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.