March 29, 2005
Why Not to Trust The Government
As a good example of why not to trust your United States government, it's been revealed by the Dept. of Homeland Security investigators that the Transportation Security Administration lied when asked if they had used real passenger information to test its CAPPS II passenger screening system. In addition, the sensitive personal information made available to the involved third-parties were not kept under strict privacy control.
English to Code
Computer scientists are MIT have put together a prototype tool to convert system requirements written in natural English into skeleton code. I hope they keep this going, because this will have to end the stupidness of considering code as a special sort of description, whereas the same description in a natural language is something different. Both in the eyes of the law and in the eyes of people who don't understand what a programming language really is.
Programming languages are not something special or different. They're the same as any other language, although more strictly defined and with a limited ability for expression. But the same thing applies to so-called natural languages. From what my Mom has told me, you cannot express gender of a person when speaking. And tense also cannot be conveyed. I've also been told Inuktitut has the ability to express hundreds of subtleties for snow, which English cannot. Japanese also has different speaking modes depending on the amount of respect you are supposed to convey to the listener. And also different words for saying thank you or for apologizing, depending on the situation.
Extending differences like that to programming languages is not a very big leap.
Hair Follicle Stem Cells
Researchers in the United States, where stem cell research is strictly regulated by the federal goverment due to religious pressure, have discovered that stem cells from hair follicles can grow various tissues. The hope would be that these adult stem cells could provide many of the benefits that are known to be possible from embryonic stem cells. However, further research needs to be done to determine what differences there are between the adult and embryonic stem cells.
The linked article happens to be from a UK publication: The Guardian. Specific mention is made to the more liberal attitude the UK has taken towards stem cell research, in hopes of growing an economic sector based on stem cell research. No doubt, this attitude could also mean the UK will become a leading nation of medicine.
March 28, 2005
Cat Allergy Medicine
I read an article today of a manufactured molecule that can significantly reduce the production of histamine resulting from cat allergies. The effective duration of the injection has not been tested yet, but this would allow people allergic to cats to coexist with cats. It also promises further allergy treatments.
Sony Sued for Shaking Controllers
Sony has lost a lawsuit brought against them from Immersion for patent infringement of force-feedback in game controllers. Sony will have to pay $90.7 million and stop sale of Playstation consoles. However, the judge has allowed console sales to continue pending the results of Sony's appeal. While they're at it, Immersion should sue all the graduate students in universities across the country who are developing force-feedback controls.
March 27, 2005
I woke up at 5am to find a strange light coming up from downstairs. At first I thought it was dawning outside, but the light downstairs was much brighter than what was upstairs or coming in through the window. So I went down to check it out and found the front door completely open. I thought maybe Mei-Ling had gone out to the car but then I saw her shoes there. Maybe someone came inside, but most likely the wind blew open the door because it was not shut tight behind. I searched the house for an intruder and found nothing out of place. But Asuka was missing.
I searched the house for Asuka but didn't find her. Mei-Ling woke up so I told her that the front door was open. She came to help me find Asuka. She didn't find Asuka in the house either, so I went outside to look. I didn't see anyone hiding behind the front bushes, so I went back in and put on my sweatpants and jacket then went searching.
I found Asuka hiding underneath the wheelbarrow in the backyard. She seemed very frightened. She would not come to me even though I was holding onto Niea, and bolted back to the front. But when she found the front door closed, she couldn't get in and went over to the neighbor's bushes. I opened the door and let Niea back in and told Mei-Ling to keep the front door open while I tried to get Asuka to run back inside.
I stubbed my toe on a log at my neighbor's house, but eventually found Asuka and got her to run back inside. She ran upstairs to hide under my bed. I got her out and then gave her a bath with the pest-killing shampoo. I wasn't able to shampoo everything, especially since Asuka did not want to take the bath. Then I toweled her dry and she seems better now.
FF X Complete
I finished Final Fantasy X Thursday night. I ended up not doing all of the side-quests that I knew about. These side quests didn't seem to do as much for character development as side-quests have done in earlier Final Fantasy games. It was a little rough going at the end, because it really helps to have a good strategy against some enemies. But finally got through to defeat the final boss and see the beautiful and touching final cinematography. I don't think the ending is as powerful as the one for Final Fantasy IX, however.
FF:X does introduce a new turn-based combat system which is probably the only turn-based system that does not feel slow or simplistic. Each character's agility statistic determines their initiative. And each character also has both an initial specific strength or skill that makes them valuable during combat, but you do not need to worry about having a semi-useless character in battle because you can switch characters in and out during combat.
