Monday, December 29, 2008

getting started?

I have a fear that I’m going to break my neck, or suffer from some other really bad injury if I attempt a headstand. This is why I’ve delayed attempting this goal. However, that fear may be irrational. So I’m going to take a stab at this, and go very slowly.

I also want to be able to do a handstand, which seems easier than a headstand to me. I found a website that recommended working your way from a headstand into a handstand, so perhaps the latter is more difficult. In any case, they suggested to get started by placing your hands on the ground next to a wall and stepping up the wall with your feet.

This evening, I did this with my face to the wall, and got to about a 45 degree angle. Then I rested there for about 30 seconds, and came back down.

I’ll try doing this on a daily basis. The idea is to get my nervous system to adjust to balancing in this way, and to test my upper body strength. I lift weights for strength training, but I don’t lift anywhere near my bodyweight over my head. I also have had some minor shoulder injuries. I don’t want to make those flare up, so I will proceed cautiously.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

A story about "My French Coach"

by Ubisoft

I’ve been using My French Coach for two days and I’m already up to the rank of “First Grader”. I think I’m progressing so fast because I wasn’t ranked correctly in the first place. I also think it’s too easy to progress. For example, I might be exposed to a word ten times in various games, and then I’m assumed to have “mastered” the word. In fact, that’s not really the case. I may be able to pick the correct translation in a multiple choice quiz, but if I were asked to translate the word without any hints, I might be unable to. And if I did get it right, I might still get the spelling incorrect.

Despite that, I’ve spent at least 4 hours over the last couple of days playing with the gadget. So far as motivation goes, it seems to be working.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

finished The Traveller (rated 5 stars)

by John Twelve Hawks

I was only slightly disappointed when I finished The Traveller. I felt like the book was wandering a little bit towards the end, but maybe that’s my own fault for not reading it straight through. Regardless, I’m eager to get started on book two, The Dark River.

A story about "My French Coach"

by Ubisoft

I got a Nintendo DS for Christmas, along with Ubisoft’s My French Coach.

When initializing, the game tests you to start you at the correct level. I started at level 10, which sounds great! But they give that level a rank of “Pre-Schooler”. Oops!

I didn’t read the manual before starting, but jumped right in. I give the game kudos for how easy it was to start.

The software consists of learning modules and game modules. Mostly, I’ve been playing four games: word search (hunt for French words in a square matrix of letters); a whack-a-mole style game where you bop the critters holding the French word that matches the English word you are hunting; a multiple choice quiz game where you’re given an English word and a set of four French words to match it with; and a similar word match game called “Flash Cards” which isn’t really flash cards. In the Flash Cards game, you are given a French word, sometimes spoken and sometimes written, and then given a choice of four English words with which to match it. So the multiple choice game and the flash card game are similar, but differ in which direction you are translating to/from.

Will I become fluent in French by playing this game? I do not think so. However, I have found that my motivation in studying French is sporadic at best. In contrast, I know that I can obsessively play video games for hours. So much so, that I have stayed away from video games for many years, since I tend to be unable to play them in moderation. And indeed, in the last 24 hours of possessing this game, I’ve played it for about two hours.

My hope is that this will be a good motivational tool, to drive me to pick up my French text books more often. I think the interactivity will help in keeping me interested. Time will tell.

I have to be wary of the temptation to buy a “real” video game module for my new Nintendo DS. One of my nieces was playing MarioKart on her Nintendo, and I asked her to show it to me. It was quite a lot of fun! I can see myself ejecting “My French Coach” in favor of a mindless video game and never coming back to it. Maybe I could play just for a little while…

removing SBC Self Support Tool

A year ago I was using SBC/Yahoo high speed internet. That service was fine, but when I moved, it was unavailable in my area. So I switched to Verizon.

I never cleaned up all the stuff that SBC/Yahoo installed on my PC. This morning, I found a directory called "C:\Program Files\SBC Self Support Tool". In that directory was a program called "Uninstall.exe". When I ran that, a dialog box popped up, telling me to use "Control Panel" > "Add or Remove Programs" to uninstall. But the Control Panel did not show any sign of the SBC Self Support Tool.

