system preferences — the road to leopard

Over on tuaw (the unofficial Apple weblog, in case you were desperate to know), there’s an article about whether or not to upgrade to leopard. Basically.

If you have only one computer and it’s your production machine, don’t upgrade.
If you work with Adobe software and need your software to work reliably, don’t upgrade.
If you work with Windows, don’t upgrade.
If you have a lot of system customizations, don’t upgrade.

In theory, I shouldn’t have issues upgrading. The mbp is my production machine, and I use Photoshop and Dreamweaver, but neither extensively. I also have good upgrading instructions from John Gruber, so I should be okay.

But I’m gonna wait for a while.

I’ve decided I’m not an early adaptor, even though in theory I can be. The only early adaptor action I did was to get the mbp soon after it came out, because I really really needed to replace the pb1 then. I don’t think not having leopard will affect my daily routine and I want to wait for a few dots before shelling out my $129 equivalent. There’s also the niggling notion that I want to wait till there’s a 10.5 version of cleardock because guess what? I’m one of those apparent minorities who have the dock at the side rather than at the bottom.

What will I get when I upgrade? I believe the new features will be worth it. The os has come a hell of a long way from the b&w mac plus days, sigh. Sometimes I get a little nostalgic at the old look and feel … I’m still looking for that playable version of bandits (fat chance …). How better to wax nostalgic lyrical than to look at how far system preference panels have evolved. There’s this nice Apple Insider article / illustration. Look at how it changed from System 1, through System 4 and how it looks on System 10.5 now. Thank you, Susan Kare.

system1   system4
system10.5

long day

It’s been a long few days at work. Getting very busy, with lots of deadlines looming and work being done coming back for review and further action. Going to Singapore next week, then straight down to Sydney. Plus conference calls are getting later in the day (worse next week when the US clocks fall back). And I even have a blackberry, remember when I refused to have one?

But it’s still interesting and enjoyable. PL had a convo with our global head this morning and Global Head talked about me fairly early in the discussion. As soon as they can, they’ll change my contract terms to more favourable. Woot!

There’s a lot of talk in the news about OldJob, some of it not of the good. It’s sad, but I’m riveted, I’m on marketwatch, bloomberg, wsj and nyt all the time. Still have friends there, hoping they’re not too affected.

games I’ve been playing

I have a million things on my mind but sometimes I’d just like to spend a few minutes not using my brain and playing a casual game.

For my October game club I got azada, an eight-level puzzle game with the same type of graphics feel as the mcf games. It has all sorts of brain teasers like mazes, connect 3, soduku and what I like best — finding and using objects in different rooms. We are given more than enough time to complete the whole level. Some of the puzzles take a over 5 minutes but some can be done quickly. My record is 8 seconds for a matchstick puzzle. I finished the game already, 3 or 4 times.

azada azada 8 sec

On the topic of games, I came across a parody time management / sim game where we have to successfully run a McDonald’s store. There are 4 sections we have to juggle — the farm where soy and cows are kept, the feedlot, the restaurant and headquarters. The options are “realistic” — genetically engineered soy has to be used to get more cows, growth hormones and animal waste have to be added to the feed to make the cows grow faster, and there are options at HQ to corrupt politicians and spin marketing messages. It’s all very McCorporate.

mcgame

The other games on the makers’ site have the same serious tongue-in-cheek satire that will surely make mainstream politicians and Bible belt residents quiver in their plaid boxers. There’s Operation Pedopriest, where you’re a vatican official trying to keep the lid on the activities of certain priests; there’s a couple of decidedly nsfw ones like queer power [NSFW!!!!!] which basically has 2 players who …

well, you figure out the rest while I go play color junction.

 

quiet afternoon with tea

mm has been away on holiday for 10 days. There seems to be a pattern, with us going on holiday separately lately. On the one hand we’re not wanting to be in each other’s hair all the time, on the other hand it’s a little unsettling.

She’s not slept well since she came back on Wednesday so our original plan to spend the weekend together was scrapped, so she can catch up on her rest. She called me this morning and we decided that she’d stay at home and be lazy while I went over in the afternoon. She has dinner with her family so it’s basically just the afternoon.

We had presents to exchange — she got me a Harrods mug, some snacks, a set of coasters from Paris and returned the maps, adaptors and charger I lent her for the trip. I gave her some chocolate, Japanese sweets and the jar of kitkat I got from the office vending machine.

We watched tv and had tea. She made Earl Grey using a teapot (teabags still, but it’s a nice teapot). We had some of the Japanese dessert.

I did my grocery shopping and went home at 6pm. It’s a relaxing way to spend an afternoon.

cars and phones

With the success of the iPhone, it’s no wonder that other brand names not usually associated with cellphones are eyeing the market. What better combination than sports cars and high end cellphones? Like oil and vinegar; peanut butter and jelly; strawberries and cream. A 12-year old boy’s dream come true.

If the 12 year old boy has €1,200 to spare, he will soon be able to buy his very own porsche phone. In the scheme of things, it’s not a fancy phone filled with all the gadgets, but the Sagem-made P9521 has the Porsche name, which ups the drool factor by a zillion.

