April 30, 2005

Visiting UNC

I finished working with the IBM Director people this morning, so after doing some work I left the IBM RTP site and drove over to Chapel Hill to visit some of my former professors: Ketan, Kevin, Jan, and Sanjoy. I also got a chance to visit with Josh, who was my carpool buddy during Extreme Blue. We did some catching up and talked about what's going on. Later on, I went over to the UNC Student Store and picked up a copy of Mac OS X Tiger.

John Siracusa over at Ars Technica has been providing in-depth technical reviews on Mac OS X for years now. He put together a really great review of Mac OS 10.4 along with his usual rants about what could be better. The review does make it quite clear that picking up Tiger is worth it, and that he believes Apple is making some progress in redefining (or implementing, depending on how you look at it) the modern OS for the general public. Apple is starting to bring back some of the things that made the original Mac OS so much more powerful and useful than the alternatives.

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April 29, 2005

Back in North Carolina

I got back from Las Vegas Tuesday night, and Wednesday morning I had to fly out to North Carolina to meet with some IBM Director developers. So I was able to meet up with some of the people I haven't seen in a couple of years, like Peter, Shari, Marcel, John, and Kevin. Keri wasn't at the Extreme Blue lab today though.

Peter and I had lunch at a local BBQ place, where they serve "real" BBQ: shredded pork with vinegar BBQ sauce. Peter had shreded pork, but I had chicken. Carolina BBQ is an aquired taste. I had Papa John's pizza for dinner; I haven't eaten Papa John's since leaving here because there isn't one near my in San Jose. Their pizza is very good for a chain restaurant.

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Las Vegas

Saturday through Tuesday I took a vacation with Szu-Huey to Las Vegas. We stayed the first night at a Super 8. The next two nights we stayed at Harrahs for only $40 because we went to a time-share presentation by Fairfield Resorts. They gave us $20 and free buffet tickets for spending three hours listening to their sales pitch.

We didn't do much on Saturday except walk around. Szu-Huey played some Roulette and won $1 from betting $20. She was super happy for the rest of the day. Sunday we checked out of Super 8 and into Harrahs but had to leave our bags in the baggage check because they had no rooms available in the morning. We ate at the Rio seafood buffet. It was super-expensive but Szu-Huey's favorite buffet there.

Szu-Huey wanted to keep playing Roulette but lost so I convinced her to play Blackjack because the odds are not against you in that game. On Sunday I won $20 from $30, and on Monday I won $40 from $60. Tuesday before leaving for the airport, we played again and actually more than doubled $60, but instead of stopping we kept playing and ended up losing everything.

On Sunday we saw Mystére at Treasure Island. It was a very funny and entertaining show. We had excellent seats in the very front row, center section. After the show we ate at their buffet but Szu-Huey didn't like it as much. It wasn't as much as the Rio buffet but not as cheap as some other buffets.

Monday we saw the Bellagio water show, the Mirage volcano, and the Treasure Island Sirens of TI show. We ate at the Harrah's buffet with the free tickets we got from Fairfield Resorts. After that, we got on the strip trolley trying to get to the Stratosphere to see Bite but the trolley was going the wrong way. So we had to hop off and get a taxi to get there on time. I liked Bite, and they had some interesting plot twists and a really good acrobatics show. Szu-Huey was scared a few times though.

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April 22, 2005

FedEx Issues

So I ordered an amplifier from Outlaw Audio that was scheduled for delivery today via FedEx. However, I was not able to be at home to receive this package, which the drivers are instructed not to leave at the house when there is a signature required. Even if a note is left at the house asking them to do so. I called FedEx a number of times to see how I can get my package, and I never got the same answer.

So I call up the first time and ask some things like if I can pick up the package tonight at the terminal because I am flying out tomorrow morning. They said that I would not be able to because the truck will not get back until after it is closed. They won't hold it long enough for when I get back from my business trip because that is more than the 10 days maximum. That my best solution is to get Outlaw to tell FedEx it is okay to leave it without a signature. Otherwise it will get sent back. But Outlaw is closed, so I can only leave them a message.

So I call back again, and ask if I can just wait there after it is closed for the truck and get it from the driver if I show my driver's license. This lady is a little more helpful and calls and finds out that I could do this, but the truck is not scheduled to return until 8pm or later, and the terminal closes at 6pm. She gives me the address of the terminal. I would have to wait there and just see if I can grab it from the driver.

