Resolutions for the Next Year, Maybe

Consider the laundry list of resolutions you have kept for yourself (if you believe in such things) over the last few years. How many of them have you actually accomplished?

(I define New Year's resolution in the popular sense, of losing weight or of volunteering to helping others; not in the sense of setting life goals like signing up for your first credit card or getting married.)

The trick with New Year's resolutions is to either ignore the whole thing and resolve to do nothing particularly different, or to focus on at most one resolution.

If you are serious and choose only one thing in your lives that you'd like to make better, it'll surely happen that year. By December 31 of that year, the resolution should be an integral part of our lives, to a point where it is no longer considered out of the way or special, but rather routine. The next year after that, pick something else. Year over year, it'll add up. And then things can actually change. Then, things will actually stick.

Now that you have only one resolution, make sure it is reasonable. For example, if you resolve to do something with a numerical value to it, divide that number by 2. Aim for that instead. (This can be for wanting to go fishing with your buddies 5 times next year, or hoping to sell 4 of your paintings, or eating one apple everyday. Change it to going fishing 2-3 times, selling 2 paintings, or eating one apple every two days.)

I do not believe in making resolutions public (because frankly, others don't actually care, and if they do, they'll forget anyway). Nor do I believe in writing resolutions down (intended to hold yourself accountable to yourself). If you need to do either one of these tricks to get you to focus on your single resolution, I would argue that the resolution you made is either too much to handle, that you are not ready to deal with the self-induced "change", or that you are not serious about keeping your resolution. Reevaluate your resolution or reevaluate yourself. There ought to be no give and take. There ought to be no forgiveness if you break this simple promise to yourself.

If you are at worried about not keeping your resolution, either resolve not to make it in the first place, or take baby-steps. Remember not to change to be someone else; make your own, not borrow one from others. It doesn't work that way.

Things will happen regardless of whether you resolve to do them or not. The purpose of a "New Year's resolution" is not to cover all aspects of your life. You will get to whatever you need to deal with when the time comes (and you'll know when). New Year's resolutions ought to be, I think, just an excuse to focus on one particular aspect of your life. The coming of a new year shouldn't be the only time when you consider making changes to your life. If it is, that's just foolish.

Things will happen as they will. The best you can do is to plan for one simple goal at a time and stick to it. You just have to set aside enough of your "resolve" to follow through and to undertake whatever else comes your way the rest of the year, not just on January 1.

Farewell 2008. Hello 2009. I'll see you on the other side.

(Image from timessquarenyc.org.)

The Second After 2008


Discover IERS, the International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service. This is the group that studies and monitors the earth's rotation and it has put out a notice this past July 2008 regarding the "leap second".

According to the document:
A positive leap second will be introduced at the end of December 2008. The sequence of dates of the UTC second markers will be:

2008 December 31, 23h 59m 59s
2008 December 31, 23h 59m 60s
2009 January 1, 0h 0m 0s

Leap seconds are needed to resync mean solar time with international atomic time. Essentially, the second had originally been determined to be 1/86400 of a mean solar day, which was ultimately determined by the rotation of the earth about its axis. This way of counting the second was poor because of the elongation of the mean solar day by 1.5 ms per century (according to Wikipedia). In 1986, it was redefined according to the annual revolution of the earth around the sun. In 1967, and since then, the second was again redefined to be determined by the oscillation of a Cesium-133 atom, which is a physical, more constant way of counting. The original way and the atomic way of counting had been in sync back in 1750 to 1892. But with the continuation of the slowing of the earth's rotation, the atomic clock had been slowed to match it, from 1961 to 1971.

This slowing of the atomic clock didn't work out too well.

In 1972, the atomic second was brought back to the 1967's value (from counting oscillations of a Cesium-133 atom, which never actually changed). In order to account for the difference between atomic time and mean solar time, leap seconds were introduced. They are usually added after June 30 or December 31.

The leap second of December 2008 will have been the 24th leap second in history. The previous leap second was added at the end of 2005.

Wikipedia, as always, has a lot more of the details.

Moral of the story? Be extra careful when you are counting down to the New Year this Wednesday.

TED Talks: Who was General Tso?

During this holiday time of eating, I came across a very interesting presentation about Chinese food in America. I have long differentiated between authentic Chinese food and 'Chinatown' Chinese food, and I have pointed out that the beef-and-broccoli dish is part of the 'Chinatown' Chinese cuisine. The video below elaborates further.

Jennifer 8. Lee, a New York Times reporter with a number 8 for a middle name, "talks about her hunt for the origins of familiar Chinese-American dishes -- exploring the hidden spots where these two cultures have (so tastily) combined to form a new cuisine." (from TED.com)



Some of her facts may be wrong, but it's still an interesting thing to think about. Is this unique to Chinese food because of the broad reach of the Chinese? And what defines a dish to be even partially Chinese anyway?

Happy Christmas, All

Forget the politically correct way of saying "Happy Holidays", particularly today. Today is "Christmas", and you know it. December 25 was put on the calendar because of this holiday, so celebrate it well.

Unfortunately, it will not be a white Christmas in New York this year. In fact, from the looks of it, it will be a dreary, mild, and cloudy winter day, with patches of snow and ice left over from this weekend. The second half of this year just isn't going well at all. The world is falling apart, housing sales are down, and people are spending less. I still hope the spirit of the holiday is high. To be together with friends and family is the obligatory thing to do and ought to be the greatest gift of all. I know it is for me. At this time, I continue my yearly tradition of giving and receiving little to no gifts at all, showing reverence to the environment at the expense of disrespect to the economy.

