Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Hello Mr. Phone

TRAVEL

Found this on Petro in Oak Grove, MO. Kind of hard to believe that people would stand in front of this device and talk to the wall. Did you notice anything missing? No dials! Imagine that. Voice dialing works here.

Going thru Colorado mountain

TRAVEL

Going to Steamboat Springs thru Kremmling. Kremmling? Rather unusual name!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Holiday shopping

FUN

Holiday shopping does take its toll. I was going to buy a few items. They're all sold out! Huge sale does have something with it. But people are buying goods. I wonder how the after New Year sale traditionally held will be like.

DS Colors!





ART

I just got a homebrew kit for my Nintendo DS and installed Colors. I like it very much! I think I doodle too much now. Colors is a painting program, and unfortunately, it is obvious that I can't paint! Well, at least I can draw and it works well, too!






Check out http://colors.collectingsmiles.com/index.php and search for 'ramstrong' to see how I did it!

Greatness

ZEN THOUGHT

I read about this some time ago. I didn't realize it at the time, but as I was wondering about it, I realized then that Japanese has a way to achieve greatness.

There are 3 guiding ideologies that defines Japanese work ethic, that if followed will result in greatness.

1. Perfection: This means making no mistake. Refusal to accept inferior effort. If you know something isn't perfect, then strive to do better next time. This has been abused by the idea of "best". There is no best thing. Only pros and cons. There is no silver bullet. There is no ultimate magic wand that you can wave and achieve the ultimate. But you can certainly note your mistakes and resolve to fix them and not repeat them in the future.

2. Constant improvement: Always learning. Always adding new skills to the toolbox. Just as there is no single best thing, having a wide assortment of skills allows you to pick and choose the best tool for the job. Some people would go for the minimum. Others, stop when they reach maximum. Within the minimum and the maximum range, lies the acceptable performance level. However, greatness comes from achieving, then exceeding the maximum level.

3. I don't remember what the third one is, but I believe it is Discipline. Discipline can be construed as hard work, and certainly many people take it as such. However, I choose to take it as good habit forming. "You are what you frequently do. Therefore, greatness isn't a matter of ideals, but of habits" said Aristotles.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Steak 'n Shake

TRAVEL

So, I stopped by Steak and Shake on Lincoln, IL. The place looks nice enough. Good crowd. But service is lousy. I end up just leaving. No tip is given. I don't know why. Usually service is nice, you know?

As far as the food, it's somewhat okay. The bun looks terrible. The meat was overcooked on the outside. The bacon felt like rubber, signifying undercooked. The tomato was sliced too thin. Notice that there is no french fries! For the price, I expected Hardee's or Arby's quality. This is even worse than McDonald, yet more expensive!

Overpriced food. Uncaring servers and cooks. It makes me wonder why people come to this place as Godfather's Pizza is just across the street, which is where I'll be next time. Anywhere but here.

This could be an anomaly Steak 'n Shake. But as this is my first impression of this chain, I'm forced to conclude that all Steak 'n Shake restaurants are like this.

I finished the food and I'm still hungry. At least in a real restaurant, I won't be leaving hungry. The food is just so overpriced, you know? Not enough value.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Shan Chinese Buffet

TRAVEL

I stopped by Shan's Chinese Buffet in Monteagle, TN. I24 exit 135. The food was good. I also noticed that they have sushi served. Unfortunately, I had a bad experience with bad tasting sushi. Not this restaurant, but another one. I was undecided whether I would eat one. I noticed that no one else touched them, so I decided to skip them.

"Once, a cat sat on a hot stove. Never again it sat on a hot stove. Then again, it didn't sat on cold ones, either."

I gave them a big tip, and they gave me this chinese calendar. I guess they saw me admiring the chinese zodiac pattern on the mat.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Jet-man

COOL TECH

Yves Rossy, jet-man or fusion-man, answered my question of how small can a wing be to fly a man. Incredible that he doesn't have any control surface on the wing. He flies all natural, like Superman! check it out on YouTube.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Nintendo news

TOYS

Apparently, the new Nintendo DS will have 2 built-in cameras! And not only that, opera web browser is built-in! Does that mean Wifi video conference is planned anytime soon?

Looking at other news, it seems so. Wii speak will include all new Wii Speak Channel. This merit a follow up later. It's good for people to connect with each other. I shudder at the expected bandwidth requirements, though. Hopefully, spam won't be an issue.

A new Prince of Persia game for NDS is out. There should be a downloadable demo on DS download station. It's made by Ubisoft, though. Great titles, but execution is somewhat flawed. I kept finding minor bugs with their titles.

There's a gardening game? Gardening Mama of Cooking Mama fame. I wonder how that would work. Growth rate of plant is not exactly speedy.

Phantasy Star 0 seems nice. Not for US release, though. But just in case, I'll mark it for watching. Looks like a fun game for DS.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Cheap HDTV

TOYS

In case you're wondering, now is the time to pick up cheap HDTV. If you missed Thanksgiving sale, I'm sure they'll do it again on New Year.

Miscellaneous

TOYS

I saw this really neat advertising about washing machine. It says clean clothes in 10 minutes with very little soap. What was Maytag thinking? Do modern engineering really work backward? Actually, I think it's just overinflated claim, but they were interesting, nonetheless.

It has been a while that I played SilentScope game. You know, where you play a sniper exterminating terrorist in just one shot. I'm glad I still have it. Only a dollar to finish the whole game. And the secret to high score is: Don't miss. The scoring is heavily weighted toward shooting streak. No, I don't like it.

I finally bought a set of Neon Genesis Evangelion. I already started on my Lucky Star collection. Kung fu series is next. If you look at it carefully, then you see 2 episode 3s. missing is episode 6. Weird, eh? I didn't get that one, but strange that it should happen.

Nintendo DS lite for everyone!

COOL TECH

I think everybody should get one of these Nintendo DS lite. They cost $129.99 if I remember correctly. They won't get cheaper than that. I'm thinking that I should get two or three of these devices.

Before you think of all the time I'll be wasting on these things, you should see my library. Sure I have Naruto game. And the fact that these play old GBA games means I can play those games as well. But most of the time, I'm doing Big Brain. And it is the one game I recommend everyone should get. They're selling a bundle for it now.

My other cartridges are Japanese coach, chinese coach, and Let's Yoga! There are also Spanish, English, and SAT. In addition, if you go homebrew, there's also Colors, DS Organize, and e-book. My next purchase is going to be DS Korg synthesizer.

Oh, isn't Nintendo all about gaming? Yes, they are, or rather, they were. I always say that Nintendo DS Lite has great form factor. Connectivity, touch screen, portability. I can just imagine the lower touch screen being used as virtual keyboard while the top screen as computer screen. Can we say OLPC cheap computer?

The new DS is coming out. It'll have a camera as well. Can we say Internet Phone? Rumor has it, it'll come with a web browser. Now, if somebody would make a text editor, spreadsheet, database, and maybe BASIC, for it, then I'd really be happy!

Armchair dreamer

ZEN THOUGHT

Talking to a lot of people, it seems that they don't really work their dream job. Sometimes they're making a lot of money, but usually, when asked whether or not they really want to work as hard as they're working now, their answer come up negative.

I do work hard. Sometimes too hard, ranging 12-14 hours per day. However, I do enjoy it. The money is good, but the feeling of freedom is unmatched. I like to travel and I get paid to do it! Expenses is steep, but the pay is good and I don't spend that much money at home, anyway.

So, when I ask them why they work at a job they don't enjoy, their answer is usually money. I agree that the need to eat does have an influence to the jobs they're taking. However, most of them work normal hours, by which I mean 40 hours per day.

If you think about it, business owners regularly work 12 hours per day seven days a week. That's 84 hours per week! Unless you're doing two jobs, or your boss makes you pull double shift, you have these free time.

So I ask them what their dream job is. A game designer. An artist. A writer. A teacher. A singer/song writer. Lots of idealistic jobs there. I guess not too many people dreams of job being a plumber.

So the next question is: what do these people do? Writers write, of course. Singers sing. Do you write every day? Do you sing everyday?

I was talking to somebody who fancied himself an inventor. He's pretty smart, alright. He always have these ideas in his head. Trouble is, he never took the time to write it down. I even went so far as to give him a note book and a pen. Still he didn't write his ideas down.

"You're not an inventor," I said, "you're just a dreamer CLAIMING to be an inventor. If you're really an inventor, then you'd be inventing things every day, but instead, you sit in front of TV everyday. You talk about inventing everyday, yet you don't do it! Imagine how much work would have been accomplished if instead of talking about it, you actually do it?

"Take a writer, for instance. Do you know how many writers wannabe out there? Yet all they do is talk. If all they write is one page a day, then at the end of the year, they'd have the next great American novel. How long does it take to type a page? 500 words per page. 12 words per minutes. Say 50 words per 5 minutes and you can have a page is less than one hour. Do you watch TV for more than one hour? Four hours, you say? Commercial will take 40 minutes of that. All you have to do is record the TV show. Sit and write one page, and then watch the recorded show, fast forward all the commercials. Edit the pages on weekend.

