I've mentioned my Macbook Air and my iPhone on numerous occassions, as I love them both. The techie in me loves these gadgets. What I haven't mentioned, is that the girl in me has also customized these products to have their own unique look.
My iPhone has an SGP metal skin (specifically the blue Alice one).
Here's a picture (click for bigger version):
You may or may not be able to tell that I also have an invisibleShield on it. Here's a picture of the back of the inviabile shield (click for bigger version):
My Macbook Air is unique as well. On the top and inside, I have a skin from 3acp.
I also have the invisibleShield on the bottom of my laptop. (click for bigger version)
I've mentioned my Macbook Air and my iPhone on numerous occassions, as I love them both. The techie in me loves these gadgets. What I haven't mentioned, is that the girl in me has also customized these products to have their own unique look.
On Monday, I talked about my hobby of card making. On Wednesday, I explained my sport of choice, ultimate frisbee. Today, I'll talk about my obsession: bridge.
Bridge seems to get associated to grandmothers sitting around a kitchen playing cards. I find duplicate bridge to be actually a great mental game. Here's what most people don't realize about duplicate bridge: everyone plays the same hands and your score depends on how you did on that hand compared to how other people did. I suppose I've tried explaining this before, but to me, this is the most important aspect to the game that makes it interesting to me. Also, all information is open knowledge. As you may know, there's a auction portion with bridge where you bid for your contract. You and your partner can make up special meanings for different bids to convey information to each other. What sometimes non-bridge players don't realize is that if you assign special meanings to bids, you MUST alert opponents and explain what the bids mean. Assigning special meanings is something done because you might find the standard meaning not to come up enough and you want a more specific way to describe your hand. It is not for trying to talk in a code to advance knowledge of your partnership versus the opponents'. Each player gets the same information and it's up to you to figure out how to best use the information and to deduct different inferences.
There are many things you can do to improve you chances on a hand. A very basic technique is taking a finesse. Here's an example:
Let's say you're declaring the North-South hands. Look at the spade suit. If you bang down the Ace of spades, surely you Queen will lose to the King. However, if you start in the south hand and play up to the Queen of spades before your Ace goes away, you have a 50-50 shot of the Queen getting to win depending on where the King is. Let me demonstrate:
In this case, the King will play after your Queen, capturing it. But this is the same result as if you banged down the Ace so you lose nothing by trying.
But now let's assume the East and West hands started in the opposite positions.
Now that the holder of the King plays before you do, if s/he plays the King, you play the Ace over it and your Queen is free to win the next trick without worrying about a higher card being out. If s/he doesn't play the King as you lead from South, then your play of thw Queen will win triumphantly.
As you delve further in the world of bridge, you start learning squeezes, endplays, coups, and all sorts of interesting stuff that gets easier as you learn how to use information available in both play and bidding. I'm terribly obsessed with the game. If you're interesting in learning, the ACBL has clubs all over, and many of them sponsor beginning bridge lessons or can recommend you to teachers.
Last post, I talked about my crafty hobby. Today, I'll talk about a sporty hobby of mine.
I used to hate to throw frisbees. I was kind of tomboyish growing up, playing a lot of sports. I'd rather toss a football than a disc (in fact, out of the neighborhood kids, I was the first to throw with a spiral). In 2000, some friends dragged me onto their coed summer team since they lacked females. I was surprised to find that organized ultimate frisbee is a lot more interesting than the jungle ultimate pick-up that was played in the schoolyard.
I really got into the strategies of ultimate frisbee, and because of that, I forced myself to learn to throw and catch.
Here is the example of the most common strategy:
Unlike a football, it's not easy to hurl a frisbee over crowds of people. Therefore, if you aren't one of the people in a good position to catch the disc, it's important to pull the defender who is guarding you away from the path of someone who is in a good position to receive the disc. Therefore, as offense, you form a line in the middle of the field called a "stack". This allows people to have plenty of space on either side to use as "cutting lanes". Only one person should be in each lane at a time.
