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Friday, March 31, 2006

Google, V for Vendetta

So, last week I had a phone interview with Google for a summer internship position. Turns out I didn't get the position, but they seemed to like me even so. I've never gotten a job straight from an interview before, so it didn't surprise me very much. I always have gotten my jobs through contacts, and without having to compete for the position. I was really hoping to get this job, but I will accept this outcome as God's direction for my summer.

V for Vendetta is a movie I saw on Saturday with my roommate JT. I can describe the plot as a mix between Phantom of the Opera, 1984, and Zorro. The story follows a hero named V, who follows in the legacy of the famous Catholic legendary rebel who tried to blow up the parliament building in the 17th century. Being made by the same guys who made The Matrix, you expect a good deal from the movie. They deliver a great film with top-notch acting from Natalie Portman(in my opinion the most attractive actress in Hollywood) and Hugo Weaving as V.

An interesting aspect to me was that we never see V's face. His whole body was burned in a fire, so he would not want to take off his mask anyway. But in most movies with a masked hero you see his face at some point, even if it is hideous. I think the reason for this is they wanted to present V symbolically as an idea, rather than as a person, although his character is developed pretty well and he's very entertaining. In particular I liked his monologue near the beginning of the movie in which every other word he utters begins with V. Very clever :-)

The leftist rhetoric is over the top, and with some scrutiny does not hold water. But to me, Hollywood is what it is and one should take a lot of the messages from these films with a grain of salt. Still, there is some good expressed through the movie.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Blue Moon

Not only have I had beer twice within the space of a week(unheard of), but both times I've had someone buy for me(quite common, however), and both times I've had Blue Moon. The first time, it was ordered for me. The second time, I ordered it specifically. So, I like it. I like this beer because it's light(as in white, not as in low calorie), smooth and has a citrus flavor to it. I can actually drink it at a normal pace, which is unusual for me and beer. It's a Belgian white beer, and is served with an orange slice. So give it a try if you usually don't like beer but have an oppourtunity to order one.

I think now I'm going to make me a grilled cheese sandwich. So I'm going to tell you all the proper way to make one. Use whole wheat bread. Cut slices of some single vegetable. I like onions, or mushrooms, or zucchini. Fry the sliced vegetable in olive oil(I might try adding some red wine here) until it starts to brown. Place the vegetable on the bread. Cut some melting cheese(cheddar, mozzarella, colby, etc...) and place it on the vegetable and top it with the bread. Put the sandwich in the pan with some olive oil and let it fry on a medium heat until brown on both sides. That is one excellent sandwich :-)

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Thara Thai

Thara Thai is a restaurant on Bloomington Road in Champaign, just west of Prospect Ave. I went there on Sunday with some graduate students, most of whom were in Linguistics, and I was likely the youngest one among the group, and the only native English speaker. The food there is quite good and very spicy, even if you order something to be mild. I could handle it, but my American-oriented sinuses were reacting rather violently to the spices. I wanted a dish with some seafood and our Thai friend who was with us recommended the red curry with shrimp, which was very spicy but tasted good.

It's spring break, but there's snow covering the ground. ::shakes fist at weather::

Monday, March 13, 2006

More Wine, Martial Arts School, Puzzle Crunch

On Thursday I went to Krannert Uncorked, which is a free wine tasting at the performing arts center here at the U of IL. They didn't give much wine, but it was enough to know what I liked. I liked the Cabernet Sauvignon the best, because its fruity flavor poured over my tongue in a way that I've rarely experienced. They also had a table full of snack foods including cheese and various kinds of crackers. I'll still take the wine tasting at Persimmon Grocery any day for $2, but this was fun, and I talked with a fellow Linguistics grad student. And it was free!

Directly after the wine tasting, I visited Best Academy School of Martial Arts in Champaign. I was quite impressed. The workouts were quite rigorous, the instructor was very knowledgable, and most importantly, the school is not very commercialized. I recognized similarities between this school and my Shotokan school in MD that made me impressed. I watched the Shudokan Karate class first. The kata in that karate are done with very high yang energy. It was interesting, but I don't know if I'd want to sustain that high yang energy throughout a whole style.

It's always a good sign if a martial arts school lets you train for free with them at least once. I participated in the mixed martial arts class, in which the black belt doing the warmup led us through 100 pushups in a row, and hard ones, not just regular pushups. So I couldn't keep up, but I did my best. I worked with the instructor on punching and kicking focus pads, and I almost fainted because of the wine dehydrating me. But I didn't say anything and I worked through it. Then we worked on sparring, at my request. He recommended slow sparring which I was impressed with. Slow sparring is very useful, and is a sign that someone is interested in applicability.

This school is not interested in tournaments, and they are probably reasonably priced. The instructor that I talked with, who has half the experience of the head instructor, has 20 years of experience. They have knowledge of pressure point fighting, various styles, high practicality, and philosophical/spiritual foundations of martial arts. He also claimed a school philosophy to not emphasize belt ranks. All of these are essential aspects of a good martial arts school. I think I may start attending this school to further my training.

