Monday, November 30, 2009

Portland Thanksgiving

Just got home from Portland with my parents; we went up to spend Thanksgiving with my sister, Rebecca, and the girls. I brought my Panasonic camera but forgot the battery so no pictures. :(

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Blame Canada

epic fail pictures
10:10 p.m.: Suspicious people were reportedly doing something with flashlights by the side of North 5th Street in Custer. A deputy checked and found the people were not suspicious, but merely Canadian. The out-of-towners were enjoying an evening stroll.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Another Brown Eyed Girls Song

Hmm, they just finished promoting Abracadabra and now they have a new song out. Incidentally, I wonder what Google was thinking when they bought YouTube. The only good content was illegal (copyright) content. Who wants to watch a bunch of poorly produced amateur videos anyway. Now that Korean media companies are actively patrolling YouTube, a lot of K-pop music performance videos are disappearing daily. I've been trying to download as much stuff as possible but the video uploading feature in Blogger sucks so I still need to link to YouTube. Oh well, I shouldn't complain too much since it's all free (for now).

Back to Brown Eyed Girls, the song is called Sign. I like the costumes and choreography better than Abracadabra. What I really miss is their old style performances where the focus was mainly on singing... they have great voices.

Dang it... just as I was typing this post, one of the accounts I subscribe to got suspended. She (don't know anything about the person except that it's a she) usually uploads HD stuff the same day as the broadcasts in Korea. I'll have to search for another source until she creates a new account... :(

Sign by Brown Eyed Girls. Let see how long this video lasts on YouTube.


OK, not very long. Oh well, there's a lot more where that came from. :)

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Alternate Universe

I guess this could have been me... my family immigrated from China Taiwan when I was eight years old.

Yale Daily News
Tony Chi places his cup of green tea on the aluminum grill and sprawls on a stool in the back of the restaurant. Adjusting his chef’s hat, he ties on his hachimaki, a traditional Japanese headband worn as a symbol of perseverance and hard work. He cranes his neck to scope out the two groups that just sat down at other hibachi grills. An elderly husband and wife sit at the first. Surrounding the second is a group of 30-something couples, the women flaunting blond highlights and low-cut dresses, the men gelled hair and starched sport shirts. Each of them orders a shot of whiskey or vodka.

Tony grins. “They’re going to get wild,” he whispers. “This table, it should be exciting.”

It is a rainy Saturday night in November 2008, and Tony is teaching me the art of scouting a hibachi party. Hibachi chefs like Tony don’t put on the same act for everybody. Rather, they size up the customers who sit before them and adjust their routines accordingly: families with doe-eyed children get balloon animals, older couples are treated to “sir” and “ma’am” flattery, and college kids drown in quarts of sake. Tony, who is 30 years old and has been cooking hibachi since before his voice dropped, prefers the third category. Long after those customers leave the restaurant, Tony remembers them. More importantly, they remember Tony.

At least people remember him. I don't think there's anything memorable about my work.

JeepSpeed – Transfer Case Upgrade

It’s been over a year since we stripped down our JeepSpeed Cherokee. We got someone to build our roll cage since then so now it’s time to start building the truck. Randy purchased a whole lot of stuff for us to install and yesterday was the first build day.

We started at 8:30am at Randy’s parents’ house. I was a bit disappointed that no one else showed up. We had a lot of enthusiasm when we decided to start this project but mostly it’s been Randy and I so far, both money and labor. The first task was to get the truck off the trailer and into the work area (under a canopy in the driveway). Since the driveway was on a slope and the truck is not running, we ended up towing the trailer down the street to a flat section, unload the truck, then tow it using a rope back up to the driveway. It was weird “driving” the truck without a seat and trying to steer without power steering.

The truck sitting on the trailer. The rear end is up so high becuase the racing leafsprings have already been installed and there is no weight in the back w/o the fuel tank.

Our original goal was to do a couple of things today, including work on both the front and rear suspension. However, since the truck had so much rust (originally from Illinois), it took forever to remove the nut and bolts holding everything together. The first item on the agenda was to upgrade the 4WD transfer case with a shorter and stronger main shaft. We also ended up removing the exhaust pipe/catalytic converter/muffler to get better access to the transfer case.

Extra 4WD transfer case that Randy bought along with an upgrade kit. We ended up pulling apart the one under the truck so he will probably reselling this one.

Back of the truck after we pushed it into the workspace. The big hole is where the fuel tank used to be. We have to replace it with a fuel cell for safety reasons.

The transfer case upgrade looked simple on paper: remove from car, open it, take out old main shaft, replace with new main shaft and tail housing, reassemble the case, and reinstall. After 8 hours of work (with a lot of help from Randy’s dad), we managed to replace the shaft and reassemble the transfer case but didn’t get to reinstall it back under the truck.

