30 January 2007

Quote of the day: Why are we as a people worth saving?

An excerpt of a speech by Commander William Adama (TV miniseries pilot for Battlestar Galactica) on the occasion of Galactica's retirement:
We fought the Cylons to save ourselves from extinction, but we never answered the question... why? Why are we as a people worth saving? Look at us. We tell ourselves we're noble, intelligent creatures. Children of the Lords of Kobol. But we'll still let people go to bed hungry because it costs too much to feed the poor... we still commit murder for greed or spite or jealousy... and we visit all of our sins upon our children. We refuse to take responsibility for what we've done. Like we did with the Cylons. We decided to play god, create life. When that life turned against us, we comforted ourselves in the knowledge that it really wasn't our fault, not really. You cannot play god, then wash your hands of the things that you've created. Sooner or later, the day comes when you can't hide from the things that you've done anymore.

Living consciously

I recently read Steve Pavlina's post on gratitude. It reminded me of the concept "to live consciously." It isn't enough to live, we have to want to live and know why. I define so-called living as mere survival: bumbling about our jobs, perfunctorily greeting acquaintances, mindlessly surfing the net or watching television. I haven't read much about living consciously, but I will offer my own interpretation based on my own experiences. I believe to live consciously is to think about every action you do and why you do it, to examine that action in the larger fabric of your life, to never treat anything as merely routine. "Why am I friends with so and so?" "Why am I not very nice to so and so?" "Why am I not putting 100% effort into my creative work?" "Why do I like doing X so much?" "Why do I keep procrastinating?" On multiple occasions, I have heard the idea "most people are only using a tiny fraction of their brain." That refers to what you are missing out on if you don't live consciously. Living consciously requires constant introspection. It's hard work, but don't we all want to enjoy a full experience of life? Kind of like living our lives in color instead of black and white (watch the movie "Pleasantville").

I realize now that lifehacking and GTD are systems with the idea of living consciously at their core. It is very naturally to adopt the principle of living consciously if you're a GTD practitioner. It is very easy to get distracted by the minutiae of life -- and that is why you should do your weekly reviews!!

Some other links on living consciously: a book by the same name, Steve Pavlina's own essay on the topic.

20 January 2007

Tech: Subversion, WinSCP, and DVD backup

I wanted to share some software knowledge I've gained recently.

First, I learned how to use Subversion. It is a really nice piece of software, open source, multi-platform and supposedly better than CVS. On Windows, I use the GUI client Tortoise SVN which emulates subversion commands in the explorer window.

Second, I can finally do file synchronization (at least between a local Windows machine and a remote machine). The SFTP client, WinSCP, has synchronization built-in. It's pretty self-explanatory and there is the nice option for previewing the synchronization and tweaking it before it occurs.

I also learned how to DVD backup (note: I am backing up DVDs I own, not copying DVDs and distributing them) by reading this concise tutorial. You can make a backup DVD of your original or even save the original .iso file on your hard drive. The only tricky issues are 1) (possibly) needing to break DVD encryption and 2) (possibly) needing to compress the image of the original so it can fit on a DVD-R. Note the last problem might be solved if you use a higher capacity disc like HD-DVD/Blu-Ray and/or dual-layer.

Link of the day: "Can't Get No Satisfaction"

I found a really interesting article about burnout in the New York magazine (via 43Folders), which ties in nicely with one of my previous posts. The basic idea is that burnout is caused by the "gap between expectation and reward," or on the flip side, "happiness is reality divided by expectation."

Here's an thought-provoking quote:
“In seminary,” he suddenly says, “I did a bit of depth psychology.” DeGarmo had never studied it before. He was assigned Memories, Dreams, Reflections, and found himself beguiled by Carl Jung’s theories about the opposing parts of our personalities. “I remember Jung saying that the general trajectory of your life is to work to your strength in your younger life, going great guns to establish yourself at whatever you’re doing,” he continues. “But at some point in midlife, the other part of your personality—the feminine instead of masculine, or whatever other opposing trait—is looking for expression. And if you don’t allow it to express itself, you’re not, in effect, going to become a whole person. Brittle is the word he uses.”

17 January 2007

Social cataloging websites compared: LibraryThing, Shelfari, Gurulib

It seems that LibraryThing has more competition now! Shelfari and Gurulib are two new servies, though they are still in beta. I noticed that Shelfari is owned by Amazon (hmm...) and they offer unlimited storage of data (unlike LibraryThing). Here is a preliminary review of the three services by librarytwopointzero.

13 January 2007

Paranoia and CD rot

I was talking with a friend at lunch and he claimed that his entire CD collection had been obliterated by the Australian humidity. I searched Google and sure enough there is a phenomenon known as "CD rot." (Also, see a short Wikipedia article.) Apparently, some of the CDs manufactured in the 1980s were defective and extremely susceptible to rot. Present-day CDs are better now, but there is no hard evidence that they last a human lifetime (50-100 years). The best advice I've read is to rip all your CDs to lossless, open-source (and most importantly DRM-less) FLAC format. You could rip to mp3, but what would be the point of paying CD price and saving it to your hard drive in a lossy form? The makers of dbPowerAMP estimates that a 3 minute song takes up 30 MB in FLAC format.