Hang in there. Before you know it, 2009 will come. Then, we can be forward-looking and let the social recovery begin.

In the meantime, Merry Christmas. Here is a hug, from me to you: http://usumbs.com/hug

My End-of-Year Want List

I'm going to let the consumerist in me indulge a little. There are a few things I have been eye-ing (but only just) as photography accessories.

WhiBal G6 Pocket Kit $29.95
Certified Neutral Gray Card for White Balance

SanDisk Extreme III SDHC $49.99
4 GB

Gorillapod SLR-Zoom $54.95
Portable, Packable, Heavy-Duty Tripod

B+W Polarizer Filter $107.00
52 mm Circular Polarizer

Lensbaby Composer $270.00
Smooth and Precise

Nikon SB-800 AF Speedlight $319.95
i-TTL Speedlight

I definitely don't deserve any of it though. It's not wishful thinking; just a little indulgence.

Mint.com

In this kind of economy, where people turn out to be stealing left and right, it's really important to have a eye out for your money.

I have been using Mint.com's service of collecting all of my banking information to a single, easy-to-view location. Yesterday, it finally released the iPhone app I was waiting anticipating since I started using the iPhone. The app allows me to check up on my balances with a touch. I must say, it is a slick little application.

Mint.com does more than just track your current balance and recent transitions, as you might expect. With safety and security in mind, Mint.com allows you to see the big picture of where your money is going and where it is coming from, and it automatically categorizes your purchases and income. It even offers budgeting tips and ways you can save money. As a matter of security, just about the only thing you can't do is transfer funds.

I was originally hesitant to give some of my information to a web-based service. But after reading their terms, and after reading positive reviews for the budgeting service from the likes of PCWorld, PC Magazine, and The Wall Street Journal, I thought I'd give it a try.

(Photos from Mint.com's website.)

This Sunday, Don't Stay Up for the December Solstice

It's about that time of year again. The longest night of the year will take place between this Saturday and Sunday, 12/20 and 12/21, in the northern hemisphere. [The solstice will] happen at 12:04 am pm, "when the tilt of the Earth's axis is most oriented toward or away from the Sun, causing the Sun to reach its northernmost or southernmost extreme," according to Wikipedia.

I'd recommend taking this opportunity to conserve energy and catch up on a few more minutes of sleep. Hah. Have you tried the farmer's lifestyle of sleeping when the sun sets and waking when the sun rises? Maybe you can find an excuse to steal some more sleep in your sleep-self-deprived life especially before the hectic travel and holiday plans set for the coming weeks. Happy Holidays.

For those traveling this weekend, stay safe and be careful in the bad snow, ice, and rain you might have out there.

(Photo borrowed from my iPhone Flickr collection.)

Playing Monopoly in 2008

Last week, I had purchased the official Monopoly Here & Now: The World Edition game for the iPhone and iPod touch. It currently sells for $7.99 and probably will for some time to come. I don't see a major discount to be likely, so get it now! It's worth it. (App Store Link.)

The game's biggest features, according to Touch Arcade:

Give your iPhone/iPod touch a shake to roll the dice or animate the movers
Use your touch screen to flick and drag property cards and simulate real-life game experiences
3D view of the board and movers
Select full-board view or zoom in for a close-up
Play solo against the computer or Pass n’ play for 4
Wi-Fi Multiplayer Mode allows 4 players to connect via the same router on a Local Area Network
Automatically replaces players who leave with AI

Besides being an amazing time killer at work and fun game during the commute, the game was something very interesting. Having been familiar with only the original Monopoly as Charles Darrow had intended, with Ventor Avenue and Reading Railroad, I was excited to see the "Here & Now" world edition of this classic game. Check out the Wikipedia page on Monopoly for a very insightful read. In 2006, the "Here & Now" properties were decided with an online voting process. Wikipedia outlines the results. (I'm glad to see that Taipei made it on the map!)

What makes this edition of Monopoly interesting is that its scope covers actual world cities (albeit, superficially) as opposed to neighborhoods of Atlantic City or fictitious places of themes in other editions of Monopoly. And playing this game in one of the worst recessions in recent history is an attempt to bring this game back to its roots. Or at least, to get you thinking about money and what it means not to have it as you traverse the playing field, a kind of metaphor for life. When money comes into the picture, events and people's decisions can change drastically. In the game of Monopoly, the goal is not team building and not reaching out to your peers. Its premise: bankruptcy of others through competition. Its goal: to win and to cheat one's way to victory through any legal means necessary. The next time you sit around a table in a dimly lit room playing Monopoly with your friends, try to experience Monopoly for what it is and for what was meant to be.

I have dug up a few more interesting articles on Monopoly. (I do not necessarily share the opinion of their author.)

Before the October 2008 "Crash": Is The Monopoly Game Teaching You To Go Broke?

During the October 2008 "Crash": High Anxiety: We went from playing inflation-era Monopoly to playing depression-era Monopoly in mid-game.

After the October 2008 "Crash": The Economic Crisis Hits the Markson Family Monopoly Board

My iPhone Home Screens

These days, there are so many quality iPhone application in the iTunes App Store that it is so hard to keep up with. I try to follow up with the new releases day to day just to know what's out there. Typically for paid apps, I wait until about 1000 reviews or an overall rating of 4+ before considering buying them. I have wasted spent so much money on applications and games already. But sometimes, especially with the smaller developers, they deserve my money. Hah.

Recently I have found a few iPhone applications that have come in very handy for me. Some of these will probably not work well for iPod touch users without wi-fi. In case anyone's interested, I have attached screenshots of my iPhone home screens.

