Category Archives: Life - Page 2

A random act of kindness

Last night, around 9 or 10pm, I went to the grocery store. As with other grocery store trips, I had my Palm PDA with me, ready to remind me what sorts of food and sundries I was needing at the time. Unfortunately for my wallet, I ended up with close to $60 in groceries, despite a careful effort to keep to things on sale. My shopping cart was reasonably burdened, yet not full, and it had the two-cupholders plus a handy tray to place a small purse, a stack of coupons, or various toys for a hypothetical child. I placed my PDA there, in that most convenient of places. It was a rather uneventful shopping trip, whose highlight was probably asking the friendly brown haired female bagger at the checkout if her eyes were naturally that color. I was referring to her nicely aquamarine ( a shade of blue) eyes, of course, and she replied that she got that question a lot, but no, her genes were not *that* good, and if I stopped by next month, they might be grey.

Again, a rather uneventful trip. I rolled the cart out to my car, loaded my trunk and wheeled the cart back to the store front (as any dutiful citizen would, when no cart corral was closer). Little did I know that the next day, today, I would be doing yet more cart wheeling and rolling, but with computing goods and with elevators. But, I digress.

It wasn’t until this morning when I looked at my backpack and, finding an open zipper and no PDA within, I wondered where my PDA was. I think it took about sixty seconds for my morning fatigue to be erased and converted to abject horror and acute anxiety. I searched throughout my apartment, but didn’t find it, which wasn’t surprising since I had no recollection of bringing it in from the car. I went to search the car, but returned empty handed, making sense since I had no recollection of taking it from the cart and placing it in the car. And as Sherlock Holmes would say, “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” In my case, the truth was unfortunately that I had left my PDA in the shopping cart at the front of the store for the next lucky customer to utilize.

Now, at this point, I was pretty pessimistic about the whole thing. My nice, shiny PDA was surely more attractive than the average find of leftover coupons normally found in used shopping carts. Sure, it had limited memory and functionality compared to those whizzy PocketPCs, but I for one found the applications more usable, despite having a mostly useless Bluetooth implementation, and a built-in 1-megapixel camera whose noisy sensor was only usably good for 640×480. Anyway, no one would’ve been the wiser (except an absent-minded me), so I honestly started thinking about what I could do about it, knowing that my PDA carried a lot of my most personal information, as all PDAs are designed to handle.

I resolved to go about my day and check the grocery store in the evening. It would’ve been better if I had remembered sooner, but quite honestly, if it’s there the next morning, it will still be there in the evening. So I went about my day, mostly with my head hung low, and if I were in an anime episode, my eyeballs would be blank white sockets and there would be a blue/black aura about me, perhaps with bobbing flames dancing mockingly around.

So, my day came and went, with some productivity here and there, taking delivery of more computing power than I really need (another story), and at the end of the day, I went back to the grocery. I went straight to the customer service area and asked the nice young woman there if anyone had turned in a PDA left in a shopping cart last night. She rooted through a particular cabinet for a moment, and then asked her manager, requesting that I wait for just a little longer. I, already accepting defeat, waited without further worry. Her manager came over and checked a “back room”, and a moment later, I had my PDA in my hand. This was a surprise, and a most pleasant of surprises. I’m sure that winning the lottery is also a pleasant surprise, but hey, dodging a bullet like this is also pretty nice indeed. My heart and my profuse gratitude go toward the kind soul(s) who turned it in to the store authorities. In fact, if you have ever turned in items that have appeared lost, and are wondering whether it was worth your trouble, I assure you, it was. The person who turned in my PDA has my lasting gratitude, and I’m sure that other item-losers (perhaps an unfortunately-worded term) are equally relieved and forever grateful to be reunited with their belongings. There’s no reason for random strangers to cover for mistakes by people like me… no reason but the goodness of the heart.

Experiences like this remind me that there really is goodness in the world. I should have faith in humanity. Good people do exist. News and media often remind us of the problems and badness of reality– hopefully, we should want to fix things rather than despair, lose hope, or find fascination in the lurid– but look here. There is good in the world, and here is an example. Maybe it will do good to celebrate goodness rather than to decry badness.

