What I'm Reading
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Monday, February 27. 2006
Well, reading break is sadly over for academia, and I feel like I need a break after this break. Most people took this opportunity to go travel or relax. For me, I spent the majority of time locked inside my room working on an assignment. Good times.
The assignment involved creating a wireframe cube model in a 3D space and being able to manipulate the cube and the 3D space with mouse gestures. This is for my computer graphics course. If your eyes have just glazed over from what I just said.... well, I feel the same way. I spent many days banging my head on the desk trying to figure out the math behind this stuff. Furthermore, the slides and hints that were provided for this assignment were fairly useless because some fairly important details were omitted. Long story short, I have ample respect for people who do 3D graphics for video games these days. It is definitely not a walk in the park at first.
There were a few other reasons why this assignment was fairly tricky. First, the specifications were fairly vague, and the TA said just to look at the sample solution programs which demonstrated what the 3D cube and space should look like. This is all good and well, but those sample solutions were done by students. There were four different programs that we could look at, but each one implemented things differently, and two of them were implemented improperly. To compound this problem, it's fairly difficult to debug a graphics scene because it's really in the eye of the beholder. This makes it hard to check if your program is correct or not.
Nevertheless, I bring this upon myself because I'm a sucker for taking some of the hardest courses in my program. These courses are known for their heavy workload, yet I still walk right into it. I guess it keeps me sharp though since I go through the term with guns blazing the whole way through. In the end, it'll also be more useful for the end game: the workplace.
In either case, I was frantically trying to finish this assignment, and today was the due date, and I finished about 90% of it. I felt kind of stupid because usually I get programming assignments done completely. Luckily in class, the prof asked how many people were still not done, and about 95% of the class indicated they hadn't finished. The prof did confess that this was by far the hardest assignment that we'll get, so he gave us a one week extension. I breathed a sigh of relief because it wasn't just me having troubles with the assignment. Even my fellow grad students weren't finished. Most of the undergrads had about 66% of the assignment completed.
In conclusion, I didn't really have a reading break at all since I spent most of the time working on that assignment. I've probably spent over 40 hours on this thing so far. Nevertheless, I had a fairly productive reading break. Let's recount the stuff I did last week.
Last Tuesday I did a lot of work on my car. I fixed the leak in the trunk, dried out the trunk, killed the mold that was growing on one of the seats, and replaced the headlights. (45 straight days of rain + leak = mold). I also got the last of my RRSP contributions in before the cutoff date, and my portfolio is officially diversified. I also put away some cash away in a GIC. Last Saturday, I also finished a multimedia presentation for my church's kid's ministry which was used for fundraising purposes.
Its been a busy week, but hopefully I'll be slightly ahead of the game when classes resume.
Saturday, February 25. 2006
When I got up Friday morning, I was watching the morning financial news on CNBC. If you watch financial shows, you'll know that they'll have a live stock ticker on the bottom of the screen scrolling from right to left with the latest prices. I saw the price of oil go by, and it said it was up two dollars in one day. My goodness, what on earth happened? Why did oil prices suddenly spike?
As I flipped to CNN, I saw a news report about Al Qaeda attacking the largest oil refinery in Saudi Arabia, and there was no word on how much damage there was yet. This is huge news because apparently 10% of the world's oil production travels through that Saudi refinery. A disruption to that refinery would cause oil shocks all other the world.
Later in the day, I saw an article on CNN reporting "Saudis thwart oil refinery attack." From the article:
Earlier statements from Saudi's interior and oil ministries said two cars carrying an unknown number of would-be bombers tried to enter the side gate to the Abqaiq plant near Dammam, but the attackers detonated their explosives after security guards fired on them.
Two guards were critically injured in the blast, according to the interior minister's spokesman.
Saudi security consultant Nawaf Obaid said the cars breached the outer security perimeter after opening fire on security guards, killing three and wounding 10, before being stopped at a second security perimeter, where they set off the explosives.
The explosions caused a "minor fire" in a nearby industrial area that was quickly brought under control, the government statements said.
The incident did not affect the facility's operations, said Saudi Oil Minister Ali bin Ibrahim al-Naimi.
The incident happened shortly after 3 p.m. (7 a.m. ET) about 1.5 km (1 mile) from the plant's main entrance, he said.
All of the would-be attackers were killed, according to Obaid and a senior Saudi security official.
Al Qaeda has long called for attacks on Saudi oil installations, accusing the country's government of selling oil to the West at cheap prices, The Associated Press said.
