Archive for category Uncategorized

Ah, young love

Posted by on Thursday, 11 May, 2006

This was recently sent to me by a girlfriend from way back. I mean, waaaaaaaaaaay back.

Immigration March

Posted by on Wednesday, 3 May, 2006

My coworker and friend Jon Trowbridge has become quite the photojournalist lately, often bringing his cool digital SLR camera to work, taking photography classes, and becoming the master of Photoshop. On Monday, when immigrants staged protests across the U.S., he dragged me out of the Google Chicago office to experience firsthand what would be described as the largest of all the protests — about 400,000 people! It was truly amazing, being swept up in the crowds and sea of heads. At some point I ended up with a sign too, and Jon was there to take the photo.

Video crack

Posted by on Tuesday, 28 February, 2006

So here I am, 33 years old, and I’ve never had cable TV before.

Until now.

Not sure why we finally ordered it, but my wife and I were just sick of fuzzy-blurry reception on our TV channels. We were tired of adjusting the rabbit ears every time we changed the channel. And we dreamed of HGTV and Food network.

So, we got satellite TV installed, which also happened to come along with a DVR. Now I can not only pause and rewind live TV, the thing will record programs for me automatically. And there are so, so, so many channels to surf. I can’t stop flipping channels. It’s all so… overwhelming.

Hopefully the addiction will wear off soon. Friends say that after a week or two, I’ll only be watching a handful of shows that the DVR captures for me.

Bubble-pack radio pirates

Posted by on Tuesday, 27 December, 2005

So I picked up a pair of these nifty wristwatch walkie-talkies when browsing Fry’s Electronics. Super cheap, and they work as advertised with about a 1-mile range. They’ll be great for camping, hiking, geocaching — though my wife plans to use them as an intercom, so she can page me to come out of my basement music studio!

The strange thing about them that caught my eye in the instructions is the manufacturer’s warning: of the 22 radio channels they can use, 14 of them are freely usable, but the upper 8 channels “require an FCC license” to use. So I googled around for a bit, and discovered this bile-filled FAQ page telling me that I’m a radio pirate, and that I need to buy an $80 FCC license to use the device at all.

After spending an hour or two reading the FAQ and FCC websites, here’s my take on the situation.

Once upon a time, the FCC created something called General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS), which allowed individuals/families to create local radio networks for private use over a few-mile range. It required a license and radio call-letters to use, and was restricted to 8 frequencies. Then Radio Shack came along and propsed a new standard called “Family Radio System” (FRS), which was much lower power (half a watt, instead of 5 watts), and used 14 frequencies that lay between the GMRS frequencies. The FCC approved the standard, saying that that certified FRS radios didn’t require a license. Then, some evil electronics companies started marketing some super-cheap radios branded as “hybrid” FRS/GMRS: they could transmit on all 22 frequencies. The instructions said nothing about license requirements, and suddenly thousands of people were accidentally using GMRS without FCC licenses. The angry FAQ calls these people “bubble pack pirates”, referring to the packaging the cheap hybrid radios come in.

Well, as you can imagine, this phenomenon has greatly angered all the law-abiding radio enthusiasts. The FCC has been blindsided, and is too busy scanning airwaves (hunting terrorists) to bother to slap the hands all these accidental violations. As a result, the true radio hobbyists have turned into a self-righteous vigilante force. They patrol local GMRS networks, demanding people present their licensed call-signs. When they discover accidental pirates, they send them to the FAQ page and try to persuade them that they need to buy an FCC license.

The thing is, I don’t think their argument holds any water.

There’s no doubt that the FCC is a good and useful thing. The spectrum is a shared, scarce resource, and without FCC regulation it would be absolute anarchy. Whoever had the most electricity (i.e. big corporations) would dominate all airwaves. So the FCC intelligently requires people to license parts of the spectrum when the transmission signal is strong enough to interfere with others’ activities. But what I think we’re seeing in that angry FAQ is a bunch of radio hobbyists feeling cheated: “I had to pay $80 to use these frequencies, and now the rules changed, wahhh, it’s not fair.”

