Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Sock and Awe: web game to throw shoes at George Bush

A British guy, Alex Tew, has created an on-line video game to mimic the Iraqi reporter's shoeing of George Bush. Granted he is still the current president of the United States, albeit one of the most unpopular president for the time being, we should at least pay him some respect. But that doesn't stop this British guy from making fun and taking advantage of the situation.

Here is the video game: Sock and Awe
Simply click it to play!


The game itself has enjoyed instant fame.
The Guardian newspaper has published a story about it.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Protect our civil liberties petition

Bill Richardson has been nominated to the Obama cabinet as secretary of commerce.

However, there is a new online petition to remove his nomination from the cabinet:
As the Secretary of Energy under former President Bill Clinton, Mr. Richardson intentionally leaked Dr. Wen Ho Lee's name to the press as the suspect of giving China nuclear secrets and falsely accused Dr. Lee of espionage, stripping Dr. Lee's right to due process and marking the beginning of a 9 month solitary confinement. Judge James Parker made an unusual apology to Dr. Lee when he released him and accused the Department of Energy, among others, of misleading him and bring dishonor to the U.S. All this is documented in Wikipedia, see

President Bill Clinton and the New York Times have both apologized publicly to Dr. Lee. Yet, Mr. Richardson said he stood by everything he said and did regarding Dr. Lee in an interview with Democracy Now in September 2005. He also criticized Judge Parker for making his apology and said the Judge erred when he said he was misled. See

For more on Gov. Richardson and Dr. Lee, watch

The Dr. Wen Ho Lee case was not the only mistake Mr. Richardson made. Several hard disc drives were missing at the Los Alamos National Lab under his watch. Mr. Richardson's motive when he offered Monica Lewinsky a job on his UN staff is questionable. Additionally, he repeatedly claimed he was drafted by the Kansas City A's until it was proven that he was not.
For details, see the online petition:

Gov Bill Richardson should not be nominated Petition

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Sign Language Over Cell Phones -- by video

Research to provide sign language support for the hearing impaired using video cell phone has gathered some publicity recently. ScienceDaily has published an article detailing one of such work:

Here is a video about the video cell phone:

FDA found melamine in domestic U.S. milk formula providers

According to an AP article: previously undisclosed tests, obtained by the Associated Press under the Freedom of Information Act, show that the FDA has detected melamine in a sample of one popular formula and the presence of cyanuric acid, a chemical relative of melamine, in the formula of 3 U.S. domestic baby milk formula providers. The three firms — Abbott Laboratories, Nestle and Mead Johnson — manufacture more than 90 percent of all infant formula produced in the United States.

For details, check this AP article on Yahoo:

If you have a baby at home, you should probably beware of this problem.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Next Bubble

The economic boom in the 90's was largely driven by the hi-tech bubble. After the bubble burst in 2000, America found a new frontier, the real estate and financial derivatives. Most of the economic development in the past few years seem to be related to the real estate bubble and the stock or financial tricks.

What is going to be the next bubble?

One likely candidate is the alternative (or renewable) energy, green technology, initiative.

If there is a real substitute for the gasoline (and petroleum to a larger extent), and if this substitute is low cost, low/no pollution, and unrelated to coal or petroleum, the potential market for this technology would be huge. However, if it turns out to be a disappointment, the downside could also be a lot of wasted resources, research, funding, etc.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Alphabets in 3D

Here is an interesting book.

As you flip the pages, it pop out the alphabets in 3D.

Check it out.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Election Ads on Facebook may not be so effective

As the presidential election is looming closer, there is a increased attention on political campaigns, ads, etc. One would imagine that Facebook would play a significant role in such political activities. There are numerous reports of grass root movements on-line to support Obama. The McCain campaign must have been paying attention too.

