December 2005 Archives

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind


Longer life through worms


Scientists Discover a gene that regulates lifespan

Genes that control the timing of organ formation during development also control timing of aging and death, and provide evidence of a biological timing mechanism for aging, Yale researchers report in the journal Science.
"Although there is a large variation in lifespan from species to species, there are genetic aspects to the processes of development and aging," said Frank Slack, associate professor of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology and senior author of the paper. "We used the simple, but genetically well-studied, C. elegans worm and found genes that are directly involved in determination of lifespan. Humans have genes that are nearly identical."

Advanced Digital Photography Techniques


Review: GameBridge AVC-1400


Summing up Google's parts

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Bill Slawski compiled
a list of Google's acquisitions, along with pertinent info such as patents and abstracts. It becomes a little easier to see what Google has been aquiring as well as what services they have been announcing and releasing. However, there are some missing acquisitions, such as the company responsible for much of Google's satellite image data: Keyhole.
UPDATE:I missed Keyhole the first time glacing through.

links for 2005-12-27





  1. Webmaster

  2. Programmer

  3. Sysadmin

  4. Producer


  1. Infernal Affairs
  2. The Incredibles
  3. Hero
  4. Spirited Away


  1. Cerritos, CA
  2. Berkeley, CA
  3. Foster City, CA
  4. San Mateo, CA

FOUR TV SHOWS YOU LOVE TO WATCH (currently on-air)

  1. Actor's Studio
  2. Scrubs
  3. Stargate SG-1
  4. Samurai Champloo


  1. Vancouver, Canada
  2. Tokyo, Japan
  3. Seattle, Washington
  4. Taiwan




  1. sushi
  2. crab
  3. deep-fried yam
  4. Fred Steak


  1. New York City (never been)
  2. Washington D.C. (never been)
  3. Venice, Italy (never been)
  4. Amsterdam (never been, but saw lil' sis' pictures)

links for 2005-12-25


I'm home for Christmas

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This has been my day:
10:30 am: Depart Mountain View, Drive towards LA

4:00pm: Arrive Home

4:05pm: Sit down at the dining table and begin eating

11:00pm: eating finally ends

I'm exhausted, tired and about to crash. maybe I'll update this entry later when I'm more coherent.

Happy holidays/Merry Christmas/Season's Greetings!

links for 2005-12-24


links for 2005-12-23


links for 2005-12-22


Photorealistic Texture Maps Through Inverse Panorama Photography


As soon as I saw this photo from on
Boing Boing, I knew instantly what it was -- a hi-res cylindrical texture map for a 3d game.

I was hoping there would be a few more photos, but the explanation of how it was done should inspire other 3d artists to do the same, creating some really photorealistic texture maps in the future.

Gone Gold!


In software manufacturing, "going gold" is the stage in which the program is placed on a gold master and is ready to go into production. In this case, it means that and are now Gold Sponsors in Child's Play.
Didn't I just get laid off from my job? Yes, I did. I haven't found a new job yet, but I cannot afford to not donate to a worthwhile cause such as Child's Play. I'd like to see them break half a million this year -- I know our contribution will help them head towards that goal. I'm also hoping that our donation will encourage others, that regardless of their financial situation they can do good things this holiday season. I know some of you think that games and toys are expensive, but there are items on these wishlists that fit any budget. Take a look at the Wishlists for Child's Play (San Diego Children's Hospital). $100 can buy a Gamecube, $50 can buy a game or a couple of dvds, $20 can buy a DVD, toys or a good quality discount game. $10 can buy some great toys and children's books. These little things can make a big difference in the children's happiness and well-being while they stay at the hospital.

Today's Links

| 0 Comments is currently busted, so I've had to resort to the old fashioned way of logging useful links:

Freakonomics: Most Blogged About Book of 2005


New York Times: Most Blogged about books in 2005

Number one isn't Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. It's actually a book calledFreakonomics : A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything. More details, including excerpts of the book are available onFreakonomics Author's Blog. It also happens to be #3 in Amazon's Top Sellers
The book is about the hidden economic side of cerain decisions - for instance, the author claims that backyard swimming pools are more dangerous than guns to children, and that a side effect of the Roe v. Wade decision is a reduction in violent crime rate. It definitely sounds lik an an interesting book I'll have to read.