Rear driveshaft. One of the retention clamps was missing where the axle joins to the rear differential. From the amount of dirt and rust, I think it's been missing for awhile. Good thing the drive shaft didn't fall off while driving on the freeway. I also noticed that all 4 tires were from different brands... I've never seen that before. We're going to replace all the wheels and tires (probably with BF Goodrich tires so we can get pit support from them).

The current transfer case under the truck. It would take forever to disconnect both driveshafts and the transmission.

We sawed through the exhaust pipe to get rid of this section. We'll probably build a new exhaust to the side... just like Jesse James on Monster Garage!

The JeepSpeed truck sitting on jackstands. It was easier to work underneath with the truck up on stands but it was also a bit nervewracking. Randy brought out a wheeled "creeper" for me so it was easier for me to move around on my back under the truck.

Open transfer case with both shafts removed.

Randy holding on to the new main shaft while his dad tried to figure out how to remove some needle bearings without a hydraulic press. We ended up just pounding them out of the drive gear with a hammer. :)

Nightfall (1 second exposure at f/3.5). After all this work, we only managed to replace the main transfer case shaft. This truck build will probably take a lot longer than we planned.

I was so tired at the end of the day even though I didn’t do much since I don’t have much experience working on cars. I can’t imagine doing this everyday as an auto mechanic.


BTW, the original post was created in Windows Live Writer. Typical of Microsoft, the preview only works with Internet Explorer. I tweaked with the formatting until it looked right under preview but after posting, I viewed the page with Safari (Mac OS X) and it was all messed up. I had to use the basic HTML editor in Blogger to fix everything. The photo uploading tool was pretty good though so I may use Writer to upload (not sure where the photos are stored though) then edit the text online.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Back to School

I've always liked school... or rather, I enjoy learning new stuff and writing papers/taking tests never bothered me. If graduating from high school = 12 years of education, then I've spent ~21 yeas in school (4 years for BS, 1.5 years for MS, 2 years for MBA, and 1.5 years of JC classes). Dang it, I could have been a medical doctor.

I'm been really bored at work for the past 18 months. This is the 4th or 5th job rotation and there's nothing else I'm interested in, except maybe for business development. The problem is that there are lots of people interested in the same job and the current guy in the position doesn't appear to be leaving anytime soon. Additionally, all the analysts from ~10 years ago have either left the company or been promoted to a director title, except me... so maybe the company is sending me a message to move on.

One thing I've looked into is teaching. My first experience teaching (other than tutoring) were several seminars at Yenching University in Beijing. I went with PESI way back in 1998 and gave a few lectures on corporate finance. Trying to get more hands-on experience, I signed up to teach at the University of Phoenix afterwards and ended up teaching intro accounting and finance for about a year. My 10 year work anniversary next January is about the same time as the next round of promotions/raises. I guess I should wait at least that long to see what happens.

After my trips to China, I've been thinking about the future. Since I have no family, I can probably dump all my stock/options, live on savings for the next 20 years, and wait for Social Security (ha ha). Anyway, I found out that UCI Extension offers a certificate program for TEFL and they're holding an information session later this month. If I'm not feeding a mortgage or wife/kids, I can take a few years off and teach English/business somewhere. Once I get a TESL certificate, I think I could easily find a teaching position in China (with a 95% pay cut) though I'm still not sure if I can live there for more then 2 weeks at a time. Maybe Korea... then I can spend my spare time stalking K-pop stars. :)

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Transpacific Cruises (sort of)

Heh, I didn't know you can travel around the world on container ships. Some of them offer passenger service and the rooms look pretty nice though three weeks at sea sounds boring.

21 days from Long Beach terminal to Hong Kong

Single cabin for 85 Euros (~$125) per day. That means a trip from LAX to HKG will cost $2,625 one-way and $4,375 round-trip (35 days).

Global Warming = Religion

The end of the world is coming!

In a landmark ruling, Mr Justice Michael Burton said that "a belief in man-made climate change ... is capable, if genuinely held, of being a philosophical belief for the purpose of the 2003 Religion and Belief Regulations".

The ruling could open the door for employees to sue their companies for failing to account for their green lifestyles, such as providing recycling facilities or offering low-carbon travel.

So the guy refuses to travel by air. Maybe that works in small countries like the UK. I can't take a train to NY (69 hours) or a ship to Asia (3 weeks) every time I need to travel for work.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

$20 Telescope

For as long as I could remember, I wanted to be an astronomer (or a spaceship pilot). While working at the Mississauga Public Library, I read every book available on astronomy. When I got to UCLA, somehow I ended up studying engineering and now I'm stuck behind a desk making financial slides.

Since I've always lived in urban areas (Taipei, Toronto, Los Angeles), I've never owned a telescope. There's usually so much light pollution that only the brightest objects can be seen. The only time I've seen the Milky Way was on a mission trip to a Navajo Indian Reservation on the border between New Mexico and Arizona. I'm actually not that good at spotting planets and stars; I was more interested in astrophysics. So far, I've only taken one astronomy class in college.