In other news, Audi has unveiled a prototype of its own phone. This one, also, is understated but has security features tied to the car. Quite appealing.

porsche phone
audi phone

This makes a change from before, when it was common to attach a sports or luxury car badge to an existing phone. McLaren, Harley Davidson, Hummer and Ferrari are among the many brand names who have done it.

car phones

Car manufacturers have some synergy with cellphone manufacturers — so much software goes into cars nowadays that they have become 2-ton computers.

one week

nano2007

one week till the beginning of November. There’s so many factors conspiring against my participation in nano this year:

  • busy at work — the timeline is very tight and we don’t have enough resources
  • there’s also that wee global system implementation on top
  • need to go to singapore, australia and korea
  • write the RKT Christmas story
  • I’m almost certain my left hand can’t manage it, it’s been stiff and painful on and off depending on how much typing I do

But a part of me refuses to give up. I’ve got the story outlined — 25 chapters, average 2,000 words. It’s less ambitious than 10 chapters of 5,000 words that I usually do. I know exactly what I want to cover in each chapter.

I guess a compromise will be to do a 30-day 50k challenge, but not during November. Either January or February when things may get less hectic.

Sigh. What to do.

reminder of good food

I finally downloaded the pics from Mum’s camera. Naturally I only took pictures of food, heehee. I forgot to take pictures of the fantastic grilled kobe beef we had on Thursday but remembered on Friday and Saturday.

First it’s the sushi we had at this place in Shinjuku. I honestly can’t remember its name and I have only a faint idea of its location. It’s pretty popular, we got there before 7pm and lucked out with a table but couldn’t get seats at the counter. People coming in later had to wait. We ordered à la carte and everything was fresh and delicious. From the top: crunchy roe, scampi, daily special white fish, cooked prawns, crab, uni, toro, salmon, sardines, ebi.

sushiselection

That was Friday night. Saturday lunch we went to Ginza Tenkuni, a tempura restaurant that began as a small street stall in 1885. There’s a reason why this place has been successful for so long — the best tempura! Mum had the bamboo set which consisted of 2 different kinds of prawns (regular and king prawn), squid, fish and vegetables. The set came with tuna sashimi, tofu, pickles, miso and rice.

tempuraset

I had the bento which had fewer tempura pieces but also included a piece of grilled salmon, egg, grilled skewers, different types of vegetables, sashimi, pickles, soup and mushroom rice.

tempurabento

Here’s a picture of the poster menu. They also had a seasonal mushroom tempura dish as well as smaller sets that was just tempura on rice — kinda like chirashi but with tempura instead of sashimi. Definitely a place worth returning to.

tempuramenu

 

the flash drive of my mind

Relating to yesterday’s post and an example of how my thoughts flow in strange directions, here’s some mind babble about information explosion, email addresses and human-robot relationships.

We are surrounded by information. Lots of information. Ever since I switched to google reader I’ve been spending a lot more time than before reading feeds. Comparatively I shouldn’t have enough feeds for rss fatigue to set in — around 60, of which some are to keep track of friends who hardly post. That’s pretty manageable, even though I dread to think what I’d have to go through if I went on vacation for 2 weeks.

It’s not just the sheer amount of information around us, it’s the speed at which it’s coming at us. We’re literally bombarded 24/7 by an unending stream of news, or stuff on digg, or pictures of the newest gadgets. We don’t have enough room in our brains and we’re remembering fewer and fewer basic facts these days:

This summer, neuroscientist Ian Robertson polled 3,000 people and found that the younger ones were less able than their elders to recall standard personal info. When Robertson asked his subjects to tell them a relative’s birth date, 87 percent of respondents over age 50 could recite it, while less than 40 percent of those under 30 could do so. And when he asked them their own phone number, fully one-third of the youngsters drew a blank. They had to whip out their handsets to look it up.

It’s true. When I left OldJob I printed a copy of my personal Outlook address book but I couldn’t take the entire company email database of course. Sending emails to ex-colleagues became less intuitive; I actually had to think about it. Fortunately, like most corporate emails the external emails were mainly firstname.lastname@company.com; but there were a few exceptions I had to specially remember.

It’s even worse for friends’ and family’s email addresses. I can remember the ones I email regularly, but the rest I rely on gmail’s autofill feature. I can’t remember anyone’s birthdays apart from the most important people; and forget about addresses — 90% of letters I send via snailmail are to pay bills at places I can’t pay online. Every memory seems to be archived, it’s now a matter of remember where the information is stored rather than the information itself. It’s like I have flashdrives hooked up to my brain that I need to download and upload memories to.

I feel like I’m developing hardware. The mbp is almost an extension of my body, it is more important than the tv, or any sentient or insentient entity in my existence.

AI researchers were talking about the possibility of sex between humans and robots in five years and marriage by 2050. With humans becoming more robot-like and robots becoming more lifelike, it’s a matter of time before the two species merge. There’s enough sci-fi stories and movies about this that it’s not as whacky of preposterous as it first may seem. Yes, it’s icky and the exact ethical implications haven’t been thought through, but pesonally I don’t want to rule it out. Some part deep down inside me can see how the idea may be attractive.

