Wednesday, December 13, 2006

New Car

We settled on this in the end:

with side airbags and, of course, iPod connectivity added. The dealer actually had one with my exact specs on the lot, and the only thing I made them change was the hubcaps. It's not particularly powerful, but it's my commute car so price and fuel economy were far more important to me. The ride is pretty smooth, and the seat rides much higher than the Corolla's. The only weird thing was that all the instruments are on the center console, which takes some getting used to. I wanted a hatchback partly because it gives us a more squarish cargo capacity, unlike the Corolla's deep rectangular space.

Mabel will continue to drive the Corolla, and we do need it fix it up a bit. But after some 128,000+ miles up and down both coasts, the trusty old buddy will finally get some rest.

Saturday, December 9, 2006

Credit Report

Before buying the car, I figure I should check my credit report. Turns out that the three major credit reporting agencies have a site where you can ask for a free report each year. So I try it, and Experian tells me that I have a mortgage, addresses in Flushing, three social security numbers, and I think eight names - one of which is Chen.

It's not very hard to get this corrected once you call them and tell them sternly what they need to do. However, I'm really troubled by how readily they combined accounts. From what I can tell, if there are two people with somewhat similar names and somewhat similar social security numbers, they assume a typographical error and combine the information of the two people into one account. Despite the risks of identity theft (I was given the credit history of two other people), they do not check before they combine accounts.

So check your credit report today. Better yet, change your name to a long, random word.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

States I've Been To

Found the link on Lino's blog. Here are the states I've been to:

create your own visited states map

There should be a prize if I manage to connect them coast-to-coast.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Sweet Dreams

I can no longer remember why, but somebody gave me a red nano. And then I woke up, and the first thing I said to Mabel was "oh, that was a dream?" Funny thing is, it sucks to no longer have an iPod that I didn't really want in the first place (it's not hard to get your hands on one where I work) and never actually had. Humans are funny.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Would You Like Fries with That?

There's a McDonald's along my way home, and I noticed that under the golden arches outside they have a sign that says "Over 99 billion served." This leads me to call for all of you to eat more hamburgers, because for some reason I'd like to see them reach 100 billion.

Fast food burgers are bad for health, so I won't be participating in earnest. But all of you who don't care should eat more.

Friday, November 10, 2006

That's Not a Tag, Stupid

Tagging is all the rage, but few people actually understand what it's for. It's easier to explain what it's not. It's not the identification of key words in an article. To take a recent Slashdot front page as an example, here are some of the tags applied to various stories:

"New Mono 1.2 Now Supports WinForms" - mono, itsatrap
"History To Repeat Itself With PS3?" - no, ps3, yes, ps2, sony
"Microsoft's Patent Pledge 'Worse Than Useless'" - microsoft, itsatrap, patents, opensource
"Preview of Vista On Old Hardware" - vista, windows, hardware

Why are these examples of awful tagging? Because terms like "mono", "ps3", "microsoft", and others are already in the text and can readily be searched by a machine. "no" and "yes" are even dumber, because they are not meaningful terms to look up later. The list of items you will find tagged "yes", for example, just aren't related enough to be useful.

Now, what's a good tag? A story like "Solar Power Becoming More Affordable" was tagged "science", which would be useful if the article wasn't otherwise classified by section. The article is not likely to contain the word "science", and a future user of the tags might well be looking for science stories. In this case, it was in the Science section, so even a tag like "hippiecrap" would be more useful. Similarly, an article like "Microsoft Interested In More Linux Deals" tagged "embraceandextend" makes sense.

The point is to intelligently relate an article to its meaning in a few words. The point is to do something a machine cannot. So don't be stupid.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Is It Fast Enough So We Can Fly Away?

We were trying to spend some money last Sunday, and started at the car dealership to look for a small commute car for me. We had our eyes on the Toyota Yaris, the Scion xA, and the Honda Fit. We started with the Toyota/Scion dealer, and the test drive with a somewhat feeble salesman went okay. It doesn't feel anemic, which is about as much as you can hope for with a small car. Satisfied with the car, I was ready to do some numbers to see how much the options I wanted would cost.

