anyhow they will be more cooperative with you if they think you are one.
  • Time your submittal for discovery to be as late as possible while still being in time for you to legitimately file a motion to exclude or compel evidence (20 days by mail) on the day of your hearing. This reduces the likelihood that the officer will recollect what happened or or be able to reproduce the evidence.
  • Don't testify if you can win without doing so, especially if you are going to incriminate yourself. Some people will say something like "I was only doing 70 in the 65 zone, but the officer said I was doing 80". Since they were still breaking the law at 70, they would be found guilty, even if all the other arguments they put up were successful. If your case does go to trial, you should phrase your questions to the witness (if you failed to get them excluded) so that they provide all the testimony that you need which you will later try to poke holes in.

I'd like to thank several websites that provided me with useful, but not entirely complete information on how to fight my ticket.

  • Ticket Assassin - This inspired me to fight my ticket. Although the information about the advantages of trial by declarations are accurate, their examples wouldn't work for my violation , a VC 22349(a). Chances are if you are on the highway when you get pulled over, then you will get one of these tickets instead of the much easier to defend VC 22350. I found their strategy to be too reliant on a single tactic which may or may not work. A good defense employs several strategies to increase their odds.
  • - Their forums are packed with information about traffic ticket defense strategies, tactics used by the prosecution, and most importantly, info about discovery. Be sure to check that the tips you get are relavant to your state!
Since a lot of people have asked, I've included additional info on how to write the docs you need to send in. There are in Part 2 and Part 3 of this article. Links below.

Click here to read part 2

Click here to read part 3

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Engrish - Japanese English

This was in our hotel room in Tokyo, Japan. It reads "This room is non-smoking room for your convenience". I'm not sure how this could be an convience to me. Maybe I don't have to take out the dirty ash trays.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Low Cost High Output Aquarium Lighting

I've recently gotten into the aquarium hobby. I started off by buying a 30 gallon tank & stand w/ everything including 3 fish off of craigslist for $40. I then decided that it would be fun to have some real plants with the fish but later found out that you need much more light than what you would normally get with those standard perfecto light hoods. After checking out how expensive the more powerful lights were I figured it would cheaper and cooler to make your own supped up light hood.

Light Bulbs

I used those spiral compact flourescent bulbs you get at the Home Depot. I got a 4 pack of the n:Vision daylight 14 watt bulbs for about $10 since they fit nicely in the original perfecto brand hood. The "daylight" variety is important because plants only absorb certain spectrums (ie colors) of light found at both the low (reddish) and high (blueish) end of the spectrum. The "daylight"'s include more of the blue spectrum which is especially good since that part of the spectrum can penetrate deeper into the water to the plants at the bottom of the tank.

Light Bar

The light sockets were $1.50 a piece and made of porcelain (which I found can easily break if dropped). These didn't come with any bracket to enable you to mount the socket to anything, so I had to fabricate some out of aluminum angle iron. The brackets were mounted to an inch and a half wide piece of steel bar stock. I drilled the bar stock in precisely the same locations as the plastic standoffs on the original plastic hood. This allowed me to secure the bar to the hood while leaving a gap for wiring between the bar stock and the hood. The bar stock was also drilled with larger holes to allow the wires from the socket to be routed through. I used rubber grommets in those holes to prevent the wires from getting rubbed against the hole edges. I removed the original switch and wired everything in parallel using water resistant twist ties. I also painted the interior of the hood with flat white paint which should reflect more of the light back down into the tank and reduce the heat.
Note: to drill bar stock and brackets I had to use a drill press and some cutting oil to keep the bits from wearing out prematurely.


Since the lights did produce a lot of heat, I drilled several holes in the plastic hood for ventilation. That still wasn't good enough so I added a 12 volt PC fan, by using a AC-DC transformer from radio shack (one of those wall warts) and wired it to a 5 watt 100 Ohm rheostat that I got from Jamesco (a local electronic supplier). To make it nice, I mounted a female DC socket in the middle and wired everything to it. The rheostat (at the bottom) lets me control the speed of the fan (by varying the resistance) so that it doesn't get too loud. The fan is mounted on the top and I used some rubber plumbing washers as standoffs to minimize the vibrations transmitted to the hood.


I also added a moonlight, by attaching a blue cold cathode light kit used by PC-modders. Since they run off of 12 volts, I just wired it in parallel to the DC fan (excluding the rheostat). The light and fan stays on even when the main lights are off. They provide a soft light that some believe mimic the light coming from the moon which might encourage the fish to breed.

