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Friday, September 29, 2006

Are human lives too short?

This idea came to me while we were having dinner during our Coast to Coast walk. Human beings live for too short a time. As a result, we are tempted to pass on many of our problems to the next generation, because we know we won't have to deal with them in our short lifespans. The budget deficit, global warming, environmental deterioration --- if your lifespan was measured in hundreds of years, you'd know that there's no escape from the greenhouse gasses you emit, and any "tax cut" you got right now would have to be paid back later with interest by tax increases. You'd have time to educate yourself on issues, and time to make mistakes.

Unfortunately, the practicality of radical life extension is much less than many optimists would assume.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Review: Smallville Season Two

My big criticism of Season One was that it felt very much like the monster of the week. There was relatively little plot continuity, and while the show was mostly good, it would have gotten old really quickly had season two continued along the same vein.

Thankfully, it did not. We start to have a story arc, with Clark quickly finding more about his powers, and his relationship with the women of his life take on a more central role in the show. The writers give Clark's parents more of a role to play, and Mike Rosenberg who plays Lex Luthor steals every scene he is in. The special effects are fantastic, and the show's cinematography is so good that I have to remind myself that this is a TV series and not a very long movie.

My criticisms: the relationships between Clark Kent and the female characters aren't very realistic --- I find it hard to believe that even teenagers can be this dumb. Nevertheless, I understand that if a couple ever becomes happy on TV the ratings will drop, so TV series can never portray happily matched couples.

Overall, a well written show worth watching. I look forward to Season Three.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Wheelbuilding with the Park TS-2

I had a sinus infection (on my birthday, no less!), so no riding this weekend. But thanks to my brothers and Lisa, I got a Park Truing Stand TS-2 with the tilting base, so I could finish building a wheel I'd started ages ago. I'd been using a Minoura/Performance Truing stand, but what a world of difference. Despite having to relace the wheel, the tensioning and truing phase took less than 4 hours (interspersed while watching Smallville), and the result was excellent! There's no doubt in my mind that good tools are really worth while.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Guest Poster

My brother is now guest posting on this blog with movie reviews, etc, so if you see sudden changes in tone check the posted by line. Welcome aboard, Sy.

A Moment With You movie Review

I watched the Google screening of this yesterday. My initial reasons to watch this was that it had a really cool poster, paper airplanes essentially in primary colours, with the tag line, "a love honest as it can be". Very simple, very attractive, at least to me, except for the tagline, but I can forgive that.

My thoughts of it after I watched it is that the website lies. On the website, it states,

Often in Hollywood and typical romantic movies audiences are presented with a nice tale to fantasize about. But rarely can a film honestly represent love the way most of us know it as. Most people do not experience war torn, disease ridden, epic love stores. And by the same token, we do not live out fairytales involving complicated schemes and gimmicks to fall in love.

This rule of no complicated schemes and gimmicks fail almost immediately 5 minutes into the film. How many of you have had an attractive girl knock on your door, let herself in, and demand that you pay attention to her? Or if you're a girl, reverse it with an attractive guy, I suppose. Although, if you're a girl and a guy knocks and demands to be let in, I hope you call the police no matter how cute he may seem.

Aside from that, the film plays out to be a rather sophmoric love story and does not explore anything new or unique. I suppose as a sophmore film attempt by the directors, it is passable, but they do not really succeed at making this a fresh and interesting take.

Other gripes was that one of the male leads clearly had no acting experience, and to have the directors exclaim he was perfect in the Q&A after the movie was sort of a shock.

Other cute tidbits, they made the film for under 2,000 dollars and filmed it all in San Diego. Having lived in San Diego for two years, it was a real kick to see the locations they used and that I recognized. The soundtrack was decent and was mostly friends and family contributing to it.

Some other unrealistic parts...neither of the male leads had computers or seemed to use them. One of them is an architect grad do the equating yourself =).

All in all, it was a funny movie if you allow yourself to go with a few of the unbelievable premises. Sometimes it is unintentionally funny, but hey, you take what you can get right?

Those looking for a good use of 100 minutes can probably find something better, but for a free screening, I'm not complaining *too* much.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

S&S couplers revisited

In the year and a half since I wrote the article, S&S couplers considered harmful, I've really been vindicated. One of my co-workers even admitted as such on an internal mailing list the his S&S single bike (an otherwise beautiful Rivendell marred by the cancerous looking couplers) just was so much of a hassle to break apart and ship that he found himself using my cardboard box method of shipping.

