November 2004 Archives



With my return to San Jose, I am now begin the process of packing for my move. I've been fairly good this year about not being a packrat, but I've already resigned myself to hiring movers. There is no way I am torturing myself or my friends by self moving in December. So, this next week will be me packing up all my things. I actually have a lot more things than it appears I do, but with most of it concentrated on the bookshelves, it's hard to tell.

Time to make a list of everything that needs to get done.

Riding in the Car with Mom


Going to the airport is always an adventure.

This morning was cold, at least by Southern Californian standards. My sister and I had a 10:30 flight to San Jose from LAX, and my father had left the Toyota Avalon at home so that our mother could drive us to the airport. The car was packed, and we climbed into the car. My sister took the back seat, leaving me to take the shotgun position. As my mother started the car, I noticed the check engine light, along with the battery light lit up. The engine started, whined, sputtered and then died, right in our garage.

On Turkey and Stuffing

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I just finished Thanksgiving dinner with my family, and I'd like to wish everyone a happy Thanksgiving, wherever it might be, I hope that you are surrounded by friends and family.

For the first time since 9-11, I flew on Thanksgiving Day. Now, it used to be that Thanksgiving Day was one of the worst days to fly. These were the people that decided at the last minute that they wanted to go somewhere for turkey day and ended up flying standby. Not the case any longer. My sister and I flew out of San Jose at 3:50 pm yesterday, and expecting a massive swell of people, we got to the airport almost 2 hours early. The extra screeners for the holiday made a huge impact, as we passed through the security checkpoint relatively quickly. The plane was only three-quarters of the way full, and along with the complimentary peanuts and soda, they also handed out as a special Southwest Airlines Thanksgiving treat, 2 pieces of Chocolate with the words "Gobble Gobble". I also realized something about my family today. Everyone in my family reads a lot. When we travel, while other families struggle to cram in that last article of clothing, my family struggles to fit in that last book. We tend to travel with more books than clothes, and while we may not have the clothing for all occassions in our baggage, we've got our books to fill every quiet moment in our time away.

Thanksgiving at our house has always been a fusion between Western and Chinese cuisine. Although we stick to the more traditional gut-busting Thanksgiving day fare: turkey, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, yams, ham and pumpkin pie, my mother also makes fried rice (note: we have never served stuffing at my house for thanksgiving), soup with fishcake and water chestnuts, and these delicious candied pecans. Even though my family was starving, we barely made a dent in the 22 pound turkey my mother prepared.

Chocolate is Good


Don't be too surprised if sometime in the future the list of ingredients in your cough medicine resembles that of a chocolate bar. Apparently
scientists in London have discovered that an ingredient found in chocolate is more effective than codeine
in suppressing coughs. Who knows? Maybe someday we'll see Nestle or Hershey brands rival Robitussin and Dimetapp.

Only in California

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Downtown Ice
: San Jose's outdoor ice skating rink.

Book Review: Howl's Moving Castle


I just finished reading Howl's Moving Castle. I expected a lot more from this book, given that it's Miyazaki's next movie, but sadly I came away from it pretty disappointed. It was a really hard book to get into, but I can see adapting it to film form pretty easily. For a children's book, it's pretty scary (or at least for the kids with vivid imaginations). I look foward to the movie, but I do have a feeling the movie will better than the book.

Goooooo Bears!


Cal beat Stanford 41 to 6!!!

We've gave 'em the Axe!!! Chop, Chop Chop!

I used to live in Bowles Hall, which is right across the street from the football stadium. It is, without a doubt the most school spirited residence hall, due to its colorful and unique history (and also because in my year a large number of Bowlesmen were part of the Cal Marching Band). Every Bowlesman knows the Bowles Hall Drinking Song, although I had forgotten that the band always stopped by after a home game. The first year I came to Cal, the big Game was at Stanford, and my roommate bussed across the bay with the other Bowlesman to attend. The Bears won that day, and for the next week the trophy of the game -- the Stanford Axe, was paraded around the campus. As legend goes, if you touch the Axe, you'll be blessed with straight A's for the remainder of your academic life at Cal. He and I both touched the Axe, and that myth is definitely busted. Even though i only went to three Cal games (vs. UCLA, vs. Arizona, vs. Stanford) my entire university career, I would have liked to have seen this one.

"Stanford Jonah"

So...then... it's...

Up with the Blue and Gold,

Down with the Red;

California's out for a victory.

We'll drop our battle-axe on

Stanford's head, Chop!

When we meet her, our team will surely beat her.