Home Screen 1: Homepage
Continued from my original iPod touch days, keeping all the native iPhone apps together.


Home Screen 2: Daily Readings & Apps
Apps I use almost daily. Before the App Store, this page had been reserved for web apps that I had bookmarked.


Home Screen 3: Games & GPS
This page has changed a lot since Day One. I generally remove the bad games or those I have already completed. This page changes very often.


Home Screen 4: Reference & Utilities
This page has evolved from being the spill-over page, when I didn't use Text, YouTube, iTunes, App Store much. This, however, is no longer the case; it has become the place where I store essential reference applications.


I'll write more about the special-er ones in the next post. Please share your favorite applications in the comments if you'd like.

End of Year 2008 Reflection

With the holiday season fast approaching and my fall term at National Grid coming to an end, I feel as if I haven't used my time at home to its fullest potential; there never seems to be enough time. A review of some of the things I have accomplished this semester so far:

A. PHOTOGRAPHY
1. Purchased a Sigma 30mm f/1.4.
2. Attended PhotoPlus Expo 2008.
3. Updated my Nikon Lens Lists for Lenses and Camera Bodies.
4. Photo Trip to AMNH twice.
5. Photo Trip to Stony Brook & Avalon Nature Preserve.
6. Photo Trip to Stony Brook & Port Jefferson.

B. WEBSITE & ONLINE PRESENCE
1. Refreshed USuMBS.com and cleaned up Google Adsense and Analytics.
2. Blog: Unnamed Project.

C. GIZMOS, GADGETS & STUFF
1. Apple iPhone 3G.
2. Drobo FW 800 and two 1 TB drives.
3. Crumpler "Considerable Embarrassment" Laptop Bag.
4. Essentially replacing the guts of my MBP via AppleCare.
5. Apple Mobile Me and iMac AppleCare.

D. PERSONAL GROWTH
1. USuMBS 3.0.
2. New-found appreciation for Long Island.
3. Participated in the Obama-McCain '08 presidential election.

E. ACADEMIC IMPROVEMENT
1. Updated Resume to latest version.
2. Review First Aid by the Red Cross.
3. Reading 'Hot Flat and Crowded'.
4. Reading 'iWoz'.
5. Reading 'The Universe in a Single Atom'.
6. Prepping Statistics.
7. Prepping Java.

Port Jefferson Visit

This past weekend, I trekked my way to Stony Brook again. Like last time, I stayed with Henry and Adrian.

We went to Port Jefferson on Saturday (12/06) to do a little photography, not knowing what we got ourselves into. I am only familiar with Port Jefferson because of the National Grid power station over there. Turns out the quaint little town of about 7000 was celebrating a Charles Dickens weekend, where the town plays the roles of characters from "A Christmas Carol". It was very interesting and different from what we are used to in New York City and Stony Brook; the people there were actually nice, and we each received a candy cane on two separate occasions: one from Santa at the restaurant we ate at, and one from the lady who runs the town information office, whom we asked for a bus schedule back to Stony Brook.

The two of us ended up hiking the beach at low tide (this was not the kind of beach for tourists and sunbathers), and we had traveled a total of about 10 miles on foot that day. We ended up going up the west coast of the Belle Terre peninsula from the Port Jefferson LIRR station. We turned back just as we got to the McAllister County Park bay (See the iPhone GPA Map insert.) Rather than pay for the LIRR to go back to Stony Brook (at $2.25 one way), we decided to try out the Suffolk County Bus which was only $1.00. In this trip, we not only pulled off some interesting and very cool shots, we have gained the first-person experience of what tides can mean and what walking miles on sand and rocks means for the feet. (If you look on the satellite view of this beach, you'll notice that the beach is actually under water at high tide. By the time we made it out to where we were, there was a little fear that some parts may become impassable because of the rising water. Thinking back now, that was some scary trip. Man...)


View Larger Map

I have posted photos to Flickr. Also check out Adrian's Port Jefferson photo set.

One Month to Go

Today is December 9, 2008 and that means that there is exactly one calendar month left before I check out of National Grid for the end of my first co-op term, on Friday, January 9, 2009. I hope it does not go to waste.

I go back to Cornell the following Monday.

PlaNYC: Climate Change Initiative

As part of Bloomberg's 2030 initiative to create a "greener, greater" New York City, called PlaNYC, we are coming together to focus on the "five dimensions of the city's environment--land, air, water, energy, and transportation" (from the Climate Change page). The first step of the climate change plan was to create a group called the New York City Climate Change Adaptation Task Force (CCATF) that was charged with developing strategies to future-proof and protect New York City's essential city infrastructure.

Essentially, there are three stages: 1. Set climate risk information  and assess implications; 2. Develope and prioritize adaptation strategies; 3. Formulate initial plans; and 4. Monitor and reassess. To start, CCATF's goals (albeit in typical bureaucratic manner) were to categorize the city's infrastructure in four sectors of the city's infrastructure (communications, energy, transportation, waste & water), and then identify key climate change implications from each of them. As of early December, and slightly behind schedule, we are identifying "at-risk infrastructure".