Another couple I heard from recently also switched away from S&S couplers back to an uncoupled bike --- the hassle and time taken to take apart a bike was simply not worth the extra costs to them. There have also been recent reports of airlines now charging to ship a bike, whether it's been uncoupled and packed into separate cases or not, which really eliminates any cost advantage they might have had.

I can't say that the public opinion has completely come around to my point of view, but the trickle of real world experience reports are definitely a far cry from the S&S hype and marketing machine that greeted my first expressed opinions of the couplers with both derision and scorn. Let me say it here once and for all, except for a select few, S&S couplers are a solution in search of a problem.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Time to plug the gtags internship again

Those of you who've read my blog before will note that I was looking for an intern for gtags a while ago. Well, my blog doesn't get read by many people, so I got one applicant (who did not get hired) out of it.

I did, however, end up getting 2 interns through other sources. Both interns now have job offers from Google at the end of their internship with me. I can't guarantee that a gtags internship is an easy way to get an offer from Google (since both my interns were brilliant, motivated and worked very hard), but you can't argue with the track record of 100% success.

So if you're interested in an internship on gtags, go ahead and submit your application, and in particular note on your application that you want to be considered for a gtags internship. (The internship will be in Mountain View, so make sure you flag that) Leave a comment here as well so I can make sure I look for your resume. I can't say that you'll get an interview just because you applied, but you definitely won't get an interview if you don't.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Review: Smallville Season One

One of the best things about the TV format for a series is that you can really take your time to explore the subject. In this particular case, it's the development of Clark Kent into our favorite Superman.

What I really enjoy about this series is that the writers really make use of the audience's meta-knowledge, while perverting other expectations. For instance, the series introduces Lex Luthor not as the arch-nemesis of Clark Kent, but as his best friend. In one of the episodes, they talk about their friendship, and Clark wonders if they'll ever have a falling out. Luthor says, "Clark, our friendship will be the stuff of legends." In a few other places, the girls in the show tell Clark that "red looks good on you." References to "putting on a uniform and saving the world" abound.

The setup is really well done, as we Clark starts the series with limited powers. Superspeed, strength, but no X-ray vision or Heat-vision or Superbreath. He can't fly, so the show's writers can challenge him with more than just kryptonite. Being the place where Clark landed in his space-ship, Smallville is full of meteorites, so the fact that it's common is quite believable. We get to watch Clark develop his powers and his reactions to them. I really enjoy the depiction of X-ray vision, by the way.

There's a romantic triangle setup between Clark, Lana, and Chloe. Chloe is the spunky female reporter that the viewers clearly are supposed to root for (though despite her perceptive nature, she doesn't realize how special Clark really is) --- she gets into trouble, but rather than wait passively for someone to rescue her, she always takes the proactive approach. Lana, on the other hand, is always the damsel in distress, but of course, she's the one that Clark has his eye on (and as long time fans of Superman we all know that Lana eventually finds out Clark's secret identity, even though we don't know how). The triangle doesn't quite dominate the show, which is nice --- it's good to show Clark having concerns other than his romantic life.

The special effects are really great. I'm very impressed that this is a TV show at all. There's none of the cheesy stuff that's part of early Buffy (my benchmark for good TV shows), and a lot of breath-takingly good scenes.

I do have a number of nits to pick about the show: as with all high school shows, it seems like everyone in high school is really pretty or otherwise good looking. Would it really hurt to have a few plain looking extras? Sure, it's Smallville, and everything's supposed to be larger than life, but too many shows are just overdoing it. Too many times, the show feels a lot like the wierd event of the week that characterizes the first season of Buffy. Given that Smallville happened much later than Buffy, there's no excuse. I hope later seasons improve on this.

The season does end with an obligatory cliff-hanger. All in all, though, a faithful interpretation of the Superman mythos that earns its stripes in spectacular fashion. Highly recommended.

My 15 Minutes of Fame

Piaw Na, another engineer, stopped by to browse. He bikes to work from his home in Sunnyvale and can never make it to the library before it closes. When the library started visiting campus, he said, ``I got everyone in my office to sign up.''

Yep, I got everyone in my office (all 4 of us) to sign up for the mobile library. Clearly, my 15 minutes of fame is going to forever link me with nerdiness. I can't complain. I knew that was going to happen when the journalist cornered me when I stepped out of the library.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Lisa shot this image while descending the cables...