Szu-Huey asks if I can pick it up tomorrow morning. I call FedEx again and get a man this time who thinks I am in Virginia so first gives me the opening hour for a terminal in Virginia. After I give him my tracking number, he tells me that it is a residential delivery and I cannot under any circumstances pick up the package from the San Jose terminal because it is not a customer pickup place.

I call again to get a different person and a woman tells me that what I heard from the first two women are wrong because: 1) FedEx drivers are contractors. The drivers will not even return to the terminals at night but just take the trucks home with all the packages in them. 2) They will not hold packages at the terminal for customer pickup unless three delivery attempts have already been made.

But, after I explain my situation, she says she will call the terminal and leave notes asking that the package be made available for pickup tomorrow morning (but she cannot guarantee it because the driver is a contractor and the package may not even be there) and if I am unable to pick it up tomorrow morning, then to hold the package until the 5th so I can pick it up. I tell her that I really appreciate this.

So, the short story is that if FedEx actually uses contractors, that is not very good. And their customer service representatives all had a different story/different information. The male customer rep was not helpful at all. The female customer reps tried to help me but I guess it depends on what they try to do as to how effective their helping will be.

At least UPS has all their trucks return to their delivery terminal. I was always able to drive over to the North Carolina terminal later on and pick up my package. Even late. But this FedEx terminal closes at 6pm and is only open Tuesday through Saturday. A number of years ago, I was disappointed that UPS destroyed my two monitors and were arguing over the insurance. I was happier with FedEx because one time I talked to the local dispatcher and he was willing to deliver on a Saturday anyway, and also because another time they were willing to make a second attempt the same day when I didn't hear the doorbell or knock. But apparently FedEx won't do that sort of stuff anymore.

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April 20, 2005

A Little Cleaning

I did some cleaning today, including the upstairs bathroom. But I also grabbed out some of the vines and plants I cut off from the backyard. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem like I can do this in little steps. The grass has already grown back just as tall as from when I attacked the backyards a while ago. I'm going to have to pull out as much as I can, then maybe look around for a landscaper to do the rest. If I can just put in grass, then managing it shouldn't be as much of a problem.

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April 19, 2005

Ripley's Game

Last night Szu-Huey and I watched Ripley's Game, the sequel to The Talented Mr. Ripley. The sequel has a very different pace and tone, however, and I am not sure that John Malkovich is the best representation of the Tom Ripley portrayed by Matt Damon in the first film. Certainly John Malkovich is a much more mellow Tom Ripley. The impersonation and plotting is not there so much though.

In the first movie, Tom Ripley is someone who has no real identity and so latches on to the identity of others. Matching their expectations of who he is supposed to be. Struggling with his own inadequacies and lack of identity. This characteristic of Tom Ripley is not present in the sequel. Perhaps rightly so, as the sequel takes place decades later after Tom has set himself up as his own person. But I think that makes this sequel lacking in intensity.

Perhaps the film would have fared better if the picture-framer Jonathan Trevanny had been the true main character. He is the one who struggles most during the film, but in a less exotic manner than Tom did in the first film.

I suppose it isn't surprising that the official movie web site was never updated with additional information.

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12 Monkeys

Szu-Huey and I watched 12 Monkeys on Sunday. It's an excellent movie because of how well it handles the concepts of time travel, "mental divergence", and the threat of biological weapons. All of this goes into an excellent dramatic science-fiction movie, with just the right amount of open-ended questions and a well-paced reveal of the situation.

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Aquarium Algae

There's a whole lot of algae in my aquarium right now. I just changed about 40% of the water out, but there's still a lot. Now that's it's all stirred up, if I drag my net around in the tank I can get a lot of gunk really quickly. I need to do something to reduce the amount of algae in my tank. I think more snails, since my two really large ones died. I've also tried increasing the water flow through the tank and into the filter. Unfortunately, I need UV lamps to keep the turtles healthy, which increases algae growth.

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April 17, 2005

Fixed Leaky Toilet

The upstairs toilet tank was leaking all the time because the flapper was no longer creating a perfect seal. So I bought a new flapper from Home Depot today and installed it. The flapper does not come with a floatation bob, which is necessary for keeping the flapper open while the toilet flushes. But I was able to reuse the existing floatation bob with the new flapper and the toilet no longer leaks. I will have to buy a new floatation bob for the downstairs toilet because when my Dad fixed that one (same problem) I think he did not save the bob.