Anyway, thanks for reading this rather long, and perhaps self-indulgent blog entry. Have a nice day. 🙂

Author sides with Google against her publisher

I’m all for the indexing of books in print. I want to assure the publishers that I will still buy books(if not even moreso), if/when Google Print gets its way.

But read this first. It’s about an author who wants Google Print to index her book so that more people will find her book. Unfortunately, her publisher against it, and rather decided to sue Google instead.

Book author to her publishing company: your lawsuit is not helping me or my book (

It’s interesting. Go read it (well, the article, then you can consider the book).

Please allow me to conclude with my own experience with print and digital literature. I like reading. I always have, but I admit that it sometimes falls by the wayside when I feel stressfully busy. Still, I do like to think of myself as an active reader. To make things concrete, I’m in the middle of Merton’s “No Man is an Island,” Dorfman’s “The Empire’s Old Clothes,” Wong’s “Fifth Chinese Daughter,” and Wells’ “The Invisible Man.” The last of these, I read on my PDA. Ooooh. Digital book. I didn’t pay money for a print edition. Uh-oh. But of the others, one is from the library, and I *did* pay for the others. Would I have paid money for them if they were available free? Maybe. I still buy books that I really should borrow from the library– I doubt anyone has space to store all the books one has read. I could if they were digital, but I do like reading from print rather than screen. I have no idea how digital paper would change things, but right now, I find it much more pleasant to read a book and flip pages. I only read on the PDA because it can go *everywhere* with me.

I also fully support the complete digitization of all books or media out of copyright or in the public domain. Indexing of current works seems fine, too. Instead of the hassle of tricking Google into revealing the book, it might be faster to just scan/photocopy a library’s copy. I side with Google in believing that indexing will surely help book sales. I also believe that copyright terms are already longer than they need to be. If the work has so much lasting appeal, let it one day be free to benefit the public. The author has had ample time to receive her reward, so why not?

This also reminds me of how I have this pop CD I bought when it was cool 5 years ago, and I accidentally damaged it recently, and it’s out of print, so I *can’t* get a replacement copy. Since the CD price has nothing to do with media cost, I *should* be able to get another one minimal cost. But I can’t. Hey, I have a license, what gives? Is the distribution the cost? Then I also wonder how those pirates in China can turn a profit if they pay for production and distribution while charging a dollar a piece.


It’s a mad, mad world.

It’s good to bake bread

As some of you may know, my latest cooking interest is bread. Inspired by the Food network and such anime as Yakitate Japan, my epic adventures began with my trusty copy of Joy of Cooking. I started with “White bread”.

It was exciting. Words cannot describe the abject wonder I beheld before my eyes. It was my first yeast bread, and the fluffiness and mystical yeast-powered rise felt like a magic trick that I would love repeating. I had the same feeling the first time I processed my first roll of black and white film. In hindsight, I didn’t knead the dough long enough, and was too impatient for the last rise, so the bread ended up being a little dense and the structure a little too fine. Anyway, I’ve baked several times since then.

I made the above loaf with whole wheat flour, so I could pretend to be all healthy and “artisan-like”. I used 5 cups of whole wheat and 1 cup of all-purpose, if memory serves. This bread was reasonably flavorful, but I think the heaviness of the whole-wheat flour prevented the dough from developing a higher rise, so it was somewhat dense too (though not as dense as the first loaf). I used the same recipe as “white bread”, with just the flour substitution.

The above loaf was done with a recipe taken from the very same inspiring anime. This was the “easy” recipe that” even the producers of the show” could handle. The strange thing about this recipe is that it’s baked in a rice cooker. Again, I used the whole wheat flour, and the result was crusty, but moist. Again, I was a little impatient and the final rise was a little short.