Robots can provide a tremendous amount of comfort. For example look at the Ri-Man that was developed at the Bio-Mimetic Control Research Center in Nagoya. It’s a robot that is intended to be a nurse’s aid, to help pick up patients at the hospital. But with artificial intelligence that allows the robots to learn emotions and even develop personalities, who’s to say that there is a limit to the degree and type of comfort / companionship that a robot can offer? Think real doll [nsfw].

robot ri-man

At least, robots can be programmed not to a) engage in or b) feel hurt if they’re told that they are engaged in annoying behaviour. Which leads me back to email addresses, a reminder to think before forwarding those cute / “send to 10 other people or you’ll die” / “send to 10 other people and you will meet the love of your life” emails because:

  • may be it was cute once, a very long time ago when people only read one newspaper; but not after you’ve seen it 457 times
  • nah, a hippo with a baby chimpanzee on its back eating a banana ain’t cute
  • by the time I get one, the fwd:fwd:re:re chain is so long, I wonder why it took me so long to get it … am I not popular enough? [/sarcasm]
  • if I were a spam harvester I’d wet myself — all those hundreds of email addresses of real people
  • baby elephants and polar bears cuddling with an Eskimo child ain’t cute … really
  • most people are too embarrassed to tell their cute-email-sending friends to buzz off (um I don’t have this problem, I tell them to buzz off)
  • they’re not just sending me an email, it’s a AYCE malware party — open an attachment, get viruses, trojan horses, spyware, worms compliments of your (shouldn’t it be ex- by now?) friend

Is it a stretch to see why a customised robot may be a viable alternative?

fitting into boxes

We live in a universe of short attention span, yet we crave attention and connectivity with strangers whose faces we hardly know.

The rules are changing. Just a few years ago, it’s enough to have a livejournal and belong to a forum or two. Then came the likes of mt and wordpress when it became sport du jour to show off your technical street cred by running your own blog on your own webspace. Blogger changed that. Then came wordpress.com, vox, and this wee little phenomenon called myspace.

And then it exploded, with new social network / microblogging / web presence platforms announced every other day; and there doesn’t seem to be an end to them. If I wanted to, I could friend people (or be friended) at facebook or myspace; if I had a business I’d want to be on linkedin. I could upload my pictures to flickr, my videos to youtube and share my mp3 collection. To tell people what I’ve been up to I can use twitter, pownce, tumblr, not to mention the old fashioned (oh my, “old-fashioned” already) blog. That’s a lot of time spent on posting.

Apparently, the trick is cross-posting. But do I really want the same message to appear in five different places? Does the argument that “I use these platforms for different purposes and I need them all” hold any water? When does keeping to the forefront end and social network fatigue begin? Who cares?

The long and short of the situation is, not only am I talking to myself here on the website, I’m now doing it in more than one place. That doesn’t hide that fact that multiples of zero is still zero and I’m still only talking to no one but myself.

Still, I stubbornly persevere.

I can’t find the article but I remember reading that the average tumblelog only last 3 weeks before fading away into oblivion or the owner finds a newer shinier social networking platform to play in. Which is why I’m happy that mine has lasted over a month. It didn’t take me long to figure out the difference is external vs internal.

  • external — the tumblelog is where I keep a footprint of where in the webverse I’ve travelled to — articles I come across, links I want to tag to del.icio.us, photos, videos and odd bits that float my way. That they conveniently split posts up to 6 types gives me a framework to think about what I should be including. The only slightly non-external type of posts are chat snippets, but that can be argued both ways. Mostly, I intend the tumblelog to be about fun. Case in point, the most recent post is about the skirt that turns into a vending machine disguise. (Yes, really.)invisibletumbles
  • internal — what I’ve tried to do on the main page is concentrate on longer posts that are more article-y. I’m not sure I’m there yet as any sort of original thinker, one might say I’m being delusionally indulgent. It doesn’t mean all posts will be serious — the Apple love, the travel journal, the pictures of food I’ve eaten, nano word counts and everything that defines me will still be here, which may or may not be a good thing depending on how high your tolerance of my insanity goes. Hee.

But what about twitter? facebook?

I have a twitter account but after a handful of posts, I found out that I was forever posting about me reading, or messing around my website, or playing a game — in other words how boring my life is. There’s no point in documenting this. What few twitters I have are crossposted automatically to tumblr.

As for facebook, as long as they insist on real names and don’t seem to be transparent (video link) about why they need it / who they give it to, I’ll pass thank you.

electronic bubble wrap game

puchipuchi

Japan is known for its gadgets and games. I had one item on my shopping list — if I saw it I’d buy it, if I didn’t I would have left it till next time. First reported on bb, it’s the puchi puchi electronic bubble wrap toy from Bandai. The premise of this tiny game is to replicate the feel and sound of popping bubble wrap. After 100 pops the device will emit a special sound — door chime, dog barking or supposedly a woman moaning in ecstasy.

I looked for it in Shinjuku but no luck. Today we were in Ginza and I looked at the toy store where it was prominently displayed next to the cashier. ¥819 is about $7.20.