The defense employs a strategy called the "force". Notice that the yellow dot guarding the person on the disc (this defense is called the "mark") is on one side of the field while all the other yellow dots are on the other side of the stack. The mark is forcing the thrower to throw to the "away" side of the field. The mark will allow throws to go up on that side of the field and work hard to prevent throws from going towards the "home" side, in this example. Meanwhile, the other defenders trust the mark. They will prevent their opponent from getting to the disc on the away side, where the thrower can easily throw to. If their opponent tries to get open on the home side, the defender will allow them, knowing that the thrower will have a lot of trouble getting it to them on that side.
To see this in action, there is more description as well as a Flash illustration here in the Ultimate Handbook.
I have heard ultimate frisbee players stereotype themselves as "techies and hippies". Older generations who haven't heard of the game get confused as to how throwing a frisbee can be a "sport". I assure you though, ultimate frisbee players are definitely athletic. I find it to be a great sport and I love that it requires little equipment or investment to play.
I think this week, I'll go through some of my various hobbies that I have briefly mentioned in passing. For example, in my Spoonflower post, I mentioned that I had originally signed up for the beta for card making.
It was my youngest first cousin once removed's birthday last week. He turned five! In addition to his presents, I made him a cute little card (none of which I've managed to get out in the mail yet -- oops!). It's not the most elaborate card I've made, but it's certainly cute I think!
Front of the card:
Inside of the card:
Front of the envelope:
Back of the envelope:
Most of my papers and envelopes I buy from my favorite store in all of NYC, Kate's Paperie. Every time I go to NYC, I try to stop by and buy pounds and pounds of paper. I get all my stickes from Michael's, and sometimes some paper from there as well. In the past, I have even made my own paper (usually out of tissue paper), but it's probably been over a decade since I've done so.
One of the things Apple anounced during their "Let's Rock" event on September 9 was the addition of "Genius Playlists" to iTunes 8 along with all of their iPods. Personally, I think it's an unfortunate name, especially since they already have termed something else "Genius" (their tech support people in their boutique shops). I don't think those people behind the counter came up with my playlist.
I finally gave it a try though. At first, I tried to use Groove Coverage's cover of "Poison" as my seed song, but that didn't yield any results. Then I tried The New York Doll's "Dance Like a Monkey" (one of my favorite songs plus it references one of my favorite plays).
That yielded this list (click to view larger version):
Now, it did a good job of avoiding putting any of my rap, hip hop, country, or metal music on the playlist. I listened to it all the way through, and actually thought it did a reasonably good job. I was only tempted to skip one song that I felt changed the mood of things, and the rest were fine.
So then I decided to try something in one of the other genres. I chose "I Like It, I Love It" by Tim McGraw (Kyle, I thought of you while choosing it). I got this playlist (click to view larger version):
First notice that it only gave me 19 songs (of them happened to be marked as "Country"). I had it set to create 25. Now I own 30 other Tim McGraw songs, so it was possible to find 25 similar songs I would think, but it only found 4 of those. Instead, it found all 10 of the Gretchen Wilson songs I own. While I love Gretchen Wilson at times, many of the songs on that one CD I own did not fit the mood of "I Like It, I Love It" so I actually ended up skipping over some of them when they came up.
I'm also a little suspicious about the generation process. It somehow put my Johnny Horton song on the list. Sure, Johnny Horton is country, but the rest of the list is modern country while Johnny Horton passed away in 1960, seven years before Tim McGraw was even born (and thirteen years before Gretchen Wilson existed). His style is extremely different from anyone else on the list. He was good friends with Johnny Cash and married Hank Williams' ex. I didn't think this belonged and thought it unlikely that "Genius" really collected data that said a bunch of people had this song on their playlists with the other songs I have. Even though I own both songs, I have never placed them in the same playlist as each other. I wonder if it only added the Johnny Horton because of the "country" label.
I think Macs got a bad rep because it's what my generation used in school (and schools had old Macs that never got upgraded) and older generations didn't like change. But Apple is a smart company. They started gaining popularity from the public through the iPod's sleek design and smooth interface that could be synced with either Macs or PCs. They provided a way to obtain mp3s legally at a reasonable price. They came out with pretty colors and varying size and price options.
