Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Living in China (August 29, 2007)

Yeah I changed the title because the way things are going, I doubt I will be "adventuring" much at all. Most know that I don't really like leaving the house and this whole life-changing move is quite a bit out of character. Even though a few decisions led up to this point, it certainly doesn't affect one's fully developed personality and habits.

Today a fellow teacher and I were escorted to downtown Beijing on a quest to find a power transformer. Yes, it's rather silly, but I brought my Sonicare toothbrush without realizing that it only took 120V power. China is rated for 220V so I had to get an electronic device that would downgrade the power. Yeah the look on the salesman's face was pretty memorable as he scoffed at the notion that we were looking for this item so that I could recharge my toothbrush. Yeah it does indeed say a lot about me in terms of priorities if I was willing to do whatever possible to get my toothbrush to work. I'm big on dental hygiene and from the looks of it, I'm part of a very small minority in this country.

We also went on this little trip to make sure we knew how the bus system worked, so it wasn't all my idea. The bus routes are psycho and there doesn't seem to be any maps anywhere. We took the subway after reaching the outskirts of Beijing and that seemed much more organized, so I would consider people living within the city itself much luckier than us outlying folk. I doubt I'll ever make this same trip again because the outing itself brought no satisfaction to me. The other teacher seemed very happy traveling around, but all I saw was a city being artificially transformed for the Olympics. Who knows what's going to happen after all of the hoopla dies down. I wonder how Atlanta or Salt Lake City looks now that their 15 minutes is over. It just feels as though this country is putting a lot of effort into putting on a good show, but behind the curtain it's still an unorganized mess.

Monday, August 27, 2007

China Adventure (August 27, 2007)

Well I arrived in China after one layover stop in Hong Kong. Yeah, next time I’ll have my mother book me my ticket because evidently I have no idea what I’m doing. I chose Cathay Pacific because that was the airline my family took way back when I was in 4th grade. Obviously, my transpacific airline expectations have greatly changed since that time. I expected a power outlet so I could play video games during the whole flight, but of course my airplane didn’t have a plug, so I got to stare at the back of a seat for the better part of 18 hours. The flight from Hong Kong to Beijing was DragonAir. This airplane also had no power outlet. Next time it will be United or JAL, for I have heard good things about both.

When I arrived in Beijing I got all my luggage and proceeded to the exit, where tons of peeps wait, waving signs to arriving passengers. I looked at each sign as I passed them by and none of them had my name on it. I wandered back and forth numerous times but still no name. I found a corner and attempted to get a wireless connection to perhaps get the telephone number of the school or something; but yes, I am a dumbass, why?
  1. I had just sold my GSM phone prior to leaving the US, but now I’ll probably have to pay more money to get a replacement one here since the market prices for cellies seem to be higher than that those of the US. Yeah I should have just kept what I was used to. Me and upgrading, I swear...
  2. I didn’t write down the phone number of the school or my contact.
So anyway, I did find a wireless access point, but it referred me to a website where you had to pay for minutes, so screw that. While looking around I saw a white chick standing in a corner looking a little shell shocked by all of the Chinese peeps rushing about, so I said “what the hay”, maybe I’ll do something out of character and start up a conversation.

I wandered over to her, parked my cart 3 feet away and started talking. I don’t remember what I said but I did introduce myself, asked her if she spoke English, and asked her if she had found her contact yet. I also revealed that I was looking for mine and I was kinda screwed if my contact didn’t appear. I didn’t interrogate her or invade her personal bubble, but yeah she looked at me like I was out to rob her and behaved like a frightened rabbit while interacting w/ me. So yeah, when I saw this I merely smiled, said “good luck”, and slowly plodded back to my original search route. From her accent, she was European, most likely from Germany, Scandinavia, or some place thereabouts. She was not hot, if anyone cares to know.