I’ve baked other loaves too… but I only *occassionally* feel the need to take pictures. You might feel that I already have too many pictures, but this is my blog, isn’t it? 😉

This is my latest bread “creation”. It’s the challah recipe in Joy of Cooking, with 50% whole wheat flour. The loaves don’t look as richly golden as I had hoped, but my oh my, the taste is good. You can see that the loaves are a little squashed and the braids aren’t as round as they should be, and I’m not really sure why. I do know that the dough was pretty sticky even after I finished kneading, but I did knead as long as I was supposed to, and it was indeed pretty elastic. The texture this time is the best I’ve ever done. It’s smooth, moist, and elastic. The crust is nice and crispy but not like the tough armor that many “artisan” breads have. It is that tough baked cladding that I never want in my bread, since it tends to hurt my gums when I bite in.

Anyway, do let me know if you have any tips. I’d like to bake alongside someone who is actually *good* at making bread, so I know where to adjust my technique.


Tea is good

Mmm… if you’re looking for a good tea to try, give Lapsang Souchong a shot. It has a rather unique taste. I can’t really describe it. It’s a little smoky, kind of like a campfire, and has a sort of fragrant leather-like as well. It doesn’t taste like normal tea at all, which might explain why it doesn’t seem to be widely available. Anyway, my coworker Adil introduced it to me, and I liked it enough to buy my own 200g stash at a [tea shop]: . That was more than a year ago, and I had only brewed it a couple times since then. So tonight, I brewed myself a pot. Yum.

I have fond memories of drinking [Tippy Assam]: , at [Betty’s Tea Room in York]: . Yeah, I bought myself a tin of this too. Betty’s, by the way, is a great place to have afternoon tea (with scones and all!). Nowhere else was it as fun to say “I’ll have a Fat Rascal, please.” I saw Fat Rascal on the menu and said to myself, I *have* to get that. So I did. 🙂

Anyway, I have several other tea favorites, but I’ll save those for later. No, I don’t like Earl Grey, since it tastes like soap. Raise your hand if you agree. [Stash Tea]: has an Earl Grey that’s less soapy, so it’s reasonably drinkable, but I can’t say I *like* it. Besides, all the other Earl Greys I’ve tried are practically undrinkably soapy, so maybe the Earl is just a soapy guy.

John Paul II on flickr

I just read an [article about people’s camera-phone photos with the pope]: , and it occurred to me that I could search [flickr]: for those photos. Using Flickr’s tag search, yields a significant number of interesting photos (though not all are relevant).

Here are a few searches, linked for your convenience:

[Photos tagged with pope]:
[Photos tagged with johnpaulii]:
[Photos tagged with john paul]:
[Photos tagged with papa]:
[Photos tagged with wojtyla]:

If you find any more interesting tags, I’d greatly appreciate it if you would post them here.

You can [search Technorati for pope]: as well, but as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words, so the flickr search seemed more interesting.

For those of us following the events around John Paul II’s passing, these pictures can give us an extra glimpse into the atmosphere at the Vatican.

Peace be with all of you.

Pope John Paul II has died

The Holy Father, Pope John Paul II has died and passed on from this life. He was the only pope of my lifetime, and what a pope he has been. I’m not an expert on his life, but I do know he was an inspiration to me and many, many people in this world.

From the horse’s mouth:
[Catholic Online – Vatican Report:Pope John Paul II has Died]:

I notice that there are some typos in the article, but remember, this just happened an hour ago.


Plastic Wrap and Dioxin

I thought the plastic/dioxin thing died down a while ago. Apparently not. Perhaps you’ve seen the email forwarded to you, or maybe you’ve passed it on as well.
The one I got most recently had stuff like this:

*No plastics in micro
*No water bottles in freezer.
*No plastic wrap in micro

It purports to be from Johns Hopkins, and claims to be distributed to the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Also cited in the email is a Dr. Edward Fujimoto from Castle hospital. It’s even says scary stuff like “drips poisonous toxins into the food”.

I love it.

