Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Surviving the Smirk

Tonight at 6PM is the State of the Union Address from George W Bush. To help you get through it, Will Durst from WorkingForChange.com devised an amusing drinking game The George W Bush 2006 State of the Union drinking game subtitled Step-by-step instructions for surviving the smirk. My favorite rule is:

If George W makes up a word like "strategerie" or "deteriorize," drink four shots of beer.

I heard that Antonio Villaraigosa, LA's mayor, is going to give the Spanish language response. I'm curious to hear what he has to say. My ability to understand spoken Spanish is limited so I hope someone produces an English translation of his response.

Monday, January 30, 2006

A&E 9/11 Fest

Today, A&E aired a bunch of TV shows about 9/11:

The Last Hour of Flight 11
Grounded on 9/11
The Man Who Predicted 9/11
Flight 93
I recorded them on my DVR and tonight I watched two of them: The Last Hour of Flight 11 and Flight 93. The former was more like a documentary and the latter was more like a made-for-TV movie. I wonder how the families of the 9/11 victims felt about how their loved ones were portrayed in these shows. I remember that in the weeks following 9/11, Lisa Beamer was on all these talk shows explaining how her husband, Todd Beamer, was the guy who led all the passangers to overtake the hijackers. In the movie, however, Todd's leadership role was downplayed as other passengers seemed more influential. His now well-known line "Let's role" did make the movie.

Seeing these shows brought back memories of that morning and how tragic it was. I remember the morning well. I was on a business trip with another co-worker in Menlo Park, CA. I was awoken early in my hotel room by a phone call from my wife. She said, "Turn on the TV. We are under attack or something." I was really scared, especially because I wasn't home with her. I ended up going to work that day and the next, but I couldn't fly home that Friday since all the planes were grounded. My co-worker and I ended up driving our rental car home which was about a 6.5 hour trip.

I think I'm going to wait a few days before I watch the other two 9/11 shows.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Power Line Pet Peeve

I don't know why, but above-ground urban power lines have always been a pet peeve of mine. I always notice how neighborhoods without them look nice and neighborhoods with lots of them don't. My neighborhood has many power lines running above the major streets and it looks ugly to me. I think the wealthier neighboorhoods in LA like Santa Monica and Beverly Hills have banded together and paid to underground theirs.

The city is supposed to be widening Centinela Blvd. soon to cope with the increased traffic in the area (street widening is another pet peeve of mine, by the way, but that's another issue). I heard that they'll be adding a lane on the east side of the street in the section south of Washington Blvd. running to just south of Short Ave. There are power lines running along Centinela over the sidewalk that they will be moving to accomodate the new lane. Guess what? Intead of undergrounding them as part of the construction, they're just going to move them to the new sidewalk. Bummer.

The picture shown above is of Lincoln Blvd. just a few miles from my house.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Yahoo! Mail Beta Rocks

Finally, I have been invited to switch to Yahoo's new mail interface. They seem to be inviting people to switch over little by little. I don't know how they choose who goes first, but it probably helps to add yourself to their waitlist.

I am a long-time Yahoo Mail user, but when Google's Gmail came out over a year ago, I found it much easier to use and started using it as my primary email account. I love how Gmail manages conversations and lets you tag emails so that you can classify them many different ways. With its use of the much hyped web technology, Ajax, Gmail made is possible to read email so much faster than with Yahoo. I guess Yahoo had no choice but to respond.

Yahoo explained that I could try out the new user interface without giving up the ability to revert to the old one if I didn't like it. I had nothing to lose, so I jumped right in. The first thing it told me was that I was using an unsupported operating system - I was using Firefox on Gentoo Linux. C'mon, Yahoo, I expected more from you. Fortunately, it said that I could continue at my own risk. If it flat out denied me, like some brain-dead sites do, I would have just used the Firefox User Agent Switcher Extension to pretend I'm using Internet Explorer on Windows. Even though Yahoo doesn't claim to support Linux, the new mail interface seemed to work fine without any problems.

I think I might like the new Yahoo Mail better than Gmail. It is definitely an improvement over the old Yahoo Mail. That's for sure. The user interface is very similar to Microsoft Outlook so Outlook users will feel right at home. It lets you see your inbox and read an email at the same time. You can move from one message to the next just by pressing your up and down arrow key. You can delete and mark messages as read or unread with simple keyboard shortcuts or from right-click context sensitive menus. You can drag and drop messages from one folder to another. If Yahoo adds message tagging and threaded viewing of the messages, it may just win me back from using Gmail as my primary email application. Good job, Yahoo.

