Wednesday, December 29, 2004

[find] XP tuning

While Los Angeles has been soaked in a giant rain storm these past few days, I have been soaked in a giant @#$% storm with my laptop. I am proud to say that I have figured out a number awful infections and problems for friends and family, but my poor trustly Dell has been terribly ill.

I went and turned off all the services. And I mean, all the services. And now things seem to almost work ok. So I suppose my next question is --- why were all those services running before? Perhaps just in case I ever needed to use one of those obscure features?

And along the way I found something cool. XP Tuning explained at

Oh and. msconfig is your friend --- Use it and review all the hidden crappy stuff that your computer maybe be trying to run at start-up.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

[find] Economical Russian party tricks

I learned these Russian party tricks to save money from Leo today.

1) What to do if you are a poor Russian student with not enough $ for vodka:
- pour whatever vodka you can muster up into a bowl
- tear up pieces of bread and soak the bread in vodka until soggy
- enjoy the soggy bread and vodka soup with your friends
Apparently, you can get really buzzed really fast.

2) What to do if you don't have enough vodka, but plenty of beer:
- why, just mix the two! Spike that beer!
Apparently, you might wake up regreting that you didn't save those coffee monies for more vodka.

I love multi-culturalism.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

[report] Brita filter really works with bad tequila

The holidays season is wonderful. So many parties. So many chances to consume alcohol with friends and strangers! We conducted the another Brita filter experiment. This time with tequila:

- 750 ml bottle of Sauza Blanco ($10 from Pavillions)
- 750 ml bottle of Cabo Wabo Reposado ($36 from BevMo)
- Brita filter. Approx age ~2 months.

This time we decided to have fewer samples. But many more times filtering. We ended up having 4 different samples:
- Cabo Wabo Reposado (which is not clear like Sauza, but hey it was dark)
- Unfiltered Sauza
- 4-times filtered Sauza
- 8-times filtered Sauza

Double-blind test result:
Surprising results! This time it was dead easy for most people to pick out the unfiltered Sauza (I can personally attest that it was awful -- and remember, this was a true double-blind test). Only Christine, who is owner of the Cabo Wabo bottle, liked the Cabo Wabo (happy ending there). But the jury unanimously agreed that the the 4-times and 8-times filtered Sauza were equally good and waaaaay better than the unfiltered Sauza.

Well, duh, Brita filter works with Tequila!

Experiment master: Pierre
Tequila sponsors: Pierre and Christine
Could-have-gone-blind tequila tasters: Christine, Crystal, Crystal's sister, Crystal's friend, Scott, Wandy, and I think there were more but I can't remember!

Shall we move onto bad whiskey?

Friday, December 17, 2004

[report] Vodka filtering experiment dispproved!!

So we tried the the vokda filtering experiment at our holiday party last night. Now isn't that just a great way to make your guests buzzed?

- Near-empty 1.75L bottle of Ketel One ($30 from Costco)
- New 1.75 L of Popov vodka ($12 from Vons)
- One Brita filter, approximate age = 1 month

- We kept a cup of unfiltered Popov (cup 0) and filtered the rest through Brita.
- After each filter, we keep a cup of it (cup 2 - 4). We got total of 4 filtrations.
- We poured the Ketel One into a cup also (cup K)
- Now we have total of Six cups.

Double blind test:
- Jason filled up small Jello cups with samples from cup 0 to K in random order. He labeled them sample 1 to 6.
- Each subject is asked to sip sample 1 to 6. And then rate the samples from best to worse.
- We did not chill any of the vodkas. We wouldn't want to make bad vodka taste better by chilling it, right?

- Subjects all seem to find straight vodka "vile" in general.
- Subjects who survived the sampling: Becky, Bill, Laura, Mike, Neil, Wandy
- Subject who was smart enough to quit before she reaches sample 6: Liz
- Laboratory master: Jason

- Surprise! Most people rated Ketel One the WORST in the double-blind test! And the twice filtered vodka had the popular vote for the BEST!

Most people can't tell expensive vodka from cheap ones. But, if they think they are drinking expensive vodka, it will taste better! So invest in an empty bottle of Ketel One or Greygoose, fill it up with Popov, and use the $$ you saved for, well, more alcohol!


Tuesday, December 14, 2004

[recipe] Rice and tomatoes

Just found another really simple combination. This one is even, healthy?

- Steam a cup of rice with a tablespoon of Hai-Nan Chicken Rice sauce
- When rice is done, mix it with a can of peeled, diced tomatoes

Makes enough to last two meals for me. Lovely!

Saturday, December 11, 2004

[find] Make Ketel One with your Brita filter

What a terrific experiment to make vodka that beats Ketel One with your Brita filter!

Hooray to practical application of science!

[news] Mesothelioma

Saw an article today about how deaths from asbestos is rising. I have to admit, I am a little spooked out. During the good old solar car days, we worked in the MIT historic building 20. I heard that the building erected in a hurry and used asbestos to prevent bomb fire. Of course, it didn't help that we worked a lot with bondo, fiber glass, carbon fiber -- all little particles and fiber that probably took up permanent residence in my lung. I should have been more paranoid back then!

Well, at least I know that if I ever contracted mesothelioma, I will have a legion of lawyers ready to be on my side. These medical terms are all sound so pleasantly surprising when you say them - mesothelioma - honestly, makes me think of dinausaor or geology, instead of asbestos lung cancer!

Friday, December 10, 2004

[find] Real estate journal

My good friend Ayo gave me this link today:

Great coverage and articles. Thanks Ayo!

[find] Detailed city data

Have been doing some real estate research lately, and found this website:

It has breakdown of all kinds of interesting data. The number of renter vs owner, the kind of rent peopel are paying, demographic breakdown. They even have a breakdown for the times when people leave for work in the morning!

[info] 401K advantage over IRA

I just found out an important difference between 401K and IRA today:

You can borrow money against your 401K account for free (you pay interest back to youself). But, you cannot do the same with IRA.

Why that is, I don't have a clue.

As of 2004, maximum loan amount is $50K or 50% of your account balance. Tax-free and penalty-free as long as you pay back online. InvestSafe has a good low-down on it.

Anyhow, being now self-employed, this allow me to open a "self-employed 401K". The even cooler thing about this, (according to documentation) is that I can move all my IRA assets to the 401K account, making them "more flexible money".

and, being flexible is hot!

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

[find] Satellite image map

This tool provided by the USGS is absolutely da bomb. You can layer features, satellite images, road names. The perspective is sure different from up there. You can see the little cars on the road! (but you can't see the license place or make out the make and model of the car -- in a few more years?) Someone is watching you!

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

[find] Ambient Devices

Came across this interesting company today: Ambient Devices. (

They will wireless download / aggregate information from the web, and display it using a analog interface, like a dashboard with needle, or color changing orb.

The idea is that this way you are not pulling information and information isn't being push to you. You just naturally absorb it, ambiently.

Monday, December 06, 2004

[homage] Costco chickens

Costco roast chickens - You would never guess that they are only $4.99, if you saw the devoted and fanatic crowd. These chickens are hotter than Britney Spears. Everyone wants a piece!

We went to acquire our very own precious Costco chicken today.

5:30pm: There are 20 chickens leisurely roasting in the oven. The dude said "another 15 min"
5:40pm: There are still 20 chickens leisurely roasting in the oven, but now there are about 15 people with a gentle, longing look in their eyes.
5:45pm: There are still 20 chickens leisurely roasting in the oven, but things start to get intense. People discuss their love, strategies, and stories with Costco chicken.
5:50pm: Costco dudes finally deemed chickens complete. This guy standing in front of us (who "lives around the block and just came here to get chicken. btw, he's been on a reality show"), tore off 3 plastic bags in a hurry. He pushes into the crowd and cover the sacred hole through which the holy chickens appears.
5:55pm: Fight for your Costco chicken! It's everyman for himself!

Go to Costco night next Sunday and buy a roast chicken :)

Sunday, December 05, 2004

[info] Business loss carry-forward

My uncle pointed out something important today about incorporating -- loss carry-forward.

So the idea is that, you may lose money in the first couple of years of starting a business, and then you get a break later when you start to make money. For example, if you reported a net loss of $10K the first year and make $50K the second year. When you file taxes the second year, you can deduct the loss from the 1st year, saving ooodles of tax dollars.

Question: Can an LLC, S Corp, or Sole Proprietorship carry loss forward? Or is it only C Corp?

Since I have income that I'd actually like to deduct from this year, I'm still gonna stick with sole proprietor. But next year, when I'm earning zero dollars, loss carry-forward would be a good thing.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

[homage] Zipper

Zipper - one of the most elegant and most useful little engineering wonders. I mean, really, do you know how it really works? I finally looked it up. I'm still amazed.

Friday, December 03, 2004

[homage] Starry Starry Night

Starry, starry night.
Paint your palette blue and grey,
Look out on a summer's day,
With eyes that know the darkness in my soul.
Shadows on the hills,
Sketch the trees and the daffodils,
Catch the breeze and the winter chills,
In colors on the snowy linen land.

Now I understand what you tried to say to me,
How you suffered for your sanity,
How you tried to set them free.
They would not listen, they did not know how.
Perhaps they'll listen now.

Starry, starry night.
Flaming flowers that brightly blaze,
Swirling clouds in violet haze,
Reflect in Vincent's eyes of China blue.
Colors changing hue, morning field of amber grain,
Weathered faces lined in pain,
Are soothed beneath the artist's loving hand.

Now I understand what you tried to say to me,
How you suffered for your sanity,
How you tried to set them free.
They would not listen, they did not know how.
Perhaps they'll listen now.

For they could not love you,
But still your love was true.
And when no hope was left in sight
On that starry, starry night,
You took your life, as lovers often do.
But I could have told you, Vincent,
This world was never meant for one
As beautiful as you.

Starry, starry night.
Portraits hung in empty halls,
Frameless head on nameless walls,
With eyes that watch the world and can't forget.
Like the strangers that you've met,
The ragged men in the ragged clothes,
The silver thorn of bloody rose,
Lie crushed and broken on the virgin snow.

Now I think I know what you tried to say to me,
How you suffered for your sanity,
How you tried to set them free.
They would not listen, they're not listening still.
Perhaps they never will.

[tech] PHP dynamically created class from DB query

On page 300 of PHP Cookbook (Sklar and Trachtenberg) show the recipe for using Smarty Template. What I find that looks really interesting is this:

$r = mysql_query('SELECT * FROM cheese');
while ($ob = mysql_fetch_object($r)) {
  $ob->price = sprintf('$%.02f', $ob->price);
  $results[] = $ob;

Wow. This mysql_fetch_object() function just dynamically created a class and instantiated the object. That, is pretty nice. I like.

[recipe] Candy beef and noodles

I just made this for dinner. The ground beef tasted like candy!

- Pan-fry ground beef and chili oil
- Add lots of "Lee Kum Kee Gourmet Sauce". (Honestly I'm not sure what exactly is Gourtmet sauce, but tasted like a sweeter and more watery version of Hoisin sauce.)
- Cook some Su-Mein in a separate pot. Take Su-Mein out of water. Put beef on top.

Voila. That's a fast and tastey little bit of heaven.

[info] State, county, and city level requirements to start a business

City requires business tax and business licenese:

County requires filing of DBA:
fee is $23 to file and $50+ to publish in newspaper for four weeks. is the cheapest that i found

CA State Board of Equalization permit required to sell any tangible
goods (so you can collect sales tax)

If you incorporated, then there is a whole other set of stuff you need to get. But since I'm not incorporating right now, I'm saving that legal fun for later.

[tech] PHP session management functionality

PHP Session modules allows you to keep track and access all kinds of variables that you can to have access to for the duration of the user session.

This functionality could be implemented by embedding a long list of variables from page to page. But, man, PHP session is so much easier.

To start a session, just call session_start(). You MUST put this call at the top of your file, before any other output to the browser.

Creating session variable is a breeze. For example, to want to store the username that I received from the login form: $_SESSION['username'] = $_POST['username'];.

To access the session variable in subsequenc files, you MUST start the file with call to session_start(). That function will magically figure out the current session data and populate $_SESSION array, so you can say, access $_SESSION['username']. (see on how the magic happens)

By default, PHP session stores session data in files, as specified in the session.save_path vars in php.ini. PHP session has a flexible architecture where you can extend it to store session data in DB.

If you don't remember where your php.ini is --- use phpinfo() find out.

If you don't think your session is working --- Check you php/logs/php_error.log for any errors, or check the session.save_path vars and make sure the directory exists, is writable, and you see new sess* files being created there.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

[info] 401K, IRA, and HealthCare for self-employed

SEP-IRA: Allows you to contribute up to %25 of $41000 of your earned income as self-employed. You can withdraw the money early but pay a penalty. No other forms to file.

Self-employed 401K: Like the SEP-IRA but with 3 differences:
- Can contribute $13000 on top of the %25 compensation (up to $41000 total)
- Has a annual form you have to file
- Cannot withdraw funds until "trigger" events (Q: what trigger events other than getting too old?)

Health Savings Account (HSA): Sign up with a High-Deductible Health Plan (HDHP) -- where annual deductible is $1000+ for singles -- and you can be qualified for an HSA, which allows you make a tax-deductibel contribution up to your deductible amount, which you can use to pay for your health care expenses, and you can keep the money in the account year after year.

More and more insurance companies now offer HDHP plans but finding a good HSA administrator that won't charge you all kinds of fees is hard.

This portal has a lot of good information:

And this it the one bank that I found that is free of all the nutty fees:

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

[info] Incorporate or sole proprietorship

After days of research I have come to the conclusion about whether to incorporate or not:

- Inc and LLC limit an owner's liability to the extend of her investments. Most useful in these cases:
- If the company has a lot of debt, the owner's personal assets are protected from the repayment of debt.
- If the company gets sued for a lot of money, the owner's personal assets are protected from the judgement against the company.

- Inc and LLC also gives you the ability to deduct medical insurance. Not sole proprietorship.
- However, since I don't expect to make money from this for a while, having business deduction doesn't mean much.

- California charges an $800 a year minimum tax for Inc and LLC, regardless whether you make money or not. The fee is waived the first year, so use that wisely.

So in conclusion, until the business really looks like it will take off and after I have a couple of more customers, I can just stay sole proprietorship for now and save a few dollars and some headache.

[info] Government bids

Found this site today:

A list of bid requests by the city of Los Angeles. They give special break to minority and women enterprise bidders.

[info] State, county, and city level requirements to start a business

City requires business tax and business licenese:

County requires filing of DBA:
   fee is $23 to file and $50+ to publish in newspaper for four weeks. is the cheapest that i found

CA State Board of Equalization permit required to sell any tangible
goods (so you can collect sales tax)