Oishinbo: Vol. 2, Sake **** : Another great installment of the Oishinbo series. This one focuses on wine and sake as they interact with Japanese cuisine.
Last month, Microsoft discontinued support for Windows Sidebar Gadgets. They didn't give developers any warning nor did they give users a chance to save copies of their favorite gadgets. It's a pretty short-sighted move in my opinion.
Here is a collection of alternative places to get gadgets. I wish Microsoft had kept a read-only copy of the gadget store online. But they didn't. So this is all we have left:
- http://gadgetsforvista.net/ (full of ads)
- http://wingadget.ru/cat/novosti (in Russian, use Chrome translate!)
- http://torentilo.com/download/4668072/Windows-Sidebar-Gadgets-Mega-Pack%7Bh33t%7D%7Bmad-dog%7D.html (a torrent containing a huge collection of gadgets)
I recently changed my password on apple.com using their "My Apple ID" web site. The site allows you to change your password, which is great. But there are two major issues.
First, Apple's URL naming system is horrible. This is the URL for logging in to My Apple ID: https://appleid.apple.com/cgi-bin/WebObjects/MyAppleId.woa/
More seriously, Apple has a feature where the perceived strength of your proposed password is shown to you as you type it. Unfortunately, their algorithm is busted. I tried a password "welcome-wildlife-fuji-ski" and was told that it was considered a "weak" password. I can guarantee you that "welcome-wildlife-fuji-ski" is completely unhackable by brute force attempts.
Meanwhile, "Aaa123!!" was given the password score of "strong" even though it is a substantially weaker password than "welcome-wildlife-fuji-ski".
Apple should fix these two issues by adopting a user-friendly URL, such as https://apple.com/appleid" and updating their password strength recommendation engine beyond the simplistic one-letter-one-symbol-one-number algorithm that is all too prevalent these days.
The New York Times ran a piece a while back, 10 Days in a Carry-On, in which a flight attendant packs a ridiculous amount of clothes into a suitcase. I absolutely disagree with her packing philosophy!
Just because it's possible to take a lot of clothes doesn't mean you should. When it comes to international travel, all the cliches are true: less is more; when in doubt, leave it out; et cetera.
If there are people living where you are going, and most likely there are, then you will be able to buy anything you need. So pack as little as possible and enjoy the trip!
Some people swear by rolling suitcases. And if you're flying somewhere and going straight to the hotel, that's fine. But for maximum flexibility or if you are going to be changing hotels a lot, nothing beats a backpack. And most backpacks fit within the carry-on size restrictions, so you won't have to check any baggage.
On a recent trip, our shuttle bus dropped us off at an expensive beach resort area. Some locals told us that hotels were a lot cheaper in the next town. But getting there entailed a half-mile walk on the sandy beach. Everybody on the shuttle bus who had a backpack was able to make the easy trek. Those with suitcases decided to just stay in the expensive part of town.
We spent over four weeks in Turkey and Greece last year. A list of everything I took is below. I think it's decently minamlist, but I could have taken even less!
[[pic 17158 r]]
- 1 Dana Design Bomb Pack (3200 cu. in.)
- 2 FedEx bags, 2 small nylon sacks, 3 white trash bags, 3 large zip locks
- 8 underwear
- 1 bathing suit (board shorts, doubled as shorts)
- 4 t-shirts: 2 wool, 2 cotton (use wool whenever possible for shirts)
- 2 long-sleeve shirts: 1 wool, 1 wool/poly blend
- 1 convertible pants/shorts (nylon) (synthetics don't wrinkle, easy to clean)
- 5 short socks, 3 long socks (1 unused)
- 1 umbrella
- 1 wide-brimmed sun hat
- 1 netbook
- 1 handheld digital camera
- 1 int'l power adapter
- 1 shorts (cotton, dark khaki)
- 1 pants (cotton, dark khaki) (didn't really need these)
- 2 pairs shoes - crocs and sneakers (didn't really need the sneakers)
- 1 towel
- 1 wool sweater (dark blue, slightly dressy)
- 1 small lock
- 2 paperback books, 10 magazines
- 1 eye glasses (prescription)
- 1 sun glasses with hard case
- 1 large safety pin (to secure pockets against pick pockets)
- 1 plastic spoon, fork
- 1 headlamp
Here's a nice little recipe to uninstall programs on a Windows machine from the command line:
- Open cmd.exe as administrator
- Run WMIC.EXE
Type the following at the wmic:rootcli> prompt:
product where "name like 'foo%'" call uninstall /nointeractive /norestart
Replace foo with a string to search for at the beginning of the program name. To get a list of program names, type "product get name".