Total Cost
Overall I estimate that I spent about $70 for this project. The largest cost was the AC-DC transformer at $26 and the cold cathode light kit at $10. If you take those out the cost is around $35. This gives me 56 watts of power (just under the 2 watts/gal target that I wanted). The best part is when the bulbs wear out, it only costs about $10 to replace all of them.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Awase Miso Soup Recipe

I can't take full credit for this since, its mostly wife's recipe, but hopefully I can show you some techniques to make a real awase miso shiru otherwise known as blended (red & white) miso soup.

Ingredients (1 serving size):
1 heaping Tbsp awase miso paste
1/2 green onion sprig
1/3 pkg soft or silken tofu
1 cup dashi (recipe below)

Red miso is a specialty in my wife's hometown of Nagoya, Japan. It has a much deeper more salty flavor than the more common shiro miso or white miso which is a little sweeter. If you blend them together, you get the best of both worlds. Luckily, the Japanese have already thought of this and sells a blended version known as awase miso. Of course if you can't find it at your local asian food market, you can always buy them separately and mix them yourself. Don't worry, this stuff is packed with salt so it will practically last forever.

Dashi is another major component of this and almost all other Japanese soups. Dashi is a broth made from either fish or a type of seaweed known as konbu. Typically, it is made bonito flakes, which are the shavings of a dried fish that you can buy at most asian food stores. To make it, you bring water close to a boil, add a bunch of flakes, let it steep for a few minutes then scoop out the flakes. We like the taste of bonito flakes, but its a pain to scoop them out so we buy bonito flakes prepackaged in tea bags (see photo on the left). Just like when making dashi with just the flakes, you should bring the water up to just before boiling before adding the bonito package. You must also keep the water from boiling while you steep the bonito flakes. If you let the water boil, the dashi will become bitter. Once your dashi gets a nice golden color and you can smell the ocean in it, you can remove the package and your dashi is done! You can also make a larger amount than needed and freeze the leftover dashi in a plastic container. My wife likes to freeze it in ice cube trays, but I think that will just make the rest of the food in the fridge smell fishy, hehe.
Once you have good dashi the rest is easy. Simply dissolve the red miso paste into the dashi. I find it helpful to use two spoons to smash the miso while submerged in the dashi. Its okay for there to be some bits that don't seem to dissolve. You must taste the soup as you are adding miso to ensure you have the right amount of saltiness. You will want it to be a little extra salty to compensate for the bland tofu you will be adding. Next dice your tofu into quarter inch size cubes and add them to the soup. Be sure to keep the soup from boiling after adding tofu or else your tofu will get tougher. Then serve in a miso soup bowl (something my wife requires), but if you don't have one, any bowl you don't mind sipping directly from will do. Finally, garnish with the finely chopped green onion.
Hope you enjoy it.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Super Quick Chicken Arrabbiata Recipe

While my wife is away visiting family in Japan, I've had to go back to my bachelor days of preparing quick meals for myself. As a foodie, I needed something more gourmet than a tv dinner so I'll share one of my secrets to an easy gourmet meal in just a few minutes. The key to this recipe is Trader Joe's pre-packaged and frozen pastas. You can just heat it in a saucepan and serve. By not having to boil water to cook dry and making sauce from scratch, you save lots of time. If you don't have a Trader Joes in your area, just find any frozen pasta that you like and use a single serving portion of it.

Prep/Cook Time: 15 minutes
Servings: 1 (multiply ingredients by the number of servings)

1 breast from a Rotisserie Chicken (Costco)
1/2 pkg Trader Joes Arrabbiata Pasta
1/2 stalk of green onion (chopped)
1/2 bell pepper (sliced)
pecorino romano cheese to taste (Trader Joes, grated at home)
1 Tbls vegetable oil

Heat oil in a saucepan over medium heat. While waiting, slice bell peppers (cut to the size of the pasta noodles) and add to the pan. While that cooks, dice chicken breast into bite sized pieces and add to pan. Cook until chicken is completely heated through. Add frozen pasta and a few tablespoons of water. Cook until all pasta sauce is completely melted. Add more water if the sauce seems too thick. Right before plating, add half the green onions and give the pasta a stir. After plating, grate pecorino cheese and sprinkle the rest of the green onion on top as garnish.