I did an internet search and found a suggestion to use Windows Live Safety Center Cleanup. I went to their site, and found myself facing a T&C form, scratched my head about that, and surfed away to look for another suggestion. Fortunately, I found Todd George's instructions. The Uninstall.exe program requires the argument "SBC". So I ran it like this:

C:\>"C:\Program Files\SBC Self Support Tool\Uninstall.exe" SBC

and it worked. A dialog popped up telling me the uninstall was in progress. At some point I got another dialog telling me to shut down all browsers, which I did. I also got another message telling me

Uninstall was unable to remove the following folder -

C:\Program Files\SBC Self Support Tool\SmartBridge

Please delete it manually after Uninstall is finished.

After the uninstall was complete, I found that the "SBC Self Support Tool" directory was not completely empty. There's still a subdirectory called "MFSS" which seems to contain an html manual for the internet service, support tool, etc. I don't mind deleting that... the SmartBridge directory has a dll file called SBHook.dll. Maybe I'll just leave it there.

it really is "a wonderful life" (rated 5 stars)

by George Cukor

I first watched Holiday many years ago, and since then it’s my favorite Christmas film. It’s a simple romantic comedy starring two greats, Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn. But its message is resounding: money is a means to an end, and nothing more. On top of that, Holiday is bursting with cheer. It always amazes me that It’s a Wonderful Life, which is so dreary and depressing, enjoys such success in contrast.

Friday, December 26, 2008

oh... too many cookies

My sister made Christmas cookies. They were good, but I went overboard.
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Tank seventy

Total miles: 25526. Trip miles: 363.8. Gallons: 7.327. Price per gallon: $1.639.

Screen mileage: 53.0 mpg. Tank mileage: 49.7 mpg.

Two long highway trips. Not bad for winter driving!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Tank sixty-nine

Total miles: 25162. Trip miles: 110.7. Gallons: 2.945. Price per gallon: $1.639.

Screen mileage: 37.1 mpg. Tank mileage: 37.6 mpg.

I tanked up early, since I was going on a long trip.

All of these miles were short commutes. There were a few days when a thick layer of ice had accumulated on the windshield, and I had to sit with the engine running, waiting for the ice to melt. This accounts for the relatively bad mileage.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

over 220K

I did over 220K meters for the Holiday Challenge this year, amounting to just over $7 for Conservation International. I sputtered out today, since I went to a friend's house for dinner, which left me no time for rowing.

It was very motivating that my meters went towards a contribution to a charity. Usually I stop at exactly 200K and collapse in a weak puddle of sweat for a few days. If I have time I'll do a few more km in the morning...

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

switched to digital television

I delayed as long as possible getting a converter box for my 10-year-old television set. But a few months ago, I finally applied for the coupon.

Getting the coupon itself was an adventure. When I applied, I was refused; they claimed I had gotten a coupon already. Not so! I had moved into my current apartment in May. I figured the previous resident must have applied for the coupons, and a simple appeal explaining the situation would do the trick. My appeal was refused without explanation.

So I asked one of my friends to apply for me and finally I got a coupon. I wandered over to RadioShack and picked up a $60 converter box. With the coupon, it came to $20, and I'm still ticked off that I had to pay anything at all for the continued privilege of getting broadcast television.

I found that when using a coupon, they record your contact information, and felt vaguely criminal since my info won't match that on the coupon... it should be interesting if the FBI comes knocking at my door.

The converter box has been lying around my apartment for the last two weeks, since I've been too busy to try it out. But a few days ago, I noticed that my tv had stopped picking up the local FOX station. I thought it must be a temporary glitch, and anyway they were doing reruns, so I just waited a few days. Then I noticed that this evening there was a new episode of House scheduled at 8 pm. So I tried picking up FOX again, and the signal was still out. After a quick search, I found that FOX has switched to digital early (reportedly by accident).

