June 2004 Archives

They now come in blue!

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Scientists create a blue rose

Blue roses (and black roses) have been the holy grail of rose breeders -- while dyeing them is definitely an option, to create a natural blue rose has been until now, thought to be impossible. (Of course, the scientists do cheat a bit, by introducing a gene that is not in the genetic structure of roses).

News like this make me wonder if perhaps David Brin's Uplift Saga isn't too far off from what mankind will be able to do in the future.

Starbucks is the new McDonalds


I like frappacinos as much as anyone, but I didn't realize just how full of empty calories they were. As the nutritional info on Starbucks shows, and as a recent news story revealed, Frappacinos have more calories than a Whopper.

Why Handwriting Matters

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Handwriting the SAT has students worried

I am always amazed by people I know who, even after completing 4 years in university couldn't spell correctly or write legibly. It always amazed me that out of almost all of my friends at the university, I was the only male who could write in cursive. It was such that I often got complimented on my cursive (though in my mind it's really not that neat).

In third grade, they always told us that in fourth we'd have to do everything in cursive, but fourth grade came and went, and they never penalized anyone for not using cursive, so all the boys went back to their printing. For me, I think the reason I kept it up was a speed thing -- I could write faster in cursive than I could with printing, which definitely came in handy on the in-class essay exams I'd need to write at Cal.

PC Mythbusting

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15 PC Myths to Bust

Most of these computer myths are already known, but there are two that I wouldn't have included in the list, mainly because they aren't really PC myths, but rather technology myths.

The Morning Start


The sound of a garbage truck picking up the week's refuse woke me from my slumber this morning. After getting ready for work, and pulling in the empty garbage cans, I went to start my car.

The lights came on, but the engine wouldn't crank. I tried again. Still no go. Admitting defeat, I popped the hood, and took a look around the engine compartment. Nothing loose, nothing jammed, nothing leaking.

I went back into the car, shut the door and cranked it again. The engine sputtered a bit, and then roared to life. Yes, I think it is time to get my battery replaced. After 2 and a half years, of daily driving, parts are starting to wear out. I had the water pump replaced last week, and now I'm left wondering at what will be the next thing to go. Part of me just wants to give it up, replace it with say an M3, a Z4 or a Boxster. Then the economical side of me kicks in, convincing myself that it is far cheaper to maintain the Celica. (A car battery costs less than $100)

Review: The Cat Returns

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The Cat Returns is the latest movie from Studio Ghibli. A light-hearted movie, it expands upon the characters of Muta and the Baron, last seen in the Studio Ghibli movie "Whisper of the Heart". The movie is similar in "Spirited Away" in that it starts in modern-day Japan, and then shifts to a parallel world.

"The Cat Returns" is about a girl named Haru who saves a cat, and finds herself whisked away to the Cat Kingdom to be rewarded, however, none of the gifts are really suitable for a human being. It borders on comedy and fantasy, and is probably closer to the feel of "Kiki's Delivery Service" or "My Neighbor Totoro" than "Spirited Away" or "Princess Mononoke".

I found myself enjoying the movie quite a bit.

Review: Infernal Affairs III


I really liked the first Infernal Affairs, which is why it saddens me to say that even with the return of Andy Lau and Tony Leung in the third installment (they were noticably absent from the second one) this is not a great movie. One of the things they teach you about writing stories is not to overuse the flashback -- while it does convey information about what happened in the past, it is often too jarring, too disorienting and often breaks the flow of the story.

I really could have done without this movie, and I could have done without the second one too.

Nokia 6820: First Impressions


About a week ago, I ordered a Nokia 6820 from Amazon, which included rebates such that the phone was effectively free. (Which is better than AT&T Wireless' deal of $199) Of course, I do have to send in and wait for the rebate, which is not a big deal to me.

It finally arrived today.

I did have to switch cell phone providers and I did want to keep my old phone number, so I also had to jump through hoops to get that switched over (which should happen in the next 6 - 24 hours, or so they claim). I haven't read the manual yet to find out all the capabilities yet, but it does have Bluetooth and a built-in cameraphone in addition to the feature which was the primary motivation for switching -- the flip-out QWERTY keyboard.

Update: It took approximately 3 hours to switch over.

I'll do a full review later once I get home.

Movie Reviews Forthcoming

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Ever since I joined Greencine, I've been avalanched with DVDs. Just a week prior to joining Greencine, I also put in a rather large order at Yesasia.com of DVDs.

