29 July 2006

Link of the day: "It Never Gets Easier Than Now"

Ramit Sethi recently wrote an article about the wonderous possibilites of youth. What a timely thought. I was wondering if I should spend an extra few hundred dollars to visit a friend of mine halfway across the country. I think Ramit is right; our lives (particularly in this frenetic age) will only get busier and if there is a window of opportunity to do some special project or see a special friend, we shouldn't hesitate to go for it.

27 July 2006

Quote of the day: Floyd Landis on pain

A while ago, I read a fascinating New York Times magazine feature on Floyd Landis, 2006 champion of the Tour de France (hopefully he will be cleared of drug usage suspicion). I liked the following quote:
Everybody thinks you can overcome pain if you want to enough, and let me tell you, you can't. This isn't some Jean-Claude Van Damme movie, where somebody can get shot in the leg and keep going. There's pain that makes me stop, makes everybody stop.

My parents always told me that will conquers everything, but I've learned that there is occasionally pain that you can't beat and that is perfectly human.

26 July 2006

Useful and cool Windows downloads

Some Windows downloads I've discovered recently (all free unless noted):
  • Ccleaner - cleans out Windows system temporary files, browser cache files, and other garbage
  • Copernic desktop search - indexes your hard drive so it can be searched easily (I was interested in being non-Google centric)
  • Gaim - open source instant messanging client, an alternative to the ad-filled AOL Instant Messenger
  • HDD Health - check your hard drive status via S.M.A.R.T.
  • iColorFolder - color code your virtual folders on Windows
  • O&O Defrag - a much better defragmenter than the one that ships with Windows XP (unfortunately not free, but there is a 30 day trial)
  • Stamina - a touch typing tutor (I've been using it to learn Dvorak)
  • Mars Exploration Rover Screensaver - nifty photos from NASA

21 July 2006

Link of the day: Albert Einstein and meandering rivers

Besides inventing special and general relativity and explaining Brownian motion, Einstein apparently also explained why rivers with larger cross-sections develop meandering patterns with larger wavelength.

19 July 2006

Link of the day: "When Amateurs Roamed the Earth"

I enjoyed reading the article "An Exhibition About Drawing Conjures a Time When Amateurs Roamed the Earth" in the New York Times.

It made me try to think of various "hobbies" that people must have done in the pre-transistor era. My list includes sports, music, tinkering, drawing (like in the New York Times article), and dancing. Maybe I should set a personal goal of putting some serious effort into the activities I haven't tried.

I've always loved sports and have some physical talent, so this one has always been easy for me to do and enjoy. As a child, I did a lot of playground sports and formally soccer and basketball, although nowdays I pretty much stick to hockey.

The playground sports included touch football, rounders (also known as kickball), prisoner dodgeball, sock out (also known as handball) and wall ball (I can't remember the name; you basically throw a tennis ball against the wall). I hope children still make up their own games. Looking back, I'm amazed at the rules we invented for sockout and wall ball. For example, if you played sock out against a wall, you could run under the ball's trajectory instead of hitting ("doing a rainbow"). In conventional sock out (with no wall, just a painted box for a boundary), an easy way for the "server" to "waste" someone (get a person out) was to do a "toilet" serve. Instead of bouncing the ball to the opposing player (what you do when you serve), you bounce the ball to your friend next to you, who hits the ball to the player low and fast (what we called a "skimmer").

I also watched football, basketball, baseball, soccer, and the Olympics on TV and read the sports page from front to cover.

As for music, I play the piano (not very well), but when I play my favorite piece (Arabesque No. 2 by Claude Debussy), people seem really impressed. I should thank my parents for forcing me to take music lessons. I've never taken any courses in music theory, but I think my exposure to classical music at an early age has given me some good taste (I hope). I really like listening bluesy music (but not Bach: why do so many people like Bach??) and playing Debussy piano pieces. I don't play piano much these days, but I do try to listen to a variety of music including classical, bluegrass, country, swing, some jazz, and a little pop/rock.

So I guess I have sports and music pretty covered. Tinkering is a hobby I'm working on. I think the most intimidating part of tinkering is the fear of breaking something. I'm finally getting over that fear and lately I've been trying to learn about operating systems and computer hardware. This seems like a good way to enter the field of tinkering since computers are relatively resilent and there's tons of information on the internet. I haven't tried building my own furniture, doing house improvement, or re-wiring my remote, but perhaps someday. One thing that helps is that my dad fixes a lot of stuff. Even though I usually didn't watch him, I think I inherited some building intuition from him.

Dancing and drawing are non-existent activities for me. I did draw as a child (I liked drawing famous athletes and Monkey King from the Chinese novel "Journey to the West"), but I don't have any formal art education and haven't got any intuition about art either. I always end up spending a lot of time in museums reading the descriptions on the exhibits because I have no idea why the art is important or what the context is. A friend of mine suggested that I just look at the work and make up my own mind about it, which is a good idea to some extent, but it would be much easier if I knew a bit more.

As for dancing, I don't really like dancing. Neither am I really good at it. The problem is that you have to memorize a complicated set of movements that happen in rapid succession and I have a hard time developing the needed physical memory. (Hmm, maybe parents should add dancing lessons to the requisite sports and music training.) So I guess this is at the bottom of my list. Maybe my sister (a dancing freak) will convert me in the near future.

06 July 2006

Writing: Bracket editing notation

Collaborative writing presents the problem of how to keep track of revisions. For UNIX users, there is CVS or RCS.

But a simpler method is to use some kind of scripting language like the bracket (to physicists: not "bra-ket") notation system mentioned here. The advantage is that you don't need any special software or text editor.

I myself have used something similar, though I usually use different symbols for deletions and additions.

02 July 2006

Tech: Digital pen

An alternative to tablet PCs is the digital pen, featured in a recent New York Times article.