I didn't want to miss House, so at 7:45 pm, I fiddled around with some wires and got my converter box set up. Voila... but no FOX. I got a couple of new channels, which look like nothing very interesting, but FOX was missing. So I tilted my rabbit ear antenna in the direction usually required to get FOX, and tried the "EZ Add" feature on the converter box. And it worked! House is coming in clear as a bell, and I'm recording it on my video recorder as I type this. However, I've noticed that my video recorder has to be tuned to channel 3 to pick up the box's signal, which means I can't use the recorder's timer. If I can't find a solution to that, I'm screwed and I'll have to go buy a new VHS recorder. This is one new technology I could have done without.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

people... put your rss out there

It's been a major while since I checked out Moby's blog. In the usual internet manner (i.e. surfing from one link to the next), I found myself visiting over there today. It is mildly entertaining and his posts made me unrealistically nostalgic for my tenure in NYC. I thought it might be fun to obsessively track his postings, at least for a while, so I decided to add his rss to my feed.

Except, I couldn't find his rss link. I did a text search on his blog page, and the word rss does not appear there. Oddly, that was the second time today that I found an ostensibly commercial blog that I wanted to keep tabs on which did not supply me with an obvious rss link! I'm finding it hard to believe Moby doesn't want people obsessively tracking his postings. So Moby, please make it easy on everyone, and add an rss link to your list of bookmarks. I did eventually find it by looking for it in the html source, but I don't think most people are going to bother doing that.

let it snow

All that snow outside makes me wish I were on a ski vacation. I like snow, but mostly when it's in the French alps.

Around 7 pm the snow finally seemed to be tapering off. I read in the Globe that the temperature was going to take a dive tonight, hardening up the snow and making it more difficult to shovel in the morning. So I went out to clean off my vehicle, and shovel it out, which was fun, because I like shoveling.

Once I had my car unblocked, I looked at the wide clean space behind it, and, in contrast, the thick layer of snow blocking in the neighboring car. So I shoveled them out too. I figure this way, I'm less likely to come out in the morning to find my car blocked in by their snow removal efforts... At the moment I feel supremely accomplished and virtuous.

My left shoulder is clearly still a bit hinky due to my daily rowing regimen. I probably overdid it with the shoveling. Hopefully, after a good night's sleep, I'll be back in good form.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Why it's taking me forever to finish consuming "The Traveller"

by John Twelve Hawks

OK, it’s not really taking me “forever” to read The Traveller. But it’s taking me longer than it should, because I am afraid to finish it. There are two reasons. It is just that entertaining, and when I finish it I know I’ll have a hard time finding anything else that good to read. Worse, what if it disappoints? I’m over three-quarters into the book. There have been some minor flaws which I can easily overlook, but it could be a sign of bad things to come. Will the denouement be thrilling? I am afraid to look…

200K and done!

I just completed the Concept2 Holiday Challenge! Easier than expected, no flus or colds to mess me up.

This year, Concept2 is donating some small change to a few charities for each 1K rowed beyond 100K. There are three charities to pick from. I chose Conservation International. So far, I earned $6 for them! Concept2 is donating up to $50K, and they're only at $18K as of today, so I'll keep rowing as much as I can until the deadline, to direct more money towards CI. Not that the other organizations aren't worthy, but CI is my favorite.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Daughters for Sale

I just finished watching Daughters for Sale, a segment on the PBS show NOW. The program chronicles the practice of child slavery in Nepal:
This week NOW travels to Nepal during the Maghe Sankranti holiday, when labor contractors come to the villages of the area to "buy" the children. There, we meet the Nepalese Youth Opportunity Foundation, which is trying to break the cycle of poverty and pain with an Enterprising Idea. They're providing desperate families with an incentive to keep their daughters: a piglet or a goat that can ultimately be sold for a sum equivalent to that of their child's labor.
It's a heartening story. Three cheers for Olga Murray, who started the work in Nepal that has led to thousands of girls being able to stay at home with their families. And cheers to all the people working for the Nepalese Youth Opportunity Foundation.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Tank sixty-eight

Total miles: 25051. Trip miles: 436.7. Gallons: 8.685. Price per gallon: $1.679.

Screen mileage: 48.2 mpg. Tank mileage: 50.3 mpg.