Plus, the sphere-grid system for powering-up your character statistics and abilities encourages specific character development (e.g. focusing Lulu on magic and Auron on strength) while allowing you enough freedom to customize character development. A good example of this is putting Rikku on either Yuna or Lulu's track to develop her as a magic user. Or giving Wakka some of the status attacks off Auron's track.
The game does suffer from linearity. As with other Final Fantasy games, you are given choice of where to go after getting the airship. However, you get control over the airship late in the game, and can only land at specific points in the world. That being said, there are side-quests to complete once you have that freedom, and some of them are interesting.
Pepper @ The Brit
On Thursday night, I went to The Brit on Almaden. My technical mentor at IBM was there: Tim Pepper. Just stayed for a little bit. Scott, Ellen, and Jeanne were there too. Apparently it was someone's birthday who I don't know. Cuong and Stella were there with their new baby. Alla stopped by after her French class.
March 24, 2005
T-Rex Soft Tissue Found
An amazing discovery was made the other day when scientists excavating a Tyrannosaurus rex fossil cracked the thigh bone and found unfossilized soft tissue inside. Finding tissue from a creature 70 million years old will lead to all sorts of new information and theories both about dinosaurs and the fossilization process. And it also brings us just that much closer to Jurassic Park.
Projector and Screen Photos
I've taken some photos my my DIY screen and the ceiling mounted Hitachi PJTX100. The photos are in the Home Theater gallery. Unfortunately, I do not have any photos of the screen construction. I also updated the thumbnails for the riser construction gallery.
Return of the Ants
Spring is back, and with it have come the ants. I found them today attacking the cat food. I've removed the cat food and placed some fresh cat food with boric acid powder on it near their entrance, in the kitchen closet. Hopefully, they will take the bait and kill off their colony.
March 21, 2005
Dodge Ridge Ski Trip
I got back from a skip trip up at Scott's cabin at Dodge Ridge. Alla, Szu-Huey, Ellen, and Jeanne also went. Ellen and Jeanne left early on Friday, while the rest of us left around 5pm. But somehow Szu-Huey and I got ahead of Ellen and Jeanne anyway, and unfortunately Scott's car broke down in Fremont. We ended up getting to Scott's cabin around 10:30pm, after stopping for dinner.
Alla and I went to Helm of Sun Valley on Friday to rent skis for the weekend. But they were selling used rentals so I got rental skis, boots, and bindings, and new poles for $165. They'll have paid off in about five trips. Unfortunately my new poles got scratched up on this trip.
Saturday morning we all went early to the mountain with free lift tickets because Scott had some free passes from his previous ski patrol days. The weather was really bad. Lots of snow, some hail, sleet, bad winds. The lift to the peak was covered in icicles. All of the ski patrol people were staying inside. I stayed with Szu-Huey on the runs because she kept falling down and so the going was really slow. Alla went back to the lodge to sit out for a while, because conditions were bad and her rental boots were hurting her toes. Jeanne stayed at the cabin because she didn't feel like taking ski lessons.
So Alla decided not to go skiing again today because her boots hurt and the weather wasn't good. She came back early today with me and Szu-Huey. On the way back we stopped at the outlet stores in Tracy, which weren't that great. Alla bought some monkey clothes. I bought a pillow for when I am listening to music downstairs, and some socks. Szu-Huey also bought socks and some books for her niece Kristin.
I watched Vanilla Sky this past Thursday. It's a movie I've wanted to see for a long time, although I was sort of planning to watch Abre los Ojos first. Vanilla Sky is a remake of Abre Los Ojos. It's a very interesting movie that requires you to really pay attention and think things through. The question is not new, but the presentation is extremely well executed. It is an excellent science fiction film.
The basic plot is of this playboy-type character who pretty much gets away with everything, except karma comes back to ruin it for him. The movie can be confusing, but that is because the audience is forced into the same sort of confusing situation as the protagonist. As things unfold, you are drawn deeper into the mystery of trying to figure out exactly what has happened. In the end, you can't be completely sure, because of what you've been through, and this is one of those movies I really like for making it more a reflection of the viewer than of the movie itself.
R.I.P. Black & White Fishy
On Friday, I discovered that my black & white cichlid had died. It had seemed sick for a while now, with its color fading and a tendency to hide and not eat. I discovered it in the morning when I went to feed the turtles and fish. I couldn't find him, but then I saw a strange shape against the glass in the corner. Wedged down by a piece of driftwood, it had been partially eaten. I also can no longer find the small blue cichlid I recently bought. I won't be buying anymore fish for a while.
March 17, 2005
Mini Black Hole?