"Even if you write trash, as long as you do it everyday, no one can claim you're not a writer. You are a writer, just not a very good one. If all you do is sit in front of TV everyday, then you're not a writer, or whatever it is you claim to be. You're just another armchair dreamer, a couch potato getting fat while talking about great things."

You are what you frequently do. Stop talking, and start doing. Do it a little everyday. Do it for as little as 5-10 min at a time if that's all you can spare, but do it everyday! Do it while taking shower if you have to, but just do it. And then, you don't have to become your dreams. You're already living it.

Friday, November 14, 2008

6 minutes clothes washing

COOL TECH

I saw this old clip how 1900 washer washes clothes automatically, in just six minutes using nothing more than 50 pounds of water pressure. Amazing, eh? There are models with hand crank and electric, too. Kind of make you wonder what Maytag and GE was thinking when they set the timer washer for 30 minutes.

All it does is some slates in a tub going back and forth in some soapy water. Imagine! No more washboards! No more premature clothes wear! Cleaner clothes in just six minutes!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

KFC Original Recipe Fully Loaded Box Meal

FOOD

I can't help it. Blame it on consumerism. That box meal with clever artwork did it for me. Good meal.

It was too much in one sitting, though. There was original piece thigh, chicken sandwich, 2 chicken strips, biscuit, and two sides. I didn't finish it all. Good fow two people, or at least 1 1/2. Too bad there's no toy in it.

I also ate Fried Rice at Taste of Thai in Quincy, IL. It was terrific! I ate every bite very, very quickly. The food tasted great. The server reasonably polite, and suitably apologetic when the meal delivered late due to large party at the back of the restaurant. Pleasant experience overall with plenty of wwoodcarvings all over the place. Make sure to ask them which is the men's room and which is women's, since there's no letterings on the door, just cultural specific signs on the doors.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Voting day

VOTE

I think everyone should vote. At the very least, we'd know who would be responsible of putting an idiot to the office. We should all take the risk and the responsibilities of our actions. I just wish I didn't lose my voter's registration card and have to wait in line for a couple hours.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Stock buying

PERSONAL FINANCE

It is very frustrating to be right, yet not be able to benefit from it. In history, several people have shorted the market and won big. A lot more has shorted the market and lost, including Laurence Tisch. It's not that they're wrong about the market being pricy. It's just that nobody expected the crutch to be in place for so long. I certainly didn't expect for the interest rate to go below 4%. I was wrong.

In case of market bottom, though. I was right. October 10 was the bottom. I bought some shares Friday afternoon, right at the very bottom. I would have sold those Monday afternoon for a quick profit, but I can't because the account wasn't settled and the balance was negative. I tried to do electronic transfer, but it wasn't set up right. I needed to mail a paper signature. That took time. It wasn't positive until yesterday, and I couldn't do anything about it.

Now the opportunity is lost, since the price is closing to the crash level. Can't sell now. I'll just have to hang tough.

We're definitely in deep recession. It probably started when President George Bush was saying "The economy is slowing down, but we're not in recession." Well, we are now! This will probably last 2-3 years if not more.

Even Warren Buffet's Berkshire Hathaway is declining. The party is definitely over. Time to sit this one out and get some bonds, instead.

Well, I did manage to liquidate some Microsoft stocks. It really wasn't in my profile, so I sold it for a quick profit. Hey, maybe I can do this full time! Of course not. This only works because the stock market crashed big time on Friday. How do you make money in a declining market, anyway?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Happy brokers

PERSONAL FINANCE

Saw this on USA Today. Stock brokers are happy due to the biggest bounce on stock market.

"What are they celebrating for?" I wondered, "The stock market is still under 10,000!"

Either these stock brokers are easily impressionable lot, or there's something missing. Hmmm, maybe I should read the article.

STOCK MARKET CRASH

PERSONAL FINANCE

I bought some stocks last week. It was late Friday and everybody was hurting. Me, too. I've neglected to set my stop loss limits, and the stocks took a free fall to the ground. Seeing your portfolio lost 40% of its value is definitely not fun!

Still, I am one of those people who sees positive things in life. "Well, if this is the absolute worst bottom I've seen, then anywhere I go would be UP!" Yep, bought some more stocks. That was Friday, October 10.

I bought GM stocks when it was trading around 5 dollars. I figured, it pays $1 dividend. That's 20%! That's how credit card companies makes money, you know? It was a standard rate when the price hovers around $20-$40. $5 is an absolute bargain! I'd have spent $50,000 had I have the money. I have it set to DRiP, Dividend Reinvestment Program. How can I lose? If the price went up, I make money. If the price went down, I get more of these super shares! Well, there are ways. They can cut dividend, as most cash strapped companies most likely do, which would cause the price to drop for the now useless shares. Alternatively, they may merge shares, which would indicate big trouble at the company. Huge insider selling and share merging are two indicators I should exit the position and cut my losses.

All these talks about GM declaring bankruptcy, I don't believe it. GM is too big for that. They'd sooner sell off assets than declare bankruptcy. Their attempt to acquire Chrysler got disrupted by market crash. I think they'll be fine. Good management I've seen so far.

I also bought some Microsoft stocks. This was based on a tip that they recently split their stocks and increased their dividend. So I bought some. Then I do research and found out that they did it last year. That's not recent! I didn't make out too bad. Anywhere I go is up. However, that'll be the last time I act on hot tips without checking.

Lots of learning this last week. Trend lines, APR, and ROI. This has been an intense, chaotic week. It is just the way I like it!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Learning Chinese on Nintendo DS

FUN LEARNING

I got myself a Nintendo DS learning program from Ubisoft for learning Mandarin Chinese. Seems okay, but I guess I'll need a native speaker to listen to what I have to say, since I can't tell whether or not I'm saying things correctly. I'm also going to get Learning Japanese once it comes out. It's good mostly for building your vocabulary, which I'm keen on doing.

Funny thing. Nintendo is supposed to be a game company, but I'm using Nintendo DS as portable classroom for learning on the go. Konami also has a game out called "Let's Yoga", based on Wii Fit module. I'm going to get that one also. Now, if they have one for Tai Chi, I'd be real interested in that, especially if they have different versions (Chen, Yang, Wu, International) and weapons (stick, sabre, sword, spear). Hint, Konami! Please make one for me!

Stock Market Crash

So, the stock market has crashed big time. It sure is a surprise to see your portfolio shrink by 10% in one day! I've always said that the stock market will, at worst, drop down by 60%. I believe that most stocks are at that levels. I'm into buying mode right now. Just call me a contrarian. I'm waiting for an uptick before I buy, though.

It has been an expensive lesson so far, but at least I'm learning. Specifically, I'm learning about Dollar Cost Averaging. It appears that one stock was overpriced. Now that I know better, I wouldn't have bought it at that level. I was rather upset that I had to learn this the hard way. Oh, well. At least I'm learning. Had this been a professionally managed portfolio, I'm sure he'll be giving a lot of excuses, and not learn anything. This is why I managed my own portfolio.

I'm learning resistance levels, and give my pattern-recognition brain section a good healthy workout. The last resistance level was at $8.50-$9.00. I set the limit at $8.50, but after analyzing it on the weekend, I decided to up it to $9.00. I should've waited until Tuesday to do it. I knew this. I ignored it because I don't have time to do it. I could've saved 25 cents per share. That will be the last time I followed my emotion, instead of logical thinking. Lesson learned.

Imagine my surprise that the stock market took a big dive. It went through 2 limit levels already, and I haven't done a thing! I'm going to fortify my positions for a while, and maybe I can find some good bargain to boot. Microsoft looks good. I will research the limits and STICK TO IT!

It annoys me very much that my investment time period is once per month, and this happens. When prices went up, I couldn't cash in, even though I know I should have. Then prices took a dive, and the only thing I can do is buy more, since I can't sell anything less than 30 days period. Lesson learned: Set aside short-term stocks to take advantage of quick profit.

A very important lesson learned: DON'T BE GREEDY!
Always there is a balance in something. That means lower and upper limits. People are being naive if they think if something is good, then more is better. That's not true. Even good medicine can be harmful in large quantities, while poison can be useful in small quantities. It's all about range and boundaries, instead of just the bottom line. There is such a thing called "capacity" and if it's nearly full, then watch out! It may just tumble over! I used to think that people who took profit when stock price doubled just to be safe as stupid, losing all those opportunities. Not anymore. Safety is number 1 concern. Find your limits, both upper and lower.