Born to Run *** Compelling story of how humans were made for jogging. Documents the Tarahumara, a tribe of Mexican Indians who run ultramarathons almost barefoot. But extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof and, unfortunately, this book completely fails in providing references or sources for any of its claims. I found at least one glaring factual error: the author claims that humans are the only animal whose principal method of heat dissipation is sweating. Not true--horses sweat profusely! Serious mistakes such as these beg the question of how many other errors there are.
I noticed in the server logs for prestonhunt.com that Baidu is indexing my site. Curious, I tried the search "preston hunt" on baidu.com. It didn't produce any results. I wonder if prestonhunt.com is blocked by the Chinese firewall? How would I even go about finding out?
As for Baidu, I was surprised that it was only available in Chinese. With revenues of $650 million, you would think that they could afford some translation services!
In 2003, I could already tell that storing data in the cloud was the future. We didn't know to call it the cloud at that time, but the concept of storing documents such that they were accessible via any browser was already appealing.
Google Docs didn't exist yet. But Wikipedia did, and the software used to run it is open source. I set up wiki.prestonhunt.com and used it as my own private document management system. It was pretty useful, both in terms of having a place to store non-private documents (such as book reviews), but also for collaboration with others (planning a trip, for example). And writing in the wiki markup language was a lot less cumbersome than HTML.
Today, almost seven years later, I'm retiring wiki.prestonhunt.com. Spammers are one of the reasons. Like most wikis, it's possible to undo any unauthorized changes, but it's a huge hassle. (I need to write an essay later on why using off-the-shelf software like WikiMedia counter-intuitively opens a system up to more security vulnerabilities than a home-grown solution).
I'm in the middle of re-architecting prestonhunt.com anyway, most likely moving to either Google App Engine or Django, hosted entirely on the cloud. It's a pretty painful process, going through the site's functionality component by component and evaluating whether the value of each given component justifies the cost of migrating it. In the case of running one's own wiki, I would say definitely not!
I switched from HaloScan to Disqus this weekend (as a result of Haloscan's decision to stop offering their free service). The whole process was pretty painless due to this nifty tutorial and script. It took about an hour all said and done. I've been meaning to switch for a while since I didn't like the way HaloScan puts the comments in a pop-up window. I'm pretty happy with Disqus so far. Let me know if you run into any problems with commenting!
I signed up for a Treasury Direct account this month (so I can buy I Bonds). They have the most impressive online security I've ever seen on a site designed for consumers.
When you sign up for your account, you enter your email address and pick a password. Then they send your account number to your email. You still can't login, though. They also send you in the postal mail a personalized decoder ring card. It has 10 columns and 5 rows of letters, presumably different from everyone else's.
When you go to log in to treasurydirect.gov, you punch in your account number as you would on any site. Then you use a virtual on-screen keyboard to enter your password. Many banking sites do this (such as HSBC), but Treasury Direct is the first I've seen that randomizes the order of the keys on the virtual keyboard. This is important because the whole point of the virtual keyboard is to prevent a program from logging the key strokes or mouse clicks of your password. If the on-screen keyboard is always the same, then having the virtual keyboard doesn't help at all against that sort of attack and is just an annoyance to the user.
The final login step involves the decoder card you received in the mail. The site gives you a list of coordinates (such as B2, G5, etc.) and you have to enter the letters at those coordinates. Entry of these letters is also done with the randomized virtual keyboard.
Very, very impressive. In this case, the government is the vanguard and a role model for the private sector. Let's hope the rest of the financial industry wakes up some day and follows the Treasury Department's lead.
Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food *** : These are essentially the same theme, so I'm rating them together. A compelling history and exploration of the food industry that should convince most readers to change the way they eat. Unfortunately, it's preachy at times and maligns science unjustly, so I deducted one star from the rating.
My 2009 in cities (in approximate chronological order):
- Sunriver, Oregon
- Lost Rocks, California
- Adirondacks, New York
- New York City
- Santa Clara, California
- San Francisco
- Bacharach, Germany
- Baden-Baden, Germany
- Freiberg, Germany
- Murren, Switzerland
- Lucerne, Switzerland
- Munich, Germany
- Saltzburg, Austria
- Government Camp, Oregon
One or more nights spent in each place. I changed jobs last year which, combined with the recession, meant that I travelled a lot less than last year.
I upgraded the heat sink on my home desktop this weekend to a Zalman CNPS9500. In addition to looking awesome, it is way quieter than my old heat sink... bordering on mute! I realize most people out there have probably moved on to laptops these days, but if you are still harboring a trusty desktop, definitely consider a heat sink upgrade!