The Season of Giving


It occurs to me that I forgot to mention the Child's Play Charity before the hullabaloo of the Christmas rush started. It's a really worthwhile cause, created by Penny Arcade to get toys, games and cash into the hands of children's hospitals in the US, Canada, and the UK.
If you were planning on buying me a gift for the holidays, but haven't yet, please consider buying something for a Child's Play Children's Hospital instead.

Reason to Hate Best Buy #360


Earlier I wrote about how Best Buy sold XBox360s packaged with hundreds of dollars worth of accessories. Well, I gotta hand it to Best Buy, but they've outdone themselves by pulling a bait and switch on a denied XBox 360 customer selling a $449 Compaq laptop for $1,750! I think the person who made that unwise purchase needs to read my holiday tips, particularly regarding sunk costs and spending yourself into financial ruin.



Full Text of Bush's Saturday Address

On Friday, I was listening to Jim Lehrer Interview President Bush on NPR. Personally, I'm really surprised that Bush's handlers let him speak without a puppeteer. What's really interesting is if you listen to the interview and then read the address, you realize just how much difference a day makes.
Jim Lehrer Interview (Dec. 16, 2005)

PRESIDENT BUSH: I-- Jim, I know that people are anxious to know the details of operations, they-- people want me to comment about the veracity of the story. It's the policy of this government, just not going do it, and the reason why is is that because it would compromise our ability to protect the people.

National Address (Dec. 17, 2005)

PRESIDENT BUSH: The authorization I gave the National Security Agency after September the 11th helped address that problem in a way that is fully consistent with my constitutional responsibilities and authorities. The activities I have authorized make it more likely that killers like these 9/11 hijackers will be identified and located in time. And the activities conducted under this authorization have helped detect and prevent possible terrorist attacks in the United States and abroad.
Of course, the most infuriating thing in the interview is this part, regarding the casualty rate:

JIM LEHRER: The war has now been going on 2-1/2 years. This week in fact the one-thousandth day went by, and more than 2,100 Americans have died.


JIM LEHRER: When you made the decision to go to war, did you expect this kind of casualty rate?

PRESIDENT BUSH: First of all, I knew there would be casualties. I never tried to guess.

He never tried to guess? Don't they teach cost analysis at school anymore? Isn't part of miltary strategy determining the casualties and determining whether "the objective" is worth those casualties? What kind of commander-in-chief sends men off to war without knowing how long it's going to take, and what it's going to take to win? How can you possibly formulate any kind of strategy without knowing the cost and the losses?

JIM LEHRER: Did you ask General Franks or Secretary Rumsfeld, what's the risk here, what's the casualty possibility?

PRESIDENT BUSH: I think everybody understood the risks, Jim. I'll never forget making the decision in the Situation Room, and it affected me. I mean, it was-- I got up out of the chair and walked around the South Lawn there and I thought, you know, I knew the decision I had just made, a decision, by the way, that I had been wrestling with for months, was the right decision in my judgment, or obviously I wouldn't have made it, but also one that would have consequences for Americans and families and members of the soldiers who died.

We run a danger of trying to say the casualties are less than other wars or more than expected. It's just everybody matters, every person matters, and what really matters is having the strategy and the will to make sure any death is not-- is honored by achieving an objective.

If everybody matters, if every person matters, isn't it better to say "we've lost 2,100 people, let's not lose another 2,100 by staying here"? Does President Bush really understand that so far on this war of terror, we have lost over 5,000 people, and not saved a single person? This war has ruined lives -- so many of our soldiers come back wounded, missing limbs, injured, crippled. Our country has killed an estimated 30,000 Iraqis over the past two and a half years. We have spent close to half a trillion dollars, and for what? It's costing the American people five billion dollars a month. We have a population of 297 million people. That's almost 17 dollars a month for every citizen of the United States. Each Iraqi killed has cost us close to 17 million dollars. It takes the money of a million of us to kill just one of them. I don't know about you, but I can think of much better uses for 17 million dollars than to kill just one Iraqi soldier. Like, how about making America better for the people living in America?