Some of these implications include:
1. Hotter air temperatures
   - Overloads leading to brownouts/blackouts
   - Increased fuel costs
   - Increased cooling costs
   - Fewer maintenance windows because of longer cooling season
   - Increased required maintenance
2. Increased precipitation
   - More flooding conditions
   - More strain on discharge system
3. Rising sea levels
   - Increased coastal erosion
   - Permanent flooding
   - Salt damage to equipment
4. Extreme events (e.g. heat waves, intense storms)
   - Increased lightening activity, more power surges

It came into my hands to do some reading and research on National Grid's only New York City property, the Far Rockaway Power Station. My focus was primarily to assess the risk on the operations of our property. The plan by PlaNYC was to review our findings in a risk matrix using the "risk assessment Excel template" provided by those higher up. In it, we compare the likelihood of occurrence of impact versus the magnitude of consequence. Interestingly, plan looks only at the increase in air temperature, the increase in annual precipation, and the increase in sea level. Noticeably missing from this, includes increase in surface water temperature, increase in damaging winds, increase in severe thunderstorms, and increase in other extreme weather conditions.

I have referenced a much more comprehensive, draft copy of a climate change report by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) titled "Key Climate Variables Relevant to the Energy Sector and Electrtic Utilities". (For my purposes, EPRI is a research group for power and electric utilities. It is independent of CCATF and PlaNYC.) After reading correspondences and presentation note from PlaNYC, meeting minutes and summaries, I have came with my own summary for the New York City region:

Current climate annual averages:
     Air Temperature: 55 deg F
     Annual Precipitation: 43-50 in.
     Sea level Rise: 1.3 in./decade

Mean Annual Changes Relative to baseline years (1971-2000) for 2020s:
     Air Temperature: +1.5 – 3.0 deg F
     Annual Precipations: + 0.0 – 5.0
     Sea level Rise: + 4.0 – 7.0 in. (2 in/decade - 3.5in/decade), 
                                from 3.4 (min) -9.1 (mean) - 14.0 (max)

It is particularly profound to predict the future these days, and when we do, what we find are only scary things. We hear of climate change and global warming in only the most qualitative terms, but only when we actually put cold and exacting numbers down on paper, do we have a sense of what we are really in for.

This is not like forecasting next week's snow storm. We already know that the storms of the future--the next decade, even--will be worse than those we have encountered globally thus far. What we are doing here is predicting or guessing exactly how much worse it will be when the "future" catches up to us. We are now trying seeing what we can do, if anything, to harden our infrastructure to brace for the imminent storms and what we can do to survive in new climate.

Cornell Housing Spring '09

407 ALICE COOK HOUSE.

The single most important thing about this room is that it is a single. This makes me somewhat excited. Until I remember that it is the furthest dorm on West Campus from the Engineering Quad.

This is a disappointing assignment, but I understand it can be far worse. On the plus side, I get to experience West Campus life now. I have done North Campus (for freshman year), Collegetown dorming, (for sophomore year) and I will live in Collegetown apartments senior year. I get the next semester to try out Cook House.

Any tips?

I'm going to fish for some floor plans I think I have somewhere. I'll post them if I find it.

(P.S. I cropped and edited the map using MSPAINT. Holy crap, it sucks.)

Enigmo for iPhone

Enigmo. I finally completed this puzzle game on the iPhone. The original price was $7.99 and I bought it because it won the Apple Design Award for the iPhone Developer Showcase at Macworld 2008.

Its price has fallen to $1.99 since then and further still to a mere $0.99. It is a game definitely worth checking out. It turns out there is a total of 50 levels. I was a little stuck around level 30, but after that hiccup, the rest of the game went fairly smoothly.

Annual Pre-Thanksgiving Purge

It's time to do some Fall Cleaning and to get started on the packing for back to school.

I'm taking this opportunity to get ready for the winter by:

1. Finishing statistics review
2. Continuing Java
3. Cleaning up my Cornell stuff
4. Back up hard disks and update computer
5. Deleting iPhone photos

MTA Service Advisory

Because of major temporary service changes to the LIRR line because of the recent series of accidents, I'd like to bring the MTA NYC Service Advisory Notification System to your attention. I have signed up for the service when it was still in beta, and while it doesn't prove terribly useful, it is still a good thing to have and to be made aware of.

It says:

"Access to our email notification system sign up and options designation is temporarily unavailable until Tuesday Nov. 25th at 11:00 AM. This will allow us to migrate to a more robust email and text messaging alert system.

"Email Alert Notifications for existing customers will continue to be sent during this time period."

Hopefully, it'll be something much nicer than its current advisory iteration. Sign up here.

This NYTimes article talks about this updated service.

Fieldrunner 1.1

The best game for iPhone was updated yesterday to version 1.1. I was hooked on it when I bought it before, and I am hooked on it now that it's updated and improved!

Currently Planning a Trip to Montauk

The problem for most excursions is the limit walking puts on the distance one can travel. My threshold is about one-and-a-half miles one way (from the LIRR station).

This trip is primarily a photo walk and an exploration of Long Island.


View Larger Map

Next Lens, Next Body

I have finally decided that my next lens will be the 105mm f/2.8 macro lens by Nikon. I would forgo the necessary "kit" range and stick to my guns of the 30mm and a 105mm, both primes, and both very fancy.

The problem is, I don't know if I'll have a camera for the lenses to accommodate. Haha. While the D90 is nice, I am not completely satisfied with it. Plus, seeing the direction of video in DSLRs and what good implementation could be(a la the 5D Mark II) and what bad implementation is (the D90), it would be a smarter decision to wait for Nikon's second generation video DSLR.

Plus, another excuse is that money is tight (which it undoubtedly is), and it would be unwise to splurge on something that is not critical and essential.

Photos from Stony Brook

This weekend was a trip dedicated to seeing Stony Brook as a resident of Long Island and seeing friends at the University. Weather was nasty, I didn't get much sleep, and the food was rather gross, but it sure as hell was fun. I am planning a second weekend trip to SBU.

While I am in the process of organizing over 400 photos taken this weekend, I'd like to post this one, taken on Sunday.