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Resident Evil

Szu-Huey and I watched Resident Evil yesterday. This is the second time I've seen it, but for Szu-Huey, the first time she's seen in and in reverse order since she saw Resident Evil: Apocalypse first. Most video game movies turn out bad, but Resident Evil works out very well because the video game is very cinematic in nature to begin with and the action-horror genre can easily translate to the big screen. Especially when the context of the movie is intriguing in its own right: The Umbrella Corporation.

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Supertoys Last All Summer Long...

I finished reading a compilation of Brian Aldiss short stories entitled Supertoys Last All Summer Long: and other stories of future time. The specific short story "Supertoys Last All Summer Long" was the inspiration for Stanley Kubrick's film adaptation A.I., which was later finished up by Steven Spielberg after Kubrick's death. Unfortunately though, I have to agree with Kubrick's comment that some of Aldiss' stort stories are very good, while others seem pointless.

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Ford Motor Company

IBM sent me to Ford Motor Company for all of last week to help close a business deal. I didn't want to fly over to Dearborn, MI for a week, but the deal is pretty important. Especially given the sharp plunge IBM stock took over recent earnings reports. Most of my time there was spent working on-site to resolve issues and address Ford's solution requirements. But I did get a few hours to do my own thing.

I arrived in Dearborn, MI at 3am Monday morning. My flight was delayed in Phoenix because the airplane wasn't taking on water like it was supposed to. The town of Dearborn is a Ford-town. It's relatively rural except for the money that Ford has poured into the economy. There are a number of expensive hotels and restaurants that no doubt survive off business travel. Other than that, Dearborn seems like your typical small town. I'll go through the food situation all at once, since spending money on food was about all I did outside of working in the Ford building.

Lunches I ate at the Ford Credit building cafeteria. It's a pretty decent cafeteria, but the salad bar is expensive. You could get a good two-item meal for around $4, but if you wanted fruit, salad, or vegetables it was $6 a pound. So eating right meant I had to spend quite a bit on lunch.

My Sunday night dinner was at the Phoenix airport. On Monday I went to Red Robin with Bill Leonard. Bill works in IBM Global Services and was in the TotalStorage Productivity Center class I was part of a couple of weeks ago. They have really good burgers at Red Robin.

Tuesday we went to Kiernan's Steak House. It is a really nice bar & grill restaurant, but also pretty expensive. Frank Chodacki was also there on Tuesday. He works Level 3 support for TPC for Data and also knows Microsoft Active Directory. Frank told us his stories about destroying hardware, both personally and professionally as an employee of Trellisoft before it was purchased by IBM.

Wednesday Bill and I went to Benihana. I don't think Benihana is such a great Japanese restaurant anymore, although their commercials are entertaining. I only saw maybe one Japanese person in the restaurant, and she was the waitress. The chefs were not Japanese. The prices were expensive for what you got, compared to regular Japanese restaurants, and not of the highest quality. I tried to order something at the sushi bar by talking to the chef, but turns out you actually have to fill out an order sheet.

Thursday I wanted to get some time to look around and buy last-minute souvenirs so I didn't go with the rest of the gang to dinner. Instead I ended up buying some food from a local organic grocery store. Wasn't super-cheap since I was buying all prepared food, and it was something of a gourmet store. But the food was very good.

Besides eating, I did stop at a couple of shops to buy souvenirs, but nothing Dearborn-specific. So not really anything to mention about that. I left Friday afternoon and ate my last business-trip dinner at the Phoenix airport again.

Unfortunately, there were mechanical problems with the airplane in Phoenix again, and our flight ended up getting cancelled because it took so long to fix that we could no longer land at San Jose International Airport before it closed at midnight. So I had to wait in a long line to get a hotel voucher and get booked on a Saturday morning flight at 10am. I stayed at a pretty nice place called Prime Hotels & Suites. Only got six hours of sleep though before I had to wake up to get to my flight. I did eat breakfast at their buffet in the morning. Finally I got back home at noon on Saturday.

Anyway, the people in Dearborn, MI were really nice and I enjoyed meeting them, but I really didn't much enjoy the trip as a whole. A lot of time spent working at Ford, and then in my hotel room to write things up for IBM. Work, eat, and sleep was about all I could do, and I wasn't getting enough sleep either. I just made up for a lot of lost sleep last night. I also don't think I'm ever going to fly through Phoenix again.