Settlers of Catan

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I spend about an hour everyday playing Settlers of Catan Online. Some days I play more, some days I don't play at all. I've always said a good game is about choices. Having choices that matter make the game more enjoyable.
For instance, at a gambling casino, which is more enjoyable: a game of blackjack or a game of craps? Personally I find poker more enjoyable, because I have a greater sense of control over the fate of my bet We are tied to the outcome of the game because of the money involved. Once we put down our money, we are not likely to just walk away without seeing if we win or lose. Everything we have been taught in life is that money matters. Our choices matter in the game too. Which cards do we toss out, and which cards do we keep?
Settlers of Catan can be described as poker combined with craps. There's a sense of choice and control (in determining where you place your roads, settlements and cities, as well as the cards you purchase or trade), but there's also the random factor of dice rolls, and development cards.
The object of the game is to get to 10 points, and that can be done a number of ways -- building cities, making a large army, building the longest road, purchasing development cards, etc. There are a variety of ways to accomplish the win condition.
One of the interesting aspects of the game is how people react to the game in relation to the rolls of the dice. There are players who think the dice are non-random and put the blame there. There are others who drop out of the game because their numbers or resources aren't coming up enough, or they've been beat up by the other players. But all these things are the consequences of the choices they've made. Despite this, the drop out rate for the games is incredibly low -- perhaps one in twenty games has a player who leaves during the game, the vast majority stay until the end. Part of it, I believe is the investment players have made on the game -- but the other part is the belief that they can make enough better choices to catch up and win. That's how games should be -- players should always feel like they have the power and chance to make decisions to get out of their predicament. Having this ingredient of hope allows players to continue to play on, despite the odds.

The Paradox of Choice : Why More Is Less


Thinking of iPods for Christmastime


Morgan Stanley says consumers buying more iPods than cellphones this Christmas
Of all the consumers planning to purchase an iPod this holiday season, only 4- percent said they would purchase another brand of MP3 player if a store was out of their desired model.
"We think this speaks wonders on iPod brand loyalty and ultimately ties consumers into an expanding portfolio of Apple products," Runkle said. The analyst notes that: "Of the current MP3 player owners planning to buy an iPod this holiday, 40-percent currently own a non-iPod MP3 player -- a sign of additional iPod market share traction."
Still, only 8% of US households own iPods and 5% own Macs.

I suppose it's because I live in Silicon Valley, but that 8% of US households number seems really low to me -- it seems almost everyone I know has an iPod, and those who do have iPods sometimes have more than one.
I've been thinking about the iPod, and what made it a success in the MP3 player market. To find out more, read the extended entry.