Then they gained the "geek" population through changing Mac OS to be BSD-based in their tenth version. Previously this population would have to buy a machine, reformat the drive, find and install some distribution of Linux, change the desktop environment to whatever they prefer, and go through all sorts of configurations to get their machine set-up. Now Macs were pre-packaged and ready to go without the hassle, and with a nicer desktop environment.
Next, they improved their Macs to include an Intel core. These Macs can now dual-boot into Windows, and actually run Windows faster than PCs. Suddenly doors opened in terms of the range of software available.
I personally have a white 16 GB iPhone 3G and a Macbook Air with SSD. What's amazed me even more about owning two Apple products is how well they work together with each other. While the iPhone can still sync with a PC just fine (which I used with my work PC while my Macbook Air was being repaired right when I first got my iPhone), I somehow find it smoother syncing straight with the iCal and Address Book on my Mac. (I actually use CalGoo to sync my Google Calendar and my iCal together so I can also view my calendar on any machine through any web browser, and my friends can view my calendars too.)
Their repair policies seem to be pretty good. When I first heard of the "Genius Bar", it was hard not to make fun of the name. But my Macbook Air's fan died down so I made my appointment. Unfortunately, I couldn't get one for a few days so I decided to stop by and hope to get a walk-in appointment. I told the concierge why I was there and they let me do a Quick Drop, since it was a mechanical problem. I got a phone call the next day telling me they were shipping my machine away and it'd take a week. Exactly a week later, I got a call saying I could pick up my machine. My machine came back with all my data, with my invisibleShield intact, and with a brand new fan inside. It cost me nothing, and I loved that I didn't have to mail it off myself.
Yesterday, I had another appointment with the Genius Bar. This time, it was for my iPhone. My top button of it was extremely recessed and almost impossible to find and press. My Genius took one look at it and immediately said she'd replace it. She asked if I backed up all my data before coming in, which I did. She let me take off my invisibleShield (which thanks to their amazing warranty policy, I can send back for a new one at no cost) and helped me clear my data. She pulled out a brand new white iPhone 3G, opened it up and moved my SIM card into it. Immediately it was activated with my phone information and I was all set. Again, at no cost.
My boyfriend has a Macbook Pro (his second one) and an iPhone himself. With our confidence in Apple products, we just bought a 160 gb Apple TV. Upon connecting the Apple TV, both of our laptops recognized it on the network and offered to control it. Our iPhones can also be converted into remotes. The picture quality of the content offered (which includes HD movies) looks stunning on our TV (and the movie rentals have free previews you can watch prior to renting). Even the device itself looks nice and sleek.
Apple's great at causing geeks to technolust for their products because their products are both well-packaged and they work well. Their support policies are excellent as well. Best of all, once you already have an Apple product, other Apple products seem to work seamlessly together with it. Next up, we hope to buy a 1 TB Time Capsule.
I saw a link to this article on DZone and figured they were good questions to answer publicly.
How old were you when you started programming?
I can't remember my exact age, but I was in elementary school. My brother and I had two games that we liked to play in QBasic. I can't remember the names, but one of the two had two apes on buildings that threw explosive frisbees at each other at different angles, trying to take in account the wind. We would go into the program and try to hack it to change different settings. That was my first experience with programming.
I didn't actually write my first program until high school (besides some HTML, making my own webpages in middle school). At the beginning of 9th grade, we were told about a computer programming contest called the ACSL. I hadn't ever written a program before, but I really wanted to give it a try. So I opened up QBasic and with what I learned from playing with settings, I programmed a solution to the given problem. The teacher was shocked that anyone in the class had tried at all, since she knew none of us in that class had any real programming experience.
How did you get started in programming?
Well I guess being in the Math, Science, and Computer Science Magnet Program at Montgomery Blair High School, we were required to take programming classes all of freshman and sophomore years, as well as the beginning of junior year. The classes were easy for me, and I ended up taking Artificial Intelligence with LISP, Computer Graphics, and Networking II as electives later.
