• People Talk and My Ear Bleeds


    from Twitter


    Tuesday, July 31, 2007

    Oh, the humanity! v2.0

    Fourteen months ago, I suffered a terrible loss. I've never been a fascionista, down with the latest trends, super GQ guy. I wear what my wife tells me looks good, and since she's almost always right, I do ok. I just won't wear pink ties.

    One constant to my wardrobe (not a malfunction...) was my hat. One day, fourteen months ago, at the Go Vap VATC, I put my hat down and never saw it again.

    I died a little inside that day.

    This is my new hat! My problem was that I could not find it when I shopped around. My wife thought (thinks?) that I was crazy. You see, I could find the University of Texas hat with the longhorn on the front, in the new "z-fit" (zephyr's version of the mild elastic band that allows for semi-fitted hats) or in fitted styles, but I could only find the "T" logo on front in the "z-fit" style.

    So, at academy, I broke down and bought the "T" with the elastic fit. I brought it home. I tried it on. It was ok ... perhaps, if I had never had my beloved hat v1.0, I wouldn't have cared, but to be honest, the elastic fit that every hat maker is selling now is not as comfortable as a true fitted hat. I wanted my 7 1/4. So, I jumped online, found headhound.com, and found my hat--exactly the "T" and the fit.

    And now, every day is a little brighter, because I am me again. That funny guy with the orange "T" hat.

    Wednesday, July 25, 2007

    A Tour in Disarray

    The news that Rasmussen was sacked shocked me, but it was the withdrawl of his whole team and the whole french team that broke the last straw of sanity.

    Cycling is like a human body, struggling with an infection. Doping is like S. aureus, a small problem, typically constricted in a set location. However, if you do not treat your S. aureus infection with antibiotics, it may go septicemic.

    Cycling did not treat doping when it started, and didn't acknowledge the septicemia until the disease was too severe. Just like a bacterial infection that has progressed too far, it may be impossible to overcome doping. Often, when antibiotics won't work anymore, the body can only be saved by cutting off the infected limb. Other times, even that doesn't work, and the patient dies. Cycling is in the midst of a feverish fight with itself, and today it bit the bullet and amputated an arm.

    Rasmussen, the tour leader, axed without a true positive test, is like cutting the arm off above the fetid flesh--a desperate measure to stop the spread of the infection.

    The new tour leaders have never been linked to anything unethical, but it's too little, too late. Lance Armstrong's gone, and with him goes American interest. Germany is leaving too, and many more will follow because people's faith in the sport is gone. The infection is MRSA, and it's septic. The only way to cure the infection is to focus on limiting the spread to other sports, bury cycling as currently constituted (organization-wise), and start anew.

    Monday, July 23, 2007

    Dangerous Dog Registry

    Many months back my wife came home sad and stressed.

    "What's wrong?" I asked.

    "I just visited this little boy in the hospital who was mauled by a pit bull while in front of his house," she responded.

    Good enough for government work
    Pit bulls are a frequent topic at my house. Their good and bad traits have been debated by my wife and I, in-laws, out-laws--whoever--since my wife started working for Houston's Animal Regulation Bureau of the Environmental Health Department.

    The one thing that's abundantly clear from all this debate is that there is a large group of people who hate pit bulls and think they should be banned, and there is another large group that vehemently opposes the first.

    After hearing the latest story, I sat at the dinner table wondering what to do.

    "Well, since you can't ban pit bulls," I mused, "and you can't keep things the way they are, why not do something else?"

    "Like what?" my wife asked.

    "Like a registry ... for dangerous dogs. It'd be similar to a sex offender registry. Everyone with a dangerous dog is required to list their address."

    "I like the idea; I'm listening," my wife interjected.

    "Well, since owning a pet is a luxury, in my opinion, anyway, and these dogs have already been declared dangerous because of a previous bite incident, then a registry would allow minimal invasion of privacy --I mean, compared to outright banning of breeds -- but allow people information. That way, if someone with small children was moving to a subdivision, he or she could go online and look for any dangerous dogs near his or her prospective house and use it when deciding where to live.