Ecotopia **** : Thought-provoking "politics fiction". In the author's words, the book tries to convey "that there are real alternatives to our present corporatist, militarist, ultracompetitive, oil-obsessed course." One reviewer wrote, "it looks obvious--like the wheel", a prescient remark given that the book was written 35 years ago yet confronts issues that we still face today. It does have many flaws, but the story stays with you and is worthwhile reading for everybody!
I replaced the starter on my car this weekend, which was a bit more time consuming that I had planned, but was ultimately very successful (and economical). Here's how it went down:
For the past several months, my trusty Integra had intermittently refused to start. It took me a while to narrow down the relevant symptom, which was that a single click come from under the hood followed by silence. Repeated attempts (sometimes more than a dozen) would eventually lead to a successful start. It was gradually getting worse, so I knew I would have to do something soon.
The root cause of this ended up being that the copper contacts inside the starter had worn down and become corroded so much that they were no longer making contact and conducting electricity. I discovered this after reading the discussion forums on numerous Acura support web sites. After a failed attempt to find the necessary factory parts online, I eventually made my way to the ClickerFixer (whose web site has an excellent animation showing the problem) and ordered a kit.
While I was waiting for the parts to arrive, I located the Integra shop manual online. I read and printed out the relevant sections on removing the starter. The shop manual was essential, it would have been a lot harder without it.
Getting the starter out was by far the toughest part. The starter is wedged in the middle of the engine compartment amidst cables, hoses, vents, and, of course, the engine itself. Getting a wrench down inside took some work and most of the time I had to do it by touch since I couldn't see. The whole thing was pretty murderous on my knees owing to the awkward angle of approach.
It would have been nice if the shop manual had included bolt sizes. I accidentally removed the wrong bolts at first and ended up taking apart the starter solenoid. Not only did this make it harder to get the starter out, but I then later had to learn how to reassemble the solenoid. The whole solenoid experience probably added an hour or more to the total time.
Once the correct bolts had been located, and after the sacrifice of some skin on my knuckles, I finally had the starter in my hands. The replacement of the failed parts was quite trivial. The old copper plates were badly worn and pitted. It may have been possible to sand them down and try to reuse them, but I had already bought the replacement parts and I didn't want to have to take the starter out again if it didn't work.
Getting it back into the engine was a lot easier now that I knew what was I was doing. It was still a challenge, and I was sweating by the end, but it was all rewarded when I turned the key and the engine roared to life on the first attempt!
Total cost, $28 for parts and about four hours of time. I could probably do it in 2 hours or less now that I know what I'm doing. I also feel good that I was able to repair the unit versus going to a mechanic who probably would have wanted to replace the whole thing.
More and more clothes seem to be coming with those little symbols on the care labels instead of English instructions. At first I resisted, but then I took the time to learn what they meant and now I'm a fan. They take up less space, are quicker to read, and are international. The linked site even has a handy PDF that you can print out and hang up in your laundry area.
Some of the older symbols have temperatures inside the symbols, but I like the new ones, which use one, two, or three dots. The temperature was always in Celsius which required mental arithmetic and the digits were often hard to read.
The Google juggernaut continues...
Todd reported that my FeedBurner links weren't working any more (thanks Todd!). I logged into my FeedBurner account to learn that Google has aquired them. Somehow in the process, my links were broken. I'm still working on fixing the problem, but this seems like a smart acquisition for Google.
Google also picked up AdMob.
And now I see that Google has deployed a flu shot locator (for both regular and swine flu vaccines). I want to hate Google for the ever-increasing presence they have in my life, but they keep doing everything right. The competition is nowhere in sight... Bing, if you want to win, you have to start coming up with stuff like this first!
Speaking of Google, I still have a few Google Wave invites left if anybody wants one.
I read this article in the New York Times last week on stiffer British penalties for texting while driving. I like Britain's approach although I think the driver in the case discussed in the article got off too lightly! She got a much bigger penalty than she would have gotten in the U.S., though.
The offense described in this section, operating a motor vehicle while using a mobile communication device, is a Class D traffic violation.
A Class D traffic violation? Is this a joke?! That carries a penalty of $97. To put it in perspective, here are some other Class D traffic violations:
- Driving 1 to 10 miles over the speed limit
- Protruding into a pedestrian crosswalk at a stop light
- Blocking traffic by temporarily stopping or driving too slowly
This is way too lenient in my opinion! I would think Class A or B would be more appropriate. Because talking on the cell phone puts other people's safety at risk, it should be compared to something like "reckless endangerment of a highway worker" (Class A) or "careless driving" (Class B).
For those readers in denial who say, "I can talk on my cell (or text) perfectly safely while driving", please refer to the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute report that found that texting increased collision risk by 23 times. That same article cites a study that found a 4 times increase in collision risk caused by talking on the cell phone (regardless of whether hands-free mode is used).