So after my 10th lap or so and after 45min of waiting, I bumped into good ol’ Jamie. It turns out he took his lunch break to help his old employer pick me up. It also turns out that my contact was in the dead front of the line waving a sign. I don’t know if I got there too early or if I just didn’t see them when I first passed, but either way… I was escorted to a car and then was driven probably 1.5 hours in a direction away form Beijing. During the car ride I was ignored and not spoken to. I could understand 60% of the conversation and they were just bullshitting, but yeah that seemed a bit awkward. I already knew this, but the driving here is nuts. No traffic laws are obeyed but everyone seems to have the mentality of “Neither you nor I want to get into an accident, but I’m still going to do whatever I want even if it is cutting people off, driving on the wrong side of a street, going into the bike-riding lane and almost hitting a bunch of bikers, etc. It doesn’t seem like accidents frequently occur, but then again, I could see things like fender benders and small bike hits happening all over the place, only with no consequences.

It was also during this time that I saw some of the most random shit ever. We were on a major highwayish street in the middle of nowhere and I saw some cart lady selling random crap on the side of the road. No human being for miles and she was all set up, ready, and waiting for business. Other things were people, for they were everywhere and a lot of the time were very randomly placed. Like we were driving past a torn-down building and there would be a shirtless guy just standing in the rubble with a desktop computer in his hand, or we would drive by a tree and see a guy in a full suit holding a shovel. It was hella bizarre, post-apocalyptic bizarre. Anyway, after we arrived at our final destination, it turns out that I’m not in the capital, but instead in an outlying town/city/suburb called Yanjiao.

I live on the highest floor of a building that has no elevator and the place where the foreign offices are also have no elevators and are on very high floors. I’ll be doing an assload of walking so at least I won’t return fat, but yeah, I’m sure my respiratory system will be irrevocably damaged by the unimaginable amount of pollution. Yes, that’s another thing; my lungs have problems inhaling a lot of the air for it seems more “thick” if that makes any sense at all. Luckily for me, I brought along a painter’s mask so I’ll be wearing that whenever I’m at home.

The computer in my room was very fishy after booting it up. I put in my flash drive, loaded up some scanning software, and discovered that it had a keylogger, viruses, and a bunch of spyware. I don’t know if the keylogger was put there by a virus or the peeps that admin this place, but of course I’m not risking it. I had to spoof the MAC address and assign it a static fake IP to make my lappy workable. I have to go through a web-based authentication process in order to get a connection out, but besides that I think I’m pretty secure. My software firewall is up all the time, and good thing for that, cuz there’s a lot of weird traffic on this network. Probably the funniest part of my assigned computer is that it totally has a pirated version of XP. But the worst part of this network is that the connection bandwidth jumps from DSL-like to some level that’s slower than a modem.

As shown from the pic below, the shower is not separated out from the toilet, so water splashes around everywhere when you use it. This is how mildew grows, so too bad I didn’t bring my Lysol, but at least the toilet is a real one.

Washing Machine
The washing machine is a little portable-looking thing that has tubes running everywhere. It is connected through the sink so it’s totally in my way when I need to wash my face or brush my teeth. Sadly there is no dryer so everything is hung out to dry. I can tell you right now that 80% of my clothes will not survive this ordeal.

Campus Tour
I was given an impromptu tour around the campus the same day I arrived. Weird thing was that there was barely a separation from the town vs. the campus, so again, more random planning on the parts of the city designers.

The manner in which mail is sent and delivered is highly sketchy. I would not recommend anyone sending anything because it will probably get stolen.

Grocery Store
I was shown the location of a grocery store that has fixed prices. Good for that because I hate bargaining. They have a whole crapload of employees, but the weird thing is that they are not there for customer service, but instead they're only there to restock items and to make sure that customers aren’t getting their steal on.

Yeah, I was looking for garbage bags and asked the chick if she had any and she said “no” without even thinking. I talked to a friend and he says otherwise, so I’ll have to go back and do a more thorough check.

Other types of shopping, like for food stuffs sucks. The peeps always ask too many questions and I don’t normally understand all of the words. So yeah, Eureka #2 is that looking Chinese does not play in my favor as people first look at me funny because my accent is more Taiwanese (from my mother), and then they look at me funny again because my Chinese sucks so they think I’m a freakin’ idiot. It will be interesting to see if that improves as time goes on.