Okay, I admit it. There’s no point to this game. But like most people I like playing with bubble wrap and this one has the potential to become addictive.

another ode to iphone post

Some call it an about turn but mostly the reaction to Apple’s announcement that they will make available an SDK (software development kit) to be positive. The SDK will allow third party apps to be developed for both the iPhone and the iPod touch; it will be rolled out next February.

It sounds like this is the beginning of making both devices much more open. In a way this is like plug-ins for wordpress or photoshop. Third party apps will be developed no matter what Apple does — it’s inevitable given the tech focused user base. The hoopla about jailbreaking the iPhone is testament to this. Who wouldn’t want to more functionality?

ipod touch freed

Plus with the prospect of unlocked iPhones in France I’m more and more hopeful of getting an officially unlocked one eventually.

take words give rice

via mefi, a non-flashy flash game with a twist. freerice will donate 10 grains of rice for each word that we get right. We advance up word levels — with increasingly difficult words. It’s not hard to get to the early- and mid-forties but it gets harder from around 47.

10 grains of rice is nothing, but the gimmick seems to work. The site is funded by “big” advertisers and the revenue presumably pays for the rice. Even if it is a minute amount, it’s a game that has a purpose. Why not?

freerice

The comments on mefi is interesting, with people posting their scores (only high scores of course). But a point was raised about how unintrusive the ads are. No pop-ups, small but distinctive, placed in an eye catching position yet not in-the-face. Kinda impressive.

If you have a spare minute, go play. Every little helps, and you’ll learn new words in the process. What’s to lose?

more room in bed please

Since Mum is here with me, I have a twin hotel room. I haven’t been sleeping very well because I’m not used to sharing my sleeping quarters with anyone, so I hear her whenever she moves around.

Plus, it’s been a long time since I slept in a single bed. There’s not enough room! [/whine] Another reason I’m looking forward to going home, I need my nice queen bed to roll around in. Sometimes I sleep horizontally, sometimes diagonally and there were periods when I slept with my head at the foot of the bed.

Talking about bed sizes, I’ve always been confused about the difference between UK and US bed sizes. I never got what “full size” meant. It’s most relevant when I’m buying bedsheets and similar. So, I looked it up.

  • smallest 3’ wide — US tends to call these twins and are 38” wide; UK calls them singles and are 36” wide
  • middle 4’6”-ish wide — this is what Americans call full and British / Europeans / Australians (ie the rest of the world) call doubles
  • the big 5’ wide one — this is the queen size, and what I have. Sometimes in the UK it’s called a king
  • the super large 6’ wide one — this is the luxurious king (sometimes super king in the UK) that are found in hotels

I don’t want to get into California Kings, Olympic Queens, Small Singles, Long Kings and all the variations.

Standards, people. Standards.

kit kat jar and pepsi nex

pepsinex

I got these from the vending machine in the office. All of Japan is full of these vending machines selling soft drinks, water, hot drinks (heated cans), sweets and other small items.

There’s nothing unusual about the Kit Kat except that the 4 individually wrapped bars came in a jar. I guess that’s how they’re stored in the machine.

The soft drink I got is Pepsi Nex — another zero calorie soda. I thought it’s like Pepsi Max but a little digging revealed that it was developed by Suntory as an original Pepsi product specifically for the Japanese market. Meaning, it’s not available anywhere in th world.

Suntory claims that it’s

a calorie-free cola with a refreshing, full-bodied, and zesty taste

but I didn’t detect anything special — it tasted like a diet soda, not as sweet as Coke Zero and with the slightly tangier taste of Pepsi.

What I like especially too is the cute 300ml bottle. Only in Japan.

japanese breakfast

breakfastjapanese

I like traditional Japanese breakfasts, even though it’s not the type of breakfast I’m used to. This is what we had this morning at the hotel: warm pickles, grilled salmon, fish, rolled egg, more pickles, slimy seaweed natto stuff, miso and porridge. I can see why — hot food that fills you up but doesn’t make you feel bloated. Like most traditional Japanese meals it’s not a large portion, more vegetables and easy on the carbs and proteins.

Oh, taken on my cellphone camera because i didn’t bring my camera.

in japan

I’m in Japan this week for meetings. It’s been 2.5 years since I was here last. Lots of changes since then.

I brought Mum. She’s never visited and wanted to. I upgraded my room to a twin and got her an air ticket; this way she saves on hotel. I had some airmiles expiring next January, and it was just enough to get her airport lounge access. We had breakfast and I set up the mbp while she read a magazine. It was relaxing pre-flight; much better than fighting with the masses at the public food court. The flight was too full to upgrade her to business class, but I checked her in early and got her a front-of-plane window seat.

Uneventful but long bus ride on the bus to the TCAT station, then we took a taxi to our hotel — the Royal Park Shiodome Tower. Shiodome is a new developed area, full of modern office buildings, post restaurants. It used to be a derelict railway terminal and now it’s like Docklands.

Met Sis’ family for dinner. My colleague took us to an area with a bunch of restaurants. I had chirashi and we shared a mixed sushi. ¥12,000 (US$100) for 5 adults and 1 child — we’re talking about fresh fish here. That’s really good.

Tomorrow is a long day for me. I’m still enjoying NewJob but it’s been quite draining.

