What I'm Reading
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Sunday, August 13. 2006
So after watching a few episodes of The Colbert Report (a spin-off from the Daily Show with Jon Stewart), I have finally warmed to it. For those who are unfamiliar with The Daily Show and the Colbert Report, they're TV shows that parody current events. I initially brushed off The Colbert Report as a shameless clone of The Daily Show, but now I like it. The show has a distinct flavour and personality to it, and it complements The Daily Show rather than compete against it.
One of my favourite segments from The Colbert Report is the "On Notice Board" where Stephen Colbert puts various things on notice if they annoy him. Here's a funny video of how the "On Notice Board" is created:
There's also an awesome site where you can generate your very own "On Notice Board." So, without further adieu, here is the official Chan Productions' very own "On Notice Board."
Saturday, August 12. 2006
So, apologies to my regular readers for the lack of posts this week. For the last few nights, I've been helping Adam and Sarah with their wedding BBQ. Usually I get off work, and head up there to help, and come home to sleep, so I haven't had much time in front of a computer lately. Lately, I have become a programmer by day, mover/landscaper/sound technician by night. I'm feeling a little more burly these days because I learned how to cut rebar .
In either case, today was the big day, it was Adam and Sarah's wedding BBQ. The wedding was at Adam's dad's place in Mill Bay. It was a fine day for a BBQ since it wasn't too hot, and the sun was shining. This is good because on Thursday, it rained, and Friday was very cloudy, and kind of chilly in the morning. Anyway, a crap load of food, friends, and sun is my idea of a good BBQ.
On a related tangent, they rented a portapotty for the BBQ because they were expecting a lot of people. When the movers came to drop off the portapotty, they said that it was a new portapotty, and no one had ever used it yet. As a good friend of the wedding party, I had the privledge of being the first one to test drive the new portapotty and to christening it. It was certified with the Chan Stamp of Approval™ subsequently. They should make a Mastercard commercial about this. Renting a portapotty for a wedding, $100. Being the friend of the wedding party to christen a new portapotty.... priceless.
The other funny thing was the music. I was the sound guy for the BBQ (surprise surprise). So, we made a mix CD for the event, and it consisted mainly of country music (not my call). The theme for the mix CD was "easy-listening" since there were a number of elderly people there. Anyway, we made the CD, and I was playing the CD on random shuffle on the laptop which was hooked up the sound system. Some of the people in my age cohort was complaining that the slow music was sucking, and that I was a bad DJ, and I joked that oh, this is just the slow intro to the song, it was going to pick up. A few seconds later, the music crossfaded to some hip-hop new metal track, and it was perfect for my joke. I guess one of Adam's songs accidentally made it into the mix CD. When the track started playing, the bass was going, and God knows how many dirty glares I got from people who didn't appreciate this kind of music at a wedding. I quickly retreated to the sound system to change tracks. Pretty funny nevertheless though.
Anyway, the BBQ was really fun. There were about 50-60 people there. The happy couple got a lot of nice loot. I personally have my eye on the professional kitchen knife set that they got. The clean-up went by pretty quickly too, and we ferried a bunch of stuff back to the church after the event. (That's one of the nice thing about being part of a church, you can borrow a lot of stuff for events like this, ie sound system, tables, chairs, pots and pans, BBQ grills, people, etc.) I think I fulfilled the sound technician's code of honour that day, "First One In, Last One Out."
Congratulations to Adam and Sarah once again.
Tuesday, August 8. 2006
As the ground war still rages on in Israel and Lebanon, a parallel war is being fought without bullets or soldiers. I am speaking of the media war that both sides are waging. Almost every war is driven by politics which means that a public relations battle must fought. For the most part, whoever controls the media controls the public's opinion which is very crucial in a war.
There's a number of articles that have arisen which shows how well Hezbollah has used the media to further their goals. Some of the pictures coming out of Lebanon is blatant propaganda, and bloggers have been flagging these pictures as fakes.
The first report was about a Reuters photographer who had digitally manipulated photos from Lebanon to make Israeli airstrikes look much worse than they actually were. I saw two of the faked photos. One of the pictures showed a building that was on fire, but the photographer made the smoke clouds far darker which leads the people into believing that the damage was far worse than it actually was. Another photo shows an Israeli jet fighter firing multiple flares in the air; however, bloggers pointed out that the photographer copied and pasted flares into the picture.
The second report is about the New York Times (NYT) being fed propaganda from Hezbollah. NYT reporters were invited to visit sites that were bombed by the Israeli airforce. In one picture, they show a guy digging people out of the rubble. In another picture, you see the same guy sitting in the rubble pretending to be dead. Critics caught this pretty fast and issued a red flag; unsportsmanlike conduct.
In either case, this makes you wonder how much of these media reports that we're getting are accurate. How much has the truth been manipulated, doctored, or modified? On a seperate note, the Canadian government is sending a bunch of MPs to the region on a fact-finding mission to see what's really happening on the ground. That should provide a much clearer, accurate picture of what's really going on. I applaud that effort.