I'd say that within the last month, I've watched a decent amount and I am slowly making my way through the queue. I've also been borrowing some anime from Greencine too, but most of it has failed to excite me.

Disaster of all Moves


I helped a friend from work move today.

Normally moves aren't too bad -- you get a truck, a couple of friends together, haul a bunch of boxes into the truck and you're pretty much on your way.

That would've been too simple and far too easy.



Ken posted his book list, which prompted
metamanda's list.

I do notice that the list runs the gamut from things you would read in highschool english, but also includes a bevy of scifi and fantasy, with a smattering of children's books thrown in. My count is 64 (before the 3 I added). If I read Terry Pratchett, I'd probably do better, as it seemed to me to have an large amount of his books in this list. (the one book of his that I did read -- Strata, isn't in there). I also notice that a trend seems to be books that have become movies. I'm not sure what the signifigance of this book list is -- whether it is a theme or if it just something random. I do note that most of the works are fiction (though there is some poetry and non-fiction in there as well).

Last week, the college board posted 101 Great Books, and this list does resemble that in some ways.

bold are books I've read and completed

italics are books either incomplete or sitting on my bookshelf.

TiVo is fun

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One of the greatest things about TiVo: Being able to watch the Lakers lose in fast forward against Detroit in the final game of the NBA Championships.
There's a very strange satisfaction that one can only feel from watching the Lakers lose in fast-forward. Instead of just watching the entire game unfold in real-time, TiVo gives us the ability to condense a 2 hour game down to 60 seconds, and still derive the sense of exhiliration watching the Pistons smash the Lakers.

The game isn't yet over yet, but it's clear the Lakers have given up.

No Duckling Left Behind


I work in the Redwood Shores part of Redwood City, which borders one of the inlets of the San Francisco Bay. From my office, I can look out, past the parking lot and the one-lane road and see wildlife and nature. The road basically serves as the divider between nature and modern civilization.

Today, as I'm driving out from lunch, I stop my car so that a duck and her two ducklings could cross the street. As I wait for them to pass, I notice that the two ducklings can't make it up the curb, and the mother duck is quacking madly. I turn on my emergency lights, step out of my car (which is not quite blocking traffic), and carry the two ducklings over the curb. A mother pushing a stroller nearby comes up to me, and says "I guess you've done your good deed of the day." I'm about to leave, when I notice a van stopped on the other side of the roadway divider. "There's some on this side too." "There are?" I walked over to the other side of the divider, and sure enough, there were 6 other ducklings. I caught one and carried him over to the mother duck. The guys in the van saw me doing this, and got out of the truck to help me catch and carry the ducklings over. It didn't take very long at all, probably less than 5 minutes.

Asian Films

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About a year ago when I returned home, I was in my sister's room and I noticed a Korean DVD on her bookshelf.

"What's this?" I asked.

"It's called My Sassy Girl. It's a Korean film, and you should watch it" she said.

"Maybe later." I replied.

Later came after almost a year.

10 Nutritionally Unsound Foods


A List of 10 foods you should never eat

I have eaten 7 out of 10 of the foods. How about you?

Understanding Chinese Language


Reason Online: Child Labor

The title of the link is not representative of the information contained within. It's actually an editorial piece on learning Mandarin Chinese and the trials of adopting a child from China. I applaud the fact that the author of the article is attempting to learn Mandarin Chinese so that he can communicate with his adopted Chinese daughter. The problem I have is that he seems to be using only written materials to educate himself in the language, and that is simply not good enough. Mandarin Chinese is a tonal language, unlike English which is atonal. Trying to learn Chinese from a book is a near impossible task. A sentence like "ma ma ma ma de ma ma?" "Is mother scolding the horse's rope?" becomes unintelligible to the person being spoken to. Whereas tone in English often carries emotional context, "That one. That one! That one?", in Mandarin Chinese, the tone of the word stays consistant regardless of regardless of the emotion -- emotion is conveyed in the language in the choice of the words themselves, as well as the volume of the words spoken.