Understandably, the salesman was steering me towards the cars they had on the lot. But the last time I bought a car was nearly 11 years ago, so I'm in no mood to compromise. We were standing outside, I was motioning him to go inside and show me some paperwork, when he asked if I was prepared to buy the car right then. "No," I said, explaining that I would not be making a decision until I saw the Fit. I'd already driven a xA rental car, so I didn't need to test it. "Why do you need the price then?" he demanded. I was a little dumbstruck, and Mabel was beginning to fume behind me. We stood outside the dealership and argued for a few minutes, and he just refused to sit down and work out the prices with me. That man turned out to be the assistant manager or something.

Now agitated, we crossed the street to the Honda dealer, and told them that we'd like to test drive the Fit. Oh, no, they told me. They only get an allocation of one Fit a month, put a US$2,000 mark-up on it, and don't let anybody test drive it before buying. The final cost of the Fit would approach US$20,000, and you can't test drive one. What a way to run a business.

And then we went to the mall in hopes of upgrading our cell phone. That didn't quite work out the way I thought it would, either.

Monday, October 2, 2006

No Time!

A recent article begins like this:

"The scandal involving Mark Foley, the Florida congressman who resigned last Friday after the discovery of lurid e-mails and instant messages he sent to teenage congressional pages, has the potential to reshape the election landscape. It was the latest blow in a bad week of news for Republican congressmen getting ready to leave town to campaign - following a congressional report linking the White House to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff and showing dozens more contacts with him than the White House had admitted, and a book by Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward strongly suggesting the Administration has mislead the public about the Iraq War. The Foley scandal could well be the most damanging of the three. Woodward's book, even with all of its details about Administration infighting and blunders in Iraq, reinforces a notion most Americans already hod, that the war in Iraq isn't going well. The Abramoff revelations, too, simply added more specifics to bolster what Americans already think: that congressmen are too close to lobbyists."

In a hurry, I see.

New to You

We scanned, edited, and finally uploaded some new old pictures.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Babel Fish

While searching for reactions on the new Korean font I put into the iPod, I had to rely on Babel Fish to translate for me. Most of it was gibberish, but this one is poetry:

It sees the photograph which comes out from the iLounge...
The black the thought where the reverse side is the best...
Oh it is in agony. Black black black

It is whore.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

How I Spent My Summer

Mostly on this, and then a few more weeks on this. Believe me, it was much harder than meets the eye.

Thursday, August 3, 2006

Monday, July 24, 2006

Hotter than Hot

I'm not actually whining about the temperature this time, although it is hot. Note how the current temperature is higher than any of the daily highs. The correct way to write this code would be to use the forecast highs and lows, but replace those numbers with actual measured temperatures if they are exceeded.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Hot Damn!

It was unbearably hot today, and if only for the air conditioning I didn't mind having to work on a Saturday so much. We have a short corridor between the two wings of our building, and it felt like walking into an oven crossing from one side to the other. Here's a screen shot. 83°F isn't so bad, but note that it's nearly 9 pm. It hit triple digits earlier in the day.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006


San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom used this word several times this morning in a radio interview. It is used to mean "to provide incentive to," and I have heard several business executives use it, so there's probably no stopping it becoming a real word.

It's wrong on so many levels, though. First of all, "motivate" is a perfectly good word. Secondly, the "-ize" suffix means "to turn into", which is why "victimize" means "to turn into a victim." When an employee or citizen is "incentivized", they are not being turned into incentives! As with "motivate," which comes from "motive," the word should at least be "incentivate" if we really must have it.

Later, Newsom also used "incent," which apparently means the same thing. Both words are now in the American Heritage Dictionary. Sigh.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Suffer the Heatwave

It hit 91°F today in Fremont, and 95°F in Cupertino. First time this year I decided to turn on the air conditioner at home.

Yesterday, however, Nick Swisher hit two home runs in Colorado, the second one in the top of the 9th inning to tie the game. He also scored the winning run on a Bobby Kielty single after getting walked in the 11th inning. These are the only three runs the A's were able to score in the entire three-game series.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

By the Numbers

514 total pitches
114 at-bats
25 runners left on base
25 hits
19 batters walked
17 innings
12 pitchers
6 double plays
6 doubles
5 hours and 2 minutes
2 triples

In the end, the A's beat the Dodgers 5-4 in the bottom of the 17th inning, thanks to a Scutaro single, a Swisher walk, a Chavez walk, and finally a Crosby walk-off walk.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Sakura Wars Figure

My sister-in-law bought a set of three plastic figures, but didn't want to build and paint them anymore, so I inherited them. Here's the first one I just finished. This is apparently Shinguji Sakura from Sakura Wars. The plastic is a bit slippery and hand-brushed acrylic paint doesn't coat very well, so I airbrushed the pink and white parts. I had a hard time with the eyebrows, because I had to paint them freehand. It's a good thing they're partially hidden under the hair.