Continue reading "Al Qaeda Attacks Saudi Oil Refinery"
Wednesday, February 22. 2006
Alright, this is part two of our series on RRSPs. This week we're going to cover GICs which stands for Guaranteed Investment Certificates. I will reiterate my standard disclaimer before I proceed. Please consult a financial advisor about your investment decisions, I am not responsible for any money you may make or lose.
What Is A GIC?So why do they call these certificates guaranteed? Well, usually the banks that sell these certificates have them insured by the government. No matter what, you will not lose your principal (initial amount of cash you put in) unless the government of Canada were to cease existing. You will never lose money because of a GIC.
How Do GICs Work?A GIC is a lot like giving a loan. So when you buy a GIC from a bank, you're essentially giving the bank your money as a loan, and they promise to pay you x percent a year. You lock in your money for a certain amount of time, and at the end of that time, you get your money back plus interest.
Typically if you pull money out of your GIC early, you will forfeit some of the interest because you broke your end of the agreement. You promised that they could keep your money for a certain amount of time, and you're recalling your money early.
Usually you can lock your money in for 30 days all the way up to 5 years. Some banks even allow you to lock in money for 10 years even.
What Kind of Interest Can I Be Making?The interest that banks give really depend on the interest rate that the Canadian central bank sets. From year to year, the interest fluctuates.
Here are some of the GIC rates as of today:
So let's interpret what this means. Let's focus on the ING Direct rates because they're way better than the other banks. It says that if you lock in your money for 1 year, you'll get 3.75% interest. If you lock in your money for 2 years, you'll get 3.80% interest a year. The longer your promise, the higher the interest rate you get.
It should be noted that interest rates are at historical lows right now, and they're expected to move up in the future. The interest rates right now doesn't seem like a lot, but it's because it's an anomaly.
What Are The Advantages And Disadvantages of GICs?This depends on a few factors. How big of a risk taker do you want to be with your money? And how fast do you want your money to grow?
The main advantage of GICs is that you have absolutely no risk what so ever. If you put in $1,000, you're guarenteed to get back (at least) $1,000. Other investment vehicles cannot offer that promise. If you put $1,000 into the stock market, you can literally walk away with nothing. When the stock market crashes and craps out, you'll be very glad that you have money in a GIC because it will be completely unaffected. The other advantage of GICs is that they're super easy to understand and manage. If you don't know much about business stuff, and you don't want to waste time doing research and what not, GICs may be the way to go. If managing a diversified stock portfolio doesn't sound appealing to you, GICs could be the answer.
The main disadvantage of GICs is that the money you make won't be super high (at least in the short term, but I'll cover that later.) Generally with investments, the more risk you take, the greater the return or loss. With a low risk investment you'll be making less money. With a GIC, you may be making 4%-5% a year in interest. With that same money, you might be able to make 7%-10% in mutual funds. If you're really talented, you may be able to make 14% a year on the stock market. (Note: Interest rates could go higher. In the 1990s, you could get GICs that had 8% interest rate.)
However, if you're buying GICs for your RRSP account, a GIC might be a really good long term investment, and I'll explain in this next section.
Continue reading "Newbies Guide To RRSPs - Part 2 GICs"
Monday, February 20. 2006
Since it's the Winter Olympics in Torino Italy, I thought I'd post a story about it. I was watching the CBC the other day, and I came across an interesting news story about Canada's secret weapon for the Winter Olympics. He's called "The Icemaker," and the claim is that he makes the world's fastest ice at the Calgary oval. Our Canadian athletes train there, and they credit their world class performance partially on this superior ice. When I first heard of The Icemaker, I thought it sounded a lot like a special character from the Matrix, ie The Architect, The Keymaker, etc.
The CBC has an article about this entitled, "Torino Games call on world-class Canadian iceman."
When it came time to build the Olympic speed skating oval, Torino organizers beelined to Canada's Mark Messer to be their facilities' specialist. He makes the world's fastest ice. [...]
Shortly after TOROC – the Organizing Committee for the Torino Olympic Games – requested his guidance for the creation of the long track Oval Lingotto. Messer, 44, began commuting between Turin and Calgary almost monthly last May.
TOROC is not the first to tap his expertise, and likely not the last. He has been the go-to person for ovals in the United States, Norway and Japan. If he doesn't go to them, speed skaters flock to the Calgary oval to crack personal-best times and shatter world records.
Though he doesn't wear the clapskates himself, Messer was partly responsible for breaking world records when he helped make ice for the 1998 Nagano Olympics, the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, and numerous speed skating championships throughout Europe and North America.
He has perfected the recipe for Olympic-calibre ice. It's a combination of proper ice temperature, air temperature above the ice, low humidity and the composition of the ice itself – using pure, filtered water. Beyond the basics, Messer said his signature is in the finer points. Nothing is overlooked. Messer walks the ice on race mornings, looking for imperfections.
