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The day I met…well, saw Muhammad Ali in person.

One of the annual charity events at the University of Notre Dame is the Bengal Bouts, a boxing match where “strong bodies fight, that weak bodies may be nourished.” Money raised from this boxing tournament, a sport organized at Notre Dame by the legendary Knute Rockne, is sent to help feed people at a mission in Bangladesh. While I was a student in law school one of my fellow classmates was boxing, and we went to cheer him on to victory in his bouts at what was the first (and only) boxing event I ever attended.

Little did I know when I went to my first boxing tournament that later that week I would come across “The Greatest”. Muhammad Ali actually lived very near to the campus of Notre Dame in nearby Berrien Springs Michigan. Some of my friends at the Bengal Bouts said he occasionally would come by to watch the Notre Dame students boxing, and there were others in South Bend who reported seeing him from time to time. We were sitting around the library (as is the case in law school) when a friend came in and said “we just saw Muhammad Ali at the Barnes and Noble.” In little need of a distraction to pull us out of our books, we hopped in a car and drove over the bookstore to see if it was true.

Sure enough it was. Once we arrived we were shocked by a line out the door. Apparently he was there to release a new book, and many people had come to see him in person. We made our way in the side (we told the staff we were going to buy something else) and we made our way back to where he was holding court.

My first impression was “this guy is huge”. On paper he is 6’3″ (198cm) but he seemed even bigger, especially with the build of an ex-boxer. He was surrounded by handlers, but there was an orderly line of people coming in to see his book and to meet him. Fellow college students were there in a group, gathering around him to get their pictures taken. Families, some in their Sunday best, had come as well and circled around for a photo that I’m certain still hangs on their wall.  And then there was this one guy who looked really out of place. . .

A skinny white guy, replete with a scraggly beard and baseball cap and wearing blue jeans with a flannel shirt was patiently waiting in line behind the giggling college kids and expectant families. He wasn’t holding a book nor was he carrying a camera, and in another time people would look at him and think ‘this is the kind of guy that joins the Klan’. When the man’s turn came up, I could see some of Ali’s handlers tense a bit.  The man walked up, held out his hand, and said a few words to Ali, who grabbed his hand with both of his and shook it back. Ali smiled, the man smiled and started to walk away. Ali was a bit surprised and motioned to him as if to say “don’t you want a picture?”  The man just said “No, I just wanted to shake your hand. I’ll remember it”.

It was a pretty interesting moment for me as well. I was but a child during the Rumble in the Jungle and the Thriller in Manila, but I remember the time and the stories about him dealing with Vietnam, racism and his religious views. He was definitely capable of crossing over many different racial and religious lines to make an impact on many different people. My one run-in with him just reminded me of that fact.

 

Rest in Peace, Muhammad Ali.

ali

How often should you clear your cookies?

Ann Gordon, via Wikimedia Commons
Ann Gordon, via Wikimedia Commons

So today is National Clear out your Browser Cookies and Cache day. January 14th. It’s a new holiday I just declared.

Actually it’s just a glitch. In an effort to scam another week out of a major paywall-protected newspaper I accidentally clicked the ‘remove all’ cookie option in my browser and deleted 3,285 cookies this morning. The last time I did this, about a year ago, it was 4,250 cookies that had been saved.

So how often should you be clearing your cookies?  Some people don’t accept cookies in the first place so let’s just ignore them for the time being. Some clear cookies daily, which seems a bit excessive to be honest.

Apparently there have been some studies. One conducted by Comscore showed that about 31% of people deleted cookies within 30 days.  Another by the Sun-Times said 45% within 30 days.

I’ve gone about six months.

So maybe I’ll just set a daylight savings time reminder–when we spring forward or fall back, I’ll clean the cookies in my browser. And change the batteries in my smoke detector (if I had one).

Or I’ll just keep clearing them every time I want to read the Telegraph or the Washington Post.

 

5 ways to simplify your life

1) Stop getting dressed.