Friday, June 9, 2006

Another Crazy One

The A's played the New York Yankees at home tonight, with just five of their opening day starters in the line-up against Randy Johnson. They even had to send in Mike Rouse, who was called up from the River Cats just hours before the game. So what did they do? Bobby Kielty and Antonio Perez (1 for 33 before the game) decided to hit their first home runs of the season to add to Frank Thomas' 2nd inning lead-off home run. Jay Payton and Nick Swisher batted in two more runs to chase Johnson in just four innings.

Meanwhile, Dan Haren pitched 5.2 innings, gave up just one run, and struck out five. Unfortunately, the bullpen got itself in trouble by walking three and giving up four runs in the 7th inning. Ultimately they hung on to win 6-5, but the story of the night belonged to Mike Rouse, who was 3-3 with a double plus a walk, scored two runs, and even stole a base in his major league debut.

You almost have to start expecting superhuman efforts watching the A's play, when about a third of their games are decided by one run. When does this just become ridiculous?

Wednesday, June 7, 2006


We got a chance to watch a screening of Cars, and it does not disappoint. The story is quite American, as you might imagine, but the visuals are just stunning. Watch it on opening day. And then watch it again.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

A Much-Needed Boost

Joe Blanton threw 118 pitches (78 for strikes) in his first career shutout win today over the Kansas City Royals, and Jason Kendall hit his first homerun in 961 at-bats. After a disappointing streak of tough losses that seems now typical in May, the A's finally get something to smile about.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Weird Game

It was a strange outing for the Oakland Athletics at Yankee Stadium on Mother's Day.

  • Nick Swisher nearly broke his 31-game on-base streak, saving it only with a walk on his fifth at-bat.
  • Jay Payton hit his first home run of the season, after a 36-game drought.
  • Antonio Perez got his first hit and RBI of the season, with the bases loaded.

  • Dan Haren pitched his first complete game of the season, holding the New York Yankees to just six hits and just one solo home run. He needed just 100 pitches, 67 thrown for strikes.

  • Second baseman Mark Ellis beat first baseman Nick Swisher to an Alex Rodriguez foul ball over the tarp.

  • Randy Johnson gave up his first home run from a left-handed batter Mark Kotsay, and the Yankees lose their first day game.

  • Bobby Crosby was able to duck a tag just long enough for Nick Swisher to score from third base.

  • Nick Swisher ended the game with a rather confused and unassisted double play.

  • The A's stole three bases, having stolen just five in the last 36 games.

    Wednesday, May 3, 2006

    It's Official

    I look dorky. A man drove up in an SUV while I was getting in my car, and showed me a calling card with Versace, Armani, and maybe two or three other brand names I couldn't recognize. He started to ask me if I spoke Italian, and having been through this before, I just told him I couldn't help him. But it's now clear that I look like a "mark." Damn.

    But this really got me wondering what the scam was. A bit of searching on the web shows that it's a variation of an old theme: lost my money, need to get to the airport and pay for the rental car. The Italian suits are just to convince you that he'd rather not pay taxes on them.

    Monday, May 1, 2006

    It's Good to Be the King

    Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh reached a deal with prosecutors after being charged with obtaining excessive amounts of prescription painkillers in 2003. He admits to no guilt in the matter, but will continue treatment for his addiction, cannot own a gun (for the next 18 months?), and will refrain from violating any other law. He will also repay the state the sum of US$30,000 to cover investigation costs, and be subjected to random drug testing to ensure that he remains clean.

    According to, Limbaugh makes US$31 million a year, so the investigation costs will take just under two hours' work to pay for. The moral of the story is that the penalty for breaking drug laws is basically "don't do it again" if you're rich and well-connected. No public admission of guilt, no real punitive fine, not even actual inconvenience (he can easily hire a bodyguard if he really needed guns), much less jail term of any sort.

    Almost as if it never happened.