Zucchini and/or squash cut into sticks can be added with or instead of the bell peppers. Just keep the total quantity of vegetables relatively the same. Also good is quartered artichoke hearts which you can find canned or jarred. Instead of chicken, you can try canned tuna in oil (not water). Be sure to drain the oil from the tuna. For garnish, you can use parsley or Italian flat-leaf parsley, but reduce the amount you use. In general, this is a good dish for using up any vegetables you may have.

FYI, that really is a picture of this dish.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Anime for the Masses, Appleseed: Ex Machina

I've seen my fair share of anime to understand why it hasn't become mainstream in American society. A large part of it has to do with changing people's preconceived notion that anime is a genre, when in fact it is more of a medium. We would never lump Casablanca, and The Three Stooges in a "Silver Screen" genre so it makes little sense to lump all animations together also. Although, there are sub-genres (i.e. fighting robots), which are unique to anime, upon closer inspection, all genres from horror to romance is represented in anime.

Anime as a Style
Anime is a medium, but to the confusion of many, it also represents a style much like how Film noir is tightly coupled to black and white film. The anime-style may include features like characters with large eyes and barbie-doll like body proportions, highly detailed technological objects, and excessive blood and violence. While these features may not be present in all anime, they are in enough of them to present an unhealthy stereotype for the mainstream American viewer.

Being an export of Japan, the stories told in anime often have Japanese cultural influences which do not always translate to American audiences. This is not so much an issue with anime as it is a result of writing stories for the Japanese market. Couple this with a healthy American entertainment industry where the audience never has to understand a foreign concept and you can see what an uphill battle it would be to get anime into the mainstream.

Crossing the cultural divide
Appleseed: Ex Machina is a wonderful film that is able to blend a style of anime into something not just palatable, but beautiful to Americans. The use of 3D computer graphics is akin to the many video game cutscenes we are used to seeing, but the use of cell shading for the characters' faces brings home this film's anime roots. The characters' eyes have been shrunken, while a prodigious use of motion capture really increases our sense of realism. Best of all, a talented team of American voice actors were given free reign to modify the script to suit American audiences. Never before have I wanted to listen to the "dubbed" version of an anime movie. However, I can't really call this dubbing as it is more of a transformation through dialog. Many of the lines of the movie has been completely changed to conform to American sensibilities.

It's all in the Woo
The biggest draw for Americans, may be John Woo's contribution to this film. Although Woo is known for his action, it is his combination of symbolism, character nuances, and cinematography
that makes him irreplaceable. When watching this movie, you really get a sense that this is much more than an action flick. You see the emotion connection between the characters without having it thrown in your face. All in all Woo is the final key in making this not just a good Japanese or American movie, but a great movie in general.

Here's the trailer:

Monday, April 28, 2008

Another good song: Feist - "I Feel It All"

I saw the Colbert Report today where he interviewed the girl on the iPod commercial. I didn't particularly like the song on the commercial, but the song she sung on the show was great. Anyhow, here it is:

Monday, March 24, 2008

Comment for Inside the Mind of Mar's blog entry "Creationism is incredibly interesting".

I couldn't post the Youtube URL in the comments section so I'll embed the video on my blog.

Lewis Black sums up my views on Creationism pretty well.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Digital Photography 101 (part 2)

Choosing the Right Camera
Some people say the camera is only as good as the person using it. Although that may have been true in the days of manual film cameras, the amount of new technology crammed into modern digital cameras helps even mediocre photographers look like pros. Unfortunately, technology can't break the laws of physics yet, so you still need to understand what physical limitations your camera has.

Function over Form
Go to any big box electronic retail store and ask the sales guy what's the most important feature customers are looking for in a camera and they will say that it's the style and look of the camera not the kind of picture it produces. Since we are all price conscious consumers, this has led manufacturers to make two types of cameras: stylish cameras that take bad pictures, and ugly cameras that take stylish pictures. Therefore, chances are, if your camera comes in four designer colors like in the picture to the right, it's probably time to be shopping for a new camera.

Compactness Has its Usefulness
I'm not saying that you should be throwing away your compact, portable cameras. Often times, their portability means you can always have them around to take shot whenever you see something interesting. Also these small cameras are often inexpensive, making them suitable for places where your more expensive equipment might get damaged or stolen. Since almost everyone has one of these cameras nowadays, I won't go into them any further.