The town itself is really dirty. People are everywhere, people are very dirty, and people don’t seem to own soap or mirrors. I had to hold back my gag reflex on more than one occasion. Little 3 wheel bikes that cart you around like mini-taxis are everywhere and they also don't obey traffic laws. Crossing the street is always an adventure.

I have funny story: So when I was leaving the grocery store, I almost stepped into a puddle of what looked like dog piss, but as I followed the trail of pee, it apparently originated from a little boy maybe 3 years old, fuck dirty, who was having his mother scold him while pee was still dribbling down his leg. Goo.

China Adventure (August 25, 2007)

So begins my trip. Reno to LA was delayed for an hour or so, so a 8ish arrival time turned into a 9:15PM one. At 10:35PM I got through getting my ticket and getting my baggage to the security screeners. I’ll have to describe what actually happened because I just had my first Eureka.

The Cathay Pacific lady pointed me towards the general direction of the security screeners after finishing up with my ticketing. There were two large x-ray machines on each side of the International Flight Departure Terminal. I pushed my cart towards one of the machines when a TSA representative swooped in out of nowhere and told me that I had to go and wait in a line that he was pointing to. I glanced around to see an ass-long line on the far end of the room so I obediently flipped a bitch on my cart and plodded my way over to that line. I really should question people more.

So after waiting in line for a bit, another TSA rep wandered by and told me that I was in a line to get to the gates and that it was indeed not a baggage screening line. I asked him if he was sure because one of his compatriots had said otherwise. In a very condescending tone, he told me that I could listen to him if I wanted to, but I would be sorely disappointed if I reached the end of the line that I was currently in. A few Korean peeps around me started repeating my same question to him in very bad English and he repeated himself in an even ruder fashion.

So, I got over to one of the security scanners, but there was no line and the ropes made it seem like the area was blocked off. I asked the TSA person manning the machine where the line started, but he merely waved his hand towards the rope section, not acknowledging that I had even said anything. I went through all of the ropes and ended at a dead end (I had seen this earlier, so this is why I wanted more direction). So yeah, I stood in the middle of a roped line at what seemed to be a dead end looking to the TSA fucknut for some clarification. He looked at me, rolled his eyes, gave a large sigh, and then walked all the way over to where I was to remove that elastic part that was blocking me. Yes, he could have just said, “move the elastic rope out of the way” or some other type of command but what did I get? More condescension. When I reached him he asked me if the bags were unlocked or not in a very annoyed manner. I said in my perfect American accent, “No.” He then asked if I had any firearms in the bags and again, I said “No.” It was during this time that I noticed that his eyes seemed to realize that I was not some foreigner that didn’t know what was going on, but one pissed off local that wanted nothing more than to beat the shit out of him. At this moment, he changed his demeanor and said some shit about having a good flight. I said “yeah…” in the most spiteful tone I could muster and walked away with my patented sideways glare. If this was a restaurant, I would be concerned with getting my food spit on, but in this case, he could just steal any of my belongings I would be as equally pissed. We’ll see if everything makes it to Beijing.

Thinking of it more, I can see it from all of these peeps’ perspectives. They are all ignorant shitheads who hate their jobs and cannot speak a secondary language, especially nothing from any of the Asianic countries. To make matters worse, they have been assigned to the International Terminal where, oh shit, guess what! Everyone speaks a different language as their primary!! I guess it’s where the TSA places the undesirables of their workforce. So yeah…my first Eureka is “Workers in the International portion of the LAX airport see me as Asian and will immediately treat me like I don’t speak English. Also, they treat all International travelers like they are all incompetent dumbasses and will just speak down to them in a louder manner as if the increase in volume with somehow cause a universal translator to be initiated within the air itself.”

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Lord of the Rings Online (MMORPG PC Game 2007)

Yeah, I don't know how I always seem to coax myself into getting yet another MMO to try out, because I always seem to be disappointed by each and every one.