    Thursday, April 27, 2006

    Pet Peeve

    You're not allowed to say or write "discounting X, what has Y done this year?" or anything of the sort if "X" is not something you can discount. For example, you're not allowed to say "discounting the Intel transition, what has Apple done this year?" Replacing the CPU and all running software of an entire line of computers is a massive undertaking. I'd quote Monty Python, but that would take away from the complete seriousness of this admonition.

    Tuesday, April 18, 2006


    A man was waiting outside my office when I arrived. He informed me that my office chair was actually a conference room chair, and he's under orders to take them away. He left me with a somewhat inferior chair, considering it doesn't have armrests. I miss my armrest.

    Tuesday, April 4, 2006


    We got our tax refund from California. Apparently they don't mind that we didn't sign the tax form.

    Friday, March 31, 2006


    Went to apply for a visa to the Philippines this morning. By virtue of my being from not-a-country, I was told that I couldn't use the same application form that everybody else uses. Instead of a usual application form with boxes, I was given one that asked for the same information in a grade school way, as in:

    1. My full name is _____.

    2. I am __ years old, having been born on ____ at ____.

    3. My passport number is ____, issued on _____, and remains valid until ____.

    and so on for a page. Unfortunately, nobody informed the Filipino authorities that the People's Republic of China isn't really that serious about the One China Policy. In fact, I can probably walk into a PRC consulate for help and get citizen-grade service. As long as you don't let the Taiwanese use their flags and don't call Taiwan a country, you don't literally have to refuse to put a visa stamp in my passport and instead staple a sheet of paper to it with the visa stamp.

    This sort of thing happens with such regularity I don't even get a little upset anymore. I seem to trip on every single possible exception to what bureaucrats know what to do with, and it's amusing to watch them give themselves more work for no reason. For example, the web site of the Philippine consulate says that US passport holders don't need a visa to tour the Philippines, and then says that citizens of other countries should call them to see if a visa is necessary. So instead of listing out the countries, now they have to answer any number of phone calls.


    There's a kind of visitor who is neither really a tourist nor a resident. A spouse of a citizen falls into that class, because we tend to visit often enough for tourist visas to be irritating, but not for long enough that they need resident visas. There's really no reason not to create a new class of visas for us, which makes me happy and saves them work. But that would just be smart.

    Tuesday, March 28, 2006


    Celebrity is a funny thing. A recent headline on CNN said "Village People 'policeman' faces jail", which made me realize that I have no idea what the names of any of them are. CNN probably doesn't think anybody else would know, either, or the headline would have his name in it. Another example is that some commercials have to specify that their spokesmodel is actually Andie MacDowell.

    If I don't know her face, is she really a celebrity to me? If not, why should I care if she's endorsing you? Are you really famous if you're just "the 'policeman' from the Village People"?

    Saturday, March 25, 2006


    It's stupid week, apparently. The IRS just returned our tax forms to us. We forgot to sign it.

    Thursday, March 23, 2006

    Stupid Stupid Stupid

    So I got here in the morning, and a former co-worker left an IM with a link for me to check out. I clicked on it, seeing full well that it was a geocities account, but somehow responded to the Yahoo! login by typing my user name and password. A few hours later, everybody on my contacts list received the same link, and I observed some interruptions in my IM client.

    Once another former co-worker helped me understand what was probably going on, it's time to change passwords all around. The Yahoo! account compromised financial and other dealings, so there were a lot of passwords to change. I feel pretty stupid and angry at myself right now, and I wonder how malicious this particular little phishing attempt was.


    Thursday, March 16, 2006


    Korea just beat Japan again, this time all but eliminating them from the World Baseball Classic. I'm happy that even though Korea could've thrown the game to eliminate the US, and they chose not to. Now, that may be because of any of several reasons, but I choose to believe that they decided that fighting one game at a time is the sportsmanly thing to do. Even if they should fall to the US team later, they did the right thing and would have nothing to be ashamed of. I'm not sure I wouldn't have thrown the game to get rid of a stronger rival.

    [Update: Japan later advances to the semi-finals thanks to a US loss against Mexico, and eliminates Korea in a 6-0 shutout. It's not the poetic justice I would have written into a sappy Hollywood movie, but I think Japan was humbled by how close they came to elimination, and Korea gave us some great reasons to cheer. I'm still happy for how far they've come.]