Case Study: Costco


I went to Costco today, thinking about another lesson from The Paradox of Choice : Why More Is Less. In the book, Barry Schwartz talks about a study called "When Choice is Demotivating", which sets up an experiment with a line of exotic high-quality jams. In one condition of the experiment, there were 6 varieties available for tasting, in the other condition all 24 varieties were available. The table with 24 varieties attracted more people than the 6 variety table, but on average, the number of jams that people tasted was about the same. However, the interesting result is this: 30 percent of the people who tasted at the 6-variety table bought a jar of jam, while only 3 percent of those who tasted at the 24 variety table bought a jar of jam. The researchers speculate that having more options may discourage consumers because it forces the amount of effort needed in making a decision. So the consumers decide not to decide and end up not buying the product.
Costco is a very interesting store -- they have a very limited item selection, often only stocking only a few brands of a given type of product, and everything only comes in one size (the exception being clothing, which I won't get into here). By going into Costco, a lot of the choice process is taken away from the customer. Rather than comparing brands, sizes, varieties and cost, the consumer's decision-making process in Costco becomes whether or not they wish to buy the product. The sample tables at Costco are designed to introduce customers to new products which Costco only stocks one brand of. For instance, today at Costco, I noticed them pushing Progresso Soup in the Clam Chowder variety -- They have other varieties of soups (Campbell's Chunky Chicken Noodle and Campbell's Cream of Mushroom), but no other brand of Clam Chowder. This makes it very simple for the customer who is looking to buy Clam Chowder to make a decision. They don't have to choose a size, nor do they have to choose a brand. They merely need to decide whether or not they liked the sample they tried enough to purchase a 12 can package of Progresso Clam Chowder.
Compare this to the experience of shopping at a supermarket. You walk into the canned soup aisle and you are bombarded with a plethora of choices - a dozen or so brands, each with a dozen different varieties and at least two sizes of cans, with 3 varieties of packaging -- pull-tab, can opener, and microwave-safe. Costco makes the decision-making process easy by removing choices.
One of the items that Costco has more than one variety of (but is still selection limited) are Plasma TVs. Whereas stores like Best Buy and Circuit City stock over 50 varieties of Plasma TVs, Costco has 6. I'd guess that Costco sells just as many Plasma TVs at the Electronics stores do, perhaps even more because people feel they have a more limited selection to choose from. You can see all 6 Plasmas at the same time and decide which has the size you want, and which has the best color. Go to an electronics store and try that, and I'll find you in a couple of days still trying to figure out whether Set #23, the 3rd TV in the 3rd row or Set #76 (the 6th TV in the 8th row) has better color.
Long story short, the more choices we have, the more effort it takes to make a decision, and less likely we are to purchase the product. If we give people less choices, they are more likely to buy.

Santana Row


i've always thought that Santana Row was an odd public space. Nestled between Santa Clara and San Jose, and across the street from the megalithic Valley Fair Mall, at the intersection between the 880, the 280 and the 17, getting into Santana Row has always created a logistical nightmare. Santana Row is a Rodeo Drive for the Nor Cal crowd, a cluster of high-end retail and restaurants for well-to-do South Bayers who don't want to drive into San Francisco. However, as a public space, Santana Row provides something that is missing from the San Jose landscape -- a place that serves as a central meeting point for people. It's possible to play a game of chess while listening to a local band play live music, and sip a cappucino purchased from a nearby cafe. I went there today to do some Christmas shopping (thereby breaking my online-only shopping pledge). It still has that air of poshness to it, aided by the number of quarter-million dollar cars cruising the boulevard, but with The Container Store and Best Buy right next door, Santana Row's retail shops seem overdressed for the party. (I saw more Best Buy bags than any other bag on Santana Row).
Flickr: Santana Row (Photos are from a photoshoot I did in August)

Holiday Tips


I spent yesterday afternoon watching a friend, who is normally a very calm and rational individual go into full-scale panic mode as she tried to find a gift for her boyfriend who "doesn't need anything and has everything". The normal suggestions of cookware and the like were very quickly dismissed. People would say things like "he's got a ton of hobbies, he's easy to shop for", which didn't seem to help the matter any.
I've been reading a book called The Paradox of Choice : Why More Is Less which seems to point out that excessive choice leads to choice overload. It also points to a lot of other things which I think would be wise to keep in mind as we move into the final shopping weekend before Christmas.
Some advice for holiday shoppers:

  1. There's no such thing as the perfect gift.

    Be a person who says "it's not perfect, and it may not be the best, but it's good enough". Be satisfied and happy with your purchases. If you fail to get what they most want, the world will not end, your signifigant other will not desert you, and your children will not hate you forever.
  2. Beware the fallacy of "sunk cost".

    This is good to keep in mind, especially because of high demand items (like Xbox 360s or white iPod nanos). Let's say you've driven to the store, and when you get to the store, they are selling it in a bundle for $1500, rather than the base price of $500. You've got three choices -- either pay up (losing another $1000 dollars) or go home (losing the time spend on the trip). My advice? Go home, lose the time. Just because you're already there doesn't mean you have to buy anything, especially if it's more than you thought it would be. This lesson can be applied in other ways as well -- just because you buy them an item doesn't mean you need to attach every accessory under the sun to the purchase.
  3. You don't have to spend a lot.

    Plan a realistic budget on how much you want to spend per person and stick to it. Driving yourself into financial ruin for a holiday is unwise and foolish.
  4. Use wishlists.