I’m on schmap, chaps

A few of my pictures on flickr got noticed by schmap and they asked for my permission to use them. It’s flattering, there’s a sense of pride the first time I received an email telling me my picture has been shortlisted and could I click on a link to agree or reject its inclusion.

Schmap is a travel guide, I can’t decide whether they want it online or whether the downloaded version is the proper way to use it. They cover 200 destinations in USA, Canada, Europe Australia and New Zealand — North American focused and the usual suspects in terms of cities. The interesting feature is that users can click around the guide and there are useful links and photos of hotspots along the route. Or they can plan a walking tour and see pictures of highlights on the way.

For instance, my first Schmap picture is of the Carbide and Carbon Building. There’s a map to show where it is, a little blurb about the landmark and the user can scroll through 10 different pictures of the building. They also included my picture of the Hard Rock Café in Niagara and I just got an email that a couple of my Washington DC pics have been shortlisted.

schmap chicago

The pictures aren’t the super fancy professional ones, more like ones taken by ordinary people, which I guess is the point. It’s an interesting business model. To use a clichéd saying, very web 2.0 — user-generated content, no need to use expensive photographers, free marketing. They seem to source the majority of their pictures from flickr, and the people who use flickr are mostly more tech-friendly. How better to have a bunch of bloggers telling the world about how they are included … the page links and click rate alone is bound to be stunning. Having said that, the content needs to be good to ensure repeat visitors.

 

I’m right brained, huh

I’m a straighter-than-a-straight-arrow person who is usually logical, organised and punctual — not surprising for someone who has a science background and works in a technical field.

And yet I can write a little. It’s been a source of puzzlement for me. I mean, I can’t draw to save my life and the way I react to art is an either/or: it’s pretty, or it’s not.

This all has to do with left and right brain behaviour.

left brain
uses logic
detail oriented
facts rule
words and language
present and past
math and science
can comprehend
knowing
acknowledges
order/pattern perception
knows object name
reality based
forms strategies
practical
safe

right brain
uses feeling
“big picture” oriented
imagination rules
symbols and images
present and future
philosophy & religion
can “get it” (i.e. meaning)
believes
appreciates
spatial perception
knows object function
fantasy based
presents possibilities
impetuous
risk taking

 

I found a couple of simple tests. The Hemispheric Dominance test tells me that I use my left brain more — though it was 10 left and 8 right, closer than expected. The Art Institute of Vancouver confirms that — I got 56% left and 44% right, which is almost the same split.

Now to turn everything on its head. Instead of consciously doing tests that arguably I can influence the result, here’s one I came across via kottke: a visual test for left- or right-brainedness. It can get dizzy looking at it for a long time, so I’ll put it under the cut.

Look at the dancer. Do you see the dancer turning clockwise or anti-clockwise?

If clockwise, then you use more of the right side of the brain and vice versa.

dancer

Apparently most people would see the dancer turning anti-clockwise though it is possible to try to focus and see if she changes direction.

For the record, I see her turning strongly clockwise. Meaning, I’m right brained. Does it mean that my perception of myself may have skewed the test? That I’d consciously or subconsciously pick the safer, left brain answers because I thought “that’s me”? But when given a visual test where I can’t control the results I end up being right brained? Looking at the traits, I’d say I’m some of each, which again is not surprising.

Hmm. I don’t have a split personality, but in a way I’m glad that there’s some evidence that I can be creative.

finding my spot

This is US-centric but interesting in a now-where-could-i-live-if-i-moved-to-the-us kind of way. Find Your Spot is a quick online quiz that will

provide you with a tailored list of the best cities and small towns that fit YOU. Compare the perfect hometowns and undiscovered havens that match your interests. Dig deeper with colorful reports, job listings, and more.

It starts with the basic question:

  • I like a major metropolitan city
  • I enjoy medium-sized communities
  • I like smaller towns and communities

and continues with questions about preferences for weather, culture, education, pets, outdoor activities, religion, affiliations, even types of geography to be avoided (volcano, desert etc). It’s not all relevant, so I put neutral to items like education. My highest preferences were: city, access to a major airport, lots of public transport and proximity to a major medical center. I wasn’t entirely surprised at my recommodations, though a little surprised at how East Coast focused the list was.

  1. Providence — very interesting because of all the places in the US, Rhode Island is where I have the strongest family roots. My grandmother was born in Newport and my great-aunt’s family live in the Providence area.
  2. New Haven — mmmYale. I can live with this.
  3. Worcester — I’ve never been to Worcester, neither the MA nor the Midlands version. Nor have I had any strong penchant to visit. I’m guessing like most New England cities it’s a cultural and nice place.
  4. Chicago — awwwwwww
  5. Milwaukee — hmm. isn’t Milwaukee kinda boring?
  6. Hartford — okay, another New England city. I think there’s a theme.
  7. Boston — has the highest average home price on this list: $461,500. Gulp.
  8. Kansas City — and Kansas has the lowest average home price: $140,000. If the rate of growth is reasonable, may be an investment city? um, no.
  9. Pittsburgh — screams “steel” to me, and I’m really not a shiny metal type of person.
  10. Carlisle — this is one city I’ve never heard of. I may have driven past it on the way from NYC to Chicago. I wonder why it’s on my list?
  11. Long Island — well okay! Live near my cousin, that’s good.
  12. Minneapolis — I should know more about Minneapolis but all I can think of is that this is where Miss Alli used to live. See how big a fan I am?

findyourspot

New York comes in at #16 and there are no cities on the West Coast. May be it’s because I said I don’t like hot weather and I like skiing.