    Also, the city must post it clearly on its website for this to work. Every time someone moved, they'd need to file a short change of address form--just like at the post office--or face a fine of whatever the city sees fit. All in all, people feel more safe with the information, and pit bull lovers don't see their breeds banned."

    My wife took the idea to work and ran with it. She passed it by her boss and he liked it --a lot-- so she talked to "the chief" -- the director of her Bureau -- and he liked the idea too. She came home a few days later and said it was going to the city's legal counsel so Houston can find a way to implement it.

    That's death.

    Today she found out at work that New York City will institute a dangerous dog registry just like the one I suggested. I did a quick google search and didn't find New York, but did find the state of Virginia has a dangerous dog registry. But Houston still does not.

    The cynic in me says this is because the stars of every law class do NOT work for the city, and that government is NEVER efficient. The truth is probably more the latter than the former.

    It'd be similar to a sex offender registry
    Still, it's quite a shame. When a bite case happens, the dog is declared dangerous. The city has it's registration number, and if it bites again, it's gone. How hard can it be to put that information up on the web, in a clear, searchable form, to empower people to protect their families? How many more children must be mauled before such a simple solution is started?

    Texas just enacted legislation that makes it a felony if a dog not on a leash seriously injures a person. A felony! They could push that legislation through but couldn't create this simple directory?

    Well, at least they talked about it. In the science world, we called a half-baked job like that, "good enough for government work."

    Tuesday, July 10, 2007

    A Tale of Two Peoples 2: The "Việt Kiều" word

    "Emigrant, my friends! Do you not see me here, in France, of my own will?"

    "You are a cursed emigrant," cried a farrier, making at him in a furious manner through the press, hammer in hand; "and you are a cursed aristocrat!"

    ... Darnay said, as soon as he could make his voice heard:

    "Friends, you deceive yourselves, or you are deceived. I am not a traitor."

    "He lies!" cried the smith. "He is a traitor since the decree. His life is forfeit to the people. His cursed life is not his own!"


    "What is this decree that the smith spoke of?" Darnay asked the postmaster, when he had thanked him, and stood beside him in the yard. "Truly, a decree for selling the property of emigrants."

    "When passed?"

    "On the fourteenth."

    "The day I left England!"

    "Everybody says it is but one of several, and that there will be others- if there are not already- banishing all emigrants, and condemning all to death who return. That is what he meant when he said your life was not your own."

    "But there are no such decrees yet?"

    "What do I know!" said the postmaster, shrugging his shoulders; "there may be, or there will be. It is all the same. What would you have?"
    (Charles Dickens, Tale of Two Cities, Book 3 chapter 1)

    In "A Tale of Two Peoples," I set forth the view that the Vietnamese in Vietnam and the Vietnamese living oversees are quite totally two different peoples. Many people made good, cogent comments. Possibly stemming from our unconscious ethno-centricism, most points focused on the status of the Việt kiều.

    However, at least equally responsible for the gulf between the two peoples are the Vietnamese mới. To prove that two peoples exist, I must both show a feeling of community that defines a people, and show feelings of disconnection between the two groups.

    I alluded to this when I said,
    "I cannot count anymore the number of times I've heard "việt kiều" come out of someone's mouth as a derogatory comment."
    and this term's connotation shows the gulf of which I write.

    Of course, these are two peoples currently moving apart, and as such there will be exceptions to my theory, but I do feel they are the minority, not majority.

    The term "việt kiều" is used by the communists to include people of Vietnamese descent living oversees as Vietnamese--to establish jurisdiction over them in the government's mind. This concept is foreign to someone from the United States. We do not wake up each morning, grab the paper, and read on the front page about the awards or escapades of someone of American descent living in a foreign country--France for instance--especially if that person was born and raised in France.