BBC News is reporting that a fireball with characteristics of a black hole has been created at an ion collider in New York. Researchers there state that at the levels involved, there is no risk of danger. However, this unexpected result is very similar to what was going to happen in Forever Peace. Interesting coincidence.
March 15, 2005
I decided to watch Underworld again the other night. I would guess it's the 4th time I've watched it. It's not a super-polished movie, but I like the mythology behind the movie, the action, the character Selene, and the mood from the scenes and the immersive audio.
There is a messed-up audio mix at one point early in the movie when Craven is talking to Selene. Craven's voice is much too hollow, as if talking in a large open area instead of in the sound-absorbant study that the scene is taking place in. And when Craven tells Erika to leave the room, her reaction is too sudden and thus seems forced. I also hate the layer change delay on the disc that is due to my player's limitations.
But it is a very enjoyable movie, if a bit high on the SPL meter for the majority of the movie.
The Fifth Element
Thursday of last week, I was going to have a movie night with Oscar's family including his 4-year-old child. We were going to watch Ice Age but Oscar had to cancel at the last minute. Since it was only Bryant and me at that point, Bryant picked The Fifth Element as he'd never seen it before. The Fifth Element is a movie I really do like. This was probably the 4th time I've seen it.
It is simply a very entertaining and well choreographed action science-fiction movie. Also one of the early movies starring Milla Jovovich, who is one of my favorite actresses. Her earlier movies were as a child or teenager. I've got a bunch of her movies now.
I figure if I'm going to include new movies I watch, I might as well include old movies that I rewatch. About a week ago I watched Blackhawk Down. Probably the 3rd time I've watched it. It's an excellent movie not because of the plot or deep character development, but because of how well it can portray a single day of a horrible situation. The audio and video quality is excellent, and the movie really pulls you in.
Alla gave me a haircut yesterday. Szu-Huey helped a little bit in the beginning, but then went to work on her homework. It came out pretty good and looks a lot like what it would look like if I had went to the barber shop. It helps that Alla is a perfectionist. Just have to see if people can figure out if Alla gave me the haircut or if I it was done professionally.
March 14, 2005
Gay Marriage Ban Ruled Unconstitutional
A California Superior Court judge ruled today that the ban on gay marriages is unconstitutional. California has had an interesting history over this legal and cultural issue because a California vote did establish legal marriages as only between male and female. However, there is a very strong gay presence in the state, and California is probably the state with the most support for gay marriage in terms of sheer numbers and percentage of population. The case must still proceed to the California Supreme Court.
I went to visit Shannon and Yvonne today. Yvonne has to build a motorboat for her class, and Shannon is going to build some for her science fair project. She wants to race five boats built out of different things to find out which construction material lets the boat go fastest. We went to Michaels, Radio Shack, and HobbyTown USA to buy a wooden boat model, a motor, and propellors respectively.
We were able to finish Shannon's plastic boat, using a old SunnyD bottle and tape. We built the wooden boat model but it doesn't displace enough water to float once the motor is attached. So our plan is to attach a couple of pontoons built out of hollowed out wooden dowels. Shannon also wants to build an aluminum boat, paper boat, and a boat out of cloth made waterproof with wax.
March 13, 2005
Belt Drive Garage Door Opener
My garage door opener stopped working earlier this week. I opened it up and the motor and gears just wouldn't turn anymore. Since having someone come out to fix it would cost a little bit, and I expect I would just have more problems with it after fixed, I went to buy a new garage door opener. I found a Craftsman 1/2hp Belt Drive garage door opener on sale at Posted by josuah at 3:03 AM UTC+00:00 | Comments (0) | TrackBack
March 12, 2005
Sawdust Cat Litter
I went to Pet Club today to buy some more flushable kitty litter. I've been using Swheat Scoop but there was a new product there today called New Concept that is treated sawdust. It costs half the price of Swheat Scoop and there seems to be more of it. I'll give it a try and see how well it works.
The other day, I finished sewing blackout curtains for three windows and the sliding glass door in the area surrounding the home theater. The cloth was about $6/yd. at Hancock Fabrics and I spent about $50 total purchasing all of the cloth and white thread. I also had to buy Because there was so much sewing to do, I bought a Handy Stitch. This made it a lot easier to sew the curtains. Now the projector is usable during the day.
March 9, 2005
EU Approves Software Patents
I saw today that the EU Council has approved software patents, despite strong opposition from open source advocates and member states. The article quotes Hugo Lueders, director of public policy at CompTIA, as stating this directive will allow the EU to "become the world's most competitive and dynamic knowledge-driven economy in 2010." Some people just don't understand why things like software patents and intellectual property of ideas (not implementations) are bad for society, progress, and economic growth. History does not appear to be their strong point.