Down on the Stanford Farm there'll be no sound,

When our Oski rips through the air.

Like our friend Mister Jonah,

Stanford's team will be found

In the tummy of the Golden Bear!

Weighing heart and mind


Another cool fMRI story: Wired: Clear Pictures of How We Think. I think researchers are asking and answering some pretty cool questions using fMRI, in this case: do humans have an ingrained built-in moral sense, and which rules our head: our mind or our heart?

Antique Auctionblock


Hand-Me Down Dish fetches 5.7 Million at auction
. It turns out the hand me down dish which was used to serve crab dinners, was in fact a rare 14th century plate from the early Ming Dynasty.

Move Over Daniel-san, Chimpanzee knows Karate


This is an amazing video of a chimpanzee doing kicks.

I was going to call it "Monkey Fu" in honor of Kim Possible, but Chimps are from the Ape family, not the Monkey family, and it's Karate, not Kung Fu.

Gas Efficiency Bad for State Revenue


New DMV Director wants Mileage Tax

Apparently, hybrids and fuel-efficient vehicles are a little too good. The state isn't making enough money from the gasoline tax (18 cents a gallon). In what must be an obviously high quality drug induced idea, the new DMV director has proposed a mileage tax. Basically, they'd put GPS in everyone's cars, track your mileage, and send you a bill. I think this is a rather stupid proposal, which would end up costing the state more money than it would generate. If the state is short on money, raise the gasoline tax a few more cents. Or raise car registration fees in a fair manner. As much as anyone talks badly about Schwartznegger, he did repeal the registration fees which unfairly targeted new cars, and he did give single occupant hybrids access to the carpool lanes, so as far as I can figure, the Governator knows what's he's doing when it comes to car society issues, and i don't think he would do something as fiscally foolish as taxing mileage when he can just raise gasoline taxes.

Of course there's the Big Brother-ness of this proposal that has privacy advocates up in arms, and if we can't trust Diebold machines to tally votes correctly, do you really want something calculating mileage for you and then billing you?

It's the end of the world... (WoW)


Yesterday, Blizzard announced the end of the Beta test as being today. The end of Beta will mean a wiping of the servers, effectively erasing the characters (along with their items) from their virtual existence. Most MMOGs don't have an end like this. In most MMOGs, it's a slow extinction process that happens. Players leave for other titles, until the game is ultimately forgotten, and the world is unplugged. This is not the case here. You have a world at the height of civilization, whose population has essentially heard that their world is about to be destroyed through a meteor strike which will leave no survivors.

The game world will still be there. It's just that their online avatars won't be.

/dance /dance Revolution (WoW)


MMOG players are a resourceful lot. As I've mentioned before, MMOGs are essentially giant sandboxes for people to play in. And, as with any sandbox, people have stories about the events that have happened to them in game. Some of the most interesting stories I hear from players are what I call "immigration stories".

Every character has a starting location specific to his/her race. For instance, all Humans start in Northshire Abbey, all Dwarfs and Gnomes start in Anvilmar, and Night Elves start in Dolanar. All four of these races are part of an Alliance, and as such, can travel freely without fear of getting attacked by city guards. Dolanar however, is on a separate continent separated by an ocean. Recently they've added a boat as a system of transit, but before, the only method of long distance travel was through griffons and hippogriffs, and thar required in game money. To travel on foot through the distance would take several hours, and would also involve travelling through extremely high level areas, and so long distance travel was generally not done on foot.

Speaking MMOG (WoW)


One of the most interesting aspects in MMOGs is the game world essentially becomes a giant sandbox to play in. The game designers provide the bare essentials, and the players using their own imaginations and their game experiences create their own stories.

One of the problem with MMOGs is that each MMOG tends to develop their own vocabulary, a sort of dialect associated with each game. While some terms and acronyms flow from game to game, some terms are game specific. This makes telling stories about the game events to non-players pretty difficult. Each storytelling session pretty much entails defining all the player actions in non game vocabulary in order for it to make sense to the layman.

Interestingly enough, Blizzard has published a glossary of in game terms that are used in WoW in order to get the new player started.

Going Fishing (WoW)


This is the first of a series of entries on WoW.

"I will make the assertion that the most twitch aspect of the game is fishing. It requires a good sense of timing and dexterity, and it'll likely be the area of the game least impacted by grief players and network lag. It also provides food and money, which is always good."

Wednesday is always bagel day at work. As we filled up on coffee, bagels and shmear my co-workers and I started swapping insights and stories about Blizzard's upcoming Skinner box: World of Warcraft (WoW). A good chunk of my co-workers are ex-Blizzard, so we've seen the game at various stages of development. This leads to some interesting stories.