The hobbyists are arguing to the letter of the law, rather than the spirit. They claim that the FCC officially recognizes FRS radios and GMRS radios, but that it does not recognize hybrid radios capable of both. The law says that only 100% pure FRS radios are license-free, and therefore, they argue, anything else must require a license. In other words, simply because my device is capable of using GMRS, I have to buy a license. Sounds like a bunch of baloney to me, or perhaps sour grapes. It’s like arguing that if I don’t have a driver’s license, I’m not allowed to own a car. Sure, it would be illegal for me to drive the car, but it’s not illegal to own it and let it sit in my driveway. Likewise, I own a radio which is (questionably) able to broadcast on GMRS. If I don’t use that feature, I’m not breaking any law. (I say “questionably”, because my radio only outputs .3 watts, which is well below the .5 watt FRS maximum, and far below the 1 watt GMRS radio standard.)

The point is, I have an FRS radio that conforms to definition (and spirit) of the FRS law: it transmits extremely weakly, and on the correct free frequencies. As long as I avoid the GMRS frequencies, I’m not interfering with anyone else or breaking licensing laws. The hobbyists are angry at the hybrid-radio manufacturers for making it easy to accidentally break the law, but arguing that “the law doesn’t explicitly recognize these devices, thus you need a license” is extremely weak. I’d like to see what a court says about it.

The whole thing reminds me of the commercialization of the internet. In olden days, only elite computer hobbyists knew what email was, or how to have conversations on Usenet. When the net exploded in the mid-90’s, the old-timers got really irritated at the the influx of clueless newbies flooding the discussion boards. Sorry, that’s just how it goes.

New character

Posted by on Monday, 24 October, 2005

So after months of work, we’ve finished building a new character. It took a lot of effort and late nights of snacking, but we think the result is well worth it. We see great potential for future development.

At the moment, though, the abilities are a bit lacking, much what you’d expect for a level 0 figure. Strength and Constitution are quite low, barely strong enough to lift his own head. Dexterity, however, is quite high — able to touch his feet to his groin with no problems whatsoever. Intelligence is lacking, though we feel this will grow over time with more XP. Wisdom is fair — he knows when not to sweat the small stuff, and stays tightly focused on the things going on inside him. Charisma, however, is through the roof. He charms everyone he sees. We need to be careful about allowing him to recklessly wield such power!

As one would expect with a low-level, the skill set is also still severely lacking. Almost all of his skill points seem to be invested in sleeping, eating, and digesting… though I was suprised by his subtle Escape Artist skills when dressing him this morning, and his Bluff skills when trying to read his varied facial expressions. He’s also apparently invested many ranks in Diplomacy: he’s able to make scads of minions fall over backwards to serve his every whim. We’ve initially equipped him with nothing but a simple wrapped robe and boots of warming. This should be all he needs for his initial encounters.

Emmett Laith, wee commoner: Human Cmnr 0; CR 0; Tiny humanoid (human); HD 1/2; hp 2; Init -2; Speed 0; AC 10, touch 10, flat-footed 10; Base Attack -3; Attack -3 melee (1d4-3, unclipped fingernails); Attack +2 ranged (1d4, scream); SA heightened smell 30′; SQ charm 15/day; AL NG; SV Fort -2, Ref +1, Will 0; Str 3, Dex 18, Con 5, Int 4, Wis 12, Cha 20. Skills: Concentration +4, Diplomacy +8, Bluff +6, Sense Motive +4, Survival +10.

Eulogy for Dad

Posted by on Tuesday, 16 August, 2005

It’s hard to know where to start.

For these last few days, everything has been so strange and disorienting. It’s as though the fabric of reality has been torn or twisted. I keep wondering if I’ve been transported to parallel universe: one of those strange fictional worlds where the Germans won the war, where animals can talk, or where dad goes to the hospital and never comes home.