Review: Children of Men

Last weekend, I went to see the film "Children of Men" starring Clive Owen and Michael Caine and directed by Alfonso Cuaron. The film is based on the premise that humankind is no longer able to produce children (for unknown reasons). As the film opens, the youngest person on Earth has just died, an 18 year old named Diego born in 2009. Since humans will probably die out in 70 years, the world has dissolved into anarchy. There are nuclear wars, riots, bombings all over the world. One of the few "safe" places left is Britain but only because it has become a police state. Refugees who try to get into Britain are arrested, rounded up in camps, and deported. Theo (Clive Owen) is a disillusioned, alcoholic bureaucrat. Theo is contacted by his old flame Julian. The two of them were activists in their younger days. Julian needs Theo's help to get transit papers for a young woman named Kee who is eight months pregnant. The rest of the movie is essentially a chase in 2027 as Cuaron puts it. Theo tries to get Kee to safety by delivering her to a group called the "Human Project." The film doesn't explain this very well, but I believe the Human Project is a utopian society where scientists are researching human reproduction.   

It's easy to label Children of Men as a sci-fi flick or a typical humankind-meets-disaster film, but I found it moving and meaningful even in the healthier world of 2007. I enjoyed the many subtle details that are weaved into the film without disrupting the main storyline. For example, there is a TV commercial for a suicide drug called "Quietus". We see a religious group flagellating themselves on the street -- they claim that God is punishing mankind for their sins by preventing reproduction. As Theo takes the train home from work, riffraff(?) throw stones at the windows. There are also a couple showstopper scenes: Kee's baby silences a shooting war behind activists and military, Kee sits in a playground swing while Theo watches through the shattered window of an abandoned classroom. Ironically, the most hopeful (and colorful) character in the film is Michael Caine's character, a former political cartoonist and hippy.

I found Children of Men to be a riveting tale cautioning of what happens when a society loses all hope. It would be scary if we destroyed ourselves through terrorism, nuclear bombing, bioweaponry, etc, but even worse if humans just died off slowly and helplessly. I think it's better to die by fire than by ice.

12 January 2007

Tech: Fujitsu ScanSnap

From reviews, the Fujitsu ScanSnap sounds like a really cool scanner. It's duplexing and sheetfed, but there's no flatbed option.

09 January 2007

Link of the day: "When is a Googol not enough?"

Wati Taylor (an MIT string theorist) gave an awesome talk at Google about why there may be as many as 10^1000 possible solutions to describe the physical universe and how it might be possible to narrow down the possibilities using search algorithms. I really like how his talk is straightforward, clear, and concise. It's neat how string theory, cosmology, and algorithms come together in this problem.

Testing the Nintendo Wii

I decided to visit the Nintendo World Store again -- so that I could try out the new Wii system!

First, I tried out the Wii controller on the Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess game. It was pretty intuitive, but it takes some practice. I only got a ten minute session in which I tried fishing, drawing a bow, shooting a clawshot, and swinging Link's sword. The fishing was kind of tricky; I didn't figure that one out. The rest of the motions were pretty easy to perform. For example, to swing the sword, you whip the remote (will that cause RSI after hours of play?) and to do a spin attack, you shake the nunchuck. To make Link walk, you just use the analog stick on the nunchuck (the same as using the analog stick on a traditional controller). I had trouble getting the red crosshair to show up when I wanted to draw the bow or shoot the clawshot. An employee told me that problem is that the sensor bar was too low and that he complained to his boss about it. Unfortunately, I forgot to take a picture of myself playing the game, but here's a photo of a boy aiming the clawshot.

Then I headed over to another section of store where they were demoing the Wii Sports game. In the main menu, you can choose from five sports: baseball, tennis, bowling, boxing, and golf. You can also pick an avatar for yourself (which Nintendo calls a "Mii" -- ha ha).

I watched a woman play tennis for a little while. She swung the remote like a tennis racket to simulate hitting the ball.

Golf and bowling sounded boring, so I opted for ten minutes of boxing.

The controller motions were extremely intuitive, fluid, and fun to use. You hold the nunchuck and remote in each hand as if they were boxing gloves. You punch with them in the air to hit your opponent. To protect yourself, you draw the nunchuck and remote together (just like blocking punches in real boxing). Here I am playing.

Here's a little boy playing the boxing game with the help of an adult (his father?).

I only played twenty minutes on two Wii games, but I came away with a very favorable impression. The controller is easy to use and while it didn't blow me away, it does bring a refreshing, new perspective to the video game world.

04 January 2007

Link of the day: Hungry for a Month

Via Ramit Sethi, I read about an experiment to live on $1/day for a month. Surprisingly, it's not as exciting as it sounds.

03 January 2007

Link of the day: Evolution on steroids

My dad sent me an article describing a highly anticipated game called Spore. It's being designed by the creator of "The Sims" and "SimCity". In Spore, you start with a single celled organism and play god, directly the course of evolution. Sounds cool!

01 January 2007

Tech: Espresso Book Machine

At the Technology Review, Jason Epstein discusses the evolution of book publishing. He notes that as the book market has become driven by best-sellers, the large catalogue of rare (arguably more interesting) backlisted books is disappearing. One way to solve this problem is to have a device that can print and bind books automatically given an electronic file (just like how you can print Physical Review articles from .pdfs on your home laserjet). It turns out that machine has been invented. It's the Espresso Book Machine.

Ergonomic input devices recommended by ExtremeTech

I read some reviews at ExtremeTech about keyboards and mice. They recommend the SafeType Keyboard for ergonomic keyboarding. Their recommendations for ergonomic mice are the Zero Tension Mouse and the Quill Mouse (renamed to Aerobic Mouse?). The principle behind all of these devices is vertical positioning of the hand. That seems realistic for mice, but can anyone type with their hand in a vertical alignment?! ExtremeTech claims it's possible after a week or so of practice.