Sunday, August 31, 2008
Behind the Scenes at Snapple Facts Writers Room - Watch more free videos
There's one that just came out on that site called "London from above, at night" that is truly spectacular. Check it out.
Saturday, August 30, 2008
You never really notice that you're getting a sunburn until it's far too late. I found that out, yet again, yesterday. I remembered to put sunscreen on my upper body, but neglected to remember my legs. My shins and knees are a light red; not too bad all in all. I regard sunburns as trophies in an odd way. Not really, but there has to be some positive you can take from them.
I also noticed that I actually like going to the beach, which is the complete opposite of how I felt when I was much younger. The beach when you're a kid is boring once you're done swimming and making sand castles. I noticed that a lot of kids were also bored at the beach. I wanted to go up to them and say "Hey, it gets better when you're older," but then I figured that since no one told me that, it's probably better if they learned on their own. I think experiencing 40 hour work weeks will do them some good in that department.
I'm heading up to Framingham, MA tomorrow to pick up some clothes and other items that used to belong to my late grandfather. Not exactly a fun trip, but it's a necessary one I suppose.
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
Personally, I'm for privatization. A core belief of the traditional conservative attitude is that, if a government doesn't have to run something, it probably should be privatized. The catch has historically been where to draw the line, which is a constant debate. Public utilities, like the sewer system, are usually run by town government, but why not privatize?
A lot of people are afraid of privatization. Many call certain movements, like the privatization of social security, outright dangerous. I think it's a bit naïve to outright fear all forms of privatization. Yes, there are instances where the government is the proper facilitator. But those situations must be clearly defined, or else all the government really has to do is say "It's for the common good, and we have the people to do it." Makes sense, until you take the Constitution into account.
But that's another argument for another post. What I want to talk about is how privatization can be, and more often than not is, a good move. Private companies often come in with far more efficient systems than public utility organizations, and the bid process historically drives competition between companies.
The fear is primarily that private companies, being driven by profit, will charge more if they are a monopoly. It's a legitimate concern, but it also works in the public's favor. If they were to lose the contract as a result of drastic overcharging or poor service, it would cost them a bundle, perhaps even their businesses in total. So, what you need is careful oversight, which can and is performed by the government. That's a great use of government and benefits the public. But private companies, on the whole, do a better job than a non-competitive government organization.
With privatization, you often end up saving money because of the efficiency. Sure, companies will be looking to make a profit, but the net cost is often lower. It's simply because of competition, which is simply not there with government agencies. With the way many modern governments are structured, the bureaucracy gets in the way so often that it's not even worth it to complain. If you have a private company, customer service is often part of their business.
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
In the summer of 2006, I was an intern in the same group in which I am now a salaried engineer, so I've seen the company from a couple angles. I'd just like the share a few observations I've made about the job so far:
- People are remarkably territorial. Whether it's an individual or a group, doling out work is sometimes more of a chore than doing the work. It's amazing to see how people quibble over who owns what. If there's not a formal document saying "You need to provide this," then most of the time, unless there's an order from high above, it doesn't get done without a fight.
- Engineers are mostly quite funny. I work with some great characters. I started off in a different group and moved over, and that group was filled with some characters. Despite the reputation of lacking personality, there are a surprising amount of engineers with great senses of humor. It makes the day go by faster.
- Never assume some one does or does not know what you are talking about. I'm often shocked at how some people make grand assumptions about what I or some one else knows. I've seen it go both ways. I had a guy go through a five minute bit on something about which I had no clue. At the end I told him, and he gladly explained. But I've also had a guy just start explaining something to me, only to find out that I had explained it to the person who had explained it to him. However, 90% of the time, they assume you know more than you do. It's up to you to let them know, which is fine.
- Taking time off is awesome. When I first started working, I was almost distraught at how I'll likely never see the luxury of long school breaks in the summer and winter. But then I realized that, all told, I can have as much as 42 days off, which only includes vacation, holidays, and "school time" that I get for taking classes (which are paid for 100% by the company). If I were to use up all of my sick days it would be 52 days. But with the flexibility, I've realized that being able to choose my days off is pretty awesome.