I’ve had a hard time sleeping these last few nights. I keep waking up in the middle of the night, tears in my eyes, trying to believe the new reality. But despite all the grief, the pain, the infinite night… amazingly, unexplanainably, the sun keeps coming up.

I was shocked when I first saw it rise on Friday morning. The audacity of such a thing was insulting. My universe lying in pieces, and yet the sun did not stop… not for me, nor anyone else. And when the same thing happened on Saturday morning… the rays of light coming in my bedroom window, I finally realized that this was not some fictional universe. It was the same universe I’ve always been in. The sadness was real. The heartbreak was real. The sun was real. But also, the love was real.

Dad’s entire life was about making people happy. This is not an exaggeration or euphemism: it was his actual self-admitted goal. Nothing made him happier than nuturing others. He exuded compassion wheverever he went, took care of everyone. As a psychologist, he even made a living out of it.

Growing up in my house, my parents’ roles were reversed from the stereotypes. Mom was often the breadwinner, the one who encouraged us to study, and achieve, and be confident. Dad, however, was the nuturer: a giant cloud of unconditional love. He would cook for us, bundle us in warm clothes, give us backrubs, spoil us whenever he could. He was the ultimate mother. But at the same time, he was strong… incredibly strong, because he was open about his feelings. He showed us how the deepest strength flowed from vulnerability.

Strong, nuturing, funny… could you ask for a better role model? When I grow up, this is who I want to be. And I know I’m not the only one who has thought that before. He wasn’t just a father and role-model to me and my brother, but also to all four of his siblings. As they have told me, he was a “beacon” to them — a beacon of sanity, humor and joy.

And then there was his marriage — it’s hard to find words to describe it. He and mom may have been marriage counselors by trade, but their wisdom didn’t come from psychology books. It came from experience… they lived the perfect marriage. In my entire life, I have never seen two people more in love. After forty years, still holding hands and looking at each other as if they had just started dating… it’s almost unbelievable. This, again, is another role model. Theirs was the marriage that every one of us dreams of and strives for. Very few people in this world are ever so lucky.

The night before his surgery, dad and I had a long talk in the hospital. We spoke mainly about my own imminent parenthood: what it’s like to become a father, how the world changes, the frustrations and rewards of parenting. Will I know what to do when my child arrives? As always, dad was both candid and comforting. He said that being a parent destroys your confidence and also makes you more confident than ever, all at the same time. He said not to worry, that I’d know what to do.

It turns out that dad was right. These past few nights, when I bolt up in bed, I’m surrounded by images of my own childhood.

  • Sleeping next to dad in the waterbed, waiting for mom to bring my
    newborn brother home from the hospital
  • Standing in the shower-stalls of the YMCA, while dad dries my
    head with a towel
  • Sitting on dad’s back while he does his daily push-ups, both of us
    listening to his favorite Beatles album
  • Making jokes with dad about all the silly, harmless monsters that
    might crawl through my bedroom window
  • Teaching me how to make tuna salad
  • Watching him point out the constellations in the sky, then looking
    through his telescope
  • Following him upwards as he as scales the side of a huge sand
    dune. Summer after summer.
  • Swimming in the waters of Maine, watching our skin turn blue from
    the cold
  • Exploring the Tower of London together
  • Listening to him explain the difference between regular and
    cross-pack sardines

All of these vivid images swimming around my head in the middle of the night… they’re pictures of compassion, moments of intense love. This is my roadmap for parenting. Everything I need to know about raising a child, dad has already given me.

I’ve always felt cheated that my own grandfather passed away just before I was born, that I never got to meet him. And now history has horribly repeated itself. But this time, when my child asks “what was your father like?”, I know what I’m going to say.