NYC Education Gets More A's

It looks like Bloomberg's focus on the city's education has yielded some high grades.

From the NYT article: "The number of New York City high schools receiving top marks on the Bloomberg administration’s contentious report cards jumped this year, with more than 83 percent earning an A or B, the Department of Education announced on Wednesday." Also, "the number of schools receiving grades in the second year of the program grew to 284 from 236, reflecting the shifting of the city’s high school map toward more and more new small schools (new schools do not get graded until a senior class has graduated). These small schools, broadly speaking, did better on the report cards: The average size of schools earning A’s was less than half the size of those getting D’s and F’s, and schools with fewer than 500 students were twice as likely to earn A’s as those with more than 500."

And Brooklyn Technical High School stepped up from a B to an A this year. All eight specialized high schools received an A. This sounds good, but at the maybe at the cost of waves and waves of standardized exams and assessments on students.

Birthday and Gifts

I have received my computer back from Apple's Texas repair center in Houston last Friday night. This is the second time I sent the MacBook Pro (first generation) to the Genius Bar covered by AppleCare. The first time, they replaced my LCD inverter and that got rid of my problem with the buzzing.

The buzzing returned more consistently every day, and this time, I was expecting the service to be somewhat the same. I was surprised to learn that the Apple technician not only replaced the LCD inverter, the LCD panel was replaced, the logic board was replaced, as was the Super Drive and a 1 GB DIMM of RAM. Wow!

When the computer was turn on, however, I noticed the display was rather blue. It was not only a little cooler, but it was noticeable cooler, as if there was another layer of blue-tinted film in the display. Using the built in color calibrator for ColorSync did not yield any nice results. My eyes have been strained by trying to calibrate this LCD this way.

I am waiting on Ricky's color calibrator, held hostage by Adrian. I hope it'll fix it. Otherwise, Apple's going to be hearing from me a third time...

As a result, even after a week and a half of the computer being in the shop, I'd rather not use the blue-ish MacBook Pro for now. I will still use the iPhone as my primary device. My photo work will have to be put on hold because of this. While I am glad Apple was able to help make my notebook run like new (for the most part), the LCD has made me very frustrated.

"Gifts" received at this time of this post:
1. MacBook Pro repair replacing nearly all components with refurbished parts, by Apple.
2. Ricky's Pantone Huey, from Adrian. (pending)
3. Crumpler's 'The Considerable Embarrassment' bag from my sister, but really from myself.
4. A box of Entenmann's chocholate chip cookies, from my train buddy.
5. Fieldrunners from the iTunes App Store.

Edit:
6. Lysol for my cubicle.
7. Dinner with the family.

Mobile Me, Mobile You

Since my computer was sent away for "repair", I had depended on my iPhone as my primary computing device. It has worked out quite well. The only thing I still find my computer essential for day-to-day tasks is syncing podcasts and watching my TV shows on Hulu. Supposedly, the iPhone Software Update 2.2 will allow for downloading podcasts directly, without the need of a computer. Sweet!

At work, I have been using Mobile Me's services quite often, including organizing things in my personal calendar. It's still too buggy to be dependable, but it sure is slick.

Surprise Someone With Your Vote

The title of this post is my theme of this election (as indicated on the Facebook as well). I voted today from 7:00 to 7:30 am. There were surprisingly very few people. Maybe it was too early. Photo taken from iPhone.


From Greg Mankiw's Blog:

"What's the evidence that this theory is right, that nonvoters are less informed than voters? Studies of voter turnout have found that education is the single best predictor of who votes: The highly educated turn out more often than less educated. A classic argument for why democracies need widespread public education is that education makes people better voters. If this is true, then the less educated should show up at the polls less often. They are rationally delegating the decision to their better educated neighbors.

"So the next time a friend of yours tells you he's not voting, don't try to change his mind. It's a good bet that if he's not voting, he's not been following the election closely anyway. Maybe he watched a baseball game instead of the debates. Maybe he is bored silly with all the talk of targeted tax cuts, privatized social security, and campaign finance reform. Maybe he's as ignorant about public policy as those focus groups of undecided voters that are the media's latest darling.

"So rather than pushing your friend to the polls, perhaps you should thank him for staying at home. He's making your vote count just a little bit more."

Nice Comments


At work over the past week, I have received a good number of positive comments on separate occasions for this photo (on Flickr). Every time I tell them I had taken it this past summer, they become surprised and ask me how I did it. Heh. It was nice of them. The bottom photo was taken with the iPhone today.

Narrowing Down the Lenses

I've been doing some research on the higher-tier system I want to use with the D90 (should I get it in the future).

Currently, I'm using a Nikon D40 with a NIKKOR 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6, a NIKKOR 55-200mm f/4-5.6, and a Sigma 30mm f/1.4. I've been looking for a more rugged and better build system (maybe faster and better image quality too). I have narrowed it down to these few, having considered essential features, reviews, build quality and their cost bracket.

AF-S DX NIKKOR 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR
AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-70mm f/3.5-4.5G IF-ED
AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G IF-ED
AF NIKKOR 24-85mm f/2.8-4D IF
AF-S NIKKOR 70-300mm f/4-5.6G IF-ED VR

For the more fancy stuff:

AF-S Micro-NIKKOR 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED VR (likely to be my next lens)
AF DX Fisheye-NIKKOR 10.5mm f/2.8G ED

I just wish Nikon would come out with more updated lenses, namely the wide and normal primes. Any recommendations?