    But that is what the Vietnamese do every morning. Example: Open up your Tuổi Trẻ newspaper in the morning and you'll likely find an article (conveniently located online in the "Người Việt xa quê" [Viets away from home] section) about someone of Vietnamese descent doing something in another country, often barely related to Vietnam at all.

    Yet all the newspaper articles cannot stop the divide between people. I spoke with an old student of mine the other night, and this is part of the conversation we had:

    Student (4/19/2007 9:55:43 PM): o viet nam
    Student (4/19/2007 9:55:50 PM): co nhiu nguoi tu nhan la viet kieu
    Student (4/19/2007 9:55:54 PM): nhung ho hok het di lam
    Student (4/19/2007 9:56:02 PM): ma chi la di wa my rui ve
    Student (4/19/2007 9:56:14 PM): chu hok he lam viec
    Student (4/19/2007 9:56:26 PM): va ho chi mang mac viet kieu ma thoi
    Student (4/19/2007 10:04:46 PM): theo thi co 2 loai viet kieu thay ah
    Student (4/19/2007 10:04:51 PM): mot la nhu em da noi
    Student (4/19/2007 10:04:58 PM): ho lam viec cuc kho de kiem tien
    Student (4/19/2007 10:05:12 PM): rui gui ve cho gia dinh dang kho khan o viet nam hay ba con
    Student (4/19/2007 10:05:20 PM): nhung con mot loai viet kieu nua la
    Student (4/19/2007 10:05:25 PM): ho chi co danh thoi
    Student (4/19/2007 10:05:32 PM): chu ho hok he di lam de kiem tien
    Student (4/19/2007 10:05:41 PM): nen ho chi bit huong thu thoi
    Student (4/19/2007 10:05:59 PM): doi khi con co nhung nguoi mang danh viet kieu de di lua dao nua
    Student (4/19/2007 10:06:01 PM): v.v
    Student (4/19/2007 10:06:04 PM): nhiu lam thay oi
    Student (4/19/2007 10:06:29 PM): nen o viet nam neu viet kieu ma ve thuong xuyen la nguoi ta biet viet kieu gia
    Student (4/19/2007 10:06:45 PM): boi vi ve thuong xuyen thi co dau co di lam udoc
    Student (4/19/2007 10:06:56 PM): ma hok di lam thi sao lam ra tien phai hok thay
    Student (4/19/2007 10:06:59 PM): :-)

    Another viewpoint stemmed from this conversation I had with my wife.

    Me: Dear, when you hear the word "việt kiều" how do you feel?
    Wife: I don't like it. I don't want to be one.
    Me: But in Vietnam, does it have a negative or positive connotation?
    Wife: Negative.
    Me: Why?
    Wife: Because we don't like them, the việt kiều, coming into our country and acting like they're all good. Last time we were in Vietnam, I went with my mom to Parkson, and she pointed them out. They walk around and flash all their money like they're better thank us.
    Me: How could you tell them from other rich Viets?
    Wife: Oh you can tell. They're so nhà quê. They look like they've never been in a department store before, wandering around, not knowing where to go, but then they pull out all the money and flaunt it around saying 'Hey, we're rich.' They go to America and work for nothing, living a poor life, and then they fly back to Vietnam and throw it around acting all rich and better.
    Me: Your family's been blessed lately, and are pretty well off. Is it just a case of envy, or do others feel this way?
    Wife: All my friends felt that way, and many of them have no money. I felt this way growing up--before my parents got money. I think it's pretty common.
    Me: What about my student, who said "việt kiều" was used for those who went to work in America and came back?
    Wife: I don't know how the young generation uses it, but it can have many meanings--
    Me: Didn't it start from the government in newspapers trying to take credit for things done by ex patriot Vietnamese?
    Wife: Yes, and if you read the newspaper and see it, then that's what it means--the dictionary definition. But it has more than that. Most people use it derogatorily.
    Me: About the newspapers...did you ever feel kinship with the việt kiều written about in the Tuổi Trẻ?
    Wife: No. I thought it was stupid. They're not Vietnamese. The government is just trying to take credit for things that they do. If I did something here in America, and they wrote about it in Vietnam, that doesn't make it Vietnamese. It was a product of me, here in America, with these opportunities, and skills, and will always be an American thing.
    Me: What about a Vietnamese person who -- well, let's say you have a Vietnamese person in America--a high school student--who wins an award in math, and then a white kid wins the same award, and both are reported in the newspapers in Vietnam. Would you feel more closely with one or the other?
    Wife: Well obviously the Viet ... I'd think 'that's our Vietnamese brain! Good at math!' But as far as taking credit for him, no, because he grew up in America. He's not Vietnamese.