Partly highway and partly short commutes to work. Temperatures have mostly been around 30 to 40°F.

When I had used around 8.5 gallons, the car gave a piercing beep and the last little square in the gas gauge indicator started blinking. It was alarming, although I suspect I had a couple of gallons of gas left. Fortunately, it wasn't long before I found a gas station with the lowest prices I've seen lately, so I could tank up.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

A review of "JCVD"

by Mabrouk El Mechr

The first Jean Claude Van Damme movie that I saw was Timecop. In one scene, he leaped up from the floor to avoid electrocution, landing in a split on a kitchen countertop – in his underwear, no less (see it in the trailer). I became a fan instantly!

Unfortunately, that was my peak Jean Claude Van Damme experience – until today, when I saw JCVD. I like my mindless action and violence as much as anyone else, and that’s really the most I was hoping for, although I had read a short review which promised more.

Well, this movie delivers. If you need convincing, go read the review at the Washington Post. For someone who is a fan of both the martial arts genre and French film, as I am, JCVD is a dream come true.

for the younger crowd (rated 3 stars)

SPOILER ALERT - this review contains some plot details that you might not want to know if you plan to see the movie.

The Day the Earth Stood Still was only mildly entertaining. It might be more enjoyable for children and teens, or anyone who hasn’t seen the original 1951 movie.

It has been a long time since I’ve seen the original, and I recall liking it. The remake requires way too much suspension of disbelief. The aliens come off almost as dumb as the humans, which I don’t recall in the original.

I refreshed my memory of the original by skimming the synopsis at wiki. In the older movie, the aliens’ motives were more convincing – a fear that humanity would become a danger to alien races. In the current movie, the vague rationalization is that humans are destroying the earth, but the aliens don’t give a strong reason for caring about that. It’s something like “we’re going to kill all humans in order to save the other living species on the planet, and besides, humanity’s going to extinguish itself anyway.” This goes way beyond deep ecology. And they’ve based their conclusions on a perfunctory study of the human race… Another giant plot hole.

Worst of all, in the remake we never hear the magic phrase “Klaatu barada nikto.” Major, major flaw!!

Is it worth seeing this in the theater as I did? Well, if you are going to see it, see it on the big screen, to get all the spectacle (try to ignore all the blatant product placements). Go for a discount matinee, like I did. But if you’re waffling, I’d say don’t bother. Rent the original instead.

Thursday, December 11, 2008


I’m just slightly behind schedule.

My left shoulder started bothering me after rowing about 2K yesterday, so I had to take it really slowly. Today it seems much better. Hopefully, the rest of the Challenge will go smoothly.

Sunday, December 07, 2008


as of yesterday. Feeling confident!

December 2008 - The Traveler

Yesterday, while I was out Christmas shopping, I stopped at a Barnes and Noble to look for a book for December. I hate shopping, and a visit to B&N seemed like a nice reward.

All the recent economic and global turmoil had put me in the mood to read something apocalyptic, paranoid, conspiratorial. However, the touchscreen kiosk was occupied, so I couldn’t even attempt a search. Instead, I just wandered the fiction aisles, looking for something to hit me.

I finally found it at the end of the science fiction area: The Traveler by John Twelve Hawks (who is appropriately mysterious himself).

So far, the book is exactly what I want. Here’s a snippet from p 8, a conversation between the protagonist and a psychiatrist:

Maya still remembered his confusion when she called him a citizen.
“Well, of course I’m a citizen,” he said. “I was born and raised in Britain.”
“It’s just a label that my father uses. Ninety-nine percent of the population are either citizens or drones.”
Dr. Bennett took off his gold-rimmed spectacles and polished the lenses with a green flannel cloth. “Would you mind explaining this?”
“Citizens are people who think they understand what’s going on in the world.”
“I don’t understand everything, Judith. I never said that. But I’m well informed about current events. I watch the news every morning while I’m on my treadmill.”
Maya hesitated, and then decided to tell him the truth. “The facts you know are mostly an illusion. The real struggle of history is going on beneath the surface.”

I am currently cackling with glee at my luck in having struck such gold! Hopefully, the book will not disappoint.