Fixed Lens vs DSLR
High performance cameras fall into two main groups: Fixed lens (or standard digital camera) or DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex). As you can guess the biggest difference between these two is that DSLR's are designed with interchangeable lenses in mind. Your fixed lens camera should have a decent optical zoom range and aperture size. Most "prosumer" models have attachments that go over the fixed lens to increase the zoom or increase the field of view however if you are planning to go that route it would be better to jump directly to the DSLR since any lens you buy is likely to remain compatible with the cameras you buy in the future (provided you stay with the same camera company).

Must Have Features
  • Manual shutter speed, aperture, ISO control - Lets you control the exposure. Be sure that there is a way to manually set all of these at the same time.
  • Little or no shutter lag - Shutter lag is the time between when you press the button to take a shot and when the camera actually takes the shot. Anything that takes longer than a split second on a sunny day is too long in my book.
  • A low noise/high ISO capable sensor is a big help in low light situations when you need a higher shutter speed
  • A Shutter timer lets you press the shutter button, but the camera wont take the shot until a few seconds have passed. This is invaluable for taking those long exposure shots where the shake from pressing the button will cause motion blur.
  • RAW file format - If you're willing to deal with larger image files and post-processing software, then being able to shoot in the camera's "raw" format (instead of Jpeg) is the only way to go. Raw formats usually contain much more image data especially in the dynamic range, allowing you to recover hidden detail even with a badly exposed image.
  • Adjustable autofocus points and/or manual focus - Often times what you want to focus on isn't exactly in the middle of the shot.
Nice to Haves
  • Hot shoe for flash - if you need a flash, you must use an external flash simply because no built-in flash can provide even diffuse lighting if its shining straight at the subject inline with the camera.
  • White Balance metering - Not necessary if you shoot in raw, but if you're not, then this will ensure that your images show up with the right colors.
  • Image Stabilization - This will allow you to take some shots that you couldn't without a tripod. It only helps if you are moving, not so much if the subject is moving. On DSLR's this is sometimes implemented in the body and other times its in the lens.
Since the price of entry level DSLR's have been plummetting I will recommend that you get a DSLR if at all possible. There's really no substitute to the flexibility of attaching different lenses to your camera. Plus there is no single lens that is good at everything so its unlikely that the lens on a fixed camera will suffice for all your needs. In my next article I'll delve more into the specifics of shopping for a DSLR so you can make an informed decision.

Digital Photography 101 (Part 1)
Ever since the advent of the first digital camera, photography has experienced an explosion of growth. Nowadays, its hard to even find a cell phone without a camera. Unfortunately, the ability to take limitless shots without wasting any film and the ubiquitousness of the digital camera has not done anything to improve the quality of the pictures we take. I'd like to change that.
Taking good photos is not difficult. You don't need an expensive equipment, and once you get it you may find photography to be a fun and rewarding hobby.

Camera Operation
Cameras work by allowing light to come through the lense which focuses it onto some sort of sensor (or film for traditional cameras). The light is only exposed to the sensor for a very brief amount of time. That light will cause the sensor to create all sorts of electrical signals representing the image that the camera sees at that point in time. The camera's internal computer will then convert those signals into a digital image file on your memory stick. I've glossed over several details here, but this is the general idea and it will serve as the basis for the rest of the article.

The Basics of Exposure
Exposure is all about how we get the light from the scene you are photographing, to the camera's sensor. Most digital cameras allow you to modify 3 basic components for controlling your exposure. Understanding how these components affect your exposure will help you keep most of your photos out of the recycle bin.

1. Lenses
When light enters the lens, the light gets focused onto our camera sensor. Just like how your eye glasses can have different strengths, camera lenses have different strengths too. To measure this we use the term focal length. Focal length is measured in millimeters (mm). If you want to shoot something far away, you will want a lense with a large focal length (ex. 800mm). These are called telephoto lenses. If you want to shoot something thats really huge and you don't want to step back so much to get everything in the shot, you'll want a small focal length (eg, 17mm) these are often called wide-angle lenses. An easy way to remember this is to imagine that all the light that enters the lens is in the shape of a cone and the focal length controls the height of this cone. Smaller focal length means you have a short cone with a shallow slope so the light cone casts a wide view (ie wide angle lens). Larger focal length means a steep cone so things far away seem bigger (ie telephoto lens). When you zoom in or out you are changing the focal length of the lense. As you can imagine, a larger cone allows more light in which will change your exposure. Conversely, a telephoto lens allows less light to enter, however that is not the only issue. With telephoto lenses, the image magnification, also causes angular camera motions to be magnified. That is, as you zoom in, any movement in the hands holding the camera will be magnified in the photo.
Usually the scene you are trying to capture will dictate what lens or focal length you will use. However, sometimes if you cannot get enough light or you cannot hold your camera steady enough, it might be better to use a lower focal length and resize the image in post processing later.