One more thing: If you haven't been playing with stocks, consider yourself lucky. Start on paper, so that mistakes are cheap. I suggest TRMP, Donald Trump's stock. You can download historical data on it, and go through it. Yahoo Finance has a historical data section. Download the weekly data, and follow the adjusted close prices (This ignores splits). Just load it into the spreadsheet as csv (comma separated values), sort the data by dates, and zoom the view. Then, look at the price at the bottom. Decide whether or not you'd buy and how much. Don't forget to add $20 per trade as broker fee. Then shift the cursor down one time, so the prices scrolled up one line. That's the next week. THAT is the price you use to transact your order. This way, you can't cheat by buy low/sell high based on a sure thing. Repeat until end of data, buying and selling as desired. Maybe you want to limit yourself to $500 budget every 4 weeks, just to make it real. Let's see if you can make money off that stock. If so, then congratulations! Try again with your favorite stocks. Do it with your friends, just for fun. See who has the Midas Touch!

If the stock has dividend, decide whether you want DRIP (Dividend ReInvestment Program) or just cash it out, and keep going to the next price. Meanwhile, keep track of prices of about 100 of your favorite stocks on newspaper. Then see if you can just as well trading in "real time". Now would be a good start. Anybody can make money in a bull (rising) market just by buying an index. It takes true skill to make money in a recession, and that is the mark of a true master.

LifeChess003 - Look before you leap

LifeChess003 - Look before you leap

The ability to calculate is a fundamental skill in chess, as it is in life. Look before you leap, they say. Sometimes life gives you choices, and you do not know what to do. It is tempting to just blunder through life and you don’t give a care in the world. A decision made quickly is better than a decision made too late. However, there are times when the situation demands a more careful perusal.

In general, the ability to think things through has given me a tremendous advantage in life. In problem solving, I can generally avoid unpleasant situations simply by thinking things through and then decide on a path that avoids all those complications. This is a skill that can be practiced. To a neophyte, it looks tremendously complicated, and most people would give up immediately. I admit that some positions baffle me, but that’s no reason not to try!

The advantage of seeing deeper not only provides you with better and cleaner solution, but also a seemingly ability to shape things to come. To become clairvoyance, so to speak. Obviously, the ability to see deep into chess position does not translate readily to real life situation. However, there skills needed to develop the skills to see deep positions in chess is the same skills needed to develop the skills to see deep consequences in planning. In other words, if you can do one, you can do the other!

Take a look at this position. Black is winning. White has to make a decision, and I decided to do a rushing attack to Black’s position. The moves are as follows:

6k1/2b2n1p/2p2pp1/1pP1p3/pP2P2P/Pq3NN1/Q4PPK/8 w - - 0 1

1. Qd2 Qxa3 2. Qd7 Bd8 3. h5 Qxb4 4. hxg6 hxg6 5. Nh4 Qxc5 6. Nxg6 Qd6?
Obviously, Qd6 is a mistake. It doesn't do anything. But let's look at the position before that, what can White do?

3b2k1/3Q1n2/2p2pN1/1pq1p3/p3P3/6N1/5PPK/8 b - - 0 6

White obviously wants to do Qe8! Now let's calculate the variations:7. Qe8+ Kg7 8. Nf5+ Kxg6 9. Qg8+ Kh5 10. g4#7. ... Kh7 8. Qxf7+ Kh6 9.Nf5+ Kh5 10. Qh7+ Kg5 11. Kh6+ Kg4 12. f3#9. ... Kg5 10. Qh7 not a check. Can Black do something?

In the short variations above, you can see that there are 2 mating possibilities: g4# and f3#. So the question becomes, is there a move that Black can do to prevent those two mating possibilities? The answer is Qxf2! f3 becomes impossible due to the pawn not being there, and g4 is impossible because the pawn is pinned. So, that would be the move I would do. As to whether or not White can actually mate the King, I honestly didn't calculate that deep.

As the game was played, though, Black failed to see this move, and loses horribly. 7. Qe8+ Kh7 8. Qxf7+ Kh6 9. Nf5+ Kg5 10. Nxd6 and White wins.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

YAM carving

FUN

Inspired by Kathleen Ryan's article "Teaching Kids to Carve" Woodcarving Illustrated Fall 2008 Issue 44 about how Jim Calder is teaching these kids using sweet potato or Yam as the basis of carving, I went ahead and bought 3 lbs of it.

I also got myself a knife, a small Swiss army knife model CANYON. It differs from what most other people using, which is TINKER, in that mine features a drop point small blade. This turns out to be a mistake on my part as I learn the hard way that in order to make intersecting cut, I had to learn to rotate the knife JUST SO, in order to make a clean cut. Yams turn out to be an excellent media for learning. I have to admit being impatient and forced it a little bit. That would have disastrous consequence had it been wood. Basswood or Linden is a good choice. Soft enough to carve, hard enough to hold detail.

My first try was a cage turned into a box, turned into a top, turned into an egg. It was pretty small considering the original size of the potato!

For a second try, I tried carving a face using Jim Calder "Calder's Triangle Method" (p. 42-43), but alas my head doesn't look at all like his! For some reason it reminds me of Bruce Campbell, that B movie actor.

For the third attempt, I decided to do something easy. Something that is appropriate for beginners. Turtles are easy. There's an instruction about how to do it with soap. Perfect! Except that the potato is kind of strange shaped. So I whittle it some with my big knife.

Hmmm. That can make a pedestal if I square it. Okay. Chop chop. You know, I bet I can make a hat at the other end. Darn knot! Almost had it! May as well put a face under the hat. How about a mustache? Ears would be good, too. Where to put hands? In front, with fingers!

At the end there, the turtle is all but forgotten. Ah, well. Better luck next time!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Junior Achievement Program

COOL STUFF

Normally, I focus on cool technology, but bear in mind that technologies requires skill. That's why I'm excited to see this article on St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Friday September 19, 2008, page B5. "Five minutes with Repps Hudson" 'Teaching kids how to be successful'

Lori Jacob is President and CEO, Junior Achievement of Missisippi Valley Inc. Basically, JA is teaching kids how to be successful by giving these young people the tools and the knowledge to make good choices. It's not just money matters either, so I'm glad that it also teach the kids beyond basic greed.

Of course, money matters is important, and the knowledge to properly handle it is crucial to success. However, as far as I'm concerned, it is a catalyst to something else.

What would be a proper age? I'd say that by the time they're adults, defined as 21 years old, they should be 100 % ready. Which means that they should be 90% ready when they're 18 years old, and 60% ready when they reached puberty level. I quote "Studies show that by the time young people reach third grade, the path of their future is forming." Considering that young children absorbed knowledge like sponges, these times are best for learning.

The crucial aspect of it is that these program are taught at schools by volunteers. People care about these things enough that they'd do it for free! It makes school a great place once more. Of course, I do worry about qualifications, and not just criminals background. Do these people know what they're talking about? Last time I heard, they're still talking 2+2=5. Not good, eh?

I probably should look for something like this. I'll make a note of it in my calendar. Hopefully, I can do something like this sometime next year.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Devil's Deal

RANT

I got a phone call today from somebody representing a presidential hopeful. I don't like taking phone calls while driving, and I drive all the time. So I said no. She asked me to answer just 1 question: which one is the most important issue? Military strength, Gas prices, or Health care?

I answered: "I would put deficit at the top." When deficit spending is in trillions and GDP is in billions, you know there's something wrong. Those of you who are serving debt knows that a lot of resources are being spent just servicing the debts. And if you have a lot of debt in proportions of your income, then there's a good chance you'd go bankrupt.

Except that nations don't go bankrupt. They'd just print more money. That means inflation. I can just see it that somebody would suggest printing a few trillion dollar bills and wipe the national debt that way. The problem is that to make good that kind of foolish amount, we may have to sell a few islands, such as Ellis island, Manhattan Islands, or Hawaii Islands. Either that or create a humongous rate of inflation just like Germany did during WW2. Not pretty.

The problem here, of course, isn't that we inherit the earth from our parents, but that we borrow it from our children. Social Security won't go bankrupt. It's just that either money will be pittance, or Social Security taxes will be increased. Which one? Just take a look at history: which was more often? Benefit cuts or increased taxes?

Trade deficit is like dealing with the devil. I'll give you money now, but when it's time to collect and you can't pay, then I'll have your soul! A debt is a bind. A chain that holds you dear. We know this, yet still we spent too much money on useless things.

Personally, my eating habits and entertainment doesn't change all that much with salary increase. I'm putting money now to buy a house. Certainly, I want nice things, too, but get real. I'm too busy working 11-12 hrs a day to have too much fun. I don't need fast car, just a good clean one that can hit the speed limit. If I splurge on anything it's books and magazine. I think I bought too many books lately. Used to be that I bought some once per month, but it's been once a week of late. Mostly technical books, though. I call it "research". I'll be picking up a new hobby or two later this year.

That's really investing the future. Not too many people do that. Not while over 60% of business school graduates admitted to cheating on their college exams. They'd rather have empty skills with fake certifications instead of real, up-to-date knowledge without a school name attached. I want usable skills!