The site has more information on homes, job search and for a fee detailed information. Nice.

In Rainbows

Well, I’m officially a web-lemming. I got the download link for Radiohead’s In Rainbows today. The download was fast and in no time at all I had a zip file of shiny new songs from one of the best group of musicians today.

A bit of technical information — 10 songs, 160kbps, DRM-free. Even though there were no advanced copies, reviews are already appearing. I think it’s a brilliant marketing move.

All ten songs were previously available on youtube as live versions and a cursory check shows that the album versions are already on limewire. I don’t know why I thought otherwise — to think that people won’t make the songs available for downloading out of respect for the artist is wishful thinking. The argument is that they don’t deserve special treatment just because; then again they’ve gone out and done something that shakes the music industry on its head and they should be recognised for that. It’s interesting to read that Nine Inch Nails, Oasis and Jamiroquai are considering going down the same route of disintermediation. It’s like giving the power back to the people who created their work.

This is the way the world is heading, of direct interaction between suppliers and end users — it boggles my mind to remember the days when we can arrange travel only through a travel agent, for instance. The music and entertainment industry has to evolve, but only time can tell if they are successful in changing their working model.

Meanwhile, I’m in rainbowland.

food photography is hard

I made toblerone chocolate mousse. And then I realised the recipe post doesn’t have a picture, which is bad bad bad.

Man, talk about difficult. I think I’ve posted about how difficult it is to do food photography at home — too dark, no sunlight, bad lighting, no white surface, too much stuff affecting the background. Not to mention I don’t have good enough utensils, containers and I don’t own a tablecloth. I think photographing food so it looks appealing is tough, period.

I made do with what I had, using different containers — an Ikea dessert bowl, a Starbucks espresso cup and a shot glass. I had cocoa powder and a block of chocolate for shaving. I wish I had chocolate sauce, some raspberries or even mint. But no, I’m out of all those. I did manage to find a box of amaretto biscotti for decoration. See the results:

chocmousseall

First I tried the table, then the usual makeshift white surface (ie the microwave). I tried scooping it into a fresh dessert bowl so it looks haphazard. I had a running battle with condensation and the mousse melting. In the end I shot off like 30 pics. I dunno, none of them looked good.

Oh the whole reason I was making chocolate mousse was because I was reading the article about the hidden bear inside the toblerone logo.

tobleronebear

And I remembered I had 3 bars of the dark toblerone in my fridge that needed using. Oh no, it’s got nothing to do with the fact that it’s one of my favourite recipes to use.

my nest egg score is almost 800

I’m still on a personal finance kick. There are a lot of retirement and net worth calculators around, and they tell pretty much the same story. Can’t get away with US-centric questions and scoring (telling me to max out my 401(k) is only useful when 401(k) plans exist for me). Still, it’s fun to do these tests. A good one is from A.G. Edwards — a quick 14-question questionnaire gives a score which is similar to the credit score system.

nesteggscore

Not bad. My score is helped by owning my home outright, low taxes and being able to allocate a large chunk of my net take home towards savings. Although if I change the answer to the question of how long I have been in my job to 5-10 years my score increases to 825.

There’s a little bit of advice of how to maintain and preserve the nest egg. Nothing new, although I’m reminded that I really must make a will.

women can take their diamonds; I’ll have a gold-plated mbp please

I watched as a small object tumbled out of my colleague’s hand and into the dark murky sewers the other day. I couldn’t see what it was but she said it was a diamond earring. Yikes.

So why would anyone want to put bits of stone all over their bodies — that are prone to being lost or stolen and cost a whole lot more than their size would suggest? Here’s what I think of diamonds. They’re pretty, sparkly and um a form of carbon. I mean, yes they’re expensive because they’re rare — or are they rare because they’re expensive? Like most of the Earth’s supply of carbon is as graphite or silica, it must be elitist to be one of those rare carbon atom that makes it into a diamond.

diamond graphite

Alright. I’ll stop it with the science geek mode. So really, why do women love diamonds? The answer, apparently, is History, Hollywood and Hope:

  • History — revered from ancient times, it’s an appreciation of the effort and expertise needed to get it from a rough rock to the dazzling white light form.
  • Hollywood — represents all that is glamorous about owning a diamond. I’ve yet to meet someone who wears a large diamond and not want to show it off. It’s a status symbol, as well as a sign that someone somewhere treats the wearer (okay, I’m gonna be gender-vague from now on) is loved and worthy. It’s like saying, “How much am I worth? Look at the price tag” but a little more subtly.
  • Hope — people normally want to be wanted; and possession of such an object of desire may be a way of vicariously living through that desire.

I get it; but I don’t really get it.