I’ll say: look at all these people around you — all these family and friends, all the people who knew dad, and the the incredible bonds between them. We’re like a giant jigsaw puzzle which fits together so tightly, that when you remove one piece, you can still see its outline in the empty space. All of the love dad left behind, the relationships he nutured… they define his shape. You can still see him and feel him.

And still,
every morning,

the sun keeps coming up.

Spider companion

Posted by on Monday, 25 July, 2005

A rather large spider has taken up residence in the driver’s side-view mirror of our car.

When you come out to the car in the morning, he has an elaborate web going from the side-view mirror to the side window. When you begin to drive, he notices the heavy wind and immediately starts dismembering the web. He crawls up and down the web, flailing violently in the breeze, removing the strands. Amazingly, he doesn’t blow away. After about five minutes, the web is gone, and as soon as you come to a stoplight, he zips back into the rearview mirror to hide out for the rest of the day. The next morning, the web is back again.

This has been going on for over a week. Wife has dubbed him “spidey”, our official driving companion.

The rest of my life

Posted by on Friday, 15 July, 2005

When I was 17 years old, just graduated from high school, I was awarded a summer internship working at a DoE laboratory. It was my first “real” job (beyond washing dishes and bagging groceries), and the lab was nice enough to arrange a car pool for me. Every day, a nice 50-something-year-old meterologist who lived near me would pick me up and take me to to the lab with him.

During our morning commutes, he would often ask me about my interests, how I liked high school, and what I planned to do as I entered college. I have a distinct memory of one particular conversation in which I said, “Well, you know, I guess college will be just like high school, but a little harder, and I won’t be living at home anymore. No big difference, I guess.” He just laughed and said, “Oh my, you have no idea.”

“What do you mean, I have no idea…?”

“Enjoy the summer. The rest of your life is about to begin, you’ll understand someday.”

Sure enough, I went off to college and jumped right in. I made a bunch of friends in the dorms, dove into classes, and loved it. At first, it was a bit odd, being out of my parents’ house… sort of like going off to summer camp. Except that camp kept going on, and on, and on, and on… and then I lost track. After three months, I went home for christmas break, and sure enough, the guy was right. Something was different. It was weird and uncomfortable being at home. It wasn’t quite “home” anymore. I had changed, or life had changed, and some sort of bridge had been crossed when I wasn’t looking… I couldn’t backtrack. A year later, I couldn’t even imagine what life was like before college.

These days, I’m experiencing dejavu. With a baby due soon, I’m getting all sorts of similar messages from friends and relatives: “your life is about to change forever”. It’s kinda weird. I guess I’m coming up against the next “rest of my life”. Perhaps someday, I’ll be incapable of remembering life without kids.

Patch my Car?

Posted by on Saturday, 9 July, 2005

I just received a “safety recall” letter from Honda, regarding my Civic Hybrid.

My first thought was, “uh oh, I wonder what part is dangerous? What needs replacing?”. But amazingly, the letter says that the car’s software has a bug which leads to eventual failure of the catalytic converter. The letter instructs me to bring the car into the nearest Honda dealer, where they will patch the software for me at no cost.

I wonder how long it will be before I can just ask the car to download software updates itself, just like my computer does.

It’s actually a bit scary. The first week after we brought the Civic Hybrid home (back in 2003), I was driving about 20 mph down a quiet side-street, and the car suddenly shut off. The motor stopped, lights went out — as if I had yanked the key out of the ignition completely. I couldn’t accelerate, only steer, brake, and gently pull to the side for a rolling stop. I restarted the car, and it was fine again. After immediately bringing it to the dealer, they apologized and said that the problem was in the software, that the software had accidently shut down everything. They claimed that they reintsalled the whole operating system, and that it would be fine now.

I’ve not had any problems since then. But still, programmers used to make dumb jokes about “if cars were computers, they’d explode spontaneously everyday” and such. It’s not so silly anymore. My car has an operating system, and I’m not so sure I trust it anymore.


Posted by on Sunday, 3 July, 2005

Blueberries. Fresh. The taste of July.

Enough said.