- If you don't look busy, you're not busy; if you do, then you are. I didn't want to believe this, but it's true. If you just pretend to look busy, you rarely get grief. But if you work hard on something and decide to take a quick break, and are caught slacking off, then whatever hard work you put into something is negated. I had the same problem when I worked at a pizza parlor in high school. This is primarily just when managers catch you; co-workers rarely care. With engineering, though, there is a catch-all eventually; if you do poor work, people will eventually know.
- Budgets and schedules often get in the way of good engineering, and vice versa. Good engineering involves a tremendous amount of trial and error, also known as "development." But with all the money wrapped around schedules and contracts, engineers are pushed to get things done far more quickly than reality allows. A lot of the time and energy is devoted to maintaining schedules and dealing with falling behind.
- Big companies are slow to change, but are remarkably resilient. Despite the advances in technology, it seems as though my company operates about 5-10 years behind the leading edge. We use e-mail a lot, and we have web meetings, but we can't use instant messaging, and a lot of software we use is outdated (we still use Internet Explorer 6, and will likely stay using it for the foreseeable future). But, despite that, we do a good job doing what we do, and the job still somehow gets done.
- Young engineers and old engineers think drastically differently about meetings. I like to get in, get through everything as quickly as possible, and get out of a meeting. Most of the time, things are discussed at meetings that don't need to involve the time or attention of every one involved. But, after a while, you realize that listening to those discussions can be beneficial in the long run. But still, there are the meetings that are held "just to be held." Those can get annoying, but older engineers seem to love having them to yell about stuff. That can be entertaining, so long as you're not getting yelled at.
- Face to face conversation is still the best way to get things done. E-mail may have its benefits, such as in providing vast amounts of information, but when you really want to do something with that information, there's no better way than face to face conversation. The next best option is voice to voice, or phone, conversation.
Overall, it's been a good learning experience so far.
Saturday, August 23, 2008
This experience can easily be broken into two parts. The first was the phone call(s) to AppleCare describing the problem. The second: the repair process. Let's just say one outshined the other in excellence like nothing before, and it's not the one you may think.
Stage one: the phone calls. I called up AppleCare and waited 15 minutes to talk to a representative. I forget her name, but she was very nice. I described the problem: I could connect to my router and the internet via the wireless card (AirPort), but not via ethernet. She ended up having me go through the same procedure which I had done a few times on my own, which was to unplug everything, including the router and cable modem. Well, as I was unplugging it, I remembered that the cable modem also powered the phones...
Fifteen minutes later I had another representative on the phone, named Barry. After describing the problem, Barry told me he was going to transfer me over to the "Multimedia" department. I thought that sounded bogus, and asked Barry point-blank: "Are you sure that's the right department?" Barry paused, then muttered "Yeah," then 15 minutes later I was on the phone with Matthew in that department. After describing the problem, Matthew told me that his department dealt with wireless issues, and that the group from which I had been transferred was the right one. I was pissed, and conveyed that to Matthew, who was exceedingly helpful despite it not being his expertise.
After some time, I was transferred to a hardware specialist. We tried a bunch of stuff (outside of just unplugging everything), and he eventually told me (as I had long expected to be told) that my Macbook would need to be repaired. He then set me up with the mail-in repair service, and told me it would take a day or two for the box to arrive.
That was Sunday night at ~9:00PM. On Tuesday morning, the box arrived. I got home from work later in the afternoon to happily see it on the doorstep. It contained everything I needed, which was mostly packaging material to send my Macbook in. No cost to me.
Stage Two: I mailed the box via DHL, which was interesting because apparently the only DHL shipping centers in my area are at Walgreen's. I took Wednesday afternoon off, and ran a couple errands before starting the mini-vacation. The first stop was at the Walgreen's down the street from my office. It only took a few minutes, and the box was off. That was Wednesday at 1:30PM.
Thursday at 12:00N I received an e-mail saying the box had arrived at the repair center in Memphis, TN. My guess is, like UPS, DHL has a contract with Apple to do repairs at their facilities. I was happy to see that it had arrived so quickly.
Thursday at 11:15PM I received an e-mail saying that the repair was finished and that the box was being shipped out. I was quite impressed.