MacBook Pro in for Repair

A little rant:

Yesterday, my admiration for Apple and its products has diminished slightly after dealing with an Apple Store SoHo Genius (whose name isn't James). I realize how easy it is to get captured by the Apple media and propaganda, but I also realize how easy it is to dislike Apple for its practices of simplicity at the expense of control. For example, there is no reason an Apple-branded USB to Ethernet adapter can be used only for the MacBook Air.

How Apple does things, it does very well. What Apple does, though, sometimes doesn't sit well with even the most die-hard of Apple fans.

I feel like saying Apple does not genuinely care for its customers (most big and successfully companies don't). But I would have to remind myself that Apple, Inc. is a company after all and in it for the engineering, design, and business.

Bad Weather, Sad Day

Today was a downright bad day. I mean, bad in the sense of bad weather. Once I was indoors, though, the day was quite good. At work in Hicksville, I spent most of the day figuring out my remaining years at Cornell. High winds and loud rain lasted all day. There was no sense of blue outside; nothing but gray skies and low heavy clouds.

How sad.

Days Without Seeing Clearly

I had come to the realization that I have been depending much too much on my glasses. I have attempted and succeeded in going one entire day without using my glasses. I'm not sure if that's a good thing; I might get hit by a car whose headlights are not turned on (in the dark, early morning). Plus, it isn't healthy for eyes with poor vision to stress itself beyond its means to focus.

Personally, I sense my surroundings by depending more on hearing and by vaguely seeing relative shapes, motion, and people's demeanor. I use the example of seeing people in a hallway at school or in the office. While its difficult to see the person's facial expressions, it's relatively trivial to "see" who that person is. Clarity, however, is always welcomed.

Getting Drobo-tized

I am waiting on the Drobo I ordered last Saturday. I had put in the order for two SATA drives on Friday. Both packages are expected to be delivered some time today. I cannot wait, though the turn-around time has been impressively quick.

1 Drobo with USB 2.0 and Firewire 800
2 Western Digital 1 TB Caviar Black SATA HDD

I had purchased an Airport Extreme this summer, so once I get everything in place, I will have a sort of NAS + RAID system. This should make life more interesting, but more importantly, it keeps everything backed-up and running for everyone even when I am not around. Awesome!

From the Drobo website: "The safe, expandable Drobo™ storage solution protects your data against a hard drive crash, yet can expand dynamically at any time in just seconds. With nothing to configure or manage, Drobo is now the ideal solution for primary storage as well as backup."

Cleaned Up Back-log for Flickr

I have gone through all the photos I was planning on posting to Flickr. Most of the older things I did not post are either too personal or unimportant photos.

What a relief.

Windows Vista eXPerience

Yesterday, wanting to do something productive, I went about spiffying up my resume, updating my GPA (for the higher, thank goodness), National Grid employment, and technical skills. I noticed that I had put "Windows 95/98/2000/XP". It didn't feel right. I wanted to add Vista on that list for the heck of it, and maybe remove 95/98 since they no longer mattered.

I have no personal gripes with the year-old Windows Vista; or at least, not as the general scorn of Vista has been portrayed lately. I just had no reason to use Windows anymore. I was dying to find a reason -- any reason -- for using it; I really wanted to try out Vista. So, in order to update the resume to read "Windows XP/Vista", I wanted to try it out for a week to feel out how it works, how it differs from the Windows I knew, and how it does things in general.

Vista, so it would appear to me, oozes of the smell that is Microsoft. I don't necessarily mean that in a bad way, except the times when I do. Under all that flash and bubbly, vista-y GUI, it was the little things that I found difficult. I mean, it ran fine and I had easy access to the programs. But there was something about it that was just a little off.

I can't say that it merely is a matter of getting used to the new version. Buttons and fuctionality just felt slightly out of place. I'm sure I can get used to it if I really needed to, but I don't think I would want to go through all the pain if I had a choice. (Heck, I finally started using Microsoft Outlook here in the office because I needed it for e-mail.) I have been using the Mac OS here and there since 1998, but I have also been using Windows up until 2006, from about 1995, as my main computer. It was only until 2006 when I got my own Mac and switched exlusively. That comes out to 3 years for Mac and give or take 15 years for Windows.

So I don't think it is a matter of getting used to the Vista (though I understand it is significantly different from the XP experience I knew inside and out).

If anyone has any Vista tips, please share them with me.

Cleaning the MacBook Pro

Today, Apple announced the next-generation MacBook and MacBook Pro. Being envious of the new slick look and usability designs, I started to clean and polish my first-generation MacBook Pro. This is kind of like having your car feel and run better after a simple car wash. Haha. Silly psychological schemes.



Lack of Sleep is Catching Up to Me

Today is Columbus Day, and here I am, in the office.

It all started with the three-hour nap I took last night late in the afternoon that only caused me to feel energized before I was supposed to go to bed for an early rise this morning. Aside from the fact that I woke up more tired than usual, the morning was rather routine. That is, until I got to the subway station and then realized I had forgotten my lunch AND breakfast. I had been prepared to eat well today. (I did not plan to bring my computer today because of the extra food.)

Shortly after arriving at the office, I learned that my supervisor and two others from my group are going to be out today. Just great! If only I had something to do. Actually, I do; unfortunately, not really. (I don't even get my Mac to play around with either.)

I guess I can look forward to the $6 lunch today, which would have otherwise been healthier, more tasty, and essentially free than what they are serving in the cafeteria.

I had tea and Wheat Thins for breakfast.

Omega UT1

Having completed the Omega SE1 about one month ago, I have decided to continue on drawing the Omega UT1, the first SUV of the series.