So here we are with tremendous debt load and what those presidential nominees are talking about is how to spend more? Don't they care about debt anymore?

The downfall of economy is really those lazy people being stupid, not illegal immigrants. Imagine good honest American people losing to a bunch of stupid illegal immigrants. They don't speak English and we lost to them? How embarrassing! Instead of admitting stupidity, however, we'd just blame them and kicked them out. Guess what? The jobs went out with them to India, China, Korea, just to name a few. Who gets the job done?

That Reaganomic promises prosperity, but only if we increase our productivity. That didn't happen. I'd like to see a plan that would address this issue.

The one word question is: DEFICIT. The one word answer is: INFLATION. I'd like to see a presidential candidate who can give me an answer I can plug into the calculator and end up with a positive number at the end.

Inflation is a destroyer. Oil prices will increase, certainly. Military strength will be reduced to peace keeping missions as patrols being cut back due to lack of operating budget. We spent $50,000 per day per ship out. As for Health Care? I predict skyrocketing fees since it's purely domestic without other nation's influence, and 30% of it is shuffling paperwork anyway.

You can give bad people Heaven, they'd just turn it into Hell. That's one deal I definitely don't want to see happening. How about stop worrying about image and start saving the planet?

Monday, September 8, 2008

Stock trading

PERSONAL FINANCE

I bought two stocks last week. Since this is my first time, I took it slow. I studied and I researched. Finally, I decided that these two stocks repesent the best growth possibilities.

I was excited about it. I went and checked my positions the next day and was rewarded with a loss of $100. Ouch! Fortunately, the price bounded back and I only lost $25.

Still, that does represent stock trading in general. You put your money in now, and expect to see rewards in 8 months to 3 years if you're lucky. Lose money if you're not. Not unlike growing a money tree. Can you imagine faithfully watering a sapling everyday only to discover a few months later you have root rot due to too much water?

As for me. I look to the newspaper and see Doom-And-Gloom on every page. No wonder my stock picks sank like proverbial lead balloons!

Be careful not to trade stock for the wrong reason. You invest in stocks to mainly preserve your capital and keep up with inflation, not to provide living expenses. The best time to invest is when you have so much money, you don't know what to do with it. The worst time to invest is when you've just been downsized from your job. Most likely, the economy is in bad shape then.

Most popular stocks according to USA Today: AT&T, Altria, Apple, Bank of America, Chevron, Cisco System, Citigroup, Coca-cola, Dell, Walt Disney, ExxonMobil, FordMotor, GeneralElectric, General Motor, Google, Hewlett-Packard, Home Depot, Intel, IBM, Johnson&Johnson, Merck, Microsoft, Motorola, Oracle, PepsiCo, Pfizer, Procter&Gamble, SiriusXM, Verizon, Wal-Mart.

Of these, I like Coca-cola. I think they are well managed. I wonder why Boeing isn't there?

Energy policy

COOL TECH

I think it's about time those numbnuts in California stop raising parts per millions regulation, and start re-inventing L.A. I mean, Los Angeles is a car city. Traffic jams are a fact of everyday life. Public Transportation a failure. Biking is either hazardous or infeasible. How abou drafting a city block plan where coomercial zones are integrated with residential ones? That way people can walk to work. Enact ordinance for alternative transports. Provide paths and parking spaces for bicycles, quadcycles, and Segways. Give a straight eco-friendly transportation path to Industrial zones.

Take a look at how other countries do it. They build things with economy in mind. No wasted resources is better than recycling.

Energy

COOL TECH

I've been reading a lot about renewable energy. I think the future lies with biodiesel. They're cheap and easily produced. People have been producing them with used oil in french fries for years. The problem is getting enough nitroglycerin. That, and the fact that you need gallons of oil to make diesel. I don't eat that much fried food. Talk about 70 cents per gallon all you want, but I want to see you try getting cooking oil anywhere near that price at Costco!

It seems that US has passed their peak oil capacity. It happened in 1970s, and you know that gasoline was not available at any price. Well, it seems other countries will hit their peak in the next decade or so. That's a frightening thought. It means everybody will run out of gas, and that includes plastics manufactures. How many items do you see now made of plastics? Expect them to be replaced by natural renewable resources. Ever seen a bike made of bamboo?

Some people predicts that by 2040, our infrastructure would have been completely converted to something else. I hope that's not true, or else Jay Leno would have a lot of junk in his garages.

Contrary to most people, I don't think hydrogen is it. I prefer something simple, like wind. How about compressed air? That's what steam is. If you can store high pressure air in a tank without a lot of energy expenditure, I think we have something there.

Alternatively, start burying dead cows deep into the ground. That what oil is, right? Leftover dinosaurs from Jurassic era. Or something equivalent to that.

Hybrid car

COOL TECH

Honda has a new hybrid Insight out. It uses hydrogen fuel cell instead of hydrogen combustion. Pretty neat technology. Honda also makes a home-based hydrogen generator. Makes your own fuel so to speak.

The question is: where do you get hydrogen? Natural gas source emits CO2. Water is clean, but not if the electricity comes from coal burning power plant. Do you care? Did you check? I think it's a trick to say that coal burning is clean because the end result, hydrogen, is clean. I'd like to see a few more windmills and solarcells out. Is there any reason why we can't cover parking spaces with solar cells?

Speaking of hybrids, they're not really that efficient. All the extra power comes from smaller more efficient engines, regenerative braking, and lighter weight. What is desired would be a vehicle that runs on solar and wind. Iceland has these sailing land yatch, and I can't see any reason why Australia can't be the same.

VR glasses

COOL TECH

Myvu is a goggle that let's you see video. Because the image is so close to the eyes, they look like gigantic projection screen. I should want to try one of these. Problem is: I wear glasses, so I don't know how that will work. Also, where does the input comes from. Maybe you can use a remote camera that let's you have an eye on the back of your head. Detachable eyeballs, so to speak.

Available at select BestBuy location, which mean limited rollout. Nice to be living in a big city, eh?

ICEBAR, hurricane, and biking

TRAVEL

So, Orlando is going to have an ice bar, where all the furnishings are made of ice. Insert Al Gore's Polar Cap joke here. Entry will be about $35 but supposedly cheaper if you book on-line icebarorlando.com

Another development is that some bowling alleys are going luxe and upscale. "Gourmet junk food" is how some people call it. To some people looking for fresh change, that is just the ticket. To me, though, a bowling alley that has upscale dress code is an oxymoron.

Hurricanes season is still with us, running from June to November. I hate to say this, but if I was vacationing there, I'd choose one not based on the most posh surrounding, but on the most generous refund policies. I mean, water is just water, but unwanted ones from the sky can ruin a good mood pretty quick.

Apparenty biking travel is on the rise. I've certainly been seeing a lot more of these on the road. When I say biking, I meant with pedal. Part of going green movement I suppose. Some states even built special bike routes(Washington), even as some others completely ignore the issue(West Virginia). Expect cleaner air and healthier habits. But for those easily offended brace yourself: expect to see overweight fashion-challenged people wearing biking short and shirt, pouring sweat and smelling like a 3 day old skunk.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Femisapien

TOYS

I found this very interesting toy called femisapien from wowwee. Wowwee makes really nice robots, but this one is programmable right on the bot itself. This makes it easy to string a routine. I guess you have to be articulated in order to do ot right, though. Not yet programmable by computer where you can take your time.

Also check out Roboone competition in Japan.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Motorcycle Racing

TRAVEL

Saw this at Bonnie's Restaurant in Denton, Texas. Triumph Racing, Bonneville National 2004 Speed Week Participant. 772 APSPG75.

There was also a Bonneville Triumph by the door. Pictures of cowboys and bikers lined the wall. Oh, and the chairs have Texas Star shaped holes in them.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Stegosaurus

TRAVEL

Saw this on a truck stop. Unfortunately, it burned to the ground! Also, a poor trucker got hung up in the corner. I thought Dart is supposed to be owner-operator. Still got hung up on the trailer? Maybe the thunderstorm earlier has something to do with it?

Will Rogers

TRAVEL

"I never met a man I didn't like" - Will Rogers

There's a Will Rogers mini museum on Oklahoma Turnpike, just north of Tulsa in Glass House Mcdonald.

It appears that Will Rogers is a good character both on-screen and off. Someone to emulate for.

As far as the McDonald, it was full! I mean it was overflowing. The whole place was jam-packed. Good luck trying to get into the ladies' room in less than half an hour!

I was going to get something real quick, but I changed my mind. So I ended up eating junk food. Pricey junk food. Oh, well.

Strangely enough most of the tourist are Asian? I wonder if there's a special occasion or something.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Batman the Dark Knight and WALL-E review

MOVIE

I saw two movies recently: Batman the Dark Knight and WALL-E.

