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.