I plan the Omega line-up to look like something like this:

SE for Sedan (a 4-door car)
SP for Sport (a "nicer", slightly larger version of the SE)
CP for Coupe (a 2-door car)
UT for Utility (a compact SUV)
LT for Large (a full-size SUV)
W for Special (the special-edition vehicle)

(I do not yet know if the Omega brand will carry the VN for Minivan and TR for Truck. Probably not.)

Sadly, I have given up on three-dimensionalizing the car because I haven't drawn the original car to take into account extrusions (which is still probably the wrong way of making the car 3-D). I will stick with Front-Side-Rear views for now.

Life Lesson: Money

Two nights ago, I had a conversation over dinner with someone I'd like to call "Grandpa". He is well into his 80's and, fortunately for me, has much to say about a lot of things. We talked about investing in the stock market, thinking about retirement options, and operating a small business. We talked about money and how it is possible to start with very little and end up, as he has, with more. He said something that struck a chord with me:

Money is only good for making more money.

I have learned over the past few years that, for me, money is merely a means to an end, rather than be the end itself. That is not to say we do not need to have it to live. Life situations may vary by the way we are brought up, by what I call indirectly inherited wealth, whether it is physically given to you or not. This inhereited wealth includes food, a dinner table to put it on, a place you can call home, and even life lessons taught over time. We should never lose sight of what we generally take for granted. There is not enough appreciation and gratitude these days. (I am at fault as well.)

P.S. ... which brings me back to photography. In the end, I do not expect to be a professional photographer. In the end, it does not bring food to the table and pay the bills. While it is definitely an art worth practicing and is not a waste of money, I realized there is no reason to jump into such an expensive hobby so quickly. Paraphrasing what my father told me just this weekend, spending and indulging on things that make you a better person and a more effective worker is okay in moderation. More importantly, do not spend money that you don't have. Do not count on the money of others.

P.P.S. Since I have thought about this topic of money more carefully, I have gotten better at Texas Hold'Em on my iPhone. Having money is a great feeling when you are able to pressure the poorer players to elimination. But at the same time, every hand is, to some degree, a gamble.

Living the Mobile Life

Earlier this summer, I was without my computer for about a week. I had to depend on my iPod touch and a Linksys wireless router to do my personal "computing" and Internet browsing. It was quite usable, since I began to limit my usage to checking the weather in the morning and keeping up with e-mail. More importantly, it was one of the most freeing experiences ever [for the modern computer kid].

I want to return to that. As you might know, I hardly have the time to properly go online with my MacBook Pro (if there is even a "proper" way to do so these days). I do not want to waste the precious time I'm actually awake at home on the computer. I want to do other things--things I do best, e.g. eat and sleep.

I have been using the iPhone as my mobile computer at work, as my calendaring and e-mailing machine, and as my podcast-player. I merely sync the phone to the computer every night to recharge and update. I thought (while bored at work), why not spend otherwise wasted time at work catching up on news, my RSS feeds, photography research, Apple, Digg, and, Facebook, etc?

I hope the mobile experience will dissuade me from being online in excess. As long as I get through my Google Reader, Digg, and a few Google News pages, I all set for the day. Throw in a few AIM conversations for good measure, but that's about it. The rest of the time is for more important and productive things.

Things like sleep.

$700 Billion

After reading this Neatorama article, I had to really stop and thing just how much $700 billion really is. There are 11 zeroes after the 7. That is a hell of a lot of money.

It helped me to see the following graphic. (Graphic copied from Neatorama.) Hopefully, it'll help you too.


For example, picture where your entire college tutition fits into this picture. Or where the value of your house fits here. Think of your school textbooks, which you once thought was expensive (which is so for the majority of college students), is negligible on this scale of money being discussed today.

Wow...

First Presidential Debate 2008 Results



If this political ad by the McCain campaign is real, how is it that they can distort the truth so much so quickly? While McCain and Palin may have some decent ideas, they appear as if they know very little, stressing keywords like McCain is a "maverick" and Palin is a "maverick", as if that is all they have going for the campaign now.

To me, titles mean nothing, and his repetitive use of "maverick" to answer interview questions, for example, makes me feel a little scared if that is all he can say for himself and his campaign.

And according to a CNN poll about last night's debate:

(1) Who Did the Best Job In the Debate?
Obama 51%
McCain 38%

(2) Who Would Better Handle Economy?
Obama 58%
McCain 37%

Who Would Better Handle Iraq?
Obama 52%
McCain 47%

A CBS poll of uncommitted voters shows the following:

(1) Winner of the debate:
40% for Obama.
22% for McCain.
38% for draw.

(2) Right decision on the economy:
68% for Obama.
41% think McCain would.

(3) Right decision on Iraq:
49% for Obama.
55% for McCain.

More results from MediaCurves.com.

Clarity Test

Click for larger version of the photos, taken with the Sigma 30mm f/1.4 on a Nikon D40. Please leave comments below.







Sigma 30mm f/1.4 EX DC HSM for Nikon

Yesterday was a momentous day for me and my photography hobby (or perhaps, misplaced addiction). After work, and directly to Penn Station via the LIRR, my friend and I went to B&H to purchase my first real lens (albeit, not a genuine Nikon lens; how sad!).

I came prepared with research and consideration for the Nikon 35 mm f/2, Nikon 50mm f/1.4, and Sigma 30mm f/1.4, in that order of preference. Some how, I left the store (having paid $200 more than I wanted to) with my third choice--the Sigma. Thanks a lot, Ricky.

I went in skeptical of the Sigma, and I still am. I had never liked Sigma's rough focus and zoom rings, and its top quality still didn't feel as good as Nikon or Canon's own lens. But compared to the two Nikon lenses (which do not autofocus on my D40, a fault of having a cheap camera body), the Sigma was nicer overall.