WALL-E is the first Pixar movie I've seen in a long while. The last one was, hmm, can't remember. It was a very long time ago. The reason I watch WALL-E is actually the review that says something like "most of the movies features little dialogue." This sparks my interest. I think movies are getting too wordy recently. The exception to that is Harry Potter series. So, I really want to SEE movies, not audio books. And I wasn't disappointed.

There are quite a bit logic holes in the movie: A green thriving plant inside a closed refrigerator? Nonsense! No photosynthesis means no green leaf! Cockroach survives a rolled on? Ridiculous! Hologram being projected onto thin air? Hah! And so on...

But you know, if you look at the movie from artistic point of view, it works great. Lighting does not strike twice at the same spot, but it's poignant, funny, and relevant. Robots do not misbehave, but this isn't a robot story. It's a love story set in a robot environment. I kept waiting for the line "I'm sorry Captain. I'm afraid I can't do that." Homage to 2001 Space Odyssey.

In short, WALL-E is funny, engaging, relevant, and has all the marking of a timeless classic. Go watch it!

Batman: The Dark Knight

The visual effect is excellent. The imageries are vivid. Of course, Heath Ledger's performance is rumored to be excellent. In the beginning, I didn't think so, but somewhere in the middle of the movie, I saw several of his scenes that I can only describe as "inspired". It really does feel like Heath Ledger wasn't acting and it is the best Joker performance I've seen bar none. A real spooky feeling enveloped the theater...

Action sequences are top notch, worthy of being a summer movie blockbuster. With production qualities that is over the top, however, I'm not as satisfied as can be. Don't get me wrong. The Dark Knight is a great movie, and I didn't regret sitting in it. Great acting, tight plot, twists and turns abound. Really high quality movie.

Except that the script felt half baked. It certainly wasn't a good as the first one. In the first movie, Rachel's got the best lines. In the second, the lines are uninspired, standard action fare. A lot of time, it feels like the action decides what the character is going to say. For example, when Batman told Commisioner Gordon he needs 5 minutes, Gordon refused and gave Batman only 2 minutes. This takes away their comradeship, but it does allow a very fast-paced, highly energetic action sequences that ends with the Joker hanging upside down. Action drive the story, not the other way around.

Another great acting by old veterans Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine. Scenes are simply done, yet with great depth. I'm still trying to figure that out. Still, the materials could be better. What was there is great, but missing that little something that inspire. The script is designed to move scenes along, twisting and surprises the audience along the way, but no great inspiration like the first.

In short, if you're the kind of people who like action in your movies, and not wanting to think too much, then this is your kind of movie. Watch it for the special effect and action sequences.

LifeChess - Judge not the Outcast

CHESS

People has a tendency to put image above performance. If you look at the cheery ads, especially soft drink ads, you'll see this in action. And yet, if you look at the technical details of the drink, they are mostly corn syrup concoction. Considering that a lot of money goes toward paying for those commercials, are the drinks worth the price difference between those with clever ads and those without?

I have been playing chess for quite some years, now, and in those times, I have been experimenting with quite a bit of opening. Usually, they're just simple openings, but sometimes, the opening falls into what is known as "fun" unsound opening. That reflects me just fine. I like playing chess for fun. I also like winning chess from behind. Any monkey can memorize opening, but do you really understand chess? Can you calculate different positions?

When I play chess on the internet, some people who are sore loser would complaint that I cheated, usually accusing me of using a computer. It's true that my play style is thorough, simplistic, and usually without obvious error. In other words, unless my brain is off, it takes a very clever and thorough person to beat me. I have beaten lesser computer programs or computer set at lower level of playing. So, I'm rather capable of playing well. These people who complaint that I use a computer are just loser who would blame the world, rather than themselves.

It does annoy me, though, that this happens a lot, so much that I discourage people from playing on the Internet. There are times that I just want variety, though, and the internet does provide a good alternative to your local chess club and chess computer. Anyway, I started to use these unsound opening, just so that people cannot complain that I use a computer. They can't really accuse me of using a computer when the play is something that no computer or sane person would play!

That brings another factor into play. My opening is so bad, that I usually fall behind in development. That's okay, though. I'm perfectly happy to play a fun position. Some people, upon seeing a novelty opening would immediately pegged me as weak, and play carelessly. Only later on when I beat them would they realize their error! Judge not the outcast. Just because somebody played a weak move does not mean you are better than that person!

The game also highlights the lesson of making the best move in a bad situation. My opponent could have won with a mate in 2, but didn't. If you look at the position, he lost all advantages and was heavily discouraged. I took advantage of that and play a very provocative move. It works. If you're in a bad situation, play your best move! It may not work, but maybe it will! Is a glass half empty or half full? Keep your optimism high even if the position is bad. Life works better that way.

The following game was played over the internet. Imagine my surprise to see that Chessmaster do not give me any error on my playing except for the mate-in-2 blunder. Perhaps this is a sound opening after all? I call this barbarian king opening because King Leads the Way!

White: Ramstrong
Black: alain.chiffonade
Date: 2007-08-26
Event: Yahoo Chess
1. f4 d5 2. Kf2 (Barbarian King opening - theoretical novelty by Ramstrong)
2. ... e6 (Nf6 would be sharper)
3. g3 Be7 4. Nf3 Nc6 5. e3 Bd6 6. Bb5 Bd7 7.Bxc6 Bxc6 (this is rushed. Black has the two bishop)
8. d4 Qe7 9. a3 O-O-O 10.b4 a6 11. Nbd2 Ba4 12. Ne5 Bxe5 13. dxe5 (Taking with d pawn means I protect the king with my pawn, achieving good pawn chain, and opening line of attack to Black's King. Also, Black no longer has the bishop pair. Board situation: Different color bishop. Advantage: White)
13. ... b5 (I don't like this move. It traps the bishop. Also, once I took it, Black's pawn structure would be damaged.)
14. Nb3 h6 15. Nd4 Qd7 16. Qd3 Ne7 17. Bb2 f6 (White spends too much time setting up. Black tries to take advantage)
18. Nb3 f5 19. Nc5 Qc6 20. Nxa4 bxa4 (Black's pawn structure is damaged. Once I trade Queen, I would bring King to that side to help with the attack)
21. Bd4 Qb5 22. Ke2 Qxd3+ 23. Kxd3 Kb7 (So far so good)
24 c4 dxc4+ 25. Kxc4 (King pusher! No computer would play this move, but strangely enough, Chessmaster is okay with it.)
25. ... c6 26. Rhe1 Rc8 27. Rab1 Rc7 28. e4 (This is to prevent Knight from taking d5, but is really weak)
28. ... g6 29. Bc5 Rd7 30 Bxe7 Rxe7 (That's another way to prevent Knight from taking d5!)
31. Kc5 (This is my mistake! I should have taken control of the D file. Game may continue with advantage)
31. ... Rd7 32. exf5 Rhd8 (Diagram - 3r4/1k1r4/p1p1p1pp/2K1PP2/pP3P2/P5P1/7P/1R2R3 w - - 0 33) (I stare with horror at that mate in 2! Then I decided to just press him on. Normally, I'd play fxg6 here to separate the pawns, but instead, I decided to egg him on by attacking his rook!)
33. fxe6 Rd5+ (and it works! I'm so happy! Black can still draw, but he didn't see it)
34. Kc4 Rd4+ 35. Kc3 Rd3+ 36. Kb2 Rd2+ 37. Ka1 Re8 (This is slightly passive, but I guess it's understandable in his situation. I definitely unnerved him)
38. Rbd1 Rxd1+ 39. Rxd1 Rxe6 (Advantage: White. I'm up a pawn, and the position is worth another pawn. Now, to push the king back up.)
40. Kb2 Kc7 41. Kc3 Re7 42. Kc4 Rd7 (Offering to trade rook is a mistake. This simplifies my task)
43. Rxd7+ Kxd7 44. Kc5 Black resigned.
There is simply no way for Black to save the situation. Kc7? Kingside pawn marches on. Ke7? Kxc6 and Queenside pawn marches on.
Had I secured the d file, the game may have continued with this:
31. Rbd1 Kb6 32. exf5 gf5 33. Rd6 Rc8 34. Red1 Ree8 35. Rd7 Rc7 36. R1d6 Rxd7 37. Rxd7 h5 (And White wins, but the continuation isn't forced by any means. Black still has dangerous counterplay if White is sleeping.)

Free books online

COOL WEB STUFF

There's a couple places to get free books:

Project Gutenberg (NOT www projectgutenberg org): This is the old standby and the first real successful archive place. The quality is high. The only downside is that it's all text. Therefore, diagrams are missing.

Google Book: This is the new one. It is really nice, except I can't browse. Graphical intensive. The search engine is decent, but I wish it'd be set up like a library so I can browse similar subject books. I know that it's not set up that way, but Amazon does have something like that.

