Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Disappearing Christmas

When I say Christmas can disappear, I'm not talking in the metaphorical sense, like your parents forgot to buy the Christmas presents. I mean that it is possible to experience a shorter version of it, or in the extreme case, no Christmas at all, due to travel around the Earth.

Let's look at an example. Flying from Los Angeles to Sydney takes about 15 hours. A flight leaves at 6pm Christmas Eve. In 10 hours it crosses the international date line. Just before the plane crossed the line, the time was 4am Christmas Day in Los Angeles (GMT -8), however for the passengers on the plane, the time was 12am (midnight) Christmas Day, since they were at GMT -12, just to the east of the international date line. When they crossed the line, time jumped ahead by 24 hours and it is now 12am December 26. Continuing to travel west, the plane will arrive in Sydney at 3am December 26 local time (GMT +10).

As you can see, the passengers on the plane have no experience for any time between midnight Christmas Day to midnight December 26.

Computer Games

When computers finally managed to beat us at chess, a game of ingenious human invention, we did not say they were now officially smarter than us. What we did was give computers another game - another puzzle to struggle with.

Go is a board game that is a magnitude more complex than chess. Whereas computers could memorize well studied opening books for chess, such a strategy is unmanageable for Go, since there are 361 possibilities... for the first move alone. Today's fastest computers with the best Go algorithms are still beaten by human players with a few months of experience - mere novices.

I believe that computers will one day manage to beat us at Go. But that is a discussion for another time. Now I want to talk about what game, what puzzle we will toss future-computers after that, to assuage ourselves that NO - they are still not smarter.

Settlers of Catan is a board game that is a magnitude more complex than Go. Whereas future-computers only had to think about winning or losing for Go, a binary 1/0 that they are familiar with, such a strategy simply doesn't work for Settlers, since bartering between players involves the hazy variables of human psychology that computers are ill-equipped to define. First there is the game. It is played on a board, which has over a million different possible configurations - and that's before any player has had a turn.

Then there is the meta-game. It involves players bartering with each other, forming alliances, and knowing when to stab their former partners in the back. To give you an example of how complex the thought process can be, we need to take a quick diversion.

From personal experience, I've seen a human player propose an ingenious trade, that would have given her an enormous advantage. To fully understand the significance however, you first need to understand more about the game. Victory in Settlers is achieved when a player has 10 victory points. There is a longest road development card, which is awarded to whichever player has the longest road* of at least 5 segments. It is worth 2 victory points.

You also need to understand more about this particular instance of the game. There were four players. The human player and another player (let's call him the opponent) were both just mere points away from victory. One of the two other players currently held the longest road card. However the opponent had two large sections of road, and if he was able to connect them, held a good chance of gaining the longest road card for himself.

The human player proposed that she refrain from building a road at a position where it would block the opponent from connecting his two road sections in return for him giving one of his resource cards on every turn to her for the rest of the game (like a tax). Right as the opponent was about to agree to this outrageous deal (remember he still might not have gotten the longest road card), the human player realized it was better to take away all possibility of the opponent gaining the longest road card, and she built the road anyway.

What will happen when future-computers beat us at Settlers of Catan? That's when we can say they are officially smarter than us - and be right.

* The length of a road is the longest possible segment, not counting branches.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Keyboard Cat Piano

What better way to test a new piano?

P.S. - I'm testing my new HD camera at the same time. :)

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Running the Seattle Marathon

About three months ago, my friend David and I decided to run a marathon. Neither of us had run so much as a 10k before. Although it was a spontaneous decision, we took it seriously. I found a beginner's training schedule and we stuck with it as best we could. Rain or shine, night or day, oncall or not, we ran.

Marymoore park was our preferred training location. We would always start at the park, run out half our training distance, turn around, and try to make it back to the car. I had blisters on my feet, sore joints, and aching legs, but we would always made it back. We ran that trail so many times, that it became a part of me; I learned every twist and turn, and every mile marker. We could run it with our eyes closed, and sometimes we did, in the pitch black of night.

The night before the marathon, my roommate cooked. I went to sleep with a belly full of pasta. I was woken up at 4am by an unexpected text message. "What are ya doing man?" it read, but I was too bleary eyed and preoccupied with the marathon to reply. I needed to get going anyway. When we hit traffic driving to Seattle Center, David kept busy by measuring the rate of raindrops hitting the windsheild. "It's slowing down," he told me.