For most of my life up until my senior year of high school, I had thought I'd go into some sort of science. Then I started applying to colleges and needed to decide on a major. It seemed like I liked engineering, but it had become pretty clear that I had a natural knack for computer programming. A friend suggested robotics as a combination of the two. I entered Carnegie Mellon through the School of Computer Science, declaring a Computer Science major, Political Science second major (which through the course of college, turned into a minor), and Robotics minor. The math minor I eventually got, I got by accident through just happening to take enough math courses that I thought were interesting.
What was your first language?
My first language, as stated earlier, was BASIC, unless you count HTML.
What was the first real program you wrote?
Well, I'm not sure what would be classified as a real program. My first program for that programming contest was perfectly functional... it took 3 numbers as the lengths of the sides of a triangle, and outputted whether it was an equilateral, isosceles, irregular, or not a triangle. For someone who had never programmed before nor taken a class in programming, it was a nice achievement. I wrote a number of programs after that for classes, some games for myself on my TI calculator, etc. My first program that I used that got to be used by other people was during an internship at one of the national labs in the area during high school. I was working as a chemistry intern, and had programmers who I could ask to write programs for me. They were bogged down with work though, so after they hadn't gotten to my program for a few weeks, I sat down and wrote it myself in Pascal. The programmers who were originally assigned the task were shocked I knew how to program. My program had a very short lifetime though, because as soon as they had the time, they rewrote it in C++, which was the language the rest of their programs were in, for consistency's sake as well as ease of maintaining the program.
What languages have you used since you started programming?
While learning BASIC, I also was taught a modeling and simulation language called STELLA. Sophomore year of high school, I learned Pascal through classes, which I loved for three years even though it wasn't as sophisticated as other languages. Junior year I got a 5/5 on my AP exam in C++, which I studied for on my own though I had never written a program in C++, and did some Java and LISP in classes. Senior year, I played around with perl on my own. Then I got to college. I don't think I really picked up any new languages in college, but I certainly ramped up greatly in my knowledge and skill in both Java and C++. I was a TA for Java for three semesters, and I did all my robotics work for five semesters plus three summers in C++. Now in the work industry, I mostly use Java and SQL with some perl and HTML. I have also picked up shell scripting, and have done some work in PHP as well. I am trying to learn Ruby on the side.
What was your first professional programming gig?
After my display in the chemistry lab, the next two summers the lab decided to actually pay me to be a programmer. I wrote some HTML and perl scripts to display data from a weather vane on the top of the building to a website, I programmed a stepper motor in one of their custom devices, and I wrote the front end application to their colorimeter.
I had several other part-time professional programming gigs in college. I worked at one company whose software could tell you how much you'll like or dislike a song before you hear it. The rest were all robotics related.
My first full-time professional programming gig was with a government contractor. I worked for them for over two years. The first project they put me on was a project tracking system for the FDA and IRS.
If you knew then what you know now, would you have started programming?
Sure, I don't see why anyone would take back their choice to start programming. Now if you change this question to "would I have become a software developer", I think that's a different question. This does not mean that I learned anything negative about software development though. Instead, I have learned that other professions that I previously thought were boring or no fun are actually pretty interesting, and it may have been interesting to have tried delving into them earlier in life. The biggest negative I've learned though, is that being a social person, my position doesn't seem to allow me to interact with people as much as I would've liked to otherwise. I do interface with clients sometimes, but not to the level that the analysts or other colleagues on the business side do.
If there is one thing you learned along the way that you would tell new developers, what would it be?
Speak up, and show motivation. Always strive to take the next step in your career. Doing what you're told and getting your tasks done shouldn't be your goal; it should be what's expected of you and your goal should be to advance in your domain expertise, technical expertise, and technical leadership. Also, to reiterate from a previous post, look for a job that will help you grow your career; don't just accept the highest offer.
What’s the most fun you’ve ever had… programming?