Now, I’m far to prone to be attracted to gadget-y stuff. So imagine my reaction when I saw the gold-plated macbook pro on engadget. Slobber slobber drool drool. To be honest I’m not entirely convinced about the gold-plating but the diamond encrusted apple logo sure catches the eye.

gold mbp

Luxury laptops are nothing new, nor is putting diamonds on all sorts of gadgets — like swiss army knives, iPod shuffles, Nokia N95, even a mouse. Diamonds are diamonds. Not even the suave leather bound thinkpad reserve is as nice as the mbp.

gold mbp

So while women like diamonds as rings or necklaces or somehow displaying on their bodies, I want it on my mbp. Let’s not mention that laptops have a habit of becoming outdated when new ones are released; and I’m not sure how we can open the casing up to add RAM. Hee.

ETA: and the blinging continues with the 24-carat gold iPhone.

writing tips – part 2

After the stages of writing, here are some thoughts on the art of writing.

  1. cut the boring parts — this I absolutely agree with. Exposition and detailed descriptions are as uninteresting to write to me as they are to read.
  2. eliminate unnecessary words — I was interested to read this. I must remember to edit out words like very, actually and really.
  3. write with passion — would have thought it was obvious, write only what you are interested or invested in.
  4. paint a picture — oh man, yes! Show, don’t tell. Every time I read a story where the first chapter is a recounting of the characters’ backstory I groan in frustration. The backstory can be referred to *during* the story, and isn’t it better to reveal it slowly rather than give it all up in one go?
  5. keep it simple — as someone with a not very large vocabulary, I’m grateful for this tip. I use thesaurus.com, but I generally keep to words I know. I also don’t like long paragraphs and for that matter, long chapters.
  6. do it for love — the article mentions writing for feedback. Sigh, I used to. And then I got used to having feedback. Then the feedback dried up. It’s disappointing.
  7. learn to thrive on criticism — one of the gratifying things about being in a writing group is that we beta each other’s stories, which has helped.
  8. write all the time — I try, I try. I have so many stories in the queue to be written, it’s finding the motivation. It’s not the time, I can always make time.
  9. write what you know … or what you want to know — true in a way, though I believe that one of the fun things about writing about an unknown subject is the research.
  10. be unique and unpredictable — and to be creative. How many of us wished we were truly creative?

writing tips – part 1

I should start thinking about nano. In the meantime, I found some writing tips. Here’s how to write faster, better and easier.

writingplan

The article calls it a writing routine. I think it’s useful as a guide, and the steps seem to be common sense. Here’s my take.

  1. dream — no, having set times away from external stimuli do *not* work for me. Having scheduled creative time doesn’t work for me, ideas can’t be forced. Perhaps better writers can churn out ideas on demand, in which case all the better for them. I do concede, that when I put my mind to thinking about an idea *and* the circumstances are right, I can get some thinking done. Perhaps this is more the next step.
  2. idea — getting ideas through a new source like reading a new magazine, going someplace new, listening to different music. Basically pushing the brain to a new place. I buy this, and there are plenty of sites online to explore. The danger is, relying too much on the likes of me-fi, del.icio.us, stumbleupon for ideas and more often than not herd mentality creeps in. sometimes it’s recognising that it’s an idea and laterally thinking to make that idea more solid.
  3. plan — oftentimes new writers ask, outline or not outline? I definitely think it depends on: a) the writer; b) the topic; c) the story. Most of my long stories I outline — it works for me because I know I’m not forgetting stuff. some outlines are short, just a few dialogue or description randomly pulled together, sometimes I plan extensively.
  4. research — heh, I can’t imagine writing without google. may be it’s just fact checking, or a more extensive piece of research into a new concept. I have separate folders per writing project where I lump together links and stuff I’ve come across. Interestingly I can’t pre-research too much, I like the just-in-time approach to getting information.
  5. first draft — nano has trained me so I focus on writing and not too much editing. Well, in theory anyway. I find that I’m less bothered by unfinished sections of parts where more factual research is necessary. I’ve been lucky, my first drafts are usually in decent shape.
  6. type — I’d like to call this stage the initial edit. The article advocates writing the draft longhand and then typing it. I can’t do that for the following reasons: a) my handwriting is atricious, when I write quickly it becomes illegible; b) I type faster than I write; c) who writes longhand anymore?
  7. print — yep, I can’t read long stories or articles on the screen, it’s much better when printed. To save paper I print 2-up, double sided which means the font is tiny, but I’m fine with it.
  8. read out loud — sometimes I do that, but not all the time. It helps, especially with difficult passages.
  9. final draft — at this stage it’s pretty much done.
  10. quiet — this isn’t part of the plan, just a suggestion that quiet environment is better for writing. My tolerance for noise depends on what I’m writing; I usually can’t have music or loud noises. Quiet can also apply to a cooling off period between final draft and submission, to let the story settle.

it was up to me

of course I pre-ordered the latest Radiohead. Of course I could have put £0.00 in the checkout box. But I didn’t. I paid what I would normally expect to pay for a CD. It really was up to me.

I’m not a big enough fan to pay £40 for the gorgeous-looking discbox, though I was tempted if only to show support … and the novelty factor. I’m sure a lot of people paid a minimum and many more will download it. But the online consensus seems to be that this is a great move, a challenge to the stale operating model stubbornly followed by the recording industry.