Not as impressed as when I saw the FedEx (yes, FedEx this time) truck arrive at 10:30AM on Friday morning with my repaired Macbook. I ran in and plugged it in to test the ethernet. No problem. I am writing this post whilst connected to the internet solely via ethernet.
Overall, if I were to grade this experience, I'd have to give two separate grades. I'll give a B- to the phone calls, mostly because of Barry. Lying to the customer is lame, Barry. But I'll give the repair service a solid A. It was blazingly fast and got the job done. Well done, AppleCare.
Friday, August 22, 2008
The weather was fantastic. Sunny, not too hot, with a gentle breeze at the top. It didn't take me long to make it up to the top, which isn't that high but the view is still really good. You can see all the way to New Haven, which is interesting. At the bottom of the post are some pictures I took from my phone's camera.
But the strangest part of the trip was on the road. More specifically: the road that Sleeping Giant State Park is on: Mount Carmel Avenue. Apparently, at the corner of Mt. Carmel Ave and New Road, they put in a stop sign. I found this out when I almost ran completely through it.
View Larger Map
Fortunately for me, there was no one turning. That wasn't the case when I left. On my way back, I stopped going the other way, and got a front row seat to an accident. A girl of around 18 or 19 was driving a Volkswagen Jetta and ran through that same stop sign and nailed a guy in a Honda Element turning left. She hit the brakes at the last second, but the damage was done. I don't think any one was seriously injured, though the driver of the Element, an older guy with his teenage son, was pretty shaken up. He might've hurt his neck. I pulled over and walked over to see if every one was OK. The girl was pretty calm, though she panicked a bit on the phone with her mother. But she did calm down, which was good to see. I stuck around until the police showed up, along with the fire department and ambulance, then was allowed to leave without having to give an account of what I saw. It was pretty clear-cut: the girl ran the stop sign. I empathized, though, since I had almost done the exact same thing just a few hours earlier. I told her that and I think it helped a little.
A guy with a walking stick, I'd guess he was in his mid 50's, walked over and I chatted with him for a bit. We both agreed that stop sign was poorly placed. My guess is that they'll give drivers more notice of the stop by making a bigger "STOP AHEAD" sign on that road. It's in a poor place either way; in Massachusetts there wouldn't even be one there. It's a main road; who'd have thought they'd need one? Anyway, I hope every one was OK.
Thursday, August 21, 2008
Sunday, August 17, 2008
Most of my job involved the delivery of various pizza-oriented food. Mostly pizza, calzones, and sandwiches. It's a tough job at first, but once you get used to it, it can actually be quite nice. My favorite time to deliver was when it was just busy enough to keep me on the road, but not crazy. I always loved delivering at night when the traffic was low and there was a ballgame on the radio. Nothing quite like it.
Last night, I had to pick something up at Best Buy, and decided afterward to try out a place called Bella Napoli in Stratford. It is owned by the same family that ran the pizza place I worked at; I worked for the manager. I didn't see him last night, but the place looked and smelled almost exactly like the place I worked at.
After taking my food to go (chicken parm sandwich; always a favorite), on my drive home, I thought "I miss the pizza industry." Then, a thought popped in my head: what if I went back in part time? It would have to be during the summer, when I'm minimally busy with school and work. I'd only do it for a couple nights a week, mostly for free food. And, I don't want to do delivery. It's too much wear and tear on my car, and I wouldn't know the roads (meaning I'd need to relearn everything; something I don't want to do). I'd just take orders in-house and help out with the phones and whatnot. My guess is their POS (Point of Sale) system is almost identical to the one I'm used to.
I'll let the thought stew for some time. I wouldn't make any move for almost a year, anyway. My guess is, when next summer comes, I'll have forgotten all about this. Still, it might be fun.
Saturday, August 16, 2008
We took the train in to Grand Central Terminal and arrived at around 9:15AM. Since the route went basically right through Grand Central, we hopped right on and went from 42nd Street all the way down to the Brooklyn Bridge, and back. The round trip distance was about 7 miles.