Monday, January 23, 2006

I'm a Lame Duck

My days as a neighborhood councilman for Del Rey, an area of Los Angeles, are running out. The Del Rey Neighborhood Council (DRNC) held its elections for a new set of area directors this past Saturday. I decided not to run again since, during my first term as Area C Director, I didn't really contribute anything other than attending the monthly board meetings. It didn't feel good to be a non-contributing board member, so I thought it was best to give the opportunity to someone else.

I got involved more than a year ago because I thought that it would be a good opportunity to help shape the direction of Del Rey. I wanted to help build the identity of the area which is often advertised by realtors as "Marina Del Rey adjacent". I wanted to make it more pedestrian and bicycle friendly. I wanted to encourage transit-oriented development. As it turns out, no one else seemed to share my concerns. Most people just talked about reducing the height of new buildings, making sure new buildings had enough automobile parking, and widening lanes on arterial roads to help ease the traffic congestion. Admittedly, I didn't try that hard to push my concerns. I think I just never really felt that close to the other board members.

There were two candidates that ran for my replacement. The winning candidate defeated her opponent by a vote of 4 to 3! Yes, that means only 7 people voted for that position. Sad, huh? Anyway, I'm now a lame duck, waiting for the new Area C Director to take over. I'll probably continue to go to the board meetings, but at least now I won't feel guilty for not participating.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Get Mortified

Last September, I went with some friends to a show at the M Bar called Get Mortified. In Get Mortified, a lineup of adults read you their embarressing teenage journal entries, poems, love letters, etc. These adults had to try out to be in the show, so they typically end up being stand-up comics or actors, although technically, anyone can audition. The show started in Los Angeles about 4 years ago, but has spread to cities like New York City, San Francisco, and Boston.

I thought the show was entertaining, but it didn't knock me out. It made a much more powerful impression, however, on two of my friends. They loved it so much, that they decided to throw a party where everyone was to bring Get Mortified material to share. This happened last night at one of their houses in Pasadena.

Before the party I looked through a few boxes of old school work in my garage. Being more math/science oriented, I didn't do a lot of writing, and I didn't keep any journals outside of school, so I didn't know if I'd find anything that would be amusing to others. I did stumble upon a book report from 1986 - I was 13 - that I brought to the party. It was well received - lots of people laughed when I read it. This is what it said:

Raisin in the Sun Evaluation

Raisin in the Sun wouldn't be considered one of my favorite books. I probably wouldn't have read the whole thing if it wasn't manditory. I'm not putting down the author or anything. It's just not my type of book.

Even though I didn't care for the book, there were still some things that I learned about life. I learned not to judge people by their skin color. Also, I learned the typical family day in a black family. Another thing is that everybody has some sort of dream that they'd like to fulfill and pursue. The one thing that stuck out most to me was not to trust everyone such as Walter trusted Willie Harris. [1] I could go on and on about lessons I've learned, but that would make my assignment too long.

Well, these are my feelings about Raisin in the Sun and that just about raps it up except that I wouldn't recommend this book to somebody who was reading for their own personal enjoyment. [2]

1. My teacher wrote "good example"
2. My teacher circled the whole last paragraph and wrote "this isn't needed".

Thursday, January 19, 2006

First Geocache Hide

I am proud to say that I have successfully hidden my first Geocache, the Del Rey Cache. I hid it in a small community garden in the southeast part of Del Rey which is the little-known name of the neighborhood in which I live.

The cache got activated on January 17 even though I submitted it to geocaching.com over a week before that. You see, the administrator of geocaching.com told me that my cache was located only 60 feet from another geocache, and their policy is not to activate caches so close together so that things don't get too confusing for people searching for caches. I had no idea there was another cache in the same garden. I thought I had found a perfect place to hide it that no one knew about. I guess I was wrong. I noticed that the other cache, Small Garden Cache, had recently received complaints that the cache was no longer there, so I emailed the administrator and asked if he could archive the Small Garden Cache and unarchive mine. He said he'd ask the Small Garden Cache owner if he planned to replace his missing cache, and give the owner a week to reply. No one replied within a week, so the administrator agreed to archive his and unarchive mine!