Economic Stimulus check goes to car repair


RANT

So, I put my car into dealership for regular service. Not too far away, about 20 miles, the radiator blew up. A phone call to the service department elicits "It will cost you about $130 just for us to look at the problem. Also, towing charge extra." There's nothing said about the fact that the car just left their dealership? This smells like a set-up. You know, I've never regretted the fact that I now regularly take the car somewhere else whenever there's a problem.

So, I have to wait for a tow truck. $200 total. Yikes! Repairs cost another $500. Well, there goes my economic stimulus check. I know I'm supposed to spend it, but this is ridiculous.

Phoning Sears, there was no operator, only a machine. Furthermore, the system doesn't allow for number presses as options, only spoken words. It took me a few tries to get to their auto center. Of course, I wasn't the in the best of mood then, but what follows is ridiculous.

"Your radiator blew up? I don't know if I can fix it." (Huh? Can't even look at the service board? No such thing?)

"You need a tow truck? I don't know any. Why don't you look it up in the Yellow pages?" "I'm in PARKING LOT, like I said, I don't have access to it!" (strike one)

"Why don't you ask other people there?" "Who would have a phone book in the middle of a parking lot?" (strike two)

"Well, I don't know what to say." (You don't have a phone book in the shop?) (strike three)

Needless to say, I didn't have my car repaired there. How come a manager be that stupid anyway? Complain all you want about how illegal immigrant is causing economic hardship, and that China and Korea are working cheap, I think that gross stupidity is the real cause of economic slowdown. I know first hand, especially since I've worked with a lot of them.

Zig Ziglar wrote in one of his books that you shouldn't voice a complaint about bad boss or work environment, except to those responsible, such as the boss. If after you complain, nothing changes, then you have two choices: Shut up or move on. My weak point is that I don't complain enough. Which means, if I do complain, then I'd probably move on if things don't get better. I've been moving on quite a bit. On the other hand, once I find a good company to work for, then I become extremely loyal. I think you should place your loyalty to good companies, not just big ones. How loyal? I think they should have APU unit installed, and when they complained about the costs, I told them I'd pay half! I put my money where my mouth is.

Oh, and the car? I took it to a Midas dealer whom I've had good service in the past. The manager checked it out and told me that the items the dealer said needed fixing was so small as to unnecessary. When somebody turns down business opportunity on the high moral ground, I know I've found a good one! I'll be taking my car to be serviced there from now on. It may be a little farther and more expensive, but I believe that spending money on good, honest people is one step closer to saving the earth. And I do want to save the earth.

Monday, July 14, 2008

California smog

TRAVEL

I was passing through the national forests of Oregon and Northern California the other day, and what strikes me strange is that the smog was extremely heavy in NoCal. I thoroughly enjoyed the drive in Idaho, albeit with some excitements over narrow roads without guardrail over a steep cliff. In California, though, it's a different story.

First of all, I noticed that the sun was strange looking. More reddish orange than bright yellow. That indicates the presence of oil. And indeed it wasn't smoke, but smog. The air is terrible, and this was on national forest! I didn't enjoy this particular trip.

The next day was spent in Sacramento. There must have been a heat wave or something. The temperature was in the hundred. Also, the air was filled with extremely heavy smoke. The thick smoke continues until I get to Wyoming. I was rather disappointed to see smoke in Nevada. At least in California there were trees to absorb the carbondioxide. I noticed the trees in California seemed more tired than the ones in Idaho, though.

Salt Lake has Bonneville salt flats, where they do all those speeding. I notice quite a few messages with stones formed on the side of the road. I usually enjoyed this part of the trip. The smoke just ruined it for me this time. I wonder how Yellow Stone fares?

Monday, July 7, 2008

More highscores

GAMES

I got bored and played a couple of those casual games. Not bad at all. The difference in user interface is obvious. Even though the newer machines have better graphics, I find navigating them annoying. Too much eye candy, I suppose.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Microsoft Touch Wall

COOL TECH

I read in USA Today that Microsoft has new touch screen technology in front. I think it is time that natural user interface technology has come forward. The development of aggresive CPU means that computer can spend more time doing user interface work rather than say, crunching numbers. The touch wall is especially interesting. I think it is an incredible piece of technology.

However, I don't think that touch wall is the future. Surface touch table makes sense, and I want to see it happens, but touch wall? I don't think so. What I want is a magic wand. You know, Harry Potter like wizard's wand. Actually just a laser pointer.

This is not a technological problem. We have had light gun technology forever. A simple laser attachment will work, too. Buttons can be put on the wand. Voice recognition can be added. This is not a technological problem, but a design issue.

For now, though, we have touch screen. I hope it's time that UI designers will come up with dynamic user interface that changes shape according to user's will so that they can work effectively. In the meantime, I'm satistified with stylus.

Also on the same page, it seems that people earning more than $35,000 pilfer more office supplies than those earning less. If this is true, and I don't doubt it, then that reflects the dismal state of our workforce where greed and incompetence are being rewarded over honesty and hard work. I certainly wouldn't want to work there. There can be no business model without integrity and honesty built into the system.

Lowering Landing Gear Extra

RANT

So I just read the newspaper of how the airlines are desperately trying to squeeze profit by charging everything. "we get a tin can flying into the air and you pay for everything else" is how they put it. There are hidden fees all over the place. Sandwich? Extra.

They routinely book more passengers per plane than available seats. Meaning people will have to be shuffled. What happens when there comes a time when overloaded schedule means people cannot be shuffled? Such as that snow stormy Thanksgiving Day? Would people settle for not going home that one special week for "free (but heavily restricted)" voucher to fly four months later?

"fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me." the airline industry is a SERVICE industry! Without good service, the airline will flounder! Richard Branson of Virgin Airline once said that you don't cut service to lower prices. You provide superior service and quality, then people will flock to your company, then you can afford to lower your prices!

It's not rocket science. When a service industry does not provide service, it will fail. Don't blame the economy or fuel prices! I think British Airways responded to Virgin Airlines by illegal means that they have to settle the matter in court. That's obviously a wrong headed way to run a business.

It's not the only one, though. I wonder whether this is a failure of school in general, or just HR. However, the problem is very real. Phone companies who changed the service agreement terms underhandedly will certainly lose a customer, possibly for life. When suddenly "Free" is loaded with tons of hidden fees, you're just opening your company to lawsuits. And when, not if, your customer ran, don't expect people to bail you out. In fact, they may just opposed your request for loans.

Who can we trust? Personally, something with hidden fees hurts more than a more expensive thing without. People on ARM found this out the hard way. When I was quoted 4 points over standard, I asked "what's the ceiling?" Without one, I simply walked away. Free costs too much.

So here you are 13000 feet in the air, and the pilot announced that the company cuts cost by not servicing the hydraulic system. "I want $100 per passenger or I won't be lowering the landing gear when we land." Can we sue for extortion?

So, everybody complains about fuel prices. If tire prices quadrupled tomorrow, what are you going to do? Give up? Rising prices is a fact of life. Sometimes it goes higher than expected, but everyone is impacted the same way. I think it's time for these business schools to start earning their fare and start producing quality graduates. Too much stupidity hurts, and hurts bad.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

No Power

TRAVEL

I was in Oakwood, IL, when I stop for the day. What did I notice? Power outage. The whole block has no power! No electricity means lights don't work, and more importantly, cash registers don't work. No power means no sale.

That's too bad. I think Americans today take it for granted that power will always be available. As you can see, that's not always true. How about that Millenium bug scare a while back? People were stocking food and generators. How quickly people forget.

You would think that people will have a fallback plan for when things go wrong. That's what emergency preparedness is all about. You'd think that store managers would at least sell things and write the receipt on paper by hand. No access to cash register? Ask for exact change or generous tip, or IOU that expires in a few hours. It's not that hard to plan and do.

Yet, people were milling around doing nothing. No power, no sale. And that's that.

Huh? This is supposed to be a great country? People with American Ingenuity? Mexicans can do better than that!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Computer Usage

COOL TECH

"Race to the bottom" comment notwithstanding, I use my laptop very rarely now. The order of frequency usage is Treo phone, Asus EEE PC, Laptop. Talk about ridiculous CPU power available all you want, but my laptop takes over 2 minutes to boot. Asus 20 seconds. Treo 10, if at all. So, by the rule of convenience, Treo is a big winner!

Monday, June 16, 2008

San Juan Valley, CO

TRAVEL

I went thru San Juan Valley National Park this morning. Hwy 160 in Southern Colorado. Rather beautiful. I left early while it was still pitch dark, and by the time I got to the foot of the mountain, sun has risen enough to color the tip of the mountain golden color.

The route itself is rather twisty, but not overly so. Would be a good route to take if you're on a bike, I think. Cliffs are numerous enough to provide some andrenalin boost. The overall state of towns are old, quaint small town. I saw some impressive classic style housing along the way.