The Nikon lenses was designed for film cameras nearly 20 years ago. They had an extremely smooth focus ring and were much smaller than the Sigma. The Sigma, as I had expected, had a nasty focus ring. Then I thought, since it has the benefit of autofocus, I wouldn't really need to be touching the focus ring anyway! Or at least, for the most part. The Sigma had other problems of its own, but I did not notice them and wouldn't have noticed them if not for the reviews I read online.

I immediately dismissed the 50mm because that wasn't the focal length I really wanted. The final decision came after I made a few test shots with the Nikon 35mm and the Sigma 30mm. The Sigma was faster and had noticeably better bokeh. See below for a rough comparison. This is Alan in the blue, and I thank him.

NIKON 35mm: A little dark.

SIGMA 30mm: Brighter than previous using about the same settings.

NIKON 35mm: Decent Bokeh. Poor Focus (I'm not used to manual focusing).

SIGMA 30mm: Much Nicer Bokeh.
To me, this purchase is significant in a number of ways: 1. Dedication now to the Nikon brand, even though I didn't buy a true Nikon as my first lens. 2. Exceeding the beginner-level braket of lens quality and cost. 3. Finally getting a feel of what sharpness and aperture really mean. 4. Understanding how a crop-body camera affects lenses and lens choice. 5. Tying Adrian in lens-count and leading Ricky by one. :-)

----------

It felt as if I can shoot anything and the lens can make the shot magical. I took some test shots at home. I shot my sister first. Pictures came out nice, and the lens worked quite well in the dark. It's definitely not what I'm used to in a lens, although I notice I now need a flash (or two, or three). The lack of sharpness is likely my fault. Heh.


Note: For editing my sister's photos, I only cropped; nothing more. Alan's photos were straight from the D40.

On the Way to Work

Just for kicks, I'll post this, taken with the Nikon 18-55mm in the morning.

Edit: This was taken yesterday.

Reclaiming the iPod

After getting my iPhone, which has thus become my primary iPod, I passed the iPod touch 1G down to my sister, and she in turn passed her iPod nano 1G to my mom. Just today, I have re-inherited the iPod shuffle 1G I had given to my mom about 3 years ago.

Ah, the circle of life [of iPods].

I generally listen to podcasts in a particular order. So the iPod shuffle, named "ShufflePod", will be used as a podcast player. (My original iPod 5G was named "USunkMiPod" and my iPhone was named "USunkMiPhone".)

Catch Up With Sleep

Trying to catch up with my sleep. The black under my eyes needs some help to make them go away. I believe they have gotten worse, in fact. :-/

About One Real Week of Work

After two week or so of work at National Grid, I have very little to show for it. Aside from the rings under my eyes from the lack of sleep, I only have the following:



The SmallCar was made in AutoCAD, with a length of a little under 10 inches. It was drawn largely by eye, using rounder numbers and the overuse (and abuse) of OSNAPs.

As for my inspiration: it was Taylor's 3-D flying car from this past Spring. As for the model, it was the current Nissan Altima Coupe and Toyota Camry, as well as the Honda Accord of the past.

It is a prototype and is meant to be a proof of concept of sorts. I plan to make a "nicer" car in due time.

Up at 4, Asleep by 9

This is my new schedule. I am out of the house by 5 and I get home a little before 6. I am at the work site by 7 and I leave a little after 4. The time unaccounted for is given to arduous task of commuting from Brooklyn to Hicksville.

Today, I attended my first meeting with a few of the guys. I now feel like I have a sense of what is going on; I feel I have a sense of purpose. What I learned from this meeting was that these folks were rather informal (which I love) and that they weren't very different from the engineering groups I became accustomed to this summer (i.e. homework groups with Taylor, Stephen, Jonathan, and ocassionally Anderson). Besides a few acronyms here and some jargon there, I was relatively comfortable. Let's see how tomorrow goes.... Bright and early.

iReady, uReady?

We are now on AT&T. I am now on an iPhone.

iReady is a reference to the silly (more like, stupid) attempt by AT&T to facilitate iPhone purchasing plans and activation. Its name screams to be made fun of. And so we did.

Driving in Brooklyn

There be some crazy drivers in this city.

National Grid

Work starts on Monday.

Am I mentally ready? Maybe.
Am I technically ready? Probably not.
Am I AutoCAD savvy? Not yet.
Will the first day of work be fun? Doubt it.
Will any day of work be fun? Maybe, but highly unlikely.
Do I miss the people at Cornell? Yes.

Do I hate it when people ask very long rhetorical questions and then answers them right after? YES! Please, don't do it! It is annoying and can easily mislead the listener with such a succint answer (of 'Yes,' for example) when the original direction of the question has been already forgotten.

Boating on Cayuga Lake

In perhaps the best way to end the COOP Summer Session, we celebrated Stephen's birthday early by going boating and tubing on Cayuga Lake.

I was reluctant to get myself wet, but once I fell in when I was going from the boat to tube(somehow), I no longer cared and enjoyed it. I fell in a second time while we were tubing (again, somehow). I was soaked. And I forgot what it was like to have to actually have to swim; it was not as pleasant an experience as the rest of today's little excursion.

P.S. Prior to this, we took a trip to the local McDonald's for a celebratory McFlurry, milkshake, and sundae. It was awesome.

P.P.S. I misplaced my old-time Nike cap amid the fun and only realized it was missing one the way back in the "Engineering Car" (i.e. Taylor's car). I miss it already, but I will probably miss the Cornell and Ithaca even more.