"If a little bit of oil spills on the ice, it has a big effect, or it can? Some people don't worry about that. Or if the Zamboni isn't working quite right, and a little bit of snow comes out, some people will say, 'That's fine'. Well, we here have instilled in the guys that you take care of every little detail."
Turin weather could pose some tough challenges. If the humidity in the Oval Lingotto is above 40 per cent, the ice surface becomes frosty and slower. So if the 8,500-seats are filled with spectators coming in from the rain, Messer and his Olympic crew must plan to counteract the unwanted moisture. It requires predicting crowd size, weather and lighting in preparation for every day's events.
Fortunately, Turin's high altitude lends itself to quicker times, because the thin air means less resistance between the skaters and the finish line.
Some icemakers are researching various chemical additives that are supposed to make ice surfaces smoother, and at one point Messer took an unorthodox route when he looked into the affect of lunar cycles, but nothing came of it, and nothing needed to. If it ain't broke, Messer leaves the tinkering to the competition because he hasn't felt the need to alter his ice.
Continue reading "The Icemaker"
Saturday, February 18. 2006
Ladies and gentlemen, I have found the first perfect music CD for 2006. It's P.O.D.'s latest CD entitled Testify. I call a music CD perfect if I like every single song on it. Usually it's pretty rare to get that designation because a lot of artists put filler tracks in their CDs, and filler tracks really takes away from the experience.
For those who are unfamiliar with the band, P.O.D. stands for Payable on Death. Their genre is a bit fuzzy, but I'd say it's a mix of hip-hop and rock with certain reggae elements. If you subtract the reggae, then I'll say they're kind of like Linkin Park. Compared to P.O.D.'s earlier CDs, Testify definitely has more hip-hop than usual.
The CD features a lot of tracks where they collaborated with other artists. The most interesting match up is with Matisyahu who's an Orthodox Jew that performs raggae, and he primarily sings about G-d. This raises many eyebrows, but it actually works somehow. The radio stations say you either hate or love Matisyahu. I personally find his message quite uplifting, positive, and meaningful.
In either case, Testify has a good mix of tracks. Some of them are exclusively hip-hop, some are reggae, some are pure rock. Despite all these styles, they're able to bind this collection together and make it all work together. My favourite track from this song is entitled, "This Time." There's very good flow in the CD as it has a good mix of slow and fast songs. A lot of CDs suffer from having a very upbeat start, and end very slow.
The most intriguing thing about P.O.D. is that they're a Christian band, and they're able to compete in the secular music world. I think their last CD went four times platinum? Anything that can dispel the myth that Christian music is subpar when compared to their secular counterparts is a good thing in my books. I think music is also a very effective tool to spread the gospel to today's generation.
Two thumbs up!
Friday, February 17. 2006
Well, today ends an extremely hectic week. I've been really busy so my blog posts have been really slow, and my e-mail is fairly backed up. This week I had a code release and other issues at work, a crazy assignment due, and two midterms. In the last two days, I've only got about 10 hours of sleep in. Last night I slept at 1am, and got up at 5am. In short, it has been fairly rough.
Thankfully this next week is reading break, and I'm taking the whole week off from work, so you have no idea how relieved I am. This weekend, I endeavour to do nothing productive. It has been a really long time since I've had a completely free weekend. Productivity killer number one will be sleeping in, and catching up on a lot of lost sleep.
Next week will involve catching up on assignments, and running errands. It's usually really hard to get errands done during the work week because I usually get home at around 5pm or 6pm, and everything is usually closed by then. In either case, next week I'm going to get my financial house in order, and get those RRSP contributions in before March 1st. Mental note, I owe you Newbies Guide To RRSPs Part 2.
A brief aside, today was freaking cold. Apparently today was the coldest day of the year so far, and I believe it. With wind chill, it was -14 C this morning. Brrrrrr, now THAT'S a Canadian winter.
Anyway, you can expect more blog articles this coming week.
Time for some much needed sleep.
Monday, February 13. 2006
Special thanks to Lianne and Chris for providing this story. So Lianne dropped by today and mentioned this internet video entitled Yellow Fever. It takes a serious look at the issues surrounding today's single asian guy. In the span of 15 minutes, this short film attempts to answer the age old question, why do white guys get all the asian girls, and asian guys don't get white girls?
Watch Yellow Fever. (Produced by Wong Fu Productions.)
Awesome movie. Thanks for the link guys.
P.S. I hate Dance Dance Revolution.
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"If tyranny ever came to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy."
--John Adams (1735-1826), 2nd U.S. President
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