We managed to park and walk to the race start with a few minutes to spare. My Dad had come to support me and take pictures. It was the first time I had seen him in a month. He didn't say anything about my hair. The raining stopped just as we came to the start time.

The first half of the marathon flew by for me. Seeing everyone else running with me, and hearing the spectators cheer us on really got me going. At that moment, I felt like I could run 100 marathons. We started near the back, but we kept passing runners. As we ran across the I-90 bridge, we caught up with the 4 hour 45 minute pace runners. We managed to stick with them through the halfway point, giving us a split time of 2 hours 22 minutes.

At mile 15, things got a lot harder. Pain and fatigue caught up with me and I couldn't keep up my pace. I had to slow to a walk, and the aching that was masked by endorphins really kicked in. It was the worst I felt during the entire race, and perhaps my entire life. I wondered how I could ever finish the remaining 11 miles. Giving up was so tempting. But I remembered the guy at mile 9, holding up the sign that read "Pain is temporary, pride is forever". I remembered the smile of the little girl at mile 12, cheering and making more noise with her little cowbell than anyone else. I remembered the man with the loudspeaker at mile 7, saying how he was so proud of all us. I remembered all the reasons that I had to run. And I kept going.

Each mile after that was a struggle. The time between mile markers grew and felt like an eternity. At mile 20, my Dad called me, wondering how I was doing. At the time, my phone felt like a brick in my hand. He asked if I wanted him to come pick me up. "No", I said without hesitation. I had made up my mind. There was no way the day was going to end without me finishing what I had started.

Just short of mile 25 I heard David yell out in pain. I turned around and saw him holding his leg. It had cramped up. David told me to keep going without him, but I wouldn't have it. I wasn't about to abandon my friend. Not when we had gone so far, and were so close to the finish. I waited for David to recover. Then we limped/walked/ran/sprinted the final mile.

It took me 5 hours 42 minutes and 10 seconds to run my first marathon. So why did I do this? Why did I choose to put myself through such pain? For me, it's more than just being able to say I've run a marathon. It's about pushing the limits of my ability, experiencing new things, and most importantly, achieving something that I really want.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

420 Possibilities

1 black 4x2 bookshelf from Ikea + 2 blue bins + 2 red bins = 420 possible arrangements. What you see above is the one that defines me as a person.

Friday, October 30, 2009


I found out that being a chef has its perks. And I'm not just talking about scaring little kids with your big bloody knife. I went to a busy Indian restaurant with some friends after work, and was still wearing my chef's outfit (though I had put away the knife). I had a feeling our service was a bit faster than usual. We were seated immediately while others had to wait. Our plate of rice and glasses of water were always refilled quickly. Our food was very good. Not only that, but after the main course, we were presented with complimentary tea and desserts. Right before we were about to leave, our waiter asked me what I had thought of the food. He looked disappointed when I told him I wasn't really a chef...

Monday, October 26, 2009


I never thought a cellphone comercial would make me want to cry...

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Worst Song or Best Song?

Scientists have carefully constructed the most unwanted music. However, in a weird reverse-Frankenstein, the 22 minute song is actually pretty good. The same auditory elements that are so undesirable, when combined together, actually make for a pretty awesome song. And yes, there is opera rap.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Luther Burger

The Luther Burger is the pinnacle of human invention. It combines the succulent juiciness of a cheeseburger with the soft and chewy goodness of a glazed doughnut. There are some who may call it an unholy flavor abomination, but they have obviously not yet experienced this culinary orgasm. One bite of the Luther Burger is enough to convince anyone that it is the food of the gods. The only way it could be better is if you had two of them, or if it were deep-fried. If it's a choice between a Luther Burger, and a myocardial infarction, I choose the Luther Burger every time.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Passport Upgrade

According to Wikipedia, my old PRC passport allowed me to travel to 41 countries visa-free, while my new US passport allows me to travel to 155 countries visa-free. Ironically, China is not one of the 155 countries. In fact, Americans must pay a higher visa fee than anyone else. I guess it's China's way of punishing me for defecting. I still love you, China.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

GRE Vocabulary

Some new words I learned while studying for the GRE:


And one word that describes what I want to do with the Powerprep GRE study software:


Sunday, September 6, 2009


One of the perks of having a classically trained French chef as a roommate.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

We do what we must, because we can

Back in college, I had a roommate who would go for hour-long runs two or three times a week. One night, I spontaneously decided to go running with him. It soon got so painful that I had to stop. I was only able to run for fifteen minutes that night. When he returned to the dorm (after completing his run), I asked him how he could keep running like that; did he not feel the pain? His simple answer surprised me. Yes, it was painful, but he endured it.

