Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Marriage and Sex in the Bible

I want to see what the Bible says about marriage, so I hope to capture most of the message from the Bible here:

In Genesis 1:28, God says to the first man and woman, "Be fruitful and increase in number...".

In Genesis 2:18, God says, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him," referring to Adam, the first man. In Genesis 2: 24, the Bible says, "... a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh."

->God wants us to be married and have children.

In Genesis 24, Abraham's servant went to Abraham's homeland to find a wife for Issac, Abraham's son. Issac was 40 years old at that time. Abraham's servant bump into Abraham's newphew Bethuel's daughter, Rebekah. The family agreed, and the servant gave gold and silver jewlery and clothing to Rebekah, and expensive gifts to her brother and her mother. Then he brought Rebekah back to Issac. Issac brought Rebekah into the tent of his mother and married her.

-> In those days, the groom's family give expensive gifts to the bride's family, but the Bible didn't say what the wedding ceremony was like, or maybe there was none.

In Genesis 29:22, Jacob worked for Laban for 7 years in return for Rachel. When they were married, Laban gathered all the people of the place and gave a feast. In Judges 14:10, Samson's wedding was a feast for 7 days.

-> They celebrated the marriage with a feast.

In Malachi 2:15, the Bible says, "So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth." In Malachi 2:16, God says, "I hate divorce and marital separation and him who covers his garment [his wife] with violence." In those days, sending away one's wife without a divorce is an act of violence and cruelty because the woman would not be able to re-marry and often becomes a slave.

In Matthew 19:3-9, Jesus explains to the crowds, "... So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not searate." He also explained that Moses let men give wives a bill of divorce and send them away because those men had a hard heart, "... But it was not this way from the beginning."

-> Marriage is a covenant for life. Divorce is not God's way.

In Mark 10:11-12, Jesus says, "Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery." The same is repeated in Luke 16:18.

In Matthew 5:32, Jesus says, "But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery."

In Matthew 19:9, Jesus says, "I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery."

In 1 Corinthians 7:10-11, Paul writes, "To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. But if does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife."

-> In any case, the Bible teaches not to marry someone who has been married once already, and divorce is not allowed. The exception of marital unfaithfulness is a point of debate, and can be explained as editing at the time of writing to fit into the commonly accepted practices of the day.

In 1 Corinthians 7:12-15, Paul writes about his own rule, "If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. For the unbeliving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbeliving wife has been sanctified through her beliving husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. But if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A beliving man or woman is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace."

-> a non-believing spouse is not grounds for divorce. If the spouse says, "choose me or Jesus," choose Jesus, and let him/her leave. In this case it would be a separation and not a divorce.

... and about sex:

In 1 Corinthians 7:1-9, Paul explained that he thinks it is good to be unmarried, but because some people cannot control their sex energies, they should be married and the husband and wife should satisfy each other's sexual needs while not doing too much of it and deprive one another of energy to do other things.

In 1 Corinthians 6:18-20, Paul tells people to flee from sexual immorality.

In 1 Corinthians 5:1, Paul gave an example of sexual immorality: a man is sleeping with his father's wife.

In general, sexual immorality or fornication refers to sexual intercourse between unmarried persons. Adultery refers to sexual intercourse between two married persons who are not each other's spouse.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

ATI HD3870 Benchmark

I am thinking about replacing the heatsink on my graphics card with a fanless one. I think that would reduce the noise from my computer somewhat. I then realized that I did not post my 3D Mark score after I bought the new graphics card back in March 2008. The best score I got was 9752 where as other similar systems report between 8287 and 12028. This was a significant improvement over the onboard graphics that got me score of 1227.

Comparing the 3D score, the on-board graphics was 397 where as the HD3870 is 4310. I was able to play Call of Duty 4 and Half Life 2 with good graphics and pretty smooth action.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Magnetic Levitation Trains

The passenger rail services in the US is pretty slow compared to some systems in other countries. This link provides a comparison as well as the potential for maglev trains in the US.

http://www.portfolio.com/interactive-features/2008/09/Magnetic-Train-Plans

The Amtrak line of Acela Express between Boston and Washington DC runs between 75 and 150 mph. These run on existing tracks and uses tilting to allow for higher speeds even at sharp turns.

The Shinkansen in Japan runs upto 188 mph.

The TGV in France runs upto 200 mph.

The Shanghai Transrapid in China cruises at 268 mph.

And under demonstration conditions, 361 mph is the record set in Japan's maglev train.

For comparison, a Boeing 787 would fly at 550 mph.