    Both viewpoints highlight the heterogeneous feelings that the Vietnamese mới have for the Việt kiều, and mirror what I felt I saw while there. In Vietnam, like always, there is great respect for hard work. The Vietnamese are some of the hardest working people I have ever seen. Therefore, those Vietnamese who live in America are respected for their hard work by those who understand that not all streets in America are paved with gold.

    However, the very visceral feelings of hurt, anger, pride, jealousy, etc. are also evident when those same people return to Vietnam. The ties between Việt mới and Việt kiều are minimal--possibly hair color and height only--because of the radically different circumstances in which they grew up and lived. Look at my wife's answers to my last two questions. She feels more connected to the Viet math star than the white math star, yet truly doesn't feel close to any person of Vietnamese descent living in America ("They're not Vietnamese").

    A middle class Vietnamese person makes between 3 million and 10 million đồng a month in Saigon. Actually, that's almost upper middle class. It's a lot less outside Saigon and Hanoi. The income disparity is massive. The new educated youth that speak English are taking foreign money and living well, but that is not nearly the norm for most of the country.

    Picture 110

    So, a 24 year old mechanic sees a 24 year old Việt kiều walk out of Parkson with a shirt that cost 800,000 đồng and a tie that cost 300,000đ and he doesn't say, "hey bro." He says, "you just spent my monthly wage on a shirt and tie, and you say you're one of me? You don't know me. You haven't lived through what I do. You aren't anything like me. You're not me."

    This is not a hatred, but a dissociation. The Việt mới stick around those who share their experiences, can empathize, and identify as being true Vietnamese.

    Monday, July 02, 2007

    Where are my Pictures?

    The other day I checked my photos on Yahoo photos and was greeted with this sight:

    I'm not a fan of Yahoo!, to be honest, but I was bummed. I do like Yahoo! Photos. Among other things, it was the one free photo host I had that let me make as many albums as I wanted. As you can tell from the screenshot above, Yahoo wants me to move to Flickr (because it owns Flickr), and I almost did it reflexively, since I've had a Flickr account for years (at least 2 B.Y. -- before Yahoo). However, I stopped myself, since I had no clue what the other three suggested photo sites were, and this is my discovery.

    Looking always to do things my own way, I immediately jumped to #2 and was horrified that I would have to download each photo one by one... I don't know how most people only have 20 photos or less, but I can assure you, I am NOT downloading my hundreds of photos one ... by ... one ... I'm stupid, but not that stupid.

    So I moved to the automated services. I started with the least familiar -- Shutterfly.

    The sign up was quick and painless. I was then greeted with the ability to start my own album or use Shutterfly's stock photos to make a demo album. They must understand that people like to test drive first. Already racking up the points. I picked the demo pictures, and was greeted with the first picture. Overall the layout is nice and crisp. Circle 1 shows your thumbnail options: small, medium, large. Large is the only option with names below. Small is REALLY small.

    Working in Shutterfly allows quick movement between albums and pictures. You can see in circle 2, that you can fix red-eye and make a slideshow. Making another album was as simple as pushing a button (picture 2), and should you be inclined to buy prints of your photos through Shutterfly (the real reason why it exists), the ubiquitous "Cart" button is always at the top. The ordering is pretty straight forward -- you just use drop-down boxes to select the # of each size photo you want. You can either have the prints mailed to you, or you can pick them up at the nearest Target.