As you can see, the descent was quite steep! Posted by Picasa

At the foot of the cables at Half-Dome

A far cry from last year's image. The difference? This year's image was taken at 6:30am on a Sunday. Posted by Picasa

Piaw & Lisa Enjoy the Sunrise on Half-Dome

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Rainbow at the Foot of Vernal Falls

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Thursday, September 07, 2006

The Economist does an about face

The Economist used to be a climate skeptic, gleefully publishing article after article claiming that of all the good things you can do with money, everything else (disease, famine, healthcare, AIDs, etc) was much more important than climate change. This obviously lopsided stance (along with its ridiculously indefensible support of George Bush) prompted me to stop renewing my subscription.

In the latest issue, it appears as though this magazine has done an about face. Suddenly, the climate crisis is worthy of attention and the evidence supporting it is now worth publishing in its august pages. It might very well be too late.

I'm hoping that this turnabout signals the gradual realization amongst the wealthy class that if the planet becomes uninhabitable for human beings, it's not going to matter how many billions of dollars you have --- you'll be just as dead. But I'm not holding my breath.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Product Endorsement: Tax Resources, Inc Audit Protection

I've been paying the $35 a year fee for TaxResource's audit protection service every year in recent years as part of my turbotax filing. The product is essentially an insurance scheme. The $35 a year buys you representation in case the IRS audits you for any reason --- they'll represent you, deal with the paperwork, meet with the IRS agents, etc. I always wondered whether this is money being poured down the drain or whether these guys would actually pull through for me.

A great opportunity to find out happened this year --- I received a notification that I was in arrears for a money market fund I bought and sold in 2004. I had made no money from the fund other than the tax-exempt interest, so I'd assumed that I did not need to file for it. Naturally, I was wrong. I received an IRS notification in June, and called TaxResources.

I sent them supporting documentation, a power of attorney form, and they took care of everything. Not only that, every time I called them, my representative always had my file at her fingertips, and always knew what was going on. Every time they spoke with the IRS, they'd call me and tell me what was going on. When the matter was finally resolved (in August, and yes, in my favor), they called me before I even had a chance to check my mail! All through the process, the folks I worked with exhibited confidence, competence, and provided customer service that I didn't expect.

So from now on, I'm happy to pay their $35 fee. It's money well spent. Given how complicated my taxes have become, the nominal fee paid for the insurance provides good peace of mind.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Ongoing Mac Mini Review Part IV

It seems to me that perhaps my past notes on the Mac has been quite negative, so on a positive note, here's what I found good about the Mac Mini I bought in April. First of all, the second Mac Mini has so far been working out quite a bit better than the first. It's very quiet (so much so that my external hard drive is by far the noisiest part of my desk), nicely fast, and the UI has been growing on me. The downside is incompatibility: the Logitech USB cam I got isn't quite fully compatible with it (though it works well as a microphone, so I can finally do voice chat on it reasonably well), and of course, I still have to boot into windows to run Quicken or play any kind of decent games, or run Picasa, which is still my favorite photo management software. Until Photoshop has a Universal binary next spring, I'll also boot into windows to run Photoshop 6 (which surprisingly enough isn't really snappy on my fancy new Mac).

I did replace my Panasonic KXP-7100 with a used Brother HL-1270N I bought from someone else at work, so now I can print over the network from both the Mac Mini and Lisa's laptop, as well as the Mac Mini running windows. I do miss automatic duplex, but it doesn't seem like anyone else manufactures good duplex printers at this price point, so I'm stuck.

By far the best thing about the Mac Mini, however, was something I didn't discover until today: the Mac Mini is by far the best machine you can buy for a LAN party. All I do is unplug the Mac Mini and the External Hard Drive (which you can omit if you install all your games on the Mac Mini's hard drive), bring along a USB keyboard and mouse, and I was over at my brother's place where we could play Icewind Dale side by side. (He had a dual-screen setup, so he just sacrificed one of his screens) It was a lot of fun watching my Mini boot up with a 1900x1200 screen, and we had fun. I wouldn't have even considered doing this with my old Tower PC (and forget doing this with a Mac Pro!). Now, the graphics card in the Mini isn't anything to scream at, so you probably wouldn't be running Quake 3 or anything that requires amazingly high frame-rates, but for RPGs and RTSes, the Mac Mini would be what I'd be willing to tote around. You just can't beat the convenience! Now ask me again after I've done this a few times to see if the Mini dies after being toted around a few more times!

Tanya & Lisa at Overlook & Canon

Only 22 miles, but it was a fun ride! (No we didn't climb Overlook... sort of ran out of time) Posted by Picasa