One thing is for sure: the federal government isn't looking out for us. I'm still trying to figure out why the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration buried data showing the mobile phone use dangerously distracts drivers.
I'm going to write my Oregon state legislative representative (Ginny Burdick) and see about getting the penalties increased. Not that I'm optimistic that anything will change. But at least it's a start...
That, and a personal plea to the intelligent readers of my blog to never text while driving and to limit talking on the cell phone to absolute emergencies!
After a couple years of steady use and countless drops onto the pavement, I traded in my trusty Blackberry Pearl for a Blackberry Curve a little while ago. I was really looking forward to picking up Wi-Fi support (especially for using free hotspots while on vacation without a laptop). I had become a pretty fast typer on the Pearl's partial keyboard, but I was curious to see if the Curve's full keyboard would prove superior.
Unfortunately, after only one week, my Curve refused to charge! I tried reinstalling the drivers and using the car charger, neither of which helped. I was getting ready to throw in the towel and contact AT&T for a replacement when I stumbled across this helpful post on the Blackberry support forums.
It turns out that the mini-USB connector on the Blackberry is very susceptible to getting out of alignment just enough that it won't charge. I employed the recommended screwdriver technique from the article to gently bend the connector back into alignment, and I was charging again in no time.
So if your phone (or other device) that relies on a mini-USB port for charging won't charge, give it a try!
While I'm on the subject of Blackberries, if you have one with a full keyboard, then you are really missing out if you haven't enabled keyboard shortcuts. To enable them, go to Phone, Options, General Options, and set "Dial from Home Screen" to "Off". Now you will be able to launch common tasks with a single keypress from the home screen, such as "M" to view your messages or "W" to launch the web browser. More details on this useful Blackberry 101 Beginner's Guide.
I love making coffee and talking about making coffee. So I was really excited when I read about two new coffee makers in Wired recently. But, first, a little history.
I used to use a French press, but it requires too much cleanup. So for the past several years, I've been using a moka pot, which gives a strong cup of coffee and is easy to clean. The coffee out of a moka pot is also a lot less gritty than the French press. However, I think the consensus of most coffee experts is that the French press produces superior coffee.
Which brings us to the first of the new coffee makers, the [AeroPress](http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&ct=res&cd=2&ved=0CBAQFjAB&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.aerobie.com%2FProducts%2Faeropress.htm&ei=-RLlSqXsHpPYsgO_6vW4Aw&usg=AFQjCNGztiG-MMZqxYjMowlN50gkTeUxLg&sig2=PobqTNfyxKWpbUxpD-JAuQ Aerobie). It is similar to a French press but with the filter at the bottom instead of the top. Most importantly, it supposedly very easy to clean. I just ordered one from Amazon.
The other tempting device is the MyPressi Twist. It is advertised as a portable espresso maker, but given its anticipated low cost ($130) and small size, it would be a great alternative for home use as well. The only unknown at this point is how much the carbon dioxide cartridges are going to cost. The web site says that "standard" cartridges are used, whatever that means. As long as they are not too expensive, they are going to sell a lot of Twists.
I have to give a plug for Banana Republic's credit card: I accidentally incurred a late fee (we were on vacation and didn't get to it in time--so it was my fault). Called them up and they refunded it without any fight. Turns out that they allow one courtesy fee refund per year! I had heard that banks were being really tough with fees lately, glad it wasn't true in this case.
What Renting DVDs Teaches Us About CD Yield Maximization: Instead of buying a one- or two-year CD, always buy a five-year. If you need the money early or the interest rates go way up, you still come out ahead even after paying the early-withdrawal penalty. Seems to make sense!
I got caught up on some of my Atlantic reading while we were on vacation last month. These articles really impressed me:
How American Health Care Killed My Father: Excellent summary of the problems with American health care and how it won't be fixed by the current proposals. Offers a way that the system could work better, and I think it would work - if it could ever get passed into law (doubtful)!
The Founders' Great Mistake: Problems with the way the Constitution defines the president's powers and how to fix it.
Petabytes on a budget: How to build cheap cloud storage: And I thought my home-built 4 terabyte server was impressive...
Anathem ***** : Science "monks" sequester themselves from the rest of the world for 1, 10, 100, or 1000 years at a time so that they can solve interesting problems in peace. Takes place on another planet with a whole new vocabulary to learn and enjoy. Based loosely on the Clock of the Long Now.
OpenStreetMap is a cool project to provide an open source map of as much of the world as possible. They have quite a bit of coverage of Portland already, but are hosting a mapping party in Portland on June 20th to fill in some missing areas. I would love to participate, but will be riding Tour de Blast that day.
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