    Monday, March 13, 2006


    Korea just beat the United States in the World Baseball Classic, and along with their win against Japan, marks them not only as a talented team, but a team with guts. In comparison, the Taiwanese team played to lose. After losing against Korea, they assumed that they would lose against Japan and actually held back so they could preserve their strength for a meaningless game against China. Korea, on the other hand, could not have expected to beat both Japan and the US, but played each game to win. Kudos to them.

    I'm so happy for Korea right now.

    Look Who's Talking Now

    Yahoo! headline: "Bush Calls on Iraqis to Embrace Compromise". Because aside from Freedom and Democracy, the other thing that Bush really stands for is Compromise.

    Friday, March 10, 2006


    The top bits of the Fremont hills got a coat of white overnight, and looks like frosted flakes right now. Further southeast, the mountains are actually snow-capped!

    Tuesday, March 7, 2006

    The Armani Man

    Two ostensibly Italien men (supposedly father and son) in a SUV stopped us in a mall parking lot last Sunday. The "father" went on and on about how he was a bigshot manager at Armani, how he's been to Taiwan many times, how his friend who lives nearby was not home, and so on. Finally, we got tired and asked him how we could help him. Turns out, he has a plane to catch, and wants to avoid being taxed for bringing back product samples. I'm not really sure what he wants, but Mabel thinks he wants to sell us an Armani jacket for cheap, and throw in another two for free.

    It has several of the telltale signs of a scam. One, there's a time pressure: he has a plane to catch and we must decide quickly. Two, he is distracting: nobody really cares about his story if he has legitimate merchandise. Three, he is ready to show his passport, plane ticket, and even the insides of his wallet, which any experienced traveler would be cautious about. There are also other signs. No manager would give a damn about getting taxed, because the company pays for that. He was also trying very hard to get to a familiar place, like rattling off places in Taiwan he's been to.

    Trouble is, I'm not really sure what the scam is. The easiest one would be to sell us fake stuff. A more sophisticated version would be to show us real stuff and somehow slip us the fake stuff when it's wrapped in a bag or something. Or, it may involve the ATM, because few people walk around the mall with the kind of cash to to buy an Armani jacket outright, even at half price. (He can't possibly pull out a credit card reader.) Anybody know what this scam is about?

    I later realized that Mabel and I must look rich and stupid, or at least greedy. Mabel has a nicer interpretation.

    Saturday, February 11, 2006

    Bad Advice

    From a fortune cookie I got over a recent dimsum lunch:

    Even if I weren't married, it would seem like a bad idea.

    Wednesday, February 8, 2006


    In a world of six billion people, each of us may be blasphemous to somebody for just existing. The Muslims who are outraged by "blasphemous" cartoons are probably offending others because of the meats they eat, the way they treat their women, and many other things that are core to their being.

    Are we ready to say that people halfway around the world, living under different laws and practicing different religions, must somehow live the way we think they should, and vice versa? If so, Muslims better think twice, because the Christians still have more nuclear weapons.

    Here's a novel idea: how about we understand that we choose our religions, and freely submit to its rules to enjoy its benefits and promises? How about we understand that somebody who freely chooses another religion, or even no religion at all, are not bound by our rules? Because we all offend somebody, and this just isn't going to work.

    That Famous Book by Nabokov

    A Taiwanese judge just acquitted a 26-year old man of statutory rape. He had sex with an 11-year old girl whom the judge thought looked 17 or 18. Whether or not the man faced three to ten years in prison came down to how old a random judge thought a girl looked? Even more stupidly, the alleged crime occurred in June last year, which means that the judge has to be extrapolating what a pre-teen looked like half a year ago.

    The prosecutor has said she plans to appeal.

    Wednesday, February 1, 2006

    Zaku Warrior

    For some strange reason, the first Zaku Warrior post disappeared.

    Anyway, I bought this kit in Kobe, Japan more than a year ago, and finally got to it. Most of the parts have been airbrushed, but if you look closely you'll still see where my puttying mistakes are. The last photograph has been photoshopped to enhance the eye and remove some model-making mistakes. The actual figure stands about six inches tall.