I actually purchased this game a long time ago. I started playing it via a free 10 day trial to see what it was all about, and then promptly decided to try to sell the actual subscription. I obviously failed in that task, so a few months later I got Mr. Laptop and said, "What the hell...maybe they've improved it to make it a little more appealing." That didn't happen.

The bad thing with all of these games is that the more realistic you get it in terms of graphics, the shittier the gameplay becomes. Others that come to mind are EQ2 and Vanguard. Unfortunately for the industry, WoW is the only game of this genre (fantasy) that is actually fun...for a while. Everything is very cartoony but it definitely works, as shown by the million sum subscribers worldwide. The only other games that are different are Planetside and Eve-Online. Tabula Rasa looks promising, but it could just poop out like all the others. I've applied to get into beta, so hopefully I can test it out without having to waste another $53.

If you haven't already guessed, this game was just another clone and a very blah clone at that. It was very close to EQ2 in terms of graphics, quests, abilities, etc. While playing you don't give a flying hoot about your character. It does nothing in terms of "pulling you into the world" of Middle Earth, for I knew I was chillin' on the couch the whole time.
Rating - Low

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Asus F3SV-A1 (2007 Laptop)

So after waiting close to a year for the Santa Rosa core to come out and after being too impatient and getting a MacBook Pro, I finally folded and purchased this laptop for my upcoming trip overseas. I really wanted to get a 8600GT as the vid card, but timing and bad luck prevented that from happening. Overall, I'm satisfied with the system. There are some weird/negative quirks, but I'm sure I can get over it considering that the alternative is more waiting.

Video Card
I've played Stalker, Bioshock, and WoW on this system and all performed quite well. I'm probably most happy with the resolution WXGA+ (1440x 900) which is, in my opinion, the best res for a 15.4" widescreen lappy. Even though I'm not a fan of glossy screens, it's still tolerable.

Hard Drive
I didn't like that it came with a 5400RPM HDD, so I purchased a 100GB 7200RPM HDD separately. It works like a charm and there are no noticeable differences from working with this laptop vs a desktop.

It came with only 1GB so that was immediately upgraded to 2GB. If I ever go to Vista I'll probably have to go up to 4GB and the 64-Bit version of the OS, but by then, I'm sure I'll just get a new lappy.

Fuck Vista. It's one of the greatest blunders of our day. I installed XP on it and will most likely stick with it until the bitter end.

Although it's not as good as the Thinkpad's, it's still very solid. The keyboard doesn't flex at all, so my main worry is snuffed out.

Fingerprint Reader
This was one of those features that I've never had any experience with and I really wanted to see if it actually worked. The answer to that question is a resounding: No. The reader is so damn fickle that you have to be moving your finger at a specific speed and at a specific starting position on your finger in order for it to detect. If this was the only logon method to get onto the system, you would literally be swiping your finger 20-40 times. It's good that technology is moving in this direction, but it still needs a lot of work.

The built-in speakers are insanely loud, much better than any of work's Gateways or any Thinkpad I've played on. I have to turn it down to one notch above zero to have it be tolerable. Note to self: Realtek integrated sound cards are A-ok in my book.

The webcam is supposed to be 1.3MP, but it's more like a bucket of shit. The video hella lags and it most definitely does not record a 30FPS. I had the opportunity to try out the MacBook Pro's iSight, and it's totally like night and day. The Apple was perfect while this one was a joke. I'll be using it to Skype back home, but I'm sure any real video will be taken with my digital camera.

The exterior of the laptop is a very hard plastic. I am unable to flex the LCD which means that it has a pretty solid structure. No complaints in this area.

It has a DVI, so that says a lot for laptops these days. I swear, they should just do away with the old school VGA connection. HDMI or eSATA would have been nice additions, but alas.

The touchpad itself is nice and responsive. The right and left click buttons seem very flimsy, but I'll be rarely using them. Go external mouse!