There's only one thing that bothers me: smog. Not from the towns nearby. Probably gathered around from all over state. It's not bad, but I was expecting clean mountain air.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Moon represent my heart

FUN

I was listening to Teresa Teng's The Moon Represents My Heart. Yue Liang Tai Biao Wo De Xin. It's really good! There are several versions floating on YouTube, but I still like the original best.

Mobile Youtube

COOLTECH

YouTube has gone mobile! Now I can see movies on my phone!
m.youtube.com
I do wish I have an option to download the movies just so when the connection is shaky, which is most of the time, I can still watch them without dropping frame rate. I wonder how the bandwith capacity is holding up.

Iowa Flooding

TRAVEL

It's not often that you're in the middle of disaster you hear about in radio or TV, but in my case, I was in the middle of it. Record rainfall has caused flooding in eastern part of Iowa not seen since 1963. They closed off I80. detour goes 61N to Dubuque 20E. That's quite far! Not comforting is the sign "All other routes are closed". Yikes!

I was there when it rained. Buckets of water literally hit the windshield, I wondered if it would held. The first day it's okay. The second is the one that tipped it over. Apparently, the ground was well saturated and cannot absorb any more water.

People were displaced. Businesses falters. Lots of things couldn't go on because people cannot go anywhere. "there's not much people here today, isn't it", I asked the travel center lady.
"Ssshh!" she admonished me, "There's much flooding and people cannot come to us!"
That just about sums it up. Things certainly aren't rosy when they're under 3 feet of water!
I saw parts of the flooding. Partial backyard filled with water. Energetic rivers. Things of that nature.

People were getting sandbags to their home, those who could go back. Like I said, things aren't good underwater. Anybody up for some jet skiing? I saw that too.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

California

TRAVEL

It kind of annoys me that I rarely use my computer anymore. I use it for email and that's it. Still, I do design programs from time to time. I just don't type them in.

Anyway, I visited California this past weekend, and I don't really enjoy it. Not this time. Too smoky! I don't believe that was caused by smog either. Maybe fires somewhere. Seems a lot of it lately.

The drivers are insane! Well some of them anyway. At the worst point, I actually saw an SUV that pass on the right on the slow lane for trucks! This where the regular lane is 3 lanes! Why can't he wait a few seconds to pass on the left? Stupid, crazy and very reckless!

I noticed that most crazy drives either drives big SUV or pickup truck. Bunch of poser losers who can't drive decided to get big gas guzzler as personal portable missile. I'd like to see these drivers being prosecuted and be put on 50cc scooter for transport. That'll teach them.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Dolls are piling up!

TOYS

These are my latest acquisition. Took me $26 total. Assuming big ones sell at $20 and little ones at $7, then these are worth $74 retail.

Some other people also tried to get some. One was successul. Others not so good. "Did you get one?" I asked.

"No. You got that one?", pointing to Minnie Mouse under my arm.

"Yes, I did"

After a while they went away. I put a dollar in and got myself that Mickey Mouse Napper. After that people are just swarming the machine!

Oh, check that fuel price! Expensive!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Little Blackbird

TRAVEL

I saw this little blackbird singing at I35 lamoni rest area. Plenty of birds singing there.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Dolls Overflowing

TOYS

I think I have been a bit too successful in getting these dolls. I need to start giving them away.

Retirement

PERSONAL FINANCE

I read in this week's The Kansas City Star Moneywise: how to save for retirement. Basically, it says to save 10-15% of your pretax income. It is very important to start early. If you don't, and instead chose to wait until you're 45, then you need to save 20%. Wait until you're 55 and not only you have to save 40%, but you also have to delay retirement until you're 70 years old.

What about inherintance? Well, the way I see it is that IRA is inheritance, albeit the one that you have. Think about it: if you put $10,000 in IRA, and let the magic of compounding interest grow the account, then even if you do nothing, you'll have over a million dollars in the account over 40 years, depending on the interest rate. All you have to do is put some seeding money and wait 40 years.

What kind of account should you have? 401(k) if you have it. Then Roth IRA, then Traditional IRA. Leftover money should be spent in stocks while you're working, and bonds when you retire, IMO.

How much do you need? That depends on your spending. If you spend $50,000 per year, then you need about $500,000 at 10% interest. But you also need to save 40% of your income for reinvestment, so double that figure to $1,000,000.

The key is in the spending. If you regularly spend only $20,000 per year, then $400,000 is enough. Can you save $400,000? Over 40 years that's $10,000 per year. Not too difficult. Especially with compounding interest magic.

So save early and often! If you carry debt at all, you want to eliminate those first. Bad consumer debt first. Good equity debt second. Then save.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Plane on a trailer

TRAVEL

I saw this yesterday and I couldn't resist taking a picture.

There was a deer just amblin on the road, too. A big truck next to me didn't even slow down. It just blared its big horn at it. The deer was hesitant for a while before getting off the road. I guess this is how accident happen. People expect other people to yield whenever they blow their horn. What happens when they don't? Accident hapens.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Cottage Computer Programming

WEBSITE
Just found this on http://www.atariarchives.org
Cottage Computer Programming by Paul Lutus. Looks interesting. Also found some discussions about "Personal Computer". Ha! How quaint. Zaltair by Steve Jobs. Funny! How times have changed! Can you imagine writing software using such antiquated tools and thought "Wow, this is really neat! Amazing productivity tools here." What were we thinking? The fun is in solving problem, not typing them in. Can Paul Lutus write computer programs without computers? Yes, he can.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Trucking as Retirement

TRAVEL

had a chat w/ Leonard of Beco Inc. New Salem ND. Truck#1569. His truck was a loaner, with his usual truck in service, after meeting with a suicidal deer. He's pretty nice. He has a lot of money, enough to retire comfortably, but chose trucking instead of being couch potato. Pretty smart, I say. He has energy of someone half his age. I guess that does mean that retirement should be seen as freedom to be active, not as an excuse to be couch potato.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Trees

TRAVEL

I see many different trees in my travels. Would you believe cherry blossoms in Tennesse? I probably should check it out. I also saw a specimen of money tree in Battle Mountain NV.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Meteor Crater NM

TRAVEL

I stopped by a rest area in New Mexico just off I-40. It's called Meteor Crater Rest Area. Pretty cool, eh? Lots of rock formation. The sign severely warns that no graffiti is tolerated. It makes me wonder. Does that mean Utah was hit by a meteor also?

There's not much out there. I guess if Meteor Crater is a major attraction, then there really is not much out there. New Mexico is not without its charm, though. I remember passing through just after a snow storm hit the desert. It was just like in a winter wonderland, with crystal trees and glassy dunes. Very pretty!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Source of Happiness

ZEN THOUGHT

You know. I just realized that I don't want to get too comfortable. I guess life as couch potato doesn't suit me. It's funny, because most people who worked can't wait to retire and do nothing. I'm just the opposite. I can't wait to retire and do twice as many things.

Human body adapts. A day without working is a day without eating. I'm not comfortable doing nothing, unless it's my job. I guess I'm just the restless type.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Maximum Tune 3

TOYS

I was playing this game, Wangan Midnight Maximum Tune version 3. I spent $20 on it, upgrading my car to decent 600 HP level. The game itself is nice. Well balanced, I think. Except roads are very much congested with traffic. I swear I bumped into more cars here than any other version.

Anyway, a fellow gamer by the name ROC, that was his handle, asked to play against him. This after I have spent all my money. So I was reluctant to do it. Fortunately, the system has a GHOST MODE, so I told him to just play against my ghost. And his car was maximized. I chose the Hakone route, since my car was a Mitsubishi Lancer. At first, he did well, but then after scraping a few walls, he panicked, and scraped a few more, whereas my run, I scraped a few walls early, but as I got used to the course's turns, I got better. And what do you know? My ghost won! It was eerie watching my car moved by itself. It scraped all the wall sections I was scraping. Incredible! Certainly a good way to compete without spending too much money! I didn't think I would like the system, but I do now!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Night terror

ZEN THOUGHT

So I was reading this newspaper article about night terror. That is when a person would wake up screaming in fear and have trouble sleeping. The writer said that taking 1 mg of melatonin helped. I wonder about that. Night terror is different from nightmare, but isn't there another way other than taking medicine? What if the supply run out?

"Why do you fear death so much?"

"Because I don't want to die."

"All living things that are born will eventually die. That is our fate to be. Think not death as punishment, but as destination. In this journey of life, where have you been? What have you seen? What have you done? Life is merely temporary. Memoir will last as long as time flows."

Stitch

TOYS

I spent $4 on this Stitch doll from Lilo and Stitch. Also $7 on 2 Mickey Mouse Dolls. Pretty good harvest so far. Of course, I can't get them everytime. At $1 per try, I still think it's expensive.

Friday, April 11, 2008

This natural world

TRAVEL

A lot of times, we go from one place to the other and see only the road. We don't stop and think that there is more to the city than asphalt. However, nature is elusive. Sometimes you can find pleasant things in unexpected places.