March 8, 2005
R.I.P. Blue Fishy #2
Another of my large cichlids died today. I woke up to find it having trouble swimming, and then it turned upside-down. I grabbed it out of the tank right before one of the turtles attacked it, and put it into a quarantine tank with half tank water and half treated tap water. It seemed to be doing better, but I came back from work now to check on it, and it had died. I really wish my fish would stop getting sick. I also can't find the little yellow cichlid anymore.``````
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Tonight's movie night was Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. It's one of those artistic movies that won a lot of awards, but it is also a romantic comedy. It is a very good movie, although the premise is not entirely new. I wanted to buy it but it wasn't available in stores yet.
March 7, 2005
Leather Bean Bags
I went a few places today looking for seats for both my bedroom (for the video games setup) and happened across a furniture store called Ramos Furniture on Monterey Highway. I decided to go in because they had a big sign announcing a clearance. Turns out they had a couple of leather bean bags on their floor without any price tags on them. The saleswoman told me each was $80 and I bought the two for $150 total. These are patchwork leather bean bags, but it is a really good deal. They are very comfortable.
March 6, 2005
One Tiger Barb Dead
One of the new Tiger Barbs got killed last night. I'm not really sure what happened, since it was inside the quarantine net. But there were a lot of fish pieces in a corner of the net this morning. It almost looks like it got attacked while in the corner and didn't escape. I've let the other fish out of the net and into the tank now.
I went to Pet Club today to buy some kitty litter. But I couldn't find any of the large bags of Swheat Scoop. I need to check back soon because I'm almost out. While I was there, I picked up some new fish: three Tiger Barbs, an Electric Blue Cichlid, and an Electric Yellow Cichlid too. They're all tiny, so right now they are staying inside the quarantine net just in case. I hope none of these will die.
Center Speaker Stand
I built a stand for my center speaker today. The top and bottom are 8" square cuts of 1/2" plywood, connected together with a 4"x4" piece of wood (actually one of the legs I used to raise the sofa before). To increase the mass, an 8" cube cinder block was put around the 4"x4" before screwing on the top plate. The entire structure is covered in black felt and there are some plastic floor protectors on the bottom. The speaker is placed on top vertically.
Right now, I have a bunch of shims stuck on the bottom to make it level and to tilt the speaker up towards the viewers. This should reduce reflections from the screen off the top of the speaker. If it turns out there aren't reflections, or the speaker is unstable this way, then I'll move it back to level. I could place black felt on the top to reduce reflections instead of tilting it.
March 5, 2005
Since I moved the Panasonic PT-50LC13 into my bedroom along with my GameCube and Playstation 2, I haven't had anything hooked up as I was waiting for the Sony STR-DE597. It arrived earlier this week and I was able to get it hooked up today with my Castle Avon speakers. The system works as good as I expected, and does everything I need it to do.
There were a few things I found inferior with this receiver, but nothing I wouldn't expect for such a low-end product.
Attaching the connections to the back of the receiver caused the back-plate to bend in. It's attached very well, but not very stiff. The unit is not particularly heavy, although the side with the power supply and amplifiers is heavier, making the unit off-balance in terms of weight. It is also pretty large for a such a low-end unit.
The inputs labeled DVD only accept coaxial digital audio, and not optical. This isn't entirely bad, as the receiver still includes two optical digital audio inputs: one for SACD/CD and one for Video 2. So instead of having both coaxial and optical audio inputs for DVD, which would only allow you to use one of the two inputs, I could make use of both of them. However, I won't be, as I have the GameCube going to the DVD inputs and the Playstation 2 going to the Video 2 inputs so I can use the optical audio. I may use the SACD/CD optical audio input with another Airport Express at some future time.
The LCD display is a bit limiting in terms of available pixels, and the user-interface a little confusing as a result. A lot of words need to be abbreviated making the manual a necessary reference. I also tend to dislike units that have a lot of buttons or controls on the front panel, preferring to use the remote or to have those controls hidden behind a faceplate.
The included remote is not a universal remote, for obvious reasons at this price point. This means I have to use both the television and receiver remotes to control things.
I did discover that the receiver includes three light output settings for its LCD display, which is a very nice bonus. I have it set to the lowest setting so it does not distract as much. Although, due to the size, I was forced to place this on the very bottom of the stand, so it isn't near the screen anyway. I can drive the Castle Avon speakers, which are rated at 8 ohms, at my desired volume level without pushing the receiver too hard.
All I need now is a subwoofer, as the Castle Avon can only handle down to about 50Hz before dropping off.
Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water - The Motion Picture
I watched Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water - The Motion Picture last night. Unfortunately, it is pretty bad.
This 90 minute sequel to the television series takes place a couple of years after the original adventure and includes the original voice actors, but the entire movie is an amateur attempt.
The plot is simplistic, the new character designs lack depth, there is absolutely no character development, and the animation is unpolished. The first thirty minutes of the movie involve flashbacks of the television series, which is difficult considering the length of the original series. Then there is quite a bit of rushing around as an evil madman attempts to take over the world. The presented situation of Jéan, Nadia, and the other characters do not match up with what you would expect after the series.
My advice would be to ignore this installation of Nadia, as it only messes up what was great about the original series.
6" Ceiling Mount Extension
The 6" projector ceiling mount extension I ordered arrived today. I attached it to the kit and the projector is at a perfect height now. I was even able to raise the screen a few inches higher, allowing me to improve the front speaker arrangement and making it easier for people in the back row to see over the heads of the first row.
I have the projector cables running along the ceiling. The power goes to the back wall where it plugs in beneath the panel trap. I ran the 25' component video cable I purchased from Fry's Electronics along the ceiling next to the speaker cables.
After setting all of this up, I did some listening tests. With the projector screen raised, I can try placing the center speaker vertically instead of horizontally. I listened to Suzanne Vega's Solitude Standing in straight and DPLIIx Music modes. Szu-Huey agrees that it sounds better with the center speaker positioned vertically, and she was about 30° off-axis.
So, I need to build a 12" or 13" inch vertical speaker stand for the center channel. I'm afraid any I purchase will not be heavy enough to withstand a pounce from the kitties. At this height, the center speaker will be a few inches below the front speakers, and the center tweeter will be several inches below the front tweeters. But that's the best I can do with my setup.
March 4, 2005
Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water
I finished watching Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water last night. This is one of the best anime series I've come across, although when I first began watching it I began to believe its good reviews were based on a children's audience. But as the story progressed, it quickly became very engrossing and the length of the series allowed plot and character to fully develop.
The beginning of the series bore some resemblance to Pokémon, and in particular Team Rocket. There was also quite a bit of type-casting going on with the characters. But that changed as the character development progressed.
In fact, the character development in this story is extremely good. Personalities and history are revealed naturally and without obvious effort. Episodes do not focus on a single character in an artificial attempt to provide depth.
There are also several topics addressed in the series, but these are not approached in the childlike fashion of shows that are trying to convey a moral or make you believe in right and wrong, black and white. In fact, many of these topics are not clearly resolved, and instead the viewer must decide whether or not to further pursue them. This makes the series more approachable to younger viewers, while providing a lot of depth for mature viewers.
March 3, 2005
Sergio showed me this Flash game: Nanaca Crash. It's a fun game that is very simple, but there are actually a lot of things you can try to do to improve your score, including combos. So far, my maximum distance is about 11800m and my maximum height is about 440m.
Bunnykill 2 is just a simple flash animation that is fun to watch. Warning: it's rated mature for excessive violence. As if you couldn't figure that out from the name itself.
Cat + Bunny Love
I found this really cool flash animation. I'm not sure what the title of the animation is, but I'll call it Cat + Bunny Love. Apparently it also goes by the name There She Is. Just check it out. Great music for a great animation with a wacky and cool short story. The music seems to be by a Korean group named Witches, off their album Broomstick. Unfortunately, I have no idea where you can purchase the album. Seems to be out of print.
March 2, 2005
R.I.P. Yellow Fishy
The Electric Yellow Cichlid is dead. I just went downstairs to check on it and he had died. I flushed it. :_(
Yellow Cichlid Savagely Attacked
I woke up this morning to discover my Electric Yellow Cichlid in an extremely bad condition. I had gotten home really late last night and not fed the turtles because their tank already turned dark. As a result, they attacked my cichlid. He is completely missing his ventral fin, tail fin, and part of his tail. He is still alive but suffering a lot. I've put him in a quarantine net, but I don't think he is going to live. :(
March 1, 2005
Screen Weight Slipcovers
Since the projector screen weights I constructed were made out of black ABS piping, the outside of the pipes do reflect light bounced off the projector screen. Not a big deal, but something that distracts every once in a while. So, to reduce the amount of reflection from the screen weights, I sewed some black felt slipcovers today. Placed over the weights, the reflection is greatly reduced.
The only problem remaining is the high center of gravity these weights have, making it them someone ineffective. To remedy this, I will buy some 8"x8" cinder blocks to slip over them. Once in place, it will be extremely difficult for the screen to push the stabilizing weights over.