The Intel Core 2 Duo T7300 2.0GHz is a great processor. It's the cheapest one with 4MB L2 cache and it's a Core 2 Duo so you know it's leaps ahead of most of the pack.

Battery Life
The second you unplug, the system says that there is 1:54hrs left. It then starts dropping at an accelerated rate. I'd say that I'd be very lucky if it lasted for 1 whole hour; so yeah, battery life is probably one of the worst for any laptop.

While using it on my lap, it gets very hot even with my thermal cooler. I'm sure if the cooler wasn't in place, it would become unbearable after 30min or so.

It's a pretty heavy system, but so are all other 15.4" laptops. Having a 14.1" would be the best combination for portability and power, but I think a WXGA+ res on it would be too small.

Video Card

Battery Life
Touchpad Buttons

Newegg Product
NBR Review

Dyson DC17 Animal (Random Product)

So a month or so back, I went shopping with my sister to get this snazzy vacuum cleaner. As most of you should know, vacuuming is one my hidden hobbies, much like doing laundry and making and completing lists. The only reason my sister folded in buying this was that she had a 20% coupon from Linens 'n Things; but even with that discount, the cost of the item was still half a grand or so. It was a super expensive buy, but totally worth it because it comes with a 5 year warranty.

After fully vacuuming her whole house approximately 3 times, I can say with absolute certainty that it's the best vacuum cleaner I've ever used in my life. The suction of this thing is insane and it seriously doesn't ever clog, especially after subjugating it to the amount of hair that 3 dogs and 2 cats can produce in one household.

Changing it from normal mode to "wand" mode is very easy and doing any extra work is kept to a minimum. Even changing out the garbage bin is very well designed; it empties from the bottom with a push of a button so you don't have to get all dirtied up with dust poofing around everywhere.

I think it's totally worth the money because it's seriously the only vacuum cleaner you'll ever need. After 5 years, if you need a new one, I'm sure a cooler model will be out that can talk to you or get you a soda from the fridge.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Lesson of Life

So here is a bit of wisdom to share with everyone: Selling a car blows.

Yeah, I guess I got really lucky the first time around when I purchased a car with a manual transmission and tried to "learn" it during the few times I drove that car. The lesson I learned from that whole ordeal was that I hate driving a stick. I didn't care about all of the "control" that you had over the car because all I really cared about was being able to get in an automobile and having there be a 98% chance that I would reach my destination without getting into an accident. That percentage obviously dropped dramatically after getting behind the wheel of a stick.

This time around I went in under the assumption that I would be able to sell my Civic with no problems; I was wrong. After posting it at a very fair price and then dropping it two more times below the estimated KBB value, I still didn't get any calls or emails during the whole 2 weeks it was posted online and in the local paper.

I ended up selling it to Carmax. Although I don't believe it was the "best" price, I guess one could see it like selling a video game to EBgames instead of just posting it on Ebay. I didn't get taken for that much of a ride, but I was certainly not expecting what I got. So what were all the lessons learned from this whole debacle?
  1. Listen to Peter when he says "Don't buy anything extra like warranties, brake coverage, etc. " Cars are built pretty well these days and if something is gonna break, it will usually happen within the warranty period. In my case, the second that the car was sold, all of that extra stuff was a huge sunk cost.
  2. Coupes suck because checking blind spots is a bitch when visibility is heavily reduced by a huge, back metal pillar on both sides. Also, even though people rarely get into the back seat, and people rarely move a lot of stuff around, using the back seats as storage sucks ass when there are only two doors.
  3. Selling a car is not as easy as it sounds. Most people just trade in their cars when they are ready to upgrade and then get jacked on the trade-in value. The good thing for car dealerships is that in the consumer's mind, the car is already of very little value to them, so that's why 1-3k is "good enough".
I could've just put a cover over my car and let it sit at my parents' or my sister's place for a year, but judging at how well both of them take care of their own cars, I'm sure I would've come back and found something missing, broken, or "wrong". The time value of money also played a part, and as already mentioned, I had lost my interest in coupes. So I have an extra bit of change in my bank, ready to be locked into a CD. I will also have one whole year to think about what I really want, what I am really willing to pay for, in terms of insurance, and what is really worth the money in terms of a "work to grocery to school" getter. We all have our own vices though...and mine is a very strong aversion to crap.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Hot Fuzz (Comedy 2007)

This film has to be one the most unexpected comedies of the year. The makers also did Shawn of the Dead, which was one movie that I wasn't too impressed with. I know that there is a certain subset of the population who would just love it, much like the fans of Army of Darkness. I didn't know what to expect, but I sure didn't think that I would be as entertained as I was.