According to the Bartle Test, when playing these types of games, I am 80% Achiever, 53% Explorer, 46% Socializer, 20% Killier. I am what is known as a "Power Gamer" - a player who uses the knowledge of the game's dynamics in order to meet their goals quickly and efficiently. In WoW, I have come to realize that I play it no differently than how I played EQ or DAoC or any other MMOG.

For more ramblings about WoW, read on.

Super Duper Movie


Go see The Incredibles. It's not just excellently animated, but it's also a great film. Watch for cameos of old Disney animators Frank and Ollie.

Trivia: Brad Bird, who wrote the screenplay for Iron Giant, also wrote and directed this film.

Headlines from Europe

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UK Newspaper Headlines on the U.S. elections

My favorite headlines from this article:

"How can 59,054,087 people be so DUMB?" - Daily Mirror (UK) (pic)

"Oh God" on a black page - Guardian (UK)

"Oops, they did it again" - Tageszeitung (Germany)

"Europe's Nightmare" Facts (Swiss)

Fall of Nations


Maybe it's just me feeling gloom and doom, but I do not see a bright future for America. The number one thing that I am worried about is the economy -- with everything that the current administration has done, and everything they are continuing to do, I see a massive destabilization of the American economy heading our way. A year ago, the exchange rate vs. Canada was $1 CDN to 0.75 US. Today the same $1 CDN is worth about 0.83 US. In the course of a year, the Canadian dollar's worth relative to the US dollar has risen about 10 percent. The Canadian economy has not improved 10% in the course of the year, but rather the US dollar, with the massive amounts of loans and bonds undertaken by the US Government, has dropped in value 10 percent.

For those history buffs out there, let me just segue to Brazil in the 1970s. In the late 60s, Brazil had undergone an industrial revolution of a sort, growing the GDP 12 percent annually, and it looked as if was going to be an economic miracle, demonstrating the power of military and economic rule. They invested heavily into the infrastructure of the country, building dams, atomic energy plants, highways, which all came to a standstill when the oil crisis happened. They reduced their trade exports, the price of imports increased, their currency was overvalued, and so the government borrowed billions (this is 70s era money, mind you) to get them through this crisis. They were 80% dependent on imported oil, a statistic not too far from where the U.S. stands now (The US imports 56%, which is projected to rise to 68% by 2020). Brazil became a credit risk, inflation soared, productivity declined, and foreign debt increased. 30 years later, they still have not recovered, and most families still live in poverty there.

That's America 5 years from now. Instead of spending on infrastructure costs, we've squandered our wealth on the military. We've overextended our credit, and that will come back to haunt us. When the war in Iraq is over, when Americans return from their tours of duty, when massive unemployment and inflation runs rampant, when we are down, the U.N. will kick us in the teeth by demanding war reparations for starting a war in Iraq. Can we take enough of the oil wells in Iraq to make this worth it? Because it's all about resources. Osama may have had the idea to bring the World Trade Center down by the events in Lebanon, and I'm guessing that seeing the troops light Kuwait's wells on fire as they were withdrawing made an impression on Dubya. Everyone needs oil, and as demand for the black gold increases, the price will increase. Perhaps Bush intends on using the oil reserves to finance the war, but if the reserves can only satiate America for 60 days, what then when day 61 rises? Won't the gas price still be upon the American consumer? When people look back at 4 years ago, and they look at today, can't they see that life was better 4 years ago? That with Bush, things have only gotten worse? That unemployment has risen, that we've become involved in a war we didn't need to be involved with? Afghanistan in 2001, Iraq in 2003?

Whenever a dictator rises, there are those that quietly leave the country. People think in this day and age that things in America can't get bad enough to warrant leaving. And maybe they're right. Maybe these next 4 years will be peaceful and prosperous. Maybe the Bay Area is enough of a bubble to keep conservatism from creeping in. But, just in case it does creep in, I'm keeping the Citizenship and Immigration Canada website bookmarked, and keeping an open mind about moving to Vancouver.




(image taken from USoutofSF)

Dark Cloud


There's a bunch of dark clouds looming overhead. Not just dark, but a blue-black color. There's some thunder rolling, and it looks like it will be an extremely wet drive home today if these clouds open up and begin to pour.