However, one recent election closely related to the web community has just finished: the IEEE Annual (Presidential) Election. There were two candidates competing for the IEEE presidency. I have noticed election campaign ads for one of them on Facebook. One would argue that Facebook is an interesting community, with significant proportion of educated, computer savy individuals, some of them may very well be IEEE members with voting rights. However, the IEEE candidate whose ad that I noticed on Facebook did not win the IEEE presidential election. There may be several factors involved. Many of those actively voting on this professional organization may well be outside the Facebook demographic. Nevertheless, this is one data-point showing that Facebook ad may not be so effective after all.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

The definition of Marriage -- political ramifications

California is again the battleground between homosexual activists and conservative activists. After the California State Supreme court ruled that "same sex marriage" is constitutionally allowed in this state, those seeking to protect the traditional definition of marriage crafted the "California Marriage Protection Act", also known as the Proposition 8, which will be voted during the presidential election on November 4 this year.

The California Attorney General, Jerry Brown, has revised the title of Proposition 8 to be "Eliminates the Rights of Same-Sex Couples to Marry". Whatever the title, this proposition is still under heated debate and both sides of the measure are actively trying to gather support.

What's your opinion on Proposition 8?

Sunday, October 05, 2008

O.J. Simpson on the headlines again

Once again, O.J. Simpson was found guilty, this time for kidnapping and armed robbery during his confrontation with sports memorabilia dealer in Las Vegas.
It's hard to separate this trial from his history of trials:
  • 13 years ago, on October 3, 1995, O. J. Simpson was found "not guilty" on the murder of his separated wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman.
  • On February 5, 1997, a civil jury found O. J. Simpson "liable" for the wrongful death of and battery against Goldman and Brown. O. J. Simpson was ordered to pay $33,500,000.00 in damages.
  • On Friday, October 3, 2008, O. J. Simpson was found "guilty" by a Las Vegas (Clark County) jury for kidnapping and armed robbery.
There are also a bunch of other litigation against Simpson.

What's your reaction to the latest verdict?
  1. A (belated) justice served?
  2. He was setup by those against him?
BTW, is this a fair trial?

It looks like the race issue is still lingering on peoples minds whenever we talk about O.J.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Power of Yahoo headline: downtime on Ziggs was featured in one of the headline videos on Yahoo this morning. It seem the Ziggs website is not yet ready for such publicity. As of now, if you go to the Ziggs website, it will show "Service Unavailable". Some of the graphic icons are also missing.

This is yet another example that too much publicity can bite you.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Nestle milk powder is found to be contaminated with melamine

Milk is a sensitive issue nowadays. After several milk powder brands in China were found to be contaminated with industrial chemical melamine, the Swiss branded Nestle is now found to be contaminated with melamine too [news report].

So we now have to be careful, especially those with children.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Banks are still looking for your pocket -- in the middle of the crisis

Many banks are in trouble now. After the demise of Lehman Brothers, the Feds are pitching tax payers money to save AIG. Washington Mutual seem to be on its way to a new boss too. Still other banks are looking for clever ways of funding: your pockets.

One of the well-know banks (name start with a E*) is offering $10 bonus if you pitch in $5000 more into your bank account by October 15, 2008. It's probably a way to glean more cash from the public to secure their own financial position.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Obama vs. McCain: What's your stand on AMT?

With less than 60 days into the presidential election, both Obama and McCain are advocating their own tax (cut) plans. But what about the AMT (alternative minimum tax)?

John McCain used to advocate a permanent repeal of the AMT, but recently he modified his message to a gradual phase out of the AMT, which means it will not have any real impact soon.

Obama does not seem to mention AMT in his campain website.

In the end, whatever have been promised may not be realistic after all. Only time can tell.

Friday, August 22, 2008

If iPhone is so hot, why TV ads and fake customers?

The iPhone launch in 2007 stir up a whole new revolution in user interface and mobile devices. By now, pretty much everybody is impressed with its intuitive, gesture-based command interface. It has been widely reported that iPhone is a hot selling item around the world. So I was surprised to see an Apple TV commercial during NBC prime time Olympic shows. More shocking news: some cell phone carriers in Poland are hiring actors to line up in front of their stores (fake customers) pretending to buy iPhone. Now, they are on the borderline of deceptive commercial practices. If this were to happen in any communist country, perhaps some media would quickly term it as "propaganda".

If it's so hot, why do they even need the advertisement?! Why faking customers? Of course, many other companies also sell TV ads, if only to boost their brand. But the implication is that some merchandises are hot selling because of their brand, not because of their innate attraction to the customers. Obviously, cell phones (and especially the iPhone) are now more of a fashion item than a technology.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Fighting SPAM

There has been an exponential increase in the amount of junk mail to one of my mailbox in recent months. Although the junk mail filter has been very efficient in filtering out these junk mail, the sheer bulk of spam means that one simply do not have time to even look at the subject lines (titles) before deleting. As a result, I routinely delete tons of e-mail without even looking at the junk mail folder, which brings up another question: what if one of those e-mail is not junk and worth reading? Well, tough luck :-)

There are a bunch of well known tips on the web for people to avoid spam, but most of them focus on the protection of your privacy and your e-mail address, i.e. the less people/organization that know about your e-mail address, the less likely that someone can spam that mailbox:
  • Don't give out name, e-mail address, phone number, (and certainly not your SSN) to any organization on the web. Unless you really know them very well, e.g. you probably have to give your SSN to your employer and your bank.
  • Don't buy/donate/click anything based on junk mail that you receive
  • Create a temporary e-mail address if you really need to sign up something that requires e-mail address. After a long period of them, if they haven't spam that temporary address, you can go ahead change that address to your mail e-mail, or simply forward from that temporary address to your mail e-mail box.
However, there isn't much progress on reducing spam once your e-mail address is known to the spammers. Telling the spammers to stop contacting you is simply acknowledging that your e-mail address exists and that you actually read their junk mail. Hence, the best way is to ignore and delete them.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Air tickets -- another reason to watch your weight

With surging fuel prices, airlines are trying to cut their costs, and perhaps pass some of this burden to passengers. Some airlines are starting to enforce rules that over-weight passengers should purchase extra tickets. Although such practices trampers on touchy issues as sort of discrimination based on people's weight, it probably has some economic justifications. I have witnessed some extremely "well built" passengers trying hard to fit themselves into the economy class seat, and the seat handles were just too tight for them. It would make sense to have them purchase two tickets, so that they and their neighbors can all sit comfortably.

Of course, where should airlines draw the line between overweight and normal passengers? Some are require you to be able to fit within the seat belt. But then just how long should the seat belt be?

Ultimately, it is yet a another reason for people to watch their weight, and perhaps loose some of the extra fats :-)

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

It's not your major, it's your school that matters!

A recent study showcased that English majors from Harvard on average earns almost the same as an engineering major from any university: $103K median pay for Harvard English major after 10 years, versus $103.8K for an engineering major (from any school) after 10 years.

We have heard all kinds of talks about promoting science and engineering education in the US. Where is the financial reward? The statistics seem to indicate if you go to the right school (Ivy League), you would do well financially no matter what is your major. Looks like schools (and perhaps the connections) are more influential than technical skills on a person's career.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Microsoft is playing catch up to Open Office

Although is just beginning to gain popularity in recent years, it is already putting a lot of pleasure on Microsoft. Take a look at the new Open Office 3.0 (Beta), it has pretty much everything that Microsoft Office 2007 has to offer, and more. Open Office was designed to be compatible with Microsoft from day one (at least for the most common basic features). There are a number of nice new features that was pioneered by Open Office, and Microsoft gladly copied into their latest products.

Take PDF for example. Adobe has published the PDF format for ages. Yet Microsoft never supported this format directly in all previous versions of MS Office, until Open Office comes with the PDF feature built-in. So now MS Office 2007 also has export to PDF capability, just so they can be on par with Open Office.

Another obvious example is the bibilography. Until now, people from academic circles pretty much all using LaTeX. The most important reason is that LaTeX provides a rich bibliography capability, e.g. through the BibTeX package. Open Office has built-in bibliography features since its inception. Now Microsoft also learn the lesson, and it is supporting bibliography in Office 2007.

Competition is sweat. Consumers are undoubtedly the biggest winner in this cat and mouse game.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Depreciation in the Value of an American Life?

The EPA announced recently that the statistical value of an American life has depreciated to 6.9 million US dollars, which is a drop of $1 million from five years ago.

While this is all just statistics, there might be legal implications to the statistical value of an American life. Is $6.9million (or $7.9million five years ago) sufficient to purchase a life? Perhaps some lawyers may be tempted to cite this statistics to put a cap on legal damages.

If we use Euro to measure the statistical value of an American life:
  • 5 years ago, (assuming exchange rate US$1 to 0.9Euro): 7.11 million Euro
  • Today, (assuming exchange rate of US$1 to 0.63Euro): 4.35 million Euro
So the depreciation is almost 40% over the past 5 years, in terms of Euro!!!

There should be plenty of argument against putting a price tag on human life. Whatever the reason for the EPA to put a monetary measure on a statistical life, the number is probably controversial at best.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Anti-war mom: Cindy Sheehan for Congress '08

It's the Fourth of July, Independence Day. Let us take a look at our local politics. It appears that Cindy Sheehan, the famous Anti-War Mom, is now running for Congress in the 2008 election, against Nancy Pelosi.

Here is a brief summary of Cindy Sheehan's political background, quoting her campaign website:
Cindy's world changed forever on April 4, 2004, when her eldest child, Casey Austin, was killed while serving in Iraq. He was 24 years old. Casey, who was a Specialist in the First Cavalry Unit in Sadr City, was awarded a Purple Heart and Bronze Star posthumously for his valor in combat.
and ...
In August 2005, Cindy traveled to Crawford, Texas, with the goal of speaking personally to President Bush to demand an end to the occupation of Iraq. Other peace activists joined Cindy's efforts and the demonstrations that came to be known as "Camp Casey" began. Camp Casey was a regular gathering held whenever Bush was in Crawford, Texas, and it drew thousands of activists and celebrities from all over the world to protest the Iraq conflict.
Cindy Sheehan is a world famous figure in anti-war activism. The main stream media has referred to her as "the Rosa Parks of the antiwar movement" and "Peace Mom".

It remains to be seen how much steam can this grass-root campaign go for. Whatever the outcome, it will be an interesting election coming this November.

The campaign website for Cindy Sheehan:

Their campaign headquarters is located at:

1260 Mission Street
San Francisco, California 94103

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Browser wars reloaded

How many different web browsers are you using now?

For me, I use an older version of Internet Explorer at work, not because I like Micro$oft or the older IE. It's because there are certain applications at work that are tailored to that older IE version. So people like me are kind of stuck with that.

I also use Firefox. It's pretty good, and extremely good compared to the older versions of IE.

However, the recent release of Firefox 3.0 brings many problems. It seems their development team have replaced the old memory leak bug with a bunch of new compatibility issues. As a result, there are several web pages at work that worked with Firefox 2.x but does not work with Firefox 3.0.

So I am shopping for a better web browser. Here are some candidates:
  • Opera: deemed the fastest web browser. It seems really fast in my experience, and it can access many web pages that Firefox 3.0 cannot. Until the next release of Firefox, I think Opera is superior.
  • SeaMonkey: an open source development continuation of Netscape, with many shared features of Firefox.
  • Safari: for Apple, runs on the Mac. But what about people who don't use Mac? Don't tell me we have to convert the entire world to Mac/Apple. It will be replacing Micro$oft with $pple, and even more expensive.
  • Flock: a social networking web browser.
What else?

Recharge your hybrid

Gasoline prices have skyrocketed for the past few years, and the petroleum-related inflation is especially noticeable in recent months.

A new experimental concept has surfaced recently: instead of pouring gasoline into your hybrid car, and charge the battery during vehicle movement (e.g. braking), why don't we just charge the battery at home. This would further reduce the gasoline consumption for your hybrid vehicle.