    However, when looking at my photos, Shutterfly started to lose points. As you can see in the third picture, circle 1, Shutterfly has an easy to use system of doctoring photos. Good! But it doesn't allow you to look at your photos in any greater detail than you see the dog now. No zoom. No tagging of photos for searching. Limited metadata. Limited points in my book.

    I left Shutterfly unimpressed. It failed at the most important of all functions--letting me see my photos. If I just want to upload and print them, I'll just go straight to Target's photo page.

    Next on the list was Snapfish. Again, the sign up was easy, eerily similar to Shutterfly. In fact, almost everything was eerily similar.

    As you can see from circle 1, its main purpose is also to make you print your photos. They did, however, put the slideshow button central to the webpage, which I think is better, seeing how most people using this service will want their stuff simple, and that's as simple as it gets. However, you really can't do anything with the thumbnails (circle 3), and viewing the photos is exactly the same as Shutterfly. Overall, I'd go with Shutterfly, but in reality I think they are just twins separated at birth.

    Unimpressed with Snapfish, and compounded with previous experience of seeing Photobucket slideshows on Facebook pages, I entered Photobucket with very low expectations. Immediately I was hit with advertisements. Aaagghhh, busy webpage....my google-fied mindset cannot process such business. I like my webpages neat and uncluttered, definitely not filled with grinning faces and useless words that my eyes just skim over.

    This, however, is the theme of Photobucket. Advertise everything. If these photo hosting sites were cars, Photobucket would be in Nascar. Definitely geared to the mindless preteen/myspace generation.

    Immediately Photobucket lost more points by asking me for my cell phone number.

    If I don't give this to every person I know, why would I give it to some random website? I seriously almost stopped there, and if it wasn't for my blogging mindset, I would have. However, I pressed on, and am happy to say, you can leave it blank (which I did).

    After clearing that major hurdle, I was actually impressed with its service. Although it started with negative points after the cell phone fiasco, it quickly racked them up. Photobucket is a true photo hosting site. It lets you mess with your photos, share your photos, turn them into soup if you want to. Because of this, it deals with bandwidth and storage issues (picture), so it allows you to choose how you store your photos. It is also the first site I encounter with tiered access: free and paid.

    I had to upload my own files (no gimme demos), so I used the demos that come with Windows XP. Immediately I noticed three things (picture):

    1. The photos show up somewhat unnaturally at the bottom of the page.
    2. It is quite easy to edit data (like titles) in the photos.
    3. It gives you the url, img code, and embed link right up front -- a great boon for bloggers.

    When you click on a photo, you have a nice clean desktop to work with (picture).

    1. Photobucket allows you to see the full size (that you chose to save on their server) photo with a click of the button.
    2. In addition to the REAL photo editing and hosting functionality, it still allows you to give them money by printing your photos.
    3. Conveniently, the url, img, and embed code is situated unobtrusively in the bottom corner of the page while editing.
    4. For true photography junkies, it gives you some metadata to work with.

    Photobucket's coup de grace is it's ability to "Remix," or make a movie (picture). Partnering with Adobe, it allows users to drag video clips and photos to make a collage of sorts -- perfect for weddings where we all sigh at the pics and videos of the bride and groom when they're three. The system is easy to use (drag and drop), intuitive, and FREE. The only setback is the limited space given to movie hosting.

    Finally, you can upgrade to Pro for $25 (picture), but more on that later.

    Next came Flickr, the home team. Flickr's signup is doubly easy, because it's also Yahoo's sign up. If you have a Yahoo acct because of email, Yahoo360, etc., then you can use the same here. Upon entering, the front page is a little crowded, but not like Photobucket. It also has minimal advertising, while most of Photobucket's crowd was advertising.

    Moving to my photos, you can see both the good and the bad right away. The good is the layout. Whereas Photobucket put the photos at the bottom of the page, Flickr has them right there for you to peruse. You can also change the layout if you want. The bad is that you only get three albums in the free version of Flickr. It too is a tiered service.