No More Hell Please


I don't want another 4 years with Bush and Cheney. The thought horrifies and sickens me. I'm really shocked about how stupid Americans are to want another four years of this administration. I'm shocked at how people seem to not want change. Every empire has it's downfall, and this is America's. Bush's war on terror is going to bankrupt this prosperous country of ours. People really need to learn to think critically and make proper judgements.

fMRI Political Brain Scans


I'm convinced that fMRI must be the gadget geek's ultimate toy as
Scientists are now using fMRI to scan brains for political cues. A few highlights:

"Last month, Drs. Joshua Freedman and Marco Iacoboni of the University of California at Los Angeles finished scanning the brains of 10 Republicans and 10 Democrats. Each viewed images of President Bush, John Kerry and Ralph Nader.

When viewing their favorite candidate, all showed increased activity in the region implicated in empathy. And when viewing the opposition, all had increased blood flow in the region where humans consciously assert control over emotions -- suggesting the volunteers were actively attempting to dislike the opposition."

"And when voters were shown a Bush ad that included images of the September 11 attacks, the amygdala region of the brain -- which lights up for most of us when we see snakes -- illuminated more for Democrats than Republicans. The researchers' conclusion: At a subconscious level, Republicans were apparently not as bothered by what Democrats found alarming."

Why QA exists


I received this in my e-mail today:


From: "Declare Yourself"

Date: Wed, November 3, 2004 1:17 am

Priority: Normal

Note the date and time of the message.

Voting Rights


Tomorrow is Election Day, and I know I vowed earlier to not make any more comments on the election, but this article was such an excellent summary on what to do that it might be helpful for those of you who don't vote very often.

New York Times: What to do on Election Day

Some highlights:

"Your board of elections can tell you where to vote. If you can't reach the board, a nonpartisan hotline, 1-866-OURVOTE, has a polling place locator. So does the Web site

No voter can be turned away in any state this year without being allowed to vote. If there is a question about your eligibility, you must be allowed to vote on a provisional ballot, the validity of which will be determined later. But if you are entitled to vote on a regular ballot, you should insist on doing so, since a provisional ballot may be disqualified later on a technicality.

If you experience problems voting, or if you see anything improper at the polls, you may want to get help. It is a good idea to bring a cellphone, and phone numbers of nonpartisan hotlines like the Election Protection program's 1-866-OURVOTE and Common Cause's 1-866-MYVOTE1.

As long as you are in line before the polls close, you are legally entitled to vote. Do not let poll workers close the polls until you have voted."

Food Comfort


A few days ago, a friend asked me if I had a pig-out food when I'm feeling depressed. I answered that usually what happens to me is that I don't pig out on anything, but I do tend to not eat when I'm depressed. That being said, there are definitely foods which I do enjoy and find comfort in, including a number of Chinese dishes.

Morning Foods (These might be eaten at other times, but for me, I associate it with breakfast)

  • Chinese Donuts with sweet soy milk
  • Rice Porridge, with sides of soy sauce cucumbers, pork sung, brown egg, sweet egg, broiled fish, eel, or preserved duck egg

Lunch Foods

  • Braised Beef Noodle Soup

    This is one of my favorites that I can't eat anymore due to my avoidance of cow meat. A great cold-weather dish, I have many memories of coming home after a rainy day and finding heaven in the warm noodles and the spiciness of the broth.
  • Imperial Spareribs (sometimes called Peking Spareribs)

    I don't remember how I came to discover the dish -- but I do remember my father always ordering this dish for me at Chinese restaurants enough times that I learned the name of the dish -"gin giu pai goo"

Dinner Foods

  • Peking Duck

    One style uses pieces of bread, the other uses mushu wrappers. Either way, duck is the yummiest of all birds, even if a bit greasy.
  • Steamed Crab

Anytime Foods

  • Stir-Fried Rice With peas, carrots, green onion, and slices of chinese sausage

  • Ba Zhang

    I have to use the Taiwanese name for this food item, since I've never heard it translated into English. Ba, I believe means Meat or Pork. This is a pyramid shaped rice bundle, wrapped in a bamboo leaf. The rice is glutinous (sticky) and mixed with shitake mushrooms, chestnuts, pieces of pork, bamboo and brine shrimp. (I used to pick out the brine shrimp when I was kid, I don't do that anymore).
  • Pork Sung Sandwich

    Other kids had peanut butter and jelly sandwiches as their favorite, but I preferred the Pork Sung sandwich as one of my favorite afterschool quickies. Two slices of white bread, a heaping spoonful of pork sung, and you were set.
  • Curry Pork Horns

    Joli-jau. These little pastries are filled with spiced pork, onion and curry.
  • Cha Su Bao

    Barbecue Pork Buns. Yummy. I like them steamed best.