But it’s a hoax. There’s some modicum of truth, but the noise is far greater than the signal. Still, as internet chain letters go, it’s reasonably interesting. The take-home message is that things that it’s not really something to worry about.

Only certain plastics can release dioxin. From the [dioxin homepage]: , “Dioxin is formed by burning chlorine-based chemical compounds with hydrocarbons.” Most household plastic wraps or plastic food containers do not contain chlorinated hydrocarbons. For example, polyethylene, polystyrene, and polypropylene, do not contain chlorine atoms. Polyvinyl chloride (PVC), on the other hand, does contain chlorine. Still, all these polymers are reasonably stable. Unless they burn, they probabaly won’t be releasing anything. Still, if you want to be extra extra careful, don’t heat polystyrene (because free styrene is toxic) or PVC (free chlorine is bad too).

It’s worth noting that most plastic wraps use non-chlorinated polymers (i.e. impossible to make dioxin). Saran wrap *used* to use PVC, but has since switched to something nonchlorinated. I read that Reynolds plastic wrap uses PVC, but I couldn’t get dig up any info for sure. Plastic wrap used by supermarkets or restaurants might be chlorinated. If you’re paranoid, avoid those, even though research hasn’t shown any dioxins ever getting to the food. The moral of the story is: don’t worry about plastic wrap, or just don’t microwave Reynolds or restaurant/deli wrap.

If there’s any danger, it might be from the plasticizers that are added to the plastics to make them more flexible. These are in PVC and polystyrene. They *probably* not be good for you, but at the levels you might get from them, it’s not really a concern unless you habitually incinerate them.

The frozen water bottle thing really has no basis in fact. There. Plastic people say that dioxins only form at temperatures above 700 Fahrenheit.

Have a look at these sites if you need more info.

[Microwave Ovens, Plastic wrap, and Dioxin]:’s take on plastic wraps and microwaves.

[American Plastics Council]: has some good info on [plastic food wrap safety]: and [plastics in microwaves]: and [freezing water bottles]: , but you should note that these pages are from the perspective of an industry group trying to allay public fears and worries, as well as preventing meltdown in their constituent companies.

[Which Plastics Are Safe for Lunchbox use]: has some good summary info on types of plastics and safety, but it’s somewhat paranoid.

For a discussion by concerned parents, you might check [Berkeley Parents Network: Advice about Microwaving]: . It’s really a good source of info, but the presentation is a little difficult to navigate since it’s discussion format.

[Glad]: and [Ziploc]: have both put up FAQs about how their products are safe, and their info seems less politically motivated and more sensical than the Plastics Council info.

I have a question. This is a psychological question. Is the email more credible because of the quote from Dr. Edward Fujimoto? How do you know he’s a medical doctor? Maybe he has a Ph.D. in English. If I told you I’m Dr. Hans Messermeister and I have degrees from Harvard and Yale, how does that make me a food expert, a health expert, or a chemistry expert? Maybe I got a degrees in English. Some quick digging shows that there *is* a Dr. Edward Fujimoto, but he’s a Ph.D, not a medical doctor, and he works at Castle medical center, not hospital, in Hawaii. Here’s a thought. Are people with Japanese names considered more credible than those with, say, more “local” sounding names?

Anyway, feel free to add comments or trackback to this if you have new/different info.

Paul Graham on high school graduation

Paul Graham writes some really good articles. This one is a speech he was going to give at a high school graduation, but got cancelled after he wrote it.

The article: What You’ll Wish You’d Known

I read it, and it was all very refreshing. Lots of good points were made, and lots of real, practical advice. He has a flair for bluntly pointing out things that might be controversial, while explaining them pretty well. I’m a fan. His articles are almost always good reads.

(I was sure he was going to work in a reference to how every programmer should learn lisp, but he didn’t. )

Wiki Wiki Shuttle


I love Wikis.

When you gotta go…


This is probably something you don’t want to see when, uh, nature calls. 😀

(Apparently, snorkeling areas have colorful names, just as ski runs do. This picture is from a sign at Hanauma Bay in Oahu.)