There was quite a bit going on along the way, which was nice, but the best part of it all: the quiet. It was amazing. We walked right down Park Ave in midtown, and it was almost dead quiet except for the people biking by and traffic off in the distance on other streets. There were certainly a lot of people on bikes; we felt like the minority. Most people on foot were jogging or running. And, for some reason, we had a few near collisions with novice bicyclists who thought "On your left" really meant "On your right." My buddy Scotty, an avid bicyclist, was nearly clipped twice as he moved out of the way, only to find out that the guy on the bike was actually coming from the other direction. Dangerous!
Overall, it was a great time. The weather was fantastic, nice and sunny, not too warm. It was a bit crowded, especially on the Brooklyn Bridge, but it was definitely worth it. The train ride back was interesting, but Summer Streets was wicked fun. I dare say, it was wicked pisser.
Here are a few pictures I took from my cell phone's camera:
Thursday, August 14, 2008
If you look at it from a culture standpoint, tomatoes are vegetables. Why else would they be considered so for so long? It's not like people were too backwards back in the 1800's to figure it out. If you can invent a steam engine, you can determine whether or not something is a fruit or a vegetable. I trust my history.
But think of it in this specific way: salads. Let's say you walk into a restaurant with a friend for lunch. You sit down and decide to order salads. You order the house salad, and your friend orders the house salad with fruit. Better yet, they order the fruit salad. Guess which one comes with tomatoes? Ah yes, the house salad, most likely. What about the fruit salad? Any tomatoes there? I doubt it. If people who handle tomatoes professionally consider it just another vegetable, I'm not going to argue with them.
The verdict: despite what science has proven, tomatoes are vegetables in modern culture.
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
"Although Obama is offering a new series of tax breaks, they undermine rather than improve economic incentives. First, whether or not you get those breaks will depend on your income. In Washington, taking away tax breaks as families work harder to make more money is called a "phase-out." Economists have a different name for it—we call it a tax. Reducing a person's tax credit as his income goes up also reduces his incentive to earn more income."
That last sentence in particular is pretty powerful. The typical conservative mentality, to which I subscribe, is that certain taxes are necessary to help the government do what it is bound by in the Constitution, but having people pay more taxes than their fair share is wrong. If you earn more money in today's society, you generally pay more taxes. Sure, there are tax breaks that the wealthy can get, but the general trend is: you make more, you pay more. Politicians like to make it seem "fair" that way.
But how does that fit into the psychology of the average American worker? Let's say you are on the cusp of breaking into a new tax bracket. You won't necessarily be paying a whole lot more in taxes (which might not be true because of the AMT and other taxes, but let's just stick with the standard federal tax schedules) because you're actually taxed on your last dollar earned, but you may feel like you're paying a lot more if you're put into the higher bracket. It's all about incentives.
What is a fair share? A lot of people say "If you earn more money, then you should have more money to contribute." That's a fair assessment, but that is assuming you have the same cost of living as those who earn less. Let's say you earn $1,000,000 per year before taxes. You probably live in a nicer home and in a nicer area than some one earning $50,000. That is also an assumption, but it is also more realistic. "Nicer" areas tend to be more expensive with cost of living, as they typically involve higher property taxes, food cost, etc. Nicer homes also cost more to maintain, and you don't get to deduct all of those expenses off your taxable income. Sure, you can deduct mortgage interest payments, but that's not a tax credit, so you are still paying a bit more than others.
But, it is still true that, in total dollars, wealthy people have more money to set aside. But is it fair for them to have to give that money to the government just because they earned it? The top earners pay nearly 50% of their income in taxes. There are many Americans who pay virtually nothing.
There is a legitimate concern when it comes to charity. People with money should give what money they can to help the needy. But is that legally binding? Who says all of that money goes to help the needy? Just look at the U.S.'s biggest spending items: defense and healthcare. Sure, health care does involve a tremendous amount of spending on those who cannot afford the care, so there is some charity in there. But should a millionaire be spending more on a gun for a Marine than some one earning $50,000?
And aren't there plenty of private charities who do a whole lot better at helping the needy than the Federal Government? Shouldn't people be allowed to free up some of their tax payments to give money to them? You should not legislate for mandatory charity. People with money often donate, and they're often smart enough to find the best charities. Think of it like a free market for charities.
Here comes the reality check: there are far fewer wealthy people than middle and low income people. It comes down to votes. If you are a politician who seemingly favors the rich, you may get their vote and economic support, but you may still end up losing to your opponent who wins over the majority. There's nothing wrong with that politically; it's a simple game of numbers. That's where "fairness" is lost.