    1. The slideshow button is clearly but unobtrusively placed (but no Remix!).
    2. Albums are clearly labeled and easy to use, if you have enough.

    Flickr's photo editing/viewing setup is great, mostly due to it's photographer base that made it popular before Yahoo dumbed it down. Looking at your photo (this is one I took of a noonday ceremony at the Cao Dai temple in Tay Ninh) you can see, (picture)

    1. Flickr makes it easy to see all sizes, blog your photo, or order prints. If you order prints, you do it through a company called Qoop, which coincidentally, is the company used by Photobucket.
    2. Tags make Flickr. By tagging your photo, you determine how people find it through searches.
    3. Also due to its photographer background, Flickr gives you all the gory details of the pictures.

    When you look at the other sizes of a photo, Flickr takes you to another page. This is kinda frustrating. I'm so used to javascript functionality that I'd like to see the page think, and then deliver it to me, instead of loading a whole new webpage. What Flickr does right is give you options. You can easily select sizes, and if you pay for the upgraded service you can have the "original" size option available (picture).

    In addition, Flickr clearly gives you the url, img, and embed info necessary to be a good blogger. One issue I have with their "community guidelines" is that my use of lightbox 2.0 doesn't mesh perfectly with Flickr's rules. All of this is extra info I've gained over years of use.

    Finally, Flickr's pro account also costs $25 a year (picture 1, picture 2).

    With all this site hopping, I got thinking. Yahoo left off one other BIG photo hosting site, and coincidentally, it's biggest competitor: Picasaweb by Google.

    So, I thought, why not try it out too? How does it compare to Photobucket and Flickr, which clearly cleaned the clocks of Snapfish and Shutterfly?

    Like Flickr, Picasa's sign in is easy and linked. Everything in the google universe is accessible. Since I am blogging on Blogger, I already have an account with Picasa, because that is the default host for my blog's photos.

    Looking at my blog's album, it is immediately apparent that Picasa follows Google's lust for all things minimalistic and pastel. The thumbnails' sizes are easily changed and laid out for you in a simple manner. Picasa also offers photo mapping and organization that other services do not -- basically you put a pin on a map where the pic is from so people can look at the map and browse photos from that area.

    When looking at a photo, Picasa doesn't give you the size options that Flickr does, but it's pretty comparable to Photobucket. Even when you zoom, you might not always get the original size, if it's a big photo (picture).

    1. It does give you all the photo metadata like Flickr does.
    2. It also makes the url, img, and embed info easy to find and unobtrusive like both Flickr and Photobucket. In fact, maybe a little better, because you can change the size of the picture coded quickly through a drop down menu below the code.

    Interestingly, if you choose to print your photo, Picasa gives you the option of using Shutterfly...so we come full circle! (picture)

    Another thing Picasa offers is Picasa for your computer, which organizes all your photos and basically acts like a mini Adobe photoshop, streamlining your photo organization and uploading. Photobucket has something similar in beta. Flickr doesn't have that, but does have some neat, light-weight uploading tools for your computer (and if you use Firefox, you might like Flock--which is a Firefox based browser that streamlines multimedia use, and has built in Flickr uploading capability).

    And of course, Picasaweb is a tiered service, offering a pro acct starting at $25 (picture).

    "Wait, wait, wait!" you say. "$25!" Yes, Photobucket, Flickr, and Picasaweb all offer more bang for your buck. "How much," you ask? This much:

    So in the end, what am I to do? Clearly, Snapfish and Shutterfly are inferior products. Photobucket is better than Flickr for the free tier because it gives me unlimited albums, but is worse than Flickr because it has those stupid ads. Picasaweb is probably the best for a free tier, but Yahoo didn't give me that option, so I'd have to download every photo one by one, and then upload them to Picasaweb. If I pay money, I think Flickr is hands down the best.

    So, do I go with Picasaweb and downloading, so I stay free?
    Or do I go with Photobucket because no downloading and free?
    Or do I go with Flickr because no downloading, and $25/year gives me great stuff?

    What do you think?