Sunday, August 6. 2006
This week we had another slew of earnings reports from different companies. The ones that I was looking at were Starbucks (SBUX), Electronic Arts (ERTS), Alcan (AL), and Valero Energy (VLO). Starbucks reported a disappointing number, and their stock price fell from $35 to $30 fairly quickly (-16%). Interestingly enough, they blame the weather for lower sales.
So you may have heard that America is currently experiencing a heat wave. That means people are buying more frappachinos than hot lattes. When you order a coffee at Starbucks, it usually takes them 2 minutes to prepare. For a frappachino, it takes 4 minutes. You might be asking, so what? Well, if you're dealing with large number of customers, like 1,000 customers a day, and all of them are ordering cold frappachinos because it's freaking hot out, it takes you an additional 2,000 minutes to serve these customers. So, they say sales are down because a lot of the Starbucks have really long lines, and customers are turned off by this. They don't even bother going in because the lines are so long. Management at Starbucks says that they didn't anticipate this much demand for their cold drinks in the summer, but they're shipping more frappachino machines out to their stores now. A little too late for their part though because the heat wave is breaking now, and the damage has already been done to their stock. Interesting nevertheless.
The other companies like ERTS, AL, and VLO all reported great numbers. Their stocks are slowly moving up again, and I finally have a few stocks that are in the green (ie making me some money).
The bulls have finally come back to the market. Most markets actually made a gain overall this week. The Toronto Stock Exchange (TSE) briefly passed the 12,000 mark for the first time in months. People who bought mutual funds related to the TSE when I said the TSE was too cheap at 11,200 should be fairly happy. That's a healthy 7% return in less than 3 months. That's not bad at all.
In other news, oil moved up quite a bit this week because a hurricane was forming in the Atlantic. So, all of the energy related stocks moved up, but they gave back their gains when the hurricane never developed; it became a tropical depression, sigh . For my portfolio, because it's geared for hurricanes, which mean it moves up when there are hurricanes. (Think natural gas, oil, alternative energy, etc.)
Speaking of oil, there was a crazy news report about a hedge fund (mutual fund for extremely rich people) closing down because it lost a ton of money in oil. They were hedging against oil. So what this means is, say it's January 2006. You think in August 2006, oil will be at $40/barrel, so you sell a contract to people saying, I will sell you oil for $45/barrel in August 2006. Some companies will buy these contracts because they want to control their costs in oil, so they lock-in a rate in advance. (B.C. Transit for example buys these type of contracts in advance; this is how they can keep charging the same amount for bus fare even though gas prices go up a lot this summer). So, if August 2006 comes around, and oil prices are $40/barrel, the hedge fund buys it and sell it to people who bought the contract, and they sell it to them for $45/barrel. That's a nice $5/barrel profit.
So, some genius at a huge hedge fund thought that oil would be $40/barrel for the summer, and sold contracts for oil for $45/barrel. Unfortunately, oil prices are currently at $75/barrel. This is almost double the price of what the hedge fund thought oil prices would be at now. So, they're obligated to buy oil at $75/barrel, and sell it to their contract owners for $45/barrel. This brilliant strategy has cost the hedge fund $260 million, so they're closing down because they're bankrupt. Well played.
Anyway, for next week, all eyes will be on the U.S. Federal Reserve who meets on Tuesday to talk about interest rates. They'll either raise interest rates, or pause. If they raise rates again, the stock markets are going down big (if they raise and say they're done moving rates up, that should move markets up as well though). If they pause, then the markets are going up big. This will be an epic bulls vs bears battle. However, I think the bulls will win this coming week. The Federal Reserve chief always says that he'll decide where rates are going based on the data. Last Friday, the U.S. jobs report came out, and the report states that the U.S. created far fewer jobs than expected. This data shows that the U.S. economy is slowing down which is partially caused by these interest rate hikes. That data should convince the Federal Reserve that they have slowed the economy down enough. They might have even slowed it down too fast. So, Tuesday is the all important day. Watch the news that day.
So, here are this week's results from our stock game. Patrick retains first place, and strengthens his position a bit more. He currently owns a lot of AMD shares, and that dang stock just keeps moving up every single day. Congratulations.
Standard disclaimer, the opinions in this article does not constitute financial advice. We are not responsible for any gains or losses you may incur in the stock market. Please consult a professional stock advisor about investments. The opinions made by the author in this article are merely opinions and are subject to change without notice.
Friday, August 4. 2006
At exactly 10:00pm on August 4th, 2006, I finished writing my last final exam ever. For the record, the final exam was on embedded systems (think computers inside everyday objects like microwaves, remote controls, etc). For a course that's supposed to deal with hardware, there was an awful lot of programming required for the final exam. My hand hurts from writing so much stuff. I used up two entire exam booklets to answer all the problems. Furthermore, programming on paper is annoying because you end up erasing a lot of stuff because you forget to put something down earlier. Programming is much easier on a computer.