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April 8, 2005

A Bug's Life

I watched A Bug's Life today. It's been a while since I actually did something since I was gone all last week and this week have so far been doing things with other people. I had forgotten how funny A Bug's Life is. It's really a great movie and it was fun watching it again.

One thing that I think is really interesting about Pixar movies is that you can see the technological changes over time. Going back to A Bug's Life after recently seeing The Incredibles shows you a lot about how things have changed. The great thing about Pixar is they don't focus on those changes. It's still all about the story, and that's why their movies are so wonderful.

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April 6, 2005

Bryant's Theater

I went over to Bryant's house yesterday after work to calibrate his new home theater setup. He just ordered some new equipment: an Onkyo TX-SR502 receiver, Hsu VT-12 6-speaker system, and a Hsu STF-2 subwoofer. We spent about four hours calibrating his audio and video.

His room has a pretty big peak in subwoofer output (or dip everywhere else, depending on how you look at it) at the mid-bass range. It also has a big dip around 70Hz. I think the 70Hz dip is due to the room. His bass response may also be compromised by placement on the thick carpeting.

The remainder of the 1/6 octave test tones played decent with a few peaks and dips. The VT-12 sounds great for such an inexpensive system with satellites. The satellites can't compete at full-range, but for the price they sound a lot better than other satellites. The subwoofer is also very nice.

We also calibrated the video on his Samsung TX-P3075WH television. The basic settings were easy to set, however there were a couple of issues. First, when turning the set off and then on, it seems to switch off of the custom settings and back to dynamic. Second, there is some visible bending of the picture in one corner, which I was unable to correct from the service menu. Fixing one corner would bend the other corner.

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A few days ago, I finished reading Flatterland, by Ian Stewart. Flatterland is a "sequel" to the classic Flatland by Edwin A. Abbott. Flatterland deals with some much more complicated ideas from modern physics and expands the definition of dimensions out of the purely physical realm.

It is more confusing than Flatterland due to the subject material, but Stewart does a pretty good job of breaking things down to a readable level for the layman. It is pretty enjoyable, however I think I'll probably have to re-read some of it to get a better understanding on the topics Stewart is describing. Either that or find additional educational resources online.

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April 5, 2005

CC40R Filter

I received the color-correcting 40-percent red filter for my Hitachi PJTX100 projector. I ordered this filter based on a review by John E. Johnson and Steve Smallcombe. I adjusted the gain values on the projector to match those identifed in the review with this specific filter. The goal of the filter is to improve color balance across all IRE levels. I can see the picture is slightly different. I suppose the new picture is more accurate, but I have become more familiar with the previous picture.

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April 4, 2005

The Talented Mr. Ripley

Szu-Huey and I watched The Talented Mr. Ripley tonight. I first saw this in the theaters and really liked it. It is still very enjoyable because of how well Matt Damon is able to fill the role of Tom Ripley, a character that believes it is "better to be a fake somebody than a real nobody". That quote describes one of the themes to the film. I think part of this movie's appeal is that the protagonist is someone who you know is wrong, but you cannot ignore the similarities between you and him.

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Moved Subwoofer

I found a program called ToneGen today that lets you create a few different types of audio tones and custom frequencies. I generated some tones and burned them to a CD to test my subwoofer placement. Turns out my placement was pretty bad for the 20Hz range. I had a significant dip there. So I placed my subwoofer in the primary listening seat and used my Radio Shack Digital-Display Sound-Level Meter to identify a better location on the inside of the left main speaker. This fixed the 20Hz range dip, but I still have a major 80Hz dip.

I'm going to perform some additional testing with new 1/6 octave tones I just generated. To find out the proper frequencies in terms of octave fractions, I used the standard octave bands information from Prosig. I have sixty-six 1/6 octave tones starting at 10Hz to 20kHz at thirty seconds each. Should make for a good test CD.

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April 3, 2005

Making Motorboat Materials Matter

I went over to Shannon & Yvonne's house today around 2pm. I just got back after spending nine hours working with Shannon on her science fair project: Making Motorboat Materials Matter. Yvonne had her volunteer work at the Discovery Shop (sort of like Goodwill). But she's been sick and had a headache so went to bed early coughing and feeling yucky.