2. Aperture
Besides, focal length, the next most important aspect of a lense is how much light it can let in. Usually the light that enters at the edges of a lense gets distorted so camera lenses limit that light with an O-shaped disk placed between the lenses. The hole in this disk is called the aperture and can be enlarged or reduced by the camera or by rotating a ring on the lens itself. A bigger hole lets more light in but with a more narrow depth of field (which we'll get into later). Aperture is measured in f-values (ex. f/22 or f22) . The lower the f-value, the bigger the aperture so f/22 has a much smaller hole than f/1.4.
When buying a lens or a camera with a lens you will probably see it listed like this: 18-55mm F/3.5-5.6.
The first part means that the focal length can vary between 18mm and 55mm, but the second part doesn't mean the aperture can be from f3.5 to f5.6. It means that the largest aperture can vary between f/3.5-f/5.6. Most lenses can easily produce small apertures f/30+. The hard part is keeping the apertures large throughout the range of focal lengths. That's why the largest aperture that you can use will shrink when you zoom in.
Depth of field is the range of distances from the camera where things will be in focus. Lets say you wanted to take some landscape photos. You would probably like the wildlife in the foreground and the mountains in the background to both be in focus. In this case you want to have a wide depth of field. On the other hand, suppose you wanted to emphasize the subject of the photo, you could use a large aperture to create a shallow depth of field so that only the subject of the photo is in focus. The photo to the left is my baby Sophia sleeping next to her mom. Notice how Sophia is in focus while my wife isn't. This was shot with an aperture of f/2.8.

2. Shutter Speed
Shutter speed is the amount of time that the aperture will remain open so that light from the scene can reach the camera's sensor. This is measured in seconds or fractions of a sec like 1/30. Since most photos are taken with shutter speeds like 1/20, 1/30, 1/100, etc, your camera may show only the denominator of the fractional part like so 1/20 is shown as 20, 1/30 as 30 and 1/100 as 100. Long shutter speeds like over 1 second, will usually be displayed with a double quotation mark, like 2".
The combination of shutter speed and aperture determines how much light gets to the sensor, i.e. the exposure. For example, if you let light through a large aperture for a short time, you can still get the same exposure by letting light through a small aperture for a longer time. The biggest drawback to a long exposure is that the camera and the scene has to be perfectly still during the entire time that the shutter is open, otherwise your photo will be blurry. This type of blur is known as motion blur. In the photo on the right, you can see how the the people who were moving look kinda ghostly while everything else is pretty sharp. The woman in the center remained almost perfectly still during the shot so she had almost no motion blur. This was a 2 second shot (shutter speed) at f/8.

3. ISO Sensitivity
Also known as the ISO speed, the ISO sensitivity of the camera's sensor is the third and final component of determining a photo's exposure. Camera sensors usually have the ability for you to increase or decrease its sensitivity. You can think of this like the volume knob on your car radio. If you get a weak signal, you can up the volume, but the more you turn the knob, the more noise you will get. ISO sensitivity works the same way. The higher the sensitivity, the less light you will need, but at the cost of more noise in your photo. Ideally, you want to use the smallest ISO possible for the aperture and shutter speed that gives you good results. Often times the lowest shutter speed that minimizes your motion blur is the driving factor for the ISO you use. Its usually easier to correct ISO noise in post processing than motion blur.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Got my FCC Amateur License today
I am now a certified FCC Amateur Technician. All you have to do is pay $14 and pass a multiple choice test. This is basically the license you need to be a Ham Radio operator, but I got it so that I could legally use those high powered 2.4 Ghz A/V transmitters that I plan to mount to my R/C monster truck! It's gonna be sweet!
My callsign is KI6NZP. Unfortunately, FCC regulations require me to send my callsign every 10 minutes and at the end of my transmission. Perhaps I can put my callsign on a sticker within the field of view of the camera that I'll use.
The certification came in both a large size (for you to frame) and a convienent wallet size version.