Many indie bands and writers do this, Jane Siberry does it, fruit sellers in sleepy European villages do it, Just Around the Corner restaurant has been around for ages. But what makes this event powerful is that it’s Radiohead, a known super-selling entity with clout and a huge fanbase. Kudos to them. I hope this model works and more follow. What would also be great is an easy way to search for bands distributing their own music.

no latte for the rich

been reading quite a few personal finance websites lately, doing research the mortgage vs investment. One thing these websites are good at, is to state the obvious and give generic advice that make sense … and then it doesn’t. Oh, and dazzle people with numbers, of course.

Take the Latte Factor for example,

Putting aside as little as a few dollars a day for your future rather than spending it on little purchases such as lattes, fancy coffees, bottled water, fast food, cigarettes, magazines and so on, can really make a difference between accumulating wealth and living paycheck to paycheck.

According to the article, we should give up our daily Starbucks latte, take that $5 and invest it in a vehicle that yields at least 10%. They claim that after 40 years the savings will grow to $948,611.

There are a lot of assumptions made with this model. The 10% return is after taxes and fees, so the actual return will need to be a lot higher — and that’s unrealistically in the long term. Secondly, there’s no mention of inflation. $1million will almost certainly be worth a lot less in 40 years.

The idea is sound but the presentation is flawed. The underlying message is watch where the small expenses drip and every little helps — which makes perfect sense. Unfortunately it reads too much like one of those pop-up ads we love to hate: “give up one latte a day and you’ll become a millionaire!” — which creates a false sense of hope, like a diet pill.

In the end the big ticket items must have a heavier weighting. Running a car or living in accommodation that is more expensive than one can afford won’t even leave room for the lattes. Taxes, accommodation, utilities, transport — those can’t be avoided and we should cut those before we think about the small luxuries like the fancy coffees. I know it’s easier said than done to move to a cheaper place, and we don’t dictate which tax bracket we are in. What I’m saying is that both the big things and small things matter, it’s not a question of picking one over the other when trying to cut expenses.

Ultimately, it’s a matter of being sensible. Here’s what I try to do:

  • I don’t spend what I don’t have — I’ve never had a store card and I pay off my credit card bill in full
  • I put as much as I can into tax efficient savings programs
  • I try to be a little bold with investments — use safer vehicles to buffer the ones that are higher risk
  • save on the small stuff but not obsessively. I bring my own lunch to work but I go out with my friends too
  • don’t buy something just because it’s on sale — saving $3 on something that originally cost $8 is a great bargain but if it’s something I don’t actually need it’s $5 down the drain
  • I understand that occasionally I simple have to have a certain luxury or indulgence, and that’s fine

Perhaps I could be one of the millionaire next door too.

debt free

I paid off my mortgage today. I started November 1997, with a principal that was approx 50% of the purchase price. I partially repaid about 5 years ago; all in all I managed to clear the debt in just under 10 years. Not too bad.

The decision was of course whether to continue with the mortgage or to invest the lumpsum. Intellectually the argument is that if I can get an investment return greater than the mortgage rate I should be investing it. Then again there’s the emotional comfort in knowing that I’m debt free. It wasn’t a difficult decision.

I have zero debt. Zero.

Oh boy.

The amount I previously set aside for the mortgage is being redirected towards a monthly savings plan that should hopefully net 10% or more. I went with my financial adviser’s advice and allocated between:

  • high dividend stocks
  • global agribusiness
  • property equities
  • eastern Europe
  • ASEAN markets

These are more risky and slightly unusual mix. I can do that because of our main investments that are in more traditional equities, property, energy and bonds. Besides, it’s a monthly plan so the strategy is different from investing in a lumpsum, I can afford to tolerate some volatility.

iPhone, iPhone

All the attention and big whoo hoo about the iPhone unlock mostly did the rounds in the tech side of the blogosphere. It’s ironic, that it didn’t hit the big time until the firmware upgrade to 1.1.1 bricked the phone. Heh, I wonder who coined the term “bricked” because it’s so appropriate and easily understandable.

Naturally the tech world reacted quickly, with instructions to unbrick appearing right away, to varying degrees of success. The latest? downgrade to 1.0.2. Oh dear.

In other parts of the world, iPhone will be carried by O2 in the UK, Orange in France and T-Mobile in Germany. What about the other European countries? Personally I am keen to see how it does in Scandinavia and how it comes up against Nokia.

When I try to explain the US model to my friends, inevitably I am met with expressions of disbelief and incredulity at the outdated and preposterous nature of it. Apple will have to think carefully about how they tackle Asia markets where:

  • there is intense competition between carriers
  • phones are not tied to carriers
  • there’s often no strict service contract
  • customers demand all the latest in technology (ie, it must be a bells and whistles 3g iPhone)
  • phones are commodities
  • copycats and parallel imports are a fact of life

I was tempted to get an iPhone in Chicago, but I’m glad I didn’t. I’m not a good enough hacker to be able to deal with the unlock and I don’t want to pay someone to tamper with it. Still, it’s hard to wait. May be I need to console myself with a lego iPhone for the time being.

lego iphone

ETA: via engadget: for this clever bit of advertising I might even stick with Nokia when the time comes.

nokia poster