Steve Jobs, William F. Buckley, Larry Ellison, Bill Gates, and a massive number of bankers and lawyers.  What do they have in common? They all, basically, wear the same thing everyday. Steve Jobs was famous for his turtlenecks and jeans, and bankers and lawyers are always in charcoal grey with white shirts and a colored tie. Of course it isn’t the exact same item they are wearing day-in-day-out, but they are wearing ‘something’ that means they no longer have to worry about what they wear everyday. They can literally grab the first thing that comes out of the closet and put it on, ending the ‘decision’ period of what to wear, what to wear that goes on daily. Even if you spend only a minute a day deciding what to wear, you are wasting six hours a year.

You can even take it a bit further. If you find something you like, or that is not very important, such as underwear or socks, consider buying in bulk.  I have 30 pairs of black socks and 20 pairs of white socks, all the same. I have not matched socks in over 10 years.  Why? Because every sock matches every other.   I have 30 pairs of underwear.  I have 6 pairs of khaki pants and 6 pairs of black pants. I have two pairs of dress shoes (identical).

I just don’t care, and no one really notices. The reality is that unless you are working in the fashion industry, the vast majority of people wouldn’t notice if you wore the same thing daily, unless it started to smell.

Black and white socks (and wicked exposure problem with the camera)
Black and white socks (and wicked exposure problem with the camera)

 

2) Automate as much as possible.

Amazon Prime is one of the greatest inventions in history. Why? Because it allows for ‘subscriptions’ of many day-to-day items that we use.

It is ridiculous to buy at a retail store any of the following:  soap, shampoo, razors, shaving cream, q-tips, toilet paper, deodorant, toothpaste, toothbrushes, sponges, dishwasher soap, laundry detergent, and many other household items. Why? Because the chances are you are ‘done’ deciding what brand to buy. You are set in your choices for these items and buying them is simply a matter of grabbing them and putting them in the cart, or maybe shopping around slightly to find a better price. You are not shopping–you are simply engaged in the logistical operation of getting certain goods to your house.

Automate this. Automate and NEVER think about this again. Have a delivery of these items brought to you every week. The time you will save will be significant, but you will also avoid the “emergency shampoo”.

In the course of a year, there will come a day when you need to make an emergency purchase of any of the above items. You have a meeting and you are out of toothpaste, or shampoo or whatever. This necessitates a run to the store, parking in the lot, walking in the store, buying something, and then driving back home again to take care of whatever it was. This can be quite a long time, and you’ll probably spend more than a dollar or two just on gas.

Automate the simple things. Get them out of your hair now and don’t think about it anymore.

3) Compartmentalize your media.

Consuming media can lead to a state of media gluttony–overloaded and overstressed. If you are a media junkie, the new tools of the Internet allow you far too much access to far too much interesting content. This can consume your preciously needed free time.

But if you step back, you start to realize very little of the consumption is ‘active’–it’s more passive and becomes very habit forming. Like eating french fires because they are there when you order a Big Mac, not because you really wanted them. The TV is on with noise, the radio, the net, email, messengers, etc.  These ambient media sources come in and out of your day to life causing tremendous stress.

One of the best things you can do is to cut cable tv.  Get rid of the 1000s of channels you don’t need so you find yourself focusing on the ones you really want. Turn off e-mail notifications.  Use email rules to filter so much of the noise out before it arrives. Consider subscribing in paper to a newspaper instead of reading online (and getting distracted).

This was probably the toughest for me. I haven’t mastered it by any stretch.

4) Move to work, or work to you.

Commuting sucks. You probably think of the time spent getting to work as the actual time spent in your car, but the true ‘door-to-door’ time can actually be quite a bit longer. Waits in the parking garage, the time it takes to go down three escalators in the subway. Long commutes–heck any commute becomes this block of time in which you can do nothing but travel to and from your job. The time spent commuting is one of the biggest financial and time wastes of your life.

Moving closer to work, or working from home if that is an option, saves weeks per year. Weeks per year. Commuting can be one of the most expensive taxes you pay, not only in money on your transit but in the time wasted.