On Saturday I took part in a puzzle competition called Puzzle Crunch. I was in a group of four and you can see the group if you go to the winners page and look at the 1st place team. Yes, we won! These puzzle competitions are very fun. They are meant for people with computer science or engineering-type backgrounds, and involve lots of logic, randomness, and looking in the right places. This competition involved a lot of running around campus finding clues and other puzzles, and interacting with the creators, even(we had to pickpocket one of them). We won about $800 in prizes, the biggest of which was an XBox 360 Platinum. We also got three games for it, a mug, a messenger bag, t-shirts, $200 Best Buy gift cards, and a pizza. If you want to help me with next semester's Puzzle Crack, you should contact me about it :-)

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Error Message By Dialog Box

One of my pet peeves is the pop-up dialog box messages that programs often give you. To me, this is one of the worst UI decisions to make when writing a program. Since many programs that I run are actively internet dependent, and I travel with my computer most of the time, whenever I leave the range of a Wi-Fi hotspot all my programs give me dialog box error messages for want of an internet connection. Windows gives you these all the time as well, for any number of errors.

Why do I dislike these? Because I have to click "OK" on ALL of the dialog boxes in order to even use the programs that the errors originated from. From a user perspective, of course I want to be notified of errors, but I should not have to put up with error messages that completely bring to a halt my productivity until I click past them all.

For a good example of the right way to do error messages, look at the IM client called GAIM. When there's an error, it puts a notification directly on the client window, not blocking anything else, and only giving you a pop-up dialog box if you click on the error message. Otherwise it does not hinder you at all. If you resolve the error, the error message goes away without any sort of pop-up. More UI designers should follow the lead of the GAIM people.
</rant>

Monday, March 06, 2006

Cincinnati

Hey folks!
Just had a nice weekend in Cincinnati visiting my girl Rachel :-) So I thought I'd go over a few of the places I went and give them a proper review.

Cincinnati is a very simple place to get to from where I live. You see, the highway 74 runs straight through Champaign-Urbana, and hey, it also runs straight through Cincinnati! Actually, I think 74 begins in Cincinnati. So that's good for you to know, if you live in Champaign-Urbana. Just take 74 east and you'll hit Cincinnati eventually. It'll take you 3 1/2 to 4 hours.

Cincinnati is a very cute town, in my opinion. Especially near the university. And Rachel enjoys living there very much. The first place we visited was the UC art gallery, where some of Rachel's professors and fellow students had some work displayed. The art gallery is actually downtown, apart from the university. The theme was "Bad Drawings". So there were all sorts of drawing displayed from the department. It was a fun time. Especially of note was the work of Rachel's favorite professor, Denise Burge, who specializes in drawing and fabric art/quilting. She put together an amazing fabric composition that was hung on a wall in the gallery. She basically made a painting with fabric cuts laid out over each other. Some of the designs were quite intricate.

The Krohn Conservatory is an excellent place to go and relax, especially when the sun is out. It's not as large as the US Botanical Garden, but the layout is basically the same. If you've never been to a plant conservatory you must go. It's like a zoo of plants. The Krohn Conservatory is peacefully situated on a hill near the pristine Eden Park. Particularly impressive at the Krohn Conservatory was the Orchid show going on while we were there. They had prize-winning orchids, bred to appear extremely beautiful, or delicate, or even bug-like and creepy.

The UC Campus Recreation Center was an interesting experience. As I've previously mentioned, I have an exercise/relaxation routine that I do every three days at one of the Illinois gyms. UC just opened their new rec center a few weeks ago so everything was all shiny. Well, as shiny as grey and black can be, which is the color that dominated the entire complex. The architecture was impressive, but I think not so conducive to an optimistic attitude while exercising and relaxing. You must understand that UC has the best architecture department in the whole country, hands down, and the architecture of the university is very interesting and creative than most universities I've been to. I think the person who designed this building might've been depressed, though. And the guest fee was $10. Compare to $7 for the UIUC gym. I did my routine as best I could. The facilities were very nice for the most part, but they still evidently did not check with the design of the UIUC gym. The lockers are all lockable only by having a combination lock of your own, which you must buy or bring. Compare with the UIUC gym's electronic combination locks that anyone can walk up and use with no additional hardware. Another problem was that the whirlpool's engine was placed too close to the whirlpool, so that it vibrated and made a sound like a subwoofer. But it was a nice experience being there with my girl and getting some exercise. I'm sure it will be very enjoyable for most people and a nice addition to the university.

While you're in Cincinnati, you may also want to visit Sitwell's on Ludlow Ave. It's a nice coffee shop that I've been to a couple times. They have good selection and better service than most coffee shops.

So, take that drive down 74E :-)