    People have wishlists for a reason -- it helps them get what they want, and it helps those who don't know what someone wants some choices. That being said, a person may leave things off their wishlist if they've been dropping hints that they want something in particular.
  5. Don't underestimate the value of quality time.

    Being able to spend time with the person is sometimes the best gift of all.
  6. If all else fails, a bottle of nice wine and/or a box of good chocolates is an excellent gift.

    If they have kids, buy chocolates. If they drink, buy wine. Be mindful of food alergies (nuts is the big one).
  7. It really is the thought that matters.

links for 2005-12-16


links for 2005-12-14


links for 2005-12-13


Review: 100 Ways to Take Better Photographs


Review: Trivial Pursuit: 1980's Edition


ota hosted a 1980s Trivial Pursuit game tonight. Trivial Pursuit is one of the games that launched in the 80s that I never really played as a kid. What I learned tonight about the 1980s is that whenever a "thespian" is mentioned in the 1980s, it's probably "Arnold Schwartznegger". The Democrat in the 1980s is "Gary Hart" and the Republican is either "George H.W. Bush" or "Ronald Reagan", depending on whether it takes place before or after 1988.
I've decided that as far as board games go, I do not like Trivial Pursuit played the correct way -- with only the corner pieces counting for points, the game takes far too long.

Adaptec Gamebridge

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The Adaptec Gamebridge, a new device aimed at the console market. It's not just a video capture device, it also allows full screen playing of your console system on your PC monitor.

Adaptec Gamebridge Press Release

It's a very cool product that gamers should enjoy.

links for 2005-12-12


Gingerbread House of Horror

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In celebration of the holiday season, we purchased a couple of Gingerbread House Kits from Trader Joe's. They are essentially pre-fab gingerbread houses, which include walls and decorations, and even come with Hansel and Gretel and the Gingerbread House Witch.
One of them turned out like the one pictured on the box, while the other one became a Gingerbread House that Jack Skellington would be proud of.
One of the pieces for the witch broke in the box, so the attempt was made to reattach the cane to the witch, which quickly became Hansel's head attached to the cane, and from there kwc quickly created a rather grim ending for Hansel and Gretel (and the Gretel next door).

Flickr Photoset: Gingerbread House of Horror

Pocket Change Conversion: Coinstar

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My main problem with the Coinstar machines is that they cut out 8.9% of the money you deposit, so I've often just gone through the trouble of separating and rolling the coins by myself. Apparently sometime ago, they added the "ecertificate" option, which allows you to redeem your coins for gift certificates to Amazon instead. And the best part? They don't even charge you the 8.9 percent coin counting cost. I know where my loose change is going from now on.

links for 2005-12-10


Chinese Lucky Numbers Decoded


I'm the kind of person that notices license plate numbers, especially vanity plates. If you're like me, you may notice some strange plates floating about, like one I spotted this morning which read "ANDY968". Now, there's a couple of ways to read this plate -- 968 could mean that Andy was born in September of 1968, but more likely use of the number combination of 968 is as a Chinese Lucky Number. The number 9 implies everlasting, the number 6 means 'easy' or 'smoothly', while the number 8 is taken to mean 'fortune'. So basically, Andy wants everlasting easy money. Not a bad wish.
Because the Chinese language has a lot of homonyms, a number can mean several things because they may sound alike to more than one word. Numbers can be combined into phrases, with each number having a different meaning, such as 1666 -- "has easy smooth road".
1 - "will", "has/have"
2 - "guaranteed"

3 - "prosperity" or "life"

4 - a homonym for death. Not Lucky.

5 - can mean 'I' or 'me'. When used in front of another number, it can also mean 'no' or 'not'.

6 - means 'easy' or 'smoothly' or 'road'

7 - "gone"

8 - "fortune" or "money"

9 - "everlasting", "long"

13 - "must be alive"

14 - can mean "I will die" (when read as 1-4) or "accident" (when read as 14). Unlucky

Some number combinations are unlucky due to the way they combine. For example, the number 626 you would think means "easy guaranteed easy", but 6+2+6 = 14 = accident or guaranteed death.

links for 2005-12-09




USA Today has posted the first X-Men 3 Photos. We finally get to see Kelsey Grammer in the "Beast" Makeup, and we receive news that Hugh Jackman is slated for a "Wolverine" movie.