Today, I registered to run in the Seattle marathon.

I've never tried running a marathon before. Or even a half-marathon. But I didn't sign up for this because it was going to be easy. I signed up for the same reasons that I leaped off a 40ft high bridge. I signed up for the same reasons that my friend tried out for (and got accepted into) the Navy SEALs. I signed up for the same reasons that the United States chose to put a man on the moon.

I signed up because "we do what we must, because we can".

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


I knew all that US history I learned in school would pay off one day...

Sunday, July 19, 2009

If your friends jumped off a bridge...

...would you jump too?

Fuck Yeah!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Mount Si

How high is Mount Si?
Let's just say, one misstep and you will probably die.

^ ^

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

My Dream Come True

I can finally download a car.

Monday, May 18, 2009

"Distract him with this shiny CD"

I went to the USCIS building to get my fingerprints taken this morning. I was there for 3 hours, and I spent 95% of the time waiting. All the employees were extremely nice however. I watched one girl politely try to explain the concept of a maiden name to an older woman for almost five minutes before she finally got it. After I got my fingerprints taken, I was given a study booklet to help prepare for the interview. When I opened it, I was surprised to find an audio CD with all 100 questions and answers that could be asked. I could not believe they were giving these out for free. Then I remembered I paid $675 for the application fee...

Also, my favorite question is:
56. When is the last day you can send in federal income tax forms?

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Bike to Work Fail

So I tried to bike to work on Friday. I really did. You see, after my bike mishap two weeks ago, I was ready to give up. But I don't like quitting things, especially ones that are important to me. So I went online and ordered a new set of innertubes and tires. I watched videos online to learn how to change an innertube and got the tools I needed. I trained on the stationary bike at the gym the week before.

The day of the event, I was ready, or so I thought. I'm about 1 mile into my planned 14 mile route, when I notice my rear tire feels weird. I pull into a parking lot and find a rusty nail-like object sticking out of my tire. This sucks, I thought, but I had prepared for this. I take out the spare innertube in my backpack and change it in the parking lot. It takes me about 20 minutes. After a few spins around the parking lot to make sure everything feels right, I continue along the planned route. Not two minutes afterwards, I hear a loud pop, not disimilar to the one I heard two weeks ago. My tire's completely blown. I'm out of spares, and just too far from my house to be able to drag my bike back.

Next time I'll buy a real bike instead of a $70 piece of junk from Walmart.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Business Card

Look at that subtle off-white coloring.

The tasteful thickness of it.

Oh my God, it even has a watermark QR Code!

Sunday, May 10, 2009


Wow, and are both down right now. Does nobody want my money?

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Tire Pressure

It's just not my day today. Not only did my new super efficient, save-the-world, lightbulb of the future die after a grand total of 5 hours of use, but so did my bicycle tire.

I was riding along, minding my own business, when all of a sudden I hear a sharp crack. The sound ambushes me like a sniper I didn't see (which doesn't normally happen). I literally jump off the bike. I find it hard to believe that my bike could have made such an deafening noise so I look around, thinking someone may have fired a gun or set off some firecrackers or something. All I see is my neighbor looking up from his yard work, staring at me. I examine my bike closer, and sure enough, see that the rear tire is completely deflated (like my dream of biking to work).

Looks like I'm going to miss Bike to Work Day again, but I guess there's always next year.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Light Bulbs of the Future

These are the light bulbs of the future
  • 90% less energy than incandescents
  • 50% less energy than CFLs
  • Cool to the touch
  • Lasers (actually no, it's just LEDs)
Update: Okay, it's been less than a week and this lightbulb is already dead. I switched on the light, it flashed for a second, then went out, never to come on again. So much for energy efficiency.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Home Theater 2.0

Ever since I did my first living room upgrade, I've been meaning to get a surround sound system. After six months, I felt like I've waited long enough. I went with the Onkyo HT-S5100 7.1 home theater in a box system because it was pretty inexpensive. More pictures here.

Both my HTPC and XBOX360 output 5.1, which the receiver can expand into 7.1. The only gripe I have with the receiver is that the HDMI inputs are pass-through only, meaning they can't be used for audio input. So whereas with my TV, I was able to connect one HDMI cable from my XBOX360 for both audio and video, now I need to connect one HDMI cable for video, and one optical S/PDIF cable for audio. Onkyo's higher end models do support audio over HDMI, but I wasn't going to pay an extra $200 or so for this extra convenience.