Since then, a few people have found my cache. I really enjoy getting the notification emails with the comments from people that found it. I have to think of another hiding place for my 2nd...

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Finally Backing Up My Data

I have been worrying lately about all the important files that I have on my laptop computer and no where else. I've got photos, real estate documents, personal finance documents, etc. that if permantly lost, would be devastating. I have a few snapshots of this data that I've burned to a CD in the past, but I started realizing that occasional snapshots aren't really good enough. I need to have a regular backup I can rely on - and ideally, a backup not physically located in the same place as my computer. What if the house burned down or something?

I already have a Maxtor OneTouch II USB 300 GB external drive that I purchased so that I'd have a place to store the nearly 40 GB of music I have that syncs with my iPod. Last week I purchased a Buffalo LinkStation Network Storage Center. It is a 300 GB network drive which plugs directly into my router and has USB ports so that I can plug in my USB printer, effectively making it a network printer. I could also plug in my USB drive, allowing that to become a network drive too, but I'm not going to do that.

Instead, I'm going to do the following: I'll use the network drive to hold my music, photos, videos, and backups of important documents. I'll setup a script to sync that data easily between my computer and the drive. I'll run that script regularly - maybe daily. Then I'll setup another script to sync my network drive with my USB drive. I'll probably run that one monthly. I'll then keep the USB drive at work and take it home only once a month to sync. That way my data will be safe in one location if a fire, earthquake, or theft happens in the other.

This weekend I got my drives and printer all set up, and now I just need to setup the scripts to do the syncing. I'd prefer to use something standard and open source even though both of my hard drives came with Windows software to manage the backups and syncing. I have heard that rsync is a good open source utility to manage file synchronization so I plan to learn that soon. If you're reading this and you have used rsync before, please let me know - I'm sure I'll have plenty of questions.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Dyson, Discover, and eBay

I have managed to rack up hundreds of dollars woth of cashback bonuses with DiscoverCard. Like many other credit cards, you get awarded 1% of your purchases. As an added bonus, you can double that if you exchange the bonus money for gift cards from merchants that are partners with DiscoverCard. Whenever I need to buy something expensive, I look to see if I can get it with these gift reward cards.

Recently I was in the market to buy a vacuum, so of course I went to DiscoverCard.com to find out if they had any partner merchants that could sell me one. The only partner was SharperImage which carried a Dyson vacuum, one of the fanciest, but most reputable vacuums out there. It is one of those vacuums that is never supposed to lose suction and doesn't use any bags. The bottom of the canister just drops open so you can empty the dirt and dust into a trash can. There is a model called DC14 Animal which seemed like a good choice considering I have a dog that leaves pet hair lying around. The only thing was that this vaccum costs $549!!! I rationalized that it would be a good idea to buy this vacuum because since I could get it at half price using gift cards from DiscoverCard. The maximum SharperImage gift card amount was $80 so I ordered 6 of them, which I could combine with some old SharperImage gift cards I already had, to purchase the vacuum.

I couldn't believe this, but when the gift cards arrived, I saw these words printed on the front in bold letters:

Limit one card per transaction.

My whole plan was ruined! I was now stuck with $480 worth of SharperImage credit that couldn't be returned. I went to SharperImage, hoping that the sales person would give me a break if I explained my predicament. Unfortunately, he didn't. He said I could only use one of the gift cards towards the purchase of the vacuum. I asked what would happen if I bought something with one card, returned it to get store credit, then bought something else, returned it, and so on until I accumulated $480 worth of store credit with which I could buy the vacuum. He smiled and said that he wouldn't let me do that, but admitted that nothing was stopping me from visiting the store 6 times, getting different sales people each time, and pulling off this idea.

I decided that going to the store, which is half an hour from my house, 6 times just to get a vacuum wasn't worth it. I went to Plan B: Buy the darn vacuum with one gift card and sell the rest on eBay, hoping to get close to $80-worth for each card. So that's what I did. One of my cards is on eBay right now and already has 3 bids. I will sell off the rest, one each week, so there aren't too many for sale at one time.

Anyway, this has been pretty frustrating, but the vacuum is awesome. I love being able to see the dirt in the see-though canister as I vacuum. I should never have to buy another vacuum the rest of my life now.