Halo won't suck, Jackson says.


Everyone now knows who Peter Jackson is, but what you may not know about Peter Jackson is that his new film after King Kong is an adaptation of the video game Halo. Jackson recently gave an interview about King Kong, but also answered a question about Halo that's been on everyone's minds.
Question: But video game movies suck.

Jackson: They do.

Question: So what will be different?

Jackson: Hopefully it won't suck.

Interview with Peter Jackson

81-in-1 Arcade Cabinet

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Costco is selling an arcade cabinet with 81 Games.
Arcade cabinets are tough to find in the wild these days -- one might occassionally spot them at movie theater complexes or in a game classics area (such as Dave and Buster's), but for those of us who lived in the 80s, arcade machines were everywhere. Supermarkets had them sitting by the entrance, it wasn't really a pizza parlour or frozen yogurt shop without Pac-Man or Spy Hunter sitting in the corner, and every mall had at least one, if not two arcades.
Seeing one of these hits us with a wave of nostalgia, and makes us wish (like we did in 1987) to have one of these in our living room. It's got some great games on there -- mainly from Atari (for the early 80s classicists) and Capcom (for the post Japanese Invasion generation). It even has the notorious "Zero Wing", from which the All Your Base craziness originated from. At 2,300 dollars, I'd rather buy a plasma TV and a couple of game collections for my PS2.

20 Games


Top 20 games that nobody played but you should is a list of games that didn't sell well, but were fun to play. I've bolded the games I have played (10 out of 20). The extended entry contains the list.
There are a couple of games on that list that deserve special mention:

  • Pac-Man Vs. - Game Cube

    Re-imagined classic Pac-Man as a multiplayer game, with players taking on the role of Pac-Man and Ghosts. Incredibly fun.
  • X-COM: UFO Defense - Playstation, PC

    This game actually did quite well on the PC, spawning several sequels. The game puts you in the management of an Men in Black like UFO organization as you defend against the alien threat. Good fun, lots of strategy. I really wish there were more games like this.
  • Herzog Zwei - Genesis

    Is a game that I've never played, but is essentially credited for creating the Real-Time-Strategy game genre.

(via Kotaku.

FlickrPhotosets Working Again!


Back in September, FlickrPhotosets, a MovableType plugin that allows Flickr photosets to be displayed on this webpage broke. Since I've been pretty busy in both October and November, I didn't have very much time to figure out the error, which simply read something like "HASH: error in [path]/ line 123". Sometimes it'd get past the error but not render any images. After more examination, I looked at the code and fixed (what I believe to be) some minor problems. It's available for download in the
Plugins area.
Special Thanks to parakkum for offering me a Red Bull, which obliterated the need to sleep while I was troubleshooting and testing the code. And now, I sleep.

links for 2005-12-05


The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (Widescreen Edition)


Movie: The Terminal


Where Did All the Gamers Go?


At the DIEC 2005 Conference in Tokyo this week, Atari founder Nolan Bushnell slammed Sony and praised Nintendo.Bushnell also presents some interesting numbers:
In 1982, he tells us, there were 44 million gamers. Today, there are 18 million. Where-d they all go? "Complexity lost the casual gamer", he says. "Violence lost the woman gamer." He ventures into Nintendo territory, even slamming the PS2 controller.
I don't believe that there's only 18 million gamers out there. I think there's much more than that. A number of 18 million gamers would mean that 1 out of 3 gamers bought Diablo II, and that half of the gamers out there bought Final Fantasy VII.
I do however, believe in his statement that complexity has lost the casual gamer. I don't think it's the complete fault of the controller. Games have gotten more complicated, and certainly more visual, but it doesn't have anything to do with the controller -- in fact, save the addition of more buttons, the current console controller isn't all that different from the joysticks of yesteryear.

links for 2005-12-01