    Thursday, January 26, 2006

    News Flash: Democracy Not Supreme

    Turns out the US and Israeli governments will not deal with a Hamas-led government in Palestine, despite a 78% voter turnout and landslide victory. (In other words, this is a government with far more theoretical democratic legitimacy than the current US administration, with just 55.3% turnout and just over 51% of the popular vote.) There's no need to mention what Hamas is, and certainly no condemnation of the US/Israeli stance, but we can only hope that ideologues in the Bush Administration can finally understand that democracy doesn't necessarily yield the kind of government they like to see in other countries.

    Wednesday, January 18, 2006

    Dumb and Dumber

    Earlier Pat Robertson said that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's stroke was God's retribution for dividing Israel. Then New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin says that the hurricanes were God's punishment to America for invading Iraq.

    Thus, letting Idi Amin live to 80 free from prosecution, and then letting him die in his sleep must mean that God approves of him murdering some 400,000 people?

    Friday, January 6, 2006

    Highly Creative

    Podcasts, short for Personal On Demand broadCast, are audio files you can download into any MP3 player or computer.

    from, a site owned by Creative Technology Ltd., a competitor of the iPod. Whatever gets them through the night, I guess...

    Wednesday, January 4, 2006

    Dell Discounts

    Because I'm such a nice guy, I'm rewarding you, my loyal reader, with two discount codes that Dell sent me:

    US$20 off electronics and accessories of US$200 or more - VLKKKQ61MKQW95
    20% off select desktops and notebooks of US$999 or more - BGTR0DM5W04$DF

    Each code can only be used once, so whoever uses it first wins. Expires on January 31.

    Rules of Martial Arts Novels

    • The hero's father or teacher was killed by the arch-villain.

    • However evil and strong the villain is, he fails or forgets to kill the hero as a defenseless child.

    • However destitute, the hero doesn't actually need money for things like food or clothing.

    • The hero will find a lost kung fu manual in a cave and learn it.

    • The hero will find and eat a strange herb that gives him decades' worth of kung fu strength.

    • The hero will find a dying kung fu master who transfers decades' worth of kung fu strength to him.

    • The hero will never meet a villain whose kung fu skills are inferior to the previous one he defeated.

    • Every maiden falls in love with the hero, including evil maidens who eventually die for him.

    • At least one maiden will be prohibited to love the hero, but can't help it anyway.

    • There is a pill for every imaginable purpose.

    • The hero will fall victim to poison, and only the virginity of a maiden will save him.

    • The hero will fall victim to powerful aphrodesiacs from a beautiful but evil temptress, but ends up having sex with an innocent virgin.

    • Anybody who is in love with a maiden (who is by definintion in love with the hero) will betray the hero before the end.

    • Anybody who knows kung fu and works for the government is only after fortune and promotions.

    • Everybody recognizes gold plate edicts from a secret organization that was thought to be extinct for a hundred years.

    Customer Service

    The Corolla has been in the shop for now the third day. I had spoken to a service advisor yesterday, and she told me that the car will probably be ready today. So, I call them at about 9:20, and the receptionist tells me that a service advisor will call me right back.

    Now, where I come from, "right back" means five or ten minutes, because he's in the middle of something right now. I sit around for about twenty, maybe thirty minutes, and call them again. This time, she explains to me that they're very busy until 11:00, and probably won't call me back until then. I give her a little hell, explaining that this just cost me 30 minutes, and because I'm renting a car in the meantime, possibly also US$30 that I otherwise would not need to spend.

    In many cases, it doesn't take much to improve customer service. All I needed was a yes or no, and the receptionist could not tell me that without bothering a service advisor. It's not her fault, but it's just bad process leading to irritated customers. Another thing is that despite having given them three phone numbers, I'm asked for a call back number each time I call them. This is another process issue that costs virtually nothing. All it really takes is looking at the problem from a customer's perspective.

    Tuesday, January 3, 2006

    Abusing Privilege

    Many countries are still mentally in the third world, no matter how much money its people have made. Take Taiwan, for example, where a pop singer was placed in an ambulance to transport her from one venue to another for several New Year's Eve programs.

    As a society, we give special consideration to ambulances, because we treasure life and collectively sacrifice our own time to help save whoever was in trouble. This kind of public and sometimes voluntary goodness is extremely fragile, and it's not going to take more than a few abuses for people to stop deferring to emergency vehicles. In Manila, for example, big black cars with flashing lights in convoy usually just means that somebody as "lowly" as a city official or legislator is trying to get home more quickly than you can, so few people make an effort to yield to them despite persistent honking and occasionally even gun-waving. People don't need much to revert to selfishness.