Anyway, I feel pretty good about the final exam. I definitely over-studied for that final; a good problem to have I guess. I spent most of this week locked in my room studying for this final. Since I didn't really see the light of day for the week, I grew an exam beard. I looked like a mad man. But I shaved it off before the final exam. We used to have this stupid ritual in high school where no one would shave during exam week. The tradition lives on!
After the exam, I drove by my church to see if anyone was still around for youth group; as I drove past the church, I didn't see any vehicles, but I decided to go in for a closer look. Turns out everyone was loitering in front of the church, and all the cars were parked in the back for some reason. So, I met up with everyone after my exam. It's definitely kind of strange interacting with people again after being locked away for a week. I felt kind of anti-social, and definitely tired especially since I've been sleeping at 2:30am on average this whole week.
So, this concludes this major round of combat. The difference this time is, when next term starts, there's no more courses to battle. Woot!
Anyway, time to do some gaming. I feel very deprived right now. Oh, and maybe some ice-cream. Yes, delicious ice-cream.
I feel kind of bad for those who still have exams. This summer's exam period is only 10 days long for some reason, usually it's at least 2 weeks long. In either case, the engineers have 6 exams spread over 10 days. That's pretty hardcore. Best of luck.
Do you know what I hate to see the most when I'm at a party? When some asian guy goes outside for to his $50,000+ Honda, and comes back with a Playstation 2, a copy of Dance Dance Revolution (DDR), and two dance pads. The immediate reaction from people is, hey Chan, you're asian, you must be good at DDR!
Honestly, have you seen me dance? I'm a computer scientist dang it! We geeks have a long tradition of being wallflowers at dances and such! Anyway, asian people who carry around DDR in their fancy cars only perpetuate the stereotype against my people.
You might brush this story off as a fake, but believe me, it was all too real.
Just when I thought things couldn't get worse, what does Taiwan do? It comes out with a new game called Dance Dance Dance. Check out this article:
The system, aptly named Dance Dance Dance (DDD), displays dance positions on a screen in front of a person, for them to follow in time to music. It awards points after assessing their ability to correctly mimic each silhouetted shape.
This video demonstration (Windows Media format, 6.48MB), shows creator Ming Yang-Yu of the Communications & Multimedia Lab at National Taiwan University, demonstrating it at the SIGGRAPH 2006 conference in Boston, US.
A part of me died when I saw this video. It's only a matter of time before we see these in North America. The quest to stop racism just got harder
Tuesday, August 1. 2006
Some people, when they're stressed out in school, they break out with pimples and such because of a combination of caffeine, lack of sleep, poor food choices, etc. For me, when I'm stressed, I get white hairs. They just keep on coming which hints that the end of exam period is near. Normally I get a haircut after exams are over (because I don't have time to go during exam period), and my barber takes a look at my hair and goes.... just finished exam period eh? The post exam haircut is almost like a cleansing ritual if you will. But yeah, you can always tell how stressed out I am by the number of white hairs I have.
But anyway, we are entering the final stages of this war. Today I handed in my term project and gave a presentation on it. The professor was fairly impressed by it; he was pretty surprised that it worked as well as it did. Initially, the professor said that it would take about 3 weeks to complete this project, but due to time constraints, I was only able to allocate 5 days to it. Nevertheless, I was able to blitz through it and finish on time. The key was that I did my research ahead of time, so my mind was subconsciously tackling the programming problem. Funny enough, I was helping Adam move to his new place this weekend, and I managed to figure out a solution to something I was stuck on during the move.
For those who are computer geeks, the term project involved converting a UML state chart diagram to Java source code. It's essentially a compiler project, and now I'm glad that I took a course in compilers even though I didn't do so hot in it. I decided to use PHP 5 for this project since it's a nice language to use when you have to manipulate strings. Coding this project really showed me the power of PHP 5. Parsing XML output involves one line of code: $obj_xml = new SimpleXML(file_get_contents($your_file_name)); In Java, this would probably take 20 lines of code just to open a file, and another 40 or so for the XML parser. Developing in PHP was fast, short, and sweet. Anyway, very impressed with PHP 5.
So, one battle remains. I have a final exam on Friday evening, and that concludes this stretch of the war. It will be the last final exam EVER! This is week 3 of me blitzing through end of term work. It will be nice to have normalcy restored. I don't know what I'm going to do with all this free time afterwards.
It's kind of wierd thinking that it's almost all over. I've been at it for 6 years straight non-stop. It's kind of like fighting a war for so long that you don't really remember what it was like before it started. Furthermore, what are you going to do once it's all over? You get used to fighting a persistent enemy.
Anyway, I'll worry about the philosophical and metaphysical implications AFTER my exam is done.
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