Personally, I agree with the late Barry Goldwater: every one should pay the same percentage of their income. If the Federal government can't afford that, maybe they should watch how they spend their money. A lot of people talk about the "Fair Tax" and the "Flat Tax." These are programs designed to make it fairer for higher income earners to pay more equivalent taxes when compared to lower income earners. Both of these programs have issues, but both have the right idea.
It just doesn't seem right to say "America needs to progress," but have a tax plan that punishes those who earn more. Compelling people to be charitable is not fair, and isn't charitable. I don't have an answer to this, but I'm sure some genius economist will come up with something. I hope.
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
Here's something from StreetFilms:
Monday, August 11, 2008
I don't know what to make of these things. Part of me thinks it's a really cool concept. You can have a conversation with some one without all the hassle of holding the phone to your ear. It may just save your arm a lot of work.
But another part of me thinks people who wear them look crazy. If you think about it: unless some one sees that you are wearing the headset, which seem to be getting smaller and smaller, they may think you're crazy.
But then I thought: "Hey, these things are catching on. How else could they be used? Could they be used to solve a social problem?"
Of course, the answer is a resounding yes. I'm going to borrow/steal a joke here (if you've heard the joke before, put down the joke's owner in the comments for my reference):
Donate old headsets to homeless or crazy people. If you've ever walked the streets of Manhattan, you'll see the crazy people. They often seem to be shouting angrily at some one who wronged them in April of 1988. They tend to stick out. But, if you were to go up them and say "Hey, this doesn't make calls, but you'll get the same amount of attention and you'll look more hip," then give them a donated hands-free headset, wouldn't you be doing these people a service?
You'd be doing a few things with this:
1) You'd get more use out of the devices. If some one wants to throw theirs away for a new one, why just throw them out?
2) You'd be helping a crazy person not look so crazy.
3) You'd be helping the people who use them to make phone calls feel like they fit in by flooding the market.
That last bit might not be entirely good, as the people who use them may want to stick out a bit. But hey, it's an idea.
Sunday, August 10, 2008
Friday, August 8, 2008
But the Olympics in China are finally upon us. There seemed to be a tremendous uproar a while ago with all the "Free Tibet" campaigning going on during the torch running, but that really quieted down after a while. Then there was the earthquake and all the aftermath of that, but that quieted now. Now there's the issue of air quality, water pollution, heat, etc. There just seems to be a lot of negativity surrounding these games. China is hoping these games will help put them on the world stage as a serious power, yet a lot of countries are criticizing their human rights policy.
If you look back at just the past Summer Olympics, when was the last time we had such political fervor surrounding the games? Here's a list, in reverse chronological order:
2004 – Athens
2000 – Sydney
1996 – Atlanta
1992 – Barcelona
1988 – Seoul
1984 – Los Angeles
1980 – Moscow
1976 – Montreal
1972 – Munich
1968 – Mexico City
1964 – Tokyo
1960 – Rome
1956 – Melbourne
1952 – Helsinki
1948 – London
1944 – London (canceled)
1940 – Helsinki (canceled)
1936 – Berlin
1932 – Los Angeles
1928 – Amsterdam
1924 – Paris
1920 – Antwerp
1916 – Berlin (canceled)
1912 – Stockholm
1908 – London
1904 – St. Louis
1900 – Paris
1896 – Athens
The ones that stick out easily are the 1936 Berlin games and the 1980 Moscow games. Both involved countries with a lot of military might (one of whom would use it in the following years). The Moscow games were boycotted by many countries, including the United States, which was a reaction to the Cold War.
But is China like the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany? Sure, it's still communist, and had been allied with the Soviets, but it's become such an economic entity that it's really difficult to say how much longer pure communism could last, if it can even be considered still in use there. China has enemies, that's for sure, and they are on the rise. Could these Olympic games serve as a repeat of the 1936 games? But this time, instead of a physical invasion, could the Chinese instead become economic invaders, continually investing more and more into the debts of larger nations?
Who knows. All I do know is: I'm looking forward to these games. I'm not going apeshit over them, but it would be nice to see some top notch table tennis. It's a highly underrated game in this country. Paint the line!