A recent study showed that
Mandarin Chinese requires use of both sides of the brain, whereas English only requires one. Mandarin and Taiwanese were the first languages I learned as a child, I learned English early on, and it has since become my primary speaking language. The dictionary of my mind looks something like this:

I: gwa, ngoh, wo, watashi, boku, yo

speak/say: gong, jang, hanashite, shuo, habla

english: yingyi, yingwen, yingmahn, eigo, ingles

question indicator: a, ma, ka

When I speak a foreign language, my brain shifts into the grammatical structure of the appropriate language and constructs the sentence using the index. Words from English are subbed in for words that I can't remember.

More Book-based movies


Trailer to Lemony Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events movie

This movie is based on a rather well-known children's book series. I haven't read it yet, but I should. I haven't read The Polar Express yet, and they made a movie out of that as well. I have a healthy dose of respect for any author that can encourage children to read for their own pleasure. I only hope by making movies, it encourages more children to read the books instead of wait for the movie.

Harry Potter III


I had today off, so I went to go see a matinee of the new film: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Of the Harry Potter Books, this was probably my favorite of the series (although to be fair, I have not yet finished Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix).

I think that people watching this who hadn't read the book will very likely be confused. The director choose to make a lot of cuts and edits to the book in his adaptation, much to the detriment of the story. Those who have read the books will find much missing in the movie.

New Cow


Researchers breed cow immune to mad cow disease

They won't be used for meat, since it's too expensive to genetically engineer cows to be immune to mad cow. Instead it's going to be used for making drugs to fight other diseases.

Sony News Roundup


Sony pulls out of PDA market

I'm rather surprised at this announcement, as I always considered Sony's CLIE line far superior to Palm's Pilots. However, in America, a gizmo has to have both a competitive price point to ensure success, and unfortunately for Sony, their superior feature set wasn't enough to justify the price premium. In the long run, it probably doesn't matter much, as the useful features of PDA get integrated into cell phones, and the entertainment functions of the PDA get integrated into Sony's other line of handheld devices.

Analysts cautious about Sony PSP

Since I didn't go to the show, I didn't see the Sony PSP. My thoughts are that Sony will have to do some work in order to dethrone the current king of portable video games -- Nintendo's Gameboy Advance. Coincidentally, Nintendo has ceased production on the original GBA, and is now only manufacturing Gameboy Advance SPs. My problems with the PSP is it looks a little too much like Atari's ill-fated Lynx - the first colour handheld, it retailed for $199.95, which was astronomical, compared to the $79.95 Nintendo Gameboy, and the 149.95 Sega Game Gear. The Lynx was superior technology wise, but a lack of good software titles killed it. Sony has much more support than Atari or Sega, but the high price tag of the PSP will limit consumers. As one of the potential buyers in the target age group (men 18-35 with large disposable incomes), I actually think the market is pretty limited.

Let me see if I can explain it using myself as an example:

1. I already have a Playstation 2 at home with a good library of games, a big TV, and stereo speakers. Unless I have a situation where portability is an issue, I'd much rather spend my time on my couch playing the game than just about anywhere else.

2. I have a job that requires commuting. While I imagine some people who take the bus or the train to work might find this feature useful, for most, playing and showing off a new $300 high tech gadget is a good way to be labeled as a potential victim for mugging.

3. People who have $300 to throw away for a portable video game system probably have at least one (or more) of the following: portable MP3 player, laptop computer, PDA, cell phone. The laptop, PDA or cellphone could all provide game entertainment capabilies, and the MP3 player provides an alternative entertainment option.

They call the PSP the walkman of the 21st century -- but think back to when the walkman came out -- in those days, the market for portable electronics didn't exist. These days, the competition is intense for your portable time -- there are so many options these days: laptop, pda, gameboy, cellphone, mp3 player?

I wish that someone in Sony had taken a Interface Design class before creating the PSP -- the screen sitting the center of the device, with the controls on the side create a unique handheld problem -- namely you jostle the screen as you play the game. It's much better to design controls on the bottom rather than the side, because you don't have as much screen movement. There are two other design mistakes I see. One is the lack of screen protection for the PSP, and the other is it's dimensions. It is quite tiny -- a bit larger than the size of about a candy bar style cellphone, and I wonder if the buttons will be large enough to have the tactile feel of the PS2 controllers.

1 GB Hi-MD Player on the way

Sony is also releasing a new MiniDisc Player that can store up to 1GB of music. The MiniDisc format hasn't really been popular in the states (as it has been in Asia), and MP3 players have really obliterated the portable music market. One has to wonder how successful this device will be, given the competition it faces.