I was just wandering around in mud path in Kentucky. Derby City South Truck Plaza, to be exact. I saw this red robin puttering around. It saw me and flew into a tree. I can see it just fine, it being red and the rest is green. The tree doesn't have too many leaves in it, in any case. It was raining and I have places to go so I didn't stay there long, but I do know that the people is nice.

Actually, it's not much of a truck stop. Just a restaurant, truck repair shack, and a cigarette shop at the back. No junk food sold here. I'd have stopped and sample their food had I known this. As it is, I already ate a full breakfast and no more room for another meal.

I need to lay off all these junk food for a while. Too much sugar in my system.

Anyway, a drive through Kentucky is a welcome change of pace after traffic jam North Carolina and Construction Packed Tennessee. I swear people there like to stop in the middle of the road, blocking traffic. I'm exaggerating, but that's how it feels like.

Conservatives' view that nature must be preserved notwithstanding, it can sometimes be cold and windy, wet and muddy, not just green and browny.

Some pictures here including the mud path I was treading. Turn it into a wall paper or something.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Darwin Award

TRAVEL

True story. OK, may not be all true, but it is based on a true event.

A male squirrel and a female squirrel were on the side of the road. The male said, "I'll cross this road right in front of THAT speeding truck!"

"That is dangerous, you could get killed!" said the female squirrel.

"I can do it. Watch me do it!" The male squirrel took his position right on the line on the side of the road, while the female stood a little farther back. When the time is deemed right, the male squirrel ran across the road, right in front of a speeding truck.

It didn't make it.

It could have made it, had it made a mad dash across the road. Unfortunately, it kept glancing at the truck with each hop, thus slowing it down. One more road kill.

I didn't see the female squirrel's reaction. It happened in about 3 seconds, and yes, I put in the dialog, but that's how it came across.

Moral of the story: when you do something stupid, there's every chance that you'll get a Darwin Award, given to those who died because of their natural stupidity. Natural selection at work.

Iowa Harvest

saw this on a rest area in Iowa off I80. I think it's nice that they are trying to make rest areas nicer. Some of them also have free wireless access for 30 minutes. I've never tried it, though.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Programming for Beginner

COMPUTER PROGRAMMING

I saw this Linux Format Special promising beginners to program, among other things, web browser, text editor, news readers, and web servers. While those aren't really that hard and quite doable, I was rather skeptical that a beginner can do all this in the rather thin format the magazine promises.

It turns out that most of the programming projects is what I call "LEGO Programming". Cut and Paste. Drop in packages and libraries. While there's nothing wrong with LEGO Programming, it isn't something you say in the same breath as "a programming wizard."

Sorry to be harsh here, but using packages and libraries ranks below cutting and pasting code. Even cutting and pasting code is pretty low on the scale. So don't think just because you can use a "60 megabytes Microsoft Visual C# Express" suddenly makes you a programming wizard. I'm not saying you can't be a professional with it, just not a wizard. Actually, though, I've seen more "script kiddies" professionals than not. Probably due to the need of those technical school to pass on certificates to whoever walks thru the door.

I still remember the time when us computer programmers were men. And we were REAL men. We don't eat Quiche. And the women were ... Practically non-existent. Looking back at it, probably because we men were lacking and any potential target means we hit them hard and fast whenever one present herself. They don't last til next day, if they showed up at all. But hey, that what we men do.

Anyway, the thinking of a computer programmer is different than that of a designer. LEGO Coders merely built a program using existing pieces, but not something new. That's not computer programming! Take a look at this code (p. 66):

3 letters or letters or less = 0
between 4 and 5 = 3
between 6 and 8 = 5
between 8 and 12 = 7
more than 12 = 8

Any computer programmer can tell you that the specification is bad. So is 8 a 5 or a 7? The code makes it clear, but the specification needs rewrite.

if (pwd.length>3 && pwd.length<6) strength+=3
else if (pwd.length>5 && pwd.length<9) strength+=5
else if (pwd.length>7 && pwd.length<13) strength+=7
else if (pwd.length>12) strength+=8

You can see the overlapping ranges. Better is this way:

if (pwd.length>12) strength+=8
else if (pwd.length>=8) strength+=7
else if (pwd.length>=6) strength+=5
else if (pwd.length>=4) strength+=3

It's not rocket science. Simply by re-arranging the checks, we can clarify the logic tremendously and save computing cycles to boot. This is a common rookie mistake. I say rookie because it's not that hard and experience will eventually let the rookie know the efficient way to do things. That is computer programming.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Death by Stingray

TRAVEL

So, a woman got killed by 500 lbs Stingray that leapt out of water in Florida. I didn't know that stingrays, spotted or not leap out of water, but apparently they do. Better be careful venturing out of water next time and bring a bigger boat. Remember that wild life ARE wild.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Lottery

PERSONAL FINANCE

I bought a lottery ticket today. I know the odds of winning is terrible. What's more, the jackpot is a paltry 2.4 million dollars. But I have my reason and that reason is, I saw a falling star last night. It was a good one, too.

I think I managed to say "Win Lotto Jackpot" before the shooting star petered out. Well, maybe just "Lotto Jackpot" without the win. Thanks to my big brain, shooting stars falls slower, so it's enough time for me to think of these things.

Anyway, I decided to just get some tickets. Who knows? Maybe I do get lucky.

Speaking of payback, lottery isn't a good deal. In fact, it is terrible! You don't actually get 20 million dollars. You actually get 1 million dollars a year for 20 years. There's a quick pay off option, but it will get you only half.

So you only get 10 millions out of it. Plus you have to pay tax, so 7 millions left. Not a bad deal for cheap tickets, right? Well, considering that prize money is only half the ticket money, that 20 million jackpot comes from 40 million dollars worth of ticket. Imagine that. You put in $40 million dollars in investment money, and only get $7 million back. That's a pretty lousy rate of return.

Another form of luck would be slot machine. That one is also bad, but as far as gambling goes, it is one of the better return of investment out there. Blackjack is the other, but let's talk about slot machine.

I once put a dollar into a penny slot machine, and got 6 dollars back. The temptation to put in a hundred was enormous, I can tell you. Later on, I would discover that the way to play these slot machines is to force the odds.

Let's say you havethe odds of 1 in 10,000 to win the jackpot. Well, you put in 10,000 tokens to play. Then you win the jackpot, the amount of which is hopefully more than 10,000 because other people have played in it.

That's why people put in 2000 dollars in a session and why penny slot machines are popular. You can make money with this. Of course, once in a blue moon, you ran out of money before you win the jackpot. That's the nature of the game. That's how casinos make money. The more money you put in the more chances you'll win and some other losers lose money. If you only put 1 dollar in, may as well kiss it goodbye.

Back to the lottery. How do you win? Well, you wait until the jackpot goes to $100 million dollars, then you go to the lottery office. You say, "The odds of winning is 1 in 12 million. Here's 12 million dollars. Get me the jackpot." In all probability, they'll throw you out. But if not, then the jackpot goes even higher, to your glee.

Of course, you're not the only one. Lots and lots of people jumps into it, and purchase more tickets, and lotto betting programs. The jackpot probably would grow to 240 millions in one week.

When you win, do you win the whole 200 millions? Of course not. You share the jackpot with other jackpot winners, which probably be 20 other people. 240 millions divided by 20 people means you get 12 million dollars. Minus taxes. 8 millions left. So you lose 4 million dollars out of the deal. Plus you have to wait 20 years to get it.

Well, a fool and his money are soon to part. :)

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Video Test

Webcam test from 4G EEE PC. Gosh, I need more sleep!

Hey, do you know Suzuki makes car? SX4. I certainly didn't know that!
video

Skype webcam

COOLTECH

Picture of skype webcam voip

TuxPaint Sketches




RAMSTRONG

The neat thing about My EEE PC is that it is compact and portable, and also quick to boot and shutdown. The other thing is that once I attached a Wacom Graphic Tablet on it, it works great as a quick doodler! The unfortunate thing about it is that aside from the lack of good built-in paint program, I have forgotten how to draw.

That's not strictly true. What is true is that drawing on a Tablet, and seeing the result elsewhere, such as the computer screen is equivalent to drawing blindfolded, which means, I don't know how to draw! First effort was, how to put it mildly, total junk. Fortunately, I have been active with BigBrain Academy DS with its Connect the Dot program. I use that to spring board to my skill on the tablet. It also helps a lot that the stylus can be detected somewhere above the pad itself.

So, what happens is that I can practice my drawing skills, and that involved, among other things, tracing existing pictures. You can see the result, pretty good, if I may say so myself. That was from ImagineFX Manga edition. Highly recommended reading. Robbie the Robot is a standard character I use whenever I want to doodle. The line in black was traced. Other colors was original. I really like that frog.

I'll probably be posting more about how to draw. It involves a few practice exercises plus lots of repetition, more like 1000+.