Thursday, August 7, 2008
A couple things come to mind, like that scene in Timecop where the bad guy gets pushed into himself from the past. Basically, the whole thing was you can't have the same matter touch itself, or something like that. It was a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie. Man, whatever happened to that guy? Anyway, I thought of that scene because I figured there could be the possible situation where some one driving another car would do the opposite thing that I would think of (as I am accustomed to other drivers thinking differently than me). It could be disastrous.
But then I thought that it might be better if people just thought like I would in their particular situation. It would all depend on where they were going, if they were in a hurry, or their general mood. With all those factors put into play, I wouldn't be surprised if it weren't really all that different.
Tuesday, August 5, 2008
Across the street from the Bruegger's Bagels is a Patriot Bank. It opened not too long ago (I'm not sure when, I'll guess less than six months ago), and apparently some members of the community weren't too thrilled. For several weeks, there was a group of guys sitting at the corner protesting the bank for its name. Its very name was the issue. The odd part is that it's right next to a Bank of America, which has received a lot of criticism in the recent past for its loosely/poorly managed $500 line of credit program (which allowed illegal immigrants to get free money). But, the issue these protesters had was the use of "patriot" in the name. My guess is these men were Veterans. I'd drive by and give them a thumbs-up and honk my horn.
I honked my horn because I agree with them on at least one point: America needs to stop selling out patriotism. I'm mostly concerned with all those sales you see during federal holidays like Memorial Day, Independence Day, and others. It's enough that there are so many sales around holidays. Now we're trying to find deals during "Independence Week"?
Don't get me wrong: I love capitalism. I think it's done great things for America, so maybe it does have a place in our celebrations in some way. But I also think we need to keep some things more sacred. Watering down all of the federal holidays by creating bogus ad campaigns around them can make people forget what that holiday is supposed to be celebrating. What I'm really trying to say is: Martin Luther King didn't want people to remember him by buying a goddamn Honda.
Monday, August 4, 2008
For over a year now I have been following a soccer club in the English Premier League (formally known as the Barclay's Premier League) called Tottenham Hotspur. I'm not exactly sure what started me on this prolonged soccer binge (the World Cup is the likely culprit), but I'm rather enjoying it. I watch a lot of soccer now, at various levels. I'm not quite a fan of MLS, but if a game is on and there's nothing else to watch, I'll tolerate it for a while. I mostly follow EPL games and games from Spain's La Liga. Serie A in Italy is also pretty good. I'm not so sure about South American leagues, though Brazilians play some crazy games. I even found myself watching a lot of the Toulon Tournament, which featured a lot of young talent.
The Premier League's season begins next Saturday, August 16th, and my club is looking pretty good. We've brought in some big names, which might help the fact that we lost my favorite player on the team, Irish National Team Captain Robbie Keane, who very recently signed for Liverpool. Spurs is a team that really struggled last year in its defense, despite having a good defensive structure on paper. I think what Spurs management did this off-season was to try to strengthen the midfield, which helps the defense out by slowing the pace of opposing players. Grabbing David Bentley from Blackburn was a great move. I think he'll really help.
As far as offense goes, Spurs was far from lacking last year. Though star striker Dimitar Berbatov could very well end up leaving the team, there's still Darren Bent at the front. He's had a great pre-season, and I hope he can continue his run of form when the season begins. Spurs lost to Middlesbrough at the start of last season, so a win to start off the campaign would be nice. (Can you tell how authentic I am trying to make all this with the language I'm using?)
Some say Spurs should improve upon last year's mid-table finish and might crack the top five, but I really hope we can get into the top four. The "Big Four" (Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool, and Arsenal) are tough to beat, but if Spurs can get some momentum going and try to cut down on goals allowed, I really think they can do well this year. They're in Europe again (that means they'll be competing for a UEFA cup title) with their successful run at the Carling Cup last season, so a good showing there would be nice.
If you're looking for a more in-depth analysis of the team, I highly recommend the "Cock on Ball" podcast (the name is derived from the Tottenham Hotspur logo, which is a soccer ball with a rooster standing on top). Those guys are hilarious.
Come on you Spurs!