Mt. Palomar Observatory in San Diego County

Like all hobbies, you can spend a little bit of money or a lot of money. I've been checking out telescopes on and off for several years and it seems like you need to spend ~$500 for a decent beginner's scope. Some of the nicer refractors costing almost $10,000! Checking out a telescope review site, there was a review for a $20 telescope from Galileoscope. Surprisingly, it got a recommended rating. It's a project to make good quality telescopes available for everyone, kinda like the $100 laptop project. It's made of plastic and does not come with a tripod but for $20, it's supposedly pretty good.

I want to get one (or three) for Christmas but I think they're heavily backordered. :(

Monday, November 2, 2009

Testing Windows Live Writer

Windows live installed this program on my computer that allow you to edit blog posts. It has a better interface than the online Blogger editor. I’m going to do a few test posts to see if I should switch to my Sony notebook (Vista) for blog posts.

BTW, I bought another Dell computer for my mom. Her Inspiron 600m was getting pretty old and messed up. I got her an Inspiron 15 (1545) with an Intel T4300 CPU, 3GB or RAM, and 250GB HDD. It came with Windows 7 and the Windows Experience Index was 3.4. The total with tax & shipping came out to ~$600. My Sony is about a year old and only 3.1 on the index but cost me ~$1200. It’s cover is a cooler shade of blue though.

Important Changes to your California Tax Withholding

Timely. Just got this email from our payroll manager at work.
As a result of recent California legislation (CA Assembly Bill x4 17), California’s Employment Development Department has released new tax withholding tables, which are effective from November 1st through December 31st, 2009, and require employers to increase the amount of state income tax withheld from employee paychecks by 10%. For example, if you currently have CA taxes withheld at $100 per paycheck, it will be increased to $110.

The legislation also increases withholding rates for supplemental wages paid from November 1, 2009 through December 31, 2009 as follows:

- Increase from 9.3% to 10.23% for compensation related to bonuses, restricted stock units and stock options.

- Increase from 6.0% to 6.6% for other supplemental wages (such as overtime pay, commissions, sales awards, and vacation payout).

California has not yet released new tax withholding schedules for 2010.

CA vs. TX

Looks like I should pack up and find a house/job in Texas instead.

City Journal
One out of every five Americans is either a Californian or a Texan. California became the nation’s most populous state in 1962; Texas climbed into second place in 1994. They are broadly similar: populous Sunbelt states with large metropolitan areas, diverse economies, and borders with Mexico producing comparable demographic mixes. Both are “majority-minority” states, where non-Hispanic whites make up just under half of the population and Latinos just over a third.

According to the most recent data available from the Census Bureau, for the fiscal year ending in 2006, Americans paid an average of $4,001 per person in state and local taxes. But Californians paid $4,517 per person, well above that national average, while Texans paid $3,235. It’s worth noting, by the way, that while state and local governments in both California and Texas get most of their revenue from taxes, the revenue is augmented by subsidies from the federal government and by fees charged for governmental services and facilities, such as trash collection, airports, public university tuition, and mass transit. California had total revenues of $11,160 per capita, more than every state but Alaska, Wyoming, and New York, while Texas placed a distant 44th on this scale, with revenues of all governmental entities totaling $7,558 per person.

What might interest Tiebout is that while California and Texas are comparable in terms of sheer numbers, their demographic paths are diverging. Before 1990, both states grew much faster than the rest of the country. Since then, only Texas has continued to do so. While its share of the nation’s population has steadily increased, from 6.8 percent in 1990 to 7.9 percent in 2007, California’s has barely budged, from 12 percent to 12.1 percent.

There's just no incentive for California politicians to be fiscally responsible. Due to the large number of Democratic voters in the state, there's no accountability when the legislature cannot balance the budget. Seriously, I would be out of a job if our spending budget is twice as high as our revenue/margin forecast.
If California doesn’t want to be Texas, it must find a way to be a better California. The easy thing about being Texas is that the government has a great deal of control over the part of its package deal that attracts consumer-voters—it must merely keep taxes low. California, on the other hand, must deliver on the high benefits promised in its sales pitch. It won’t be enough for its state and local governments to spend a lot of money; they have to spend it efficiently and effectively.

The optimistic assessment is that things are going to get worse in California before they get better. The pessimistic assessment is that they’re going to get worse before they get much worse. As is often the case, hanging around with the pessimists is less fun but more instructive. The current recession has driven California’s state government into what amounts to a five-month budget cycle, according to Dan Walters of the Sacramento Bee. He estimates that the budget deal tortuously wrought in July should start falling apart in October, because it was predicated on pie-in-the-sky revenue estimates and because so many of its spending cuts are being challenged, often successfully, in the courts.

It has already started falling apart. California is out of cash and they're increasing our state tax withholding unilaterally starting now. It's like a family that cannot pay it's bills. Instead of controlling spending, we keep charging more on credit cards that we cannot possibly pay when the bill is due.