    The offenders in Taiwan were fined the minimum NT$200,000 (about US$6,000) for this.

    Sunday, January 1, 2006

    Shasta Adventure

    We spent the week between Christmas and New Year's at Mount Shasta, trying to snowboard and showshoe. Snowboarding involves strapping yourself to a long oblong board, and sliding down a hill. The main goal is to slow yourself down so that you're comfortable with the speed, and so you can avoid killing yourself. Snowshoeing is a lot like wearing big clown shoes to spread the weight so that you don't sink as much in deep snow.

    The trip started poorly. We were hoping to rent a four wheel drive for the trip, but we were a bit late and they probably didn't have the precise car anyway. We wanted to avoid having to buy another set of tire chains (used to improve traction on snow), so we turned down the SUV and decided to drive the Corolla instead. The rest of the day was uneventful, except for some dense fog and rain getting into the mountains. We arrived at our motel after dark, a bit concerned about the series of storms that were forecast over the week.

    The Finlandia! Motel (yes, with an exclamation point) is old and not much to speak about, but it's nice and cheap, and sits about ten miles from the ski park and a mile or three from downtown. We had a nice dinner and decided to take it easy the next day.

    Got out of the motel around noon, and went to the two visitor centers to get some information on where we could snowshoe. The ranger pointed us to Bunny Flat, which we headed for after a late lunch. The roads were not well plowed, so we had to put on chains. A good number of people were already there, snowmobiling, skiing, snowboarding, and sledding down the hillside. We put on our gear, and immediately needed to pee. After taking care of that, we tried our snowshoes on the snow, sinking about a foot each step. I don't think we walked a mile that afternoon, but I got pretty tired.

    The next day was rainy, but we decided to hit the slopes anyway. Unlike many other parks, this one had a ski lift that was nearly 3,600 ft. (nearly 1,100 meters) long even for the beginner trails, which was a real challenge to my mild acrophobia. Worse, because this was a beginner lift, they had to stop it quite often whenever somebody (such as us) slipped or tripped while getting off. I really didn't enjoy dangling in mid-air like that, especially when it really started to snow. Having said that, it was also nice to be able to continue practicing for a long downhill stretch. As usual, both of us slipped while getting off the lift. We waited a bit for the snow to let up, and then headed down the trail called "Easy Street".

    The main way to slow down while sliding downhill on a snowboard is to turn and make zig-zag curves as you descend. To cut a long story short, I was doing okay with my heel-to-toe turns, but wasn't making my toe-to-heel turns, so I kept plowing into the embankment on the left side. One time, I went in about 3 ft. off the trail and stopped in snow so soft that I almost couldn't get up. Predictably, my upper body was sore at the end of the day from having to prop myself up over and over again from each fall. Other than the toe-to-heel turn, I was feeling okay for not having lost too much of what we were practicing at Badger Pass earlier in the year.

    The weather report told us that Thursday would be the only day that wouldn't snow, so we went up again despite a few aches. This time, there were so many people on the mountain that parking was difficult and there were long lines on the lift. The other problem is that the trails are packed down by the traffic and became both slick (so I fall more) and hard (so I hurt more when I fall), a wonderful combination. It started badly as I bruised my knees just getting off the lift, but wasn't so bad until we took a different way down and found ourselves in a low part of the trail where snowboarders have a hard time getting out of. After dragging our board out of that, there was a scary (for me, anyway), steep descent back to the lift. It doesn't help that this portion merges with the paths of more advanced skiers and snowboarders, who zoom by quickly and put inevitable pressure on the beginners. A few falls later we were back at the bottom of the lift and were just pooped.

    It snowed that night and would rain the whole next day, so we just did some errands and booked a massage. I think all trips and holidays should end with a massage. The therapists informed us, however, that Interstate 5 had been closed to traffic because of multiple mudslides, and there were floods in various places from Northern California up to Washington.

    Fortunately for us, the road was cleared up overnight, and we made it home without problems other than a bit of a traffic jam east of the Altamont Pass. From this description, you might wonder why we torture ourselves like this. Snowboarding is actually a lot of fun past the second day or so, and with the right clothing, not uncomfortable. In fact, when you manage not to fall on every turn, it's downright exhilarating. Once I stop hurting everywhere, I'll probably want to go again.