Sometimes this requires a career change, but the reality is that very few of us are in such specialized professions that there is “no other option”.

5) Declutter and Centralize

Have you ever looked for your keys? Your glasses? Your wallet? This is wasted time.

Have a centralized location for things you need every day. Glasses, keys, wallet, phone and any other item that is a ‘must-have’ every day you head out.

There is no need for paper for a vast majority of items. One of the best things I did was buy a sheet-fed automatic scanner to process receipts, letters, Christmas Cards, bills,–whatever comes across my desk and clogs things up. This is what I bought Fujitsu ScanSnap iX500 Scanner for PC and Mac (PA03656-B005)  I now scan basically everything and minimize the paper shuffle going on my desk. 

Take a look around your room.  Anything you have not touched in the last 60 days should go to a place where it is not visible. Sorted into a closet or put away so as not to clutter your brain.  Items you haven’t used in 12 months should be pitched. This goes not only for computer parts lying around that you are afraid to throw away, but clothes as well (getting back to the first point on my list).

 

 

Anyway, these are just a few random thoughts.  What are your tips?

 

Super Bowl 2012 ads leaked online

Had a chuckle watching this Chevrolet ad, only to find out that many other companies are early releasing their Super Bowl 2012 movies.

Chevrolet Super Bowl 2012

Volkswagon Teaser Trailer

Doritos Teaser

Toy Trains Battle Royale for Supreme Dominance of the Tracks

I couldn’t think of a better translation, but you get the general idea from above what’s going on here.

On Youtube, where you can find just about anything, there are quite a few guys in Japan who have filmed incredibly complex train crashes involving toy PLARAIL trains.  These are plastic battery-powered Japanese toy trains that zip around on blue Tomica track, of which there is quite an abundance in my own home.  These Otaku train guys film massive competitions between various train types across multiple track layouts to determine once and for all who is the strongest.

My kids are hooked.

There are literally hundreds of these videos.  My boys watch them over and over again to the point they know which trains will succeed and which will fail, and more complicated, which track layouts we should attempt to duplicate here in the house.  “No daddy, build the one with six bridges and four crossing points” (and by the way, my son says ‘points’ instead of ‘switches’–darn British-based education system over here).

Paper cutouts for boys

With both sons home for the Christmas holiday, it doesn’t take long for the toys to become “boring” and playing to become “dull”.  So we’re having to scour the net for new things to do, and that led to cutting out paper and making stuff.

First up was some Doctor Who Tardi(ses) or whatever is the plural of Tardis.  The boys got “Where is Doctor Who” for Christmas so they are having fun looking for the Doctor and Rory and Amy in a book filled with Daleks and Cyberman.

Next up is their old love of bullet trains.  This site has a slew of paper cutout Japanese bullet trains.

I guess we’ll make our way to paper planes soon enough.

 

The 12 books I read in 2011.

I guess I should feel lucky I had time for even these 12.

Basically these are the 12 books I read this year, in no particular order.

  1. Steve Jobs biography
  2. Arsene Wenger biography
  3. The Quants (Wall Street Math guys)
  4. Deadly Choices (about the vaccine / autism debate)
  5. Defence of the Realm (MI-5 History tome)
  6. The World According to Clarkson
  7. Delivering Happiness (history of Zappos)
  8. Cold Steel (the battle of steel industry giants)
  9. The Black Swan (the effect, not the ballerinas)
  10. Too Big to Fail (Lehman Brothers, the US government bailout of AIG, et al)
  11. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (I was sick one day and re-read it)
  12. The Facebook Effect (history of the Facebook)
Finding time to read is harder and harder.  I managed to get a few of these in digital form rather than paper, since buying them over here in Hong Kong is such a pain in the butt.  I don’t really have a review of most of them.  They were all kind of well, interesting enough for me to buy or get them but not necessarily things that changed my life.  Delivering Happiness is something I recommend to others, and the Facebook Effect for those who want to know more than the move.
Next year I have a bunch of classics (read — past their copyright and free) e-books already loaded on to the iPad.  I’m reading some of the history of World War I, something I don’t know enough about.  I’m also going to try and read some more spy novels.  I have a Wallander book or two lying around that is about half done which I should eventually finish.  This was also the first year my science-based reading went down a bit.  Guess I didn’t have enough time to focus.