I loved working on robot soccer. I got to go twice to the international competition, and it's really satisfying seeing your code work in a game. You cheer on the little robots as if they were your kids and they could hear you. You watch them shoot that ball into the wooden goal and hear that satisfying *THUD* against the back of the goal. You stay up until the wee a.m. hours programming for the next round after every match you win (our team triple code reviewed any piece that went in during the competition, since we were so prone to errors when programming so late. Errors still made it into the system though). I loved it. So much, that I ended up volunteering and helping Johns Hopkins start a team as well.
Feel free to ask me any other questions if you feel this was incomplete, or share your own answers if you'd like.
I'm totally psyched! After about a two months wait, I finally got accepted into the Spoonflower Beta!
Spoonflower is a site that lets you upload images, and they print fabric with your images on it. Currently they only have one fabric available for the Beta (100% Kona® cotton from Robert Kaufman Fabrics), but they are about to add a second fabric. Images can either be the full size of the piece of fabric you want to order, or if it is smaller, it will be tiled.
This post from one user shows examples of how the fabric turned out with different digital images she submitted. There is also a large Flickr pool of pictures. The prices for the fabric and shipping it are totally reasonable too! For those who do not know how to prepare digital images, they have some good pointers on their FAQ.
While I am no good at sewing or using a sewing machine, I use fabric for handmade cards and bookbinding. I signed up for the beta with these uses in mind, however after seeing all the different things other people came up with, I am dying to try to learn how to sew! I have already picked out a good starter project for myself: making a scrunchie. I have a design in mind for the fabric, but have not made my digital image yet. If my scrunchie turns out, I'll update yinz.
My boyfriend and I have a Netflix. It's great; we get Blu-rays to watch on our Playstation 3 as well as watch an unlimited number of movies a month through the online content. The only problem is that we would argue over which movies to receive next. We both have the password to the account (don't worry, we don't share our passwords for anything else) so that we can both add the movies we want to watch, but constantly we are promoting are demoting each other's choices on the queue.
Luckily, after the outcry from users, Netflix brought back profiles. Netflix profiles are a way for couples, families or housemates to fairly share the queue.
How to Use Netflix Profiles.
Using the main account, go to the Your Account link in the upper right corner after you login.
Then click on Account Profiles
Now you can add a profile for each user in your household! After creating the profiles, you can assign how many DVDs that user gets to receive at a time, out of your membership total. Now there's no more need to be malicious with the Netflix queue!
(I really miss my Macbook Air. It's really making it harder for me to get my posts out on-time.)
Spore received a lot of hype before coming out. It has received decent critic reviews from GameSpot and other sites, but has a really poor rating on Amazon despite being its top seller right now. The main reason for this is that EA put DRM on the software. I've mentioned before about DRM on music. What does it mean in terms of software? In this instance, it means that you can only install Spore three times. If you get a new machine or your hard drives crash and you need to reinstall your OS, then reinstalling the software counts as another time. Uninstalling the software from a machine does not gain you back an install and there's no way to unregister a machine; you only get 3 installs and there is no way to get back an install once one is counted. Also, similar to the music, if somehow EA goes down or decides to discontinue their DRM servers as Yahoo! and Microsoft did, then the software would stop working as well.
Of course, the reviews are a little skewed. Postings on anti-DRM forums encouraged their members to spam Amazon reviews about the DRM information. Many of these people may not have even bought the game even if it was DRM-free, yet they made posts about how they refuse to buy the game because it isn't. At the same time, actual user reviews so far haven't been so hot either, saying that the gameplay is pretty dull in the early phases of the game.
Honestly though, I am less likely to buy the game after hearing about the DRM policy on the software. I am pro DRM-free, but I would still not qualify myself as anti-DRM; I think I would've been more likely to buy this game if it had DRM but I was able to unregister my machines, but the strict three install policy is too much for me to deal with.
My boyfriend loves iced tea. He gets it in restaurants, at fast food chains, from Starbucks, from vending machines, from the gas station fridges... pretty much anywhere where he is getting a non-alcoholic beverage. His main complaint with iced tea though, is that he doesn't like how artificially sweet some of them are.