For her science fair project, Shannon wanted to build five motorboats and race them to see which construction material would be fastest. The five materials she wanted to use were paper, cloth, aluminum foil, wood, and plastic. But we could not figure out a good way to get the paper and cloth boats to float. Waxing them would make it impossible to hold their shape. So we decided to get rid of those two boats. The aluminum foil one was also very hard to keep floating, so Mei-Ling suggested replacing that with a rectangular tin lid.

For the plastic boat, we cut a SunnyD bottle in half, taped the two halves together, and closed off the cap opening. We built one wooden boat out of a kit purchased at Michaels, with additional pontoons added by drilling 3/4" holes into a dowel, with the ends capped. A second wooden boat was also introduced by Mei-Ling: an old marker holder.

To keep the boats moving along a straight line, Shannon and I each held one end of a thread slipped through a straw attached to the side of each boat. Without this, the boats would tend to go in circles as there were no rudders and the propeller is angled.

The results of the experiment were that the rectangular metal lid went fastest. This is even though the plastic boat was the lightest. The wooden boats were very heavy, and the motor and propeller were barely able to move them.

After all of this was done, Shannon and I put together her poster. The science fair is on April 11.

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April 2, 2005

Business Trip to SF

IBM sent me on a business trip this past week up to San Francisco. IBM held a information class for business partners about TotalStorage Productivity Center. I was sent up last-minute to help out with any technical problems that might occur and to provide answers for any technical questions the business partners might have. IBM is going to reimburse me for the hotel, parking, and food. I went up on Sunday night and got back yesterday evening.

On Monday, I had to buy a belt before the class because I forgot mine and I needed to dress up in for the business partners. Although I don't think they would have cared that much if I was dressed up or not since one of the IBM sales reps was wearing jeans and sneakers. And one of the coordinators was wearing a T-shirt. That night, I went to JapanTown to eat at a restaurant there called On The Bridge. I also stopped by the Kinokuniya bookstore, although I didn't buy anything.

Tuesday night the IBM coordinator took a bunch of us out to eat at Grand Palace Restaurant on IBM's tab. Most of the business partners didn't know what they were going to be eating, as this was a touristy authentic Chinese restaurant. One of the business partners knows a decent amount about Chinese food and ordered a beef tendon clay pot, jellyfish, and also sea cucumbers. I don't like any of those foods myself.

Before dinner, I walked around Chinatown looking for anything to buy. I ended up getting a copy of Boa - Listen to my Heart. I also wanted to get a copy of 2009 Lost Memories but I wasn't sure if it was a pirated version or not. The girl who worked at the store said it was because it was All-Region, but I think all Korean DVDs are All-Region.

Wednesday night I had dim sum with one of the IBM sales representatives. Originally, there were going to be a handful of people, but two of them were too hungry to wait, and the other people we were going to meet up with ended up having dinner plans with other people. We didn't know where to find a place that would serve dim sum for dinner, but after walking around for a while we found a restaurant that did: Four Seasons Restaurant on Grant Avenue.

Thursday night, Szu-Huey drove up. To avoid parking fees, she left her car at a Target in Daly City and I drove out to pick her up. By the time we got back into the city, it was kind of late so we walked around and ate a nice Italian dinner at a restaurant called Mangia Tucci. It was located off the main streets and almost empty for dinner. Apparently they are busy during lunch.

Friday, the class ended around noon. I stuck around a little longer until all the other people left, as one or two of them still had some questions for me. I left for San Jose around 3pm and got back home around 5pm.

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New Concept Pet Litter Sucks

I wrote earlier about the sawdust cat litter I was going to try, called New Concept. Well, it pretty much sucks. It does not clump at all, meaning it is actually impossible to get the cat urine out of the litter box. Instead, you just have to kind of look for darker areas are dump the whole thing into the toilet. It also doesn't do much in terms of attaching to feces. Pretty much, all it is good for is covering up the feces and smelling like wood chips. The wood chips also attach to the cats very easily, making them carry it all over the place to wherever they lie down.

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Cleaned Aquarium

I cleaned out the aquarium filter and changed about half of the water out. The water was pretty green, although the filter actually wasn't that dirty. Plus, since my two big snails died, the gravel and glass is pretty dirty too. I need to go buy some new snails to start cleaning things up in there.

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