This movie was a mix of British humor and modern day crudeness. It was very "tame" for a comedy, but it still cracked me up all over the place. The funny factor for this movie had a fixed slope of 2, as it increased steadily until it peaked at the end. Movies that have this equation tend to leave the audience with a good impression.

This comedy caters to the silly side of one's personality. It was not crazy funny like Knocked Up, but instead it, had a more stupid plot with entertaining characters. You'll certainly not get any smarter from watching this, but if you're on the same wavelength as I am, you'll still leave with a smile.
Rating - A

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Book 2007)

Go J.K. Rowling! You successfully completed one of the best series of books that I have read in my lifetime. Even though that number is very small, I'm sure the majority of the world would agree with me when I wave my invisible "JKR" flag.

It's pretty funny that a simple children's book written way back in the day was able to get so much publicity that it actually influenced me into picking it up to see what all the rage was about. I'm happy I did because it was a great little adventure that added a generous helping of flavor to life, just like Star Wars, The Matrix, and LOTR. Without these grand stories, where would be? Probably outside, searching for a missing part of our existence, and most likely getting bitten by stupid insects.

This last book was awesome. The movie will seriously kick ass, but it'll be hella long unless the director heavily curtails a bunch of the plot near the beginning. These books usually have only 2-3 "major" scenes in them, but this last one had well over 5 major scenes. It will be interesting to see how they pull it off. Hopefully they will not resort to taking away from the depth or quality of the major scenes in question. I'm sure Rowling will have a say in the final product though (hopefully).

Either way, if you're a Potter fan, you'll love this last book. The plot had a great "last hurrah", as well as a bunch of explanatory sections and a final closure to the whole series. I can't think of a better way in which it could have ended. On a happy note, even though there won't be any more Potter stories, I wonder what Rowling will whip up next? She has obviously demonstrated her terrific talent at writing, so hopefully something just as good will come plodding along in the coming years.
Rating - High

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Shooter (Action 2007)

Mark Wahlberg has sure come a long way from being a nobody. I'd say that he's a pretty descent actor, as displayed in films like The Italian Job, Planet of the Apes, and The Departed. This was the first movie that I've seen where he was the only primary actor; and for his first solo session, he performed very well. Danny Glover does not count as a primary, just in case someone wants to get technical.

The plot and flow of this film was good. It had enough action to keep it interesting, but it also had enough dialogue to explain the story. The girls weren't too hot though. Kate Mara and Rhona Mitra are very average in my opinion. Maybe they had to cut costs because they had to pay for a helicopter and two houses to explode.

I liked this movie. It was probably as exciting as The Fugitive, except with more guns and head shots.
Rating - B

Pathfinder (Action 2007)

Yes, I'm well aware of how crappy this film looked from the trailers. And yes again, I'm glad my prediction skills have not wavered in the face of utter garbage.

I guess you can't really make something good out of such a B-rated story. This film was about a viking kid who got ditched in North America after a shipwreck, and was raised by Indians in the interim. 15 years later, a secondary viking raiding party comes along and starts killing off the native inhabitants. The hero of the day comes to vanquish the bloodthirsty invaders. Bam! What a story.

Yeah, I would even say that old school films of this caliber, like Red Sonja, The Beastmaster, and Conan the Barbarian were better just because the story from those seemed more interesting. Having one guy, who has never been formally trained with swords, go against a whole mob of battle-hardened, viking warriors is a little hard to accept. There was nothing good about this movie.
Rating - F