Maglev trains would be a move in the direction of reducing oil consumption, provided that the electricity be generated with clean, renewable sources. In short inter-city distances, maglev trains could compete well with airplanes and thus reduce the use of jet fuel. Going from LA to Las Vegas in 1 hour and 10 minutes? Wow.

The problem with maglev is that they don't run on existing tracks, so the rail infrastructure needs to be rebuilt. The cost of existing technologies is about $50-60 million per mile, although some companies like
AMT claims their system would cost $19 million per mile.

Evidence indicates that we will move to more electrical forms of transportation with electric cars and trains. Generating electrons from renewable sources is the responsible thing to do.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Feeling down about economy?

This picture shows how we stand in the 3rd quarter of 2008 compared to the past 28 years on key economic indicators. The original article explains these figures in more detail.

Friday, October 24, 2008

I.O.U.S.A. & W.

Recently I went to see W. at a theater. It is a well shot film, and I walked out the theater not feeling much about the movie or the charcters portrayed in it. It does give a perspective on George W. Bush and the path he has walked so far. The film has a neutral flavor to it such that it is not trying to cast a judgement on Bush being a good or a bad guy, but only to show as a matter of fact, what shaped him into the president he is today.

Yesterday I caught a chance to see I.O.U.S.A. at a local college screening. There was only about 10 people in the auditorium; I thought it would be full. The film is a documentary, but it painted a picture for the US financial future that is so bleak that made me cringe. It was a powerful message, purposely made to act like a wake up call to Americans. Some parts of it are exaggerated, but it is overall informative and gets the message through. It tells us about our federal budge deficit and how today's situation compares to all other times in the history of the United States. It gives some projection for the future and claims that if we don't do anything to change the course, the government will be paying social security, medicare, military, and the interest on the federal debt and have no money for anything else by 2030. Most likely income tax will have to double and a lot of the government programs will have to shut down. By that time, the fed won't be able to fulfill its social security promises and thus bankrupt.

I recommend you see both of these movies. If you care about your future, get your voice out there and vote. Some people have doubts about whether their votes will matter or not. Think about it, if enough people think this way and end up not voting, then it will surely matter. So everyone should vote unless they don't care about their own future.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Obama the Wealthy?

You can find out how much money each political candidate has raised in their campaign by going to the Federal Election Commission website. The Obama campaign has raised more than $450 million vs. McCain's $210 million. There is some debate about the public financing for the presidential election because Obama decided to not take the taxpayer public fund that comes from the $3 you and I check on the income tax return form. He instead raises funds separately, asking individual contributors to give small amounts each. McCain decided to take the public financing fund, which limits his direct spending to around $84 million. McCain needs to rely on the $66 million raised by the Republican National Committee for his campaign agenda. Obama does not need to rely on the Democratic party, which I think makes him more independent and free to choose his campaign style.

The individual donations you can make to the candidates is limited to $2300 for each election. Obama said that the public financing system is broken and he opted for a more democratic way of financing the elections. Although the intent of the public financing system is to ensure each candidate gets to spend the same amount of money for fairness, we know that there are ways to circumvent it so that someone other than the candidate can spend money for campagining on the candidates behalf. Some argue that this leads to nastier and dirtier campagin styles with negative ads toward opponents. I don't agree with the $3 donation on the income tax form because I think we should choose specifically who we want to support and when and how much we want to donate. If it is just $3 and goes equally to every candidate before I even know who the candidates are, then I don't feel justified to check that box. The Obama model is better because nowadays a lot of people in the US have connections to the Internet and have credit cards, which makes it a lot easier for everyone to donate.

If someone donated to support a candidate, that person is likely to vote, so this is also a good way to get people involved. I checked the list of donations for my zip code, and I see only a handful of names. Only a very small percentage of people care enough to actually donate.

Obama has enough cash on hand so he bought some half-hour blocks of primetime TV for his campaign for later this month. I am curious what they will do with that time.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Raising Public Awareness

Recently a few movies caught my attention. W. is coming to theaters on Oct. 17. It is about the life of our current president, George W. Bush, and how he came to where he is now. I think it is interesting because despite all the negative things said about him, he still served as the president of the US for 8 years, and I really don't know much about him. I wish the movie can give the viewer a honest look at Bush's life and his time in the White House.

W. reminded me of another recent movie, I.O.U.S.A., also a movie with a title that ends with a period. This movie is a documentary made by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation (PGPF), and it talks about our national debt and how it is a huge problem for our future if we don't do something about it quickly. I wanted to watch it when it came out in August 2008, but it was only shown in major cities like New York and Philadelphia, not close to where I live. Fortunately it will be shown at Union College on Oct. 23rd so maybe I can get a seat at that showing.

The gist of it is that Americans and the US government have been living on borrowed money for decades, savings rate has gone down the drain, