Last year I told myself it would a year of saving. And I ended up buying a laptop and a digital SLR camera! Is this year going to be different? I hope so and I am restricting myself to a few known gadget purchases and big expenses.

First up is the PalmOne’s Treo 650. It is going to be released to Cingular/AT&T this week, according to rumours. Apparently the unlocked version will also be released at the same time. From all the earlier orders it seems like if I buy it from AT&T I would have to convert my account (back) to Cingular then be forced to take a data plan which I don’t really need. So I am going just buy a unlocked Treo 650 and then add a low usage data plan when I have the phone. Cost more initially but I reckon in the long run it would save me more since I am not that data intensive with my cell phone (yet).

Another gadget that I may buy this year is a DVD writer. It would let me back up to optical disk a lot more data as I am using CD-RW right now. Then I can also burn TV shows that the TiVo has recorded using TiVoToGo for archiving or just sharing. Right now I can’t really share any of my TiVo shows unless I transfer them to VHS. Mmm no thanks!

That’s all for gadgets but then Leah and I have two weddings in the U.K. to attend so more money to save for flights, etc. Then there is the apartment moving cost. Leah and I are moving back to Manhattan after two years of ‘exile’ to Hoboken. We got a great deal for an apartment in Battery Park City from a friend who owns one there. We will be moving in March and this time I am not going to move ourselves! We are going to get a moving company to do it for us. So that is another expense! Still I think it is well worth it. Finally we can get decent cable TV (BBC America and SpeedTV especially) and groceries from FreshDirect!

That’s it for the planned expenses so far. Hopefully there won’t be any surprises this year and I can save some money.

4 down, 2 to go

Four hours into a six hours train journey up from Birmingham to Edinburgh to see some of Leah’s family members in Scotland. I’ve never been to Scotland before, let alone Edinburgh. I’ve always think that Scotland is way too cold for my liking but now that I’ve experienced New York winter (-19C the day before I left and -12C on the day I left I think Scotland winter is just mild!

Normally I would hate to sit in a train for six hours with nothing to do but read or sleep, but as I am traveling on a Virgin train (do you see the trend here?) there is laptop power socket so I’ve been working on ecto’s Help file, emails, and blogging away while listening to iTunes. In between I am almost finished reading the “Comm Check…” book but I’ve bought, on impulse the other day while in Bridgnorth, the next book in the Patrick O’Brien’s Arburey/Maturin series, Mauritius Command. That will do for the eight hours train ride back down to London in a few days time, me think.

So just under two more hours to go and still has lots to occupy my mind. The same cannot be said for the guy sitting opposite me though. He had been bored out of his mind since hour 3. He only has a car magazine and a CD player to help pass time. I guess not every one is seasoned traveler like Leah and myself who are well prepared for long journey with books, etc. or able to fall asleep on command.

Thirst for knowledge

Leah has always commented that for a peaceful person, I sure know a lot about military history, hardware, tactics, and effects of weapons. An example of this happened during one episode of CSI:NY when a cop was killed in Central Park by a sniper. When Gary Sinise’s character, Mac, finally obtained a model of the bullet and before the kind of weapon used was revealed in the show, I had already told Leah that it was a 5.56mm NATO round from an assault rifle such as M-16 or AR-15. And to be able to penetrate body armor as shown in that episode, the round must be a armor piercing round with tungsten tip. Turned out that I was complete on the mark and Leah was incredulous as to how did I know all these.

Of course it is not just military information that I have a fair amount of knowledge, I’ve more or less stopped reading fictions about 6 years ago and have since read non-fictions only. I read what I’ll called ‘geek’ subjects such as history in military, medicine, space, and other technical areas. And I choose my books very carefully so that they are not just tightly focused topics concern with a specific subject. Rather, I pick books that put the significant historic events in the context of that era. I want to learn about how the social, political, economic, etc. contributed to a particular event.

For example, I am currently reading Comm Check… The Final Flight of Shuttle Columbia and despites the title it was not a technical description on how and why the shuttle Columbia broke up during reentry in January 2002. It describes the events leading to the event and afterward with the objective of showing the reader a bigger picture than just the form strikes damaging the leading edge of the port wing during ascent. It shows how the CAIB (Columbia Accident Investigation Board) found that the form shedding from the External Tank was not the only cause of the accident. Intense schedule pressure to complete construction of the International Space Station, pressure to keep cost down, the continual and gradual acceptance of form shedding as non flight safety critical events, as well as the lapse of safety culture in NASA as a constitution all contribute to the Columbia accident.

Finding the hardware responsible (the External Tank bipod form) or the person(s) responsible (the External Tank project team or the project management) and fixing them will not fix the root problem. It merely fixes the symptom and setup a repeat for the future. Discovering the cause in the wider context in which the accident occurs, hopefully a similar accident can be prevented in the future. But then, that was also the aim of the Roger Commission after the Challenger accident and see what had happened 17 years later with Columbia.

Back to the topic of learning about historical events, what I gained is the understanding of how present geographical, political, economical, just to name a few, situations were largely determined by what happened in the past. During the 18th century of empire building by the British, French, and the Dutch, etc., the subsequent collapse of their empires and oftentimes arbitrary division of country borders in Africa and Middle-East brought about the volatile political climate we have today.

For example, after reading The Opium Wars: The Addiction of One Empire and the Corruption of Another I’ve started cracking jokes about “Tea is the root of all evil”. This is because the British government was nearly bankrupt by the trade deficit with China’s tea during the 18th century. The British solution was to sell the opium they had in India to the Chinese to offset the trade deficit. This led to the infamous Opium Wars and the annexation of Hong Kong island and Kowloon peninsula as well as other territories to the British. So tea is not as benign as every one think it is! But the, without the British administration, Hong Kong will never be the vibrant city it is and I won’t be able to emigrate to the U.K. first and then the U.S. and be where I am now.

So my point is that literacy is important in education but knowing history is also very important as to understand how we get to where we are now and why we do things the way we do.

I hate dialup

So here I am with three computers nearby doing my duty for my mother. I wasn’t planning to upgrade her PC until I realised that it is my college PC which is a Pentium 166MHz with 64MB RAM running Win98! So I took pity on that poor 8 years old machine and bought her from PC World a brand new P4 2.6GHz 256MB RAM XP Home machine for less than the price of a iPod photo 🙂

Since neither the new machine has a floppy drive (it does have a DVD-RW R9 drive and 5-in-1 memory card reader though) nor the old machine has a USB port for my 64MB flash drive, I have to zip up her files and upload it to my web storage then download it to her new PC. Now it won’t be so bad if this is done over broadband connection, but all she has is a 45kbps dialup it is painful! Transfer that normally would take minutes via wireless network over DSL becomes hours over the dialup. I feel like I’ve been thrown back to the stone age!

At least this machine will last for another 2-3 years before I need to do this all over again. And with the DVD-Rewriter in the new machine at least I can just burn a DVD next time and be done with the transfer in minutes!

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