It appears Google is also participating in this concept via their project:

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Cultrual Stereotypes and Kung Fu Panda

Kung Fu Panda, one can immediately grasp the essence of the movie before even watching it. Having a cute panda with Chinese Kung Fu would surely make a Hollywood block-buster. But the movie is pretty much confined within Hollywood's self-defined, so called "main-stream", perception of Asian Americans. We are already at the dawn of a new era where America is considering a black president. However, we still have yet to see a Hollywood movie with a positive (normal) portrait Asian American male as the main actor, not as martial art master, not as a villan, not as a nerdy geek, but just as a normal person. Is that so hard for America?

BTW, it seems my perception is not the only one. The following blog also highlight a similar opinion:

Here is a quote:
kirk: My point wasn't quite about racism, it was more about exploitation of a culture that is routinely treated as "exotic."

And since Asian Americans aren't always as mobilized as black Americans, they sometimes don't throw down over these sorts of things, even if they annoy them. This obviously wasn't worth a full assault. It's more of a minor infraction.

Most Asian's love Mulan because Disney worked closely with the Asian community to make it and it was based on their history. It's about what's tasteful and what isn't. It's a fine line. And Lucy Liu and Jackie Chan are routinely criticized in the Asian American community for the choices they've made in American cinema.

So my point really wasn't so much about the film, but how Asian Americans don't see representations of themselves as just people, not kung fu masters or cartoons, but just people in cinema.

That doesn't mean it's necessarily a bad movie, but it is part of a cycle that continues to only dramatize the parts of Asian culture western audiences are most fascinated by.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Ethics in Academics

A recent article in the Nature magazine [1] suggested that scientific misconducts in the United States may be more prevalent than those reported through official channels. The article also suggested a few approaches to improve the status quo:
  • adopt a zero tolerance policy
  • protect the whistle blowers
  • clarify the reporting mechanism
  • training
  • provide alternative mechanisms
  • promote role models for ethical behavior.
The editorial in the same magazine issue [2] also discussed the ethics problem, and suggested that people should focus on solutions rather than pointing fingers. But who is really pointing?

[1] Sandra L. Titus, James A. Wells, and Lawrence J. Rhoades, "Repairing Research Integrity", Nature, volume 453, number 7198, pages 980-982.
[2] Editorial: "Solutions, Not Scapegoats", Nature, volume 453, number 7198, page 957.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

social networking is slowing down

After several years of rapid growth as illustrated by MySpace, Bebo, FaceBook, LinkedIn, Hi5, Friendster, etc., recent reports indicate that social networking websites are experiencing slow down. A recent article by Creative Capital indicate that several well known social networking websites are seeing a decline in the amount of time that users spent on these websites, and in the number of unique visitors to these websites.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Graphics Processors Enable Low Cost Super-computing

One of the recent hypes in silicon valley is Graphics Processing Units (GPUs). Designed for graphics display in personal computers, GPUs present highly parallel computing capabilities. Now, more and more people are starting to find GPUs as cheap alternatives to perform parallel computing, which were traditionally restricted to super-computers.

From the General Purpose GPU (GPGPU) initiative, to NVidia's CUDA platform, GPUs are launching a battle to lure more researchers (and pragmatic software developers) to adopt their usage. It remains to be seen whether this is all just a hype or will the momentum keep on. But if it really takes off, what we are seeing now could be the dawn of a new computing era.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Model Checking Pioneers Win Turing Award

It has been announced earlier this February that three pioneers of Model Checking, Ed Clarke, E. Allen Emerson, and Joseph Sifakis, won the Turing Award.

The Turing Award is the equivalent of Nobel Prize for people working in the field of computer science.

Model checking is one of the most important techniques for sequential formal verification. The award recognized the impact of model checking in addressing verification challenges. Although combinational formal verification techniques such as equivalence checking has been widely adopted by industry as an indispensable part of the design process, sequential formal verification techniques (such as model checking) still has a long way to gain wide acceptance.