So, as an impulse buy (I classify it as impulse because I personally take days to research things before I buy them online. He just saw it and used 1-click to buy it), he found and bought an iced tea maker from Amazon. My post-purchase research into reviews seems to indicate that the one he got, the Hamilton Beach Electric Iced Tea Maker, does surpass its competitor by Mr. Coffee. You can use either loose tea leaves or tea bags. It only takes 5 minutes to make 2 quarts, and it is immediately cold and ready to drink. Unfortunately, we could only find bags at our local grocery store and we wanted to experiment with loose tea leaves.
I decided I'd take it upon myself to find him some to buy for him. The best I could find in local stores was some sort of flowery tea at the local Turkish store. I couldn't understand the Turkish on the package though, so I was hesitant about buying it. So I went online. After a little research, the artisan tea pouches at Mighty Leaf Tea. I know I was looking for loose tea, and they do carry loose tea as well (and that's how they came up in my searches), but these pouches really piqued my interest; they contain whole leaves with flowers and fruit rinds and other flavors. I bought three variety packs. Yesterday, the package arrived. We opened up the boxes and it already smelled really good. He picked out the Orange Dulce Black Tea and brewed it. Now, I'm normally not as much of a fan as he is of iced tea (and I've tried it when he brewed other teas with his machine), but this tea was phenomenal. So much so that I ditched my original topic for today to make this post! Now, the machine itself is incredible and the tea really tastes fresh even when you brew the cheap tea pouches, but it wouldn't have been as worthy of a whole blog post without the combination of both the machine and the tea. We can't wait to try the other flavors, which include vanilla bean black tea and their "African Nectar" tea. What's particularly nice is that people who have ordered their teas have written reviews on each different flavor, so you can get an idea of what it would taste like and how much you would like it. They have both caffeinated and caffeine-free teas.
Reading reviews of the iced tea machine, it also says a good option for sweetened tea is to pour sugar on top of the ice before brewing. Apparently placing the sugar here is best for dissolving it and having it mix into the pot of tea. Personally, I'm curious if this can be done with honey. I'll have to investigate that next.
This month's update is both coming on the wrong day and is missing a picture. Unfortunately, the fan on my Macbook Air died, so it's being looked at by the Apple "Geniuses". (Which is also why there wasn't a Monday post.) I was pleased to find that I didn't need an appointment or need to wait in line for my problem; they recognized that it was a clear hardware issue and let me use their "QuickDrop" to just drop it off and leave it there. Supposedly, a Genius will call me today or tomorrow to update me with the status. Sadly, there doesn't seem to be a way to find out the status until they call, even though I have a reference number.
Anyway, August was filled with some more travel. I got to visit Connecticut twice to a very nice house on the Long Island Sound. I went to the Borgata in Atlantic City. with my brother and our SOs for my birthday where we gambled and at wonderful food at Ombra. It was my first time playing poker with more than $5, and I actually did it in the Borgata Poker room. We just played $2/$4 Limit Hold'em and I was expecting to just blow a couple hundred while taking advantage of the drinks, but I did a lot better than expected, and the waitresses were being slow anyway. I think all the hours of kibitzing John Kranyak play poker on his laptop (and clicking for him while he went out for a smoke) somehow helped. Now I have the itch to play again.
My boyfriend and I took our third couples cooking class together. We pretty much never cook at home, but we're slowly trying to learn. In the class, we made pesto bruschetta, grilled portobello salad with a vinaigrette dressing that we emulsified ourselves, grilled lamb, potatoes au gratin, and creme caramel. Everything came out delicious.
I played bridge at the Hunt Valley Regional. My corporate league ultimate team didn't make it past the first round of the playoffs while my advanced league ultimate team lost in the semifinals.
My cellphone contract with Sprint finally ended, so I bought a 16gb white iPhone for myself and added my brother to my plan, getting him an 8gb black iPhone. We're both very happy with them.
I was nominated for the Hot Blogger Calendar, but unfortunately, I did not win, so no photo shoot for me.
I miss my Macbook Air.