 

The First 24 Hours at Fukushima

Interesting report is out today from the IEEE Spectrum about the first 24 hours at Fukushima.  While TEPCO has been rather quiet about the goings on, the authors and nuclear engineers have tried to ‘reverse engineer’ what happened by putting together public statements and other data.

One of the more interesting tidbits came a few hours into the disaster, when the control room couldn’t even get power to turn on the lights, let alone look at the monitors that were reporting how data from sensors within the reactor.  The crew scrambled for an emergency solution, to the point they ran out to the parking lot and grabbed car batteries from various vehicles and hot-wired some form of power to get the machines back online.

As the operators surveyed the damage, they quickly realized that the diesel generators couldn’t be salvaged and that external power wouldn’t be restored anytime soon. In the plant’s parking lots, workers raised car hoods, grabbed the batteries, and lugged them back to the control rooms. They found cables in storage rooms and studied diagrams. If they could connect the batteries to the instrument panels, they could at least determine the water levels in the pressure vessels.

TEPCO did have a backup for the emergency generators: power supply trucks outfitted with high-voltage dynamos. That afternoon, emergency managers at TEPCO’s Tokyo headquarters sent 11 power supply trucks racing toward Fukushima Dai-ichi, 250 km away. They promptly got stuck in traffic. The roads that hadn’t been damaged by the earthquake or tsunami were clogged with residents fleeing the disaster sites.

A tad technical at times but definitely worth reading.

 

 

Obama Sauce, made from real sea urchins

File this under #WTF or #CRAZYJAPANESE

I was in the City Super grocery store in Hong Kong when I just had to snap a picture of this. Obama Sauce. It’s about $12-$15US a bottle, and from the description sounds basically disgusting. But before you go off and say ‘whacky Japanese’ you should remember in China they have Obama Fried Chicken.

 

Hong Kong Apple Store unveils…a really big sign.

The worst kept secret in Hong Kong has been that the rather plain looking construction in IFC mall Hong Kong would soon be a new Apple Store. In fact those who use Foursquare have been able to check in for months now to a store that to this date has just been a bunch of plywood.  But late last night the plywood was recovered in what most people are saying is a rather ugly Apple signage.  Red and white to match the taxis of Hong Kong I guess.

In slightly related news, the Apple reseller in IFC, DG Lifestyle, officially closed this weekend in anticipation of the Apple launch.  They have moved their store to nearby Pacific Place where they have a monopoly on Apple gear in that mall.

 

Tornadoes make me homesick

I know, I know, that’s beyond just random and borderline weird. But when you grow up in the Midwestern part of the United States, Spring and Summer storms, and the associated bad weather that they produce is just part of the day-to-day you learn to live with.  Watches and the occasional warnings, the massive squall lines and hail, the lightning and the smell, yeah, the smell of a storm coming through is something that you just don’t forget.

So as I read about the horrible tragedy unfolding in the US and take a look at the pictures of small town middle America, I’m often saying to myself “I know what that town is like”.  I see the one water tower and grain elevator next to a railroad track that connects that town on to the next one, with the city being but an island in fields of corn and soybeans.  And as I sit here in my luxury high-rise in Hong Kong I watch and sort of think back to those simpler times when staying in the ‘safe room’ of the house was something ‘normal’.

Yea, it is pretty weird.  But anyway–watch these two videos.  The first is the audio feed from a guy trapped in a gas station as the Joplin tornado comes into town.  You can’t see much but the audio is frightening.  The second is the day after–he goes back to the store where he was during the storm and you see how bad it really was.  Pretty amazing survival story.