I hate visible wires about as much as Steve Jobs hates buttons (just look the latest shuffle), so I tried very hard to balance wire management with optimal speaker placement. The center speaker is on a wall shelf that is just above the TV. The front speakers are wall mounted with wires mostly hidden behind the TV. The surround speakers are on speaker stands with wires hidden under the thing that runs along the bottom of the wall (I have no idea what it's called). The surround back speakers are also on speakers stands with the wires hidden under the floor in the crawlspace (I hope I never have to go down there again).

Some movies that really show off the audio system:
  • Transformers
  • Cloverfield
  • Children of Men
  • Independence Day
  • Terminator 2
  • Iron Man

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Building a Home Theater PC

For the past few months, I've been using my Dell Inspiron 9300 laptop to steam video to my home theater. It works well for 720p videos and below, but totally chokes on 1080p. Also, it only outputs stereo audio, and I wanted to output 5.1 channel surround sound.

That's why I decided to build a HTPC. Ii needed to decode 1080p video, so a fast CPU was a must. The video card was less of a concern. I also wanted it to fit nicely in my TV stand, so I went with the smaller microATX form factor motherboard and case. The case is also shorter than normal, which means only low-profile cards will fit in the expansion slots (not a problem since I'm not using any expansion slots). Loudness was also a concern, but not a major factor.

Update: More pretty pictures! (with comments inline)

The components that I bought (total cost around $500):
  • Intel Core 2 Duo E8400 @ 3GHz
  • GIGABYTE motherboard with NVIDIA GeForce9400 graphics
  • hec microATX case with 270W power supply (has HDMI and optical S/PDIF outputs)
  • Seagate 1.5 TB hard drive
  • USB wireless adapter
The components that I had lying around:
  • 2 x 1GB memory
  • 250GB hard drive
  • Optical drive (borrowed to install Windows XP)
After getting it up and running, I found that it's able to decode 1080p video just alright (high action or noisy parts still result in some chopiness). The integrated GeForce9400 graphics kind of sucks. While I haven't tried playing any games, the new iTunes visualizer (which is very GPU intensive) doesn't seem as smooth as on my laptop's GeForce6800 (mobile version). And my laptop is almost 4 years old now.

I was hoping to get better performance by overclocking the CPU (Intel Core 2 CPUs are nicely overclockable), however I ran into some problems that I think are caused by the integrated GeForce9400 not being able to keep up with the faster FSB. The end result is that the system failed even a minor overclock from 3GHz to 3.2GHz. Compared to building my first computer, which I was able to overclock from 2.4GHz to 3.3GHz, this is terrible.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Coke Can Dating

I was exploring my house's crawlspace (the shallow, unfinished space beneath the living space used for visual inspection and access to pipes and ducts), and found this old coke can lying there. There's no date on the can, but assuming it was left there when the house was constructed, I'd say it's from the late 1970's. The list of ingredients corroborate this: it has sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup, which means it's from before 1985, when Coke made the switch.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Doorbell Hacking

What's the first thing a thief does when he's casing a house? Ring the doorbell to see if anyone's at home, right? If someone answers, he can play it off like he's a door-to-door camera peddler or some kind of religious fanatic. If nobody answers, it's a good sign that the house is empty and ripe for the picking. The burglar proceeds to break in and steal everything that catches his fancy, including the ancient Chinese sword, the antique Italian restaurant menu, and the highly-valuable anime pencil-sketches. Meanwhile, the owner comes home to find all his shit missing, but there's nothing he can do because the perp is long gone.

Well, it's a different story when it comes to my house. Shortly after the thief rings my doorbell, I get an SMS message on my phone. I then rush home as fast as I can, where I find him struggling to lift the TV. I quietly grab my can of mace, sneak up behind him, yell "Surprise Motherfucker!", and get him good in the eyes (which are the testicles of the face). I am called a hero by my friends and neighbors.

This is how it works: My house has an oldschool mechanical doorbell. Normally, pressing the doorbell closes a circuit that activates an electromagnet which slams the chime against the tone bar. I bought a 12V reed relay from Radio Shack and hooked it up in parallel so that pressing the doorbell also activates the relay. This sends a signal to my computer (I'm glossing over this part because it's a bit complicated and involves a Phidget, not to be confused with a midget).

There's a program running on the computer that listens for the signal and makes a status update to Twitter user baic_house using Twitter's REST API. My main Twitter account follows baic_house and is set up to recieve an SMS message whenever baic_house makes an update. The whole process from pressing the doorbell to SMS message recieved on phone only takes a few seconds.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Red Elephant

Is it just me, or does the cutout on the pull-tab of cans of Red Bull look like an elephant?

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Christian Bale goes American Psycho (in Real Life)

The Dark Knight is one of my favorite movies. And Christian Bale makes for a pretty good Batman. But after seeing Christian Bale in American Psycho (a movie that I definitely do not recommend to anyone), I've never been able to think of him in the same way. I mean, that movie was just grusomely violent in a Hostel or Texas Chainsaw Massacre kind of way. Is it possible portray a character disturbed enough to stick a kitten in an ATM without having a few issues yourself? Well, the answer is apparently "no" as demonstrated in this audio clip of Christian Bale losing it on the set of his latest movie.

I guess he wasn't acting in American Psycho after all...

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Newspaper Falls for Chain Email?

I found this image with statistics about the 2008 presidential election in my local newspaper. The data implies that Obama stole the election. It didn't seem right to me, and a simple Google search found that it was indeed a hoax that originated as a chain email. Professor Joseph Olson, who was quoted in the article, even has a disclaimer on his website that says,
"There is a series of e-mails floating around the internet dealing with the 2008 Obama/McCain election and the 2000 Bush/Gore election, remarks of a Scottish philosopher named Alexander Tyler, suicide rates, or ANYTHING ELSE. Part of it is attributed to me. It is entirely BOGUS as to my authorship."
So it's pretty apparent that the whole thing is false - something that took me about five minutes to discover. The real question is whether the Mill Creek View has a right wing bias, or if they're just stupid enough to reprint anything they get in an email without any fact checking at all.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Why I Hate Benjamin Button

Disclaimer: This is all my opinion. People are allowed to have different opinions, so don't get upset.

The only thing curious about "Benjamin Button" is how so many people consider it to be a great movie. For me, it was slow, uninteresting, and lacking depth. Most disappointing is that this should have been a great movie. When I heard that the main character is a guy who ages in reverse, I thought of "Memento". When I heard that the director is David Fincher, I thought of "Fight Club" and "Se7en". When I heard that the writer is Eric Roth, I thought of "Forrest Gump". When someone who saw the movie told me that she cried her heart out, I thought of movies that have made me cry (I won't list them here). The point is, all of these are great movies because they are wonderfully deep and thought provoking at a philosophical level. The problem is, when you see "Benjamin Button" with these gems in mind, you're going to realize you're not watching another gem, instead you're looking at an ordinary lump of coal.

Note: Mild spoilers after this point.

My main problem with "Benjamin Button" is that you don't feel anything towards any of the characters. I was really hoping to gain some insight into how aging in reverse affects someone. After watching the movie, all I've learned is that they would be a pretty normal, albeit a bit boring, guy. Where's the drama, the excitement, and the conflict in this movie? When someone told me that you can kind of see there's going to be problems from the premise of the movie, I thought she meant a large, complicated, and involved problem. I didn't realise the "problem" she was talking about was the totally obvious one that Benjamin gets younger and eventually dies. That's really what the main conflict in this movie was about! And honestly, how is it any different from him growing older and eventually dying? It's so obvious that a blind man could have seen it coming!

The whole movie is like a collection of loosely related events. It watches more like a dry documentary than a Hollywood blockbuster. You'd think, with how slow the movie is, there would be amble time for character development. But the events do little to explain the characters motivations or thought processes.

I'm not a particularly insightful guy, but this movie failed to surprise me in the good way. And honestly, was anyone really surprised by the "surprises" in this movie? Was it not obvious from the moment you heard his name, that Mr. Button was Benjamin Button's biological father? And was it not obvious that the woman reading the diary was going to be his daughter? What did surprise me however, was all the plot holes. I'm not even talking about the impossibility of the whole premise. But didn't it seem odd that throughout Benjamin's whole life, no one was really curious about his condition? No reporters or doctors inquired about him at all? And why did he never talk to his sister. Did he really hate her that much? I don't know because of the complete lack of character development!

With all that said, I actually had a wonderful time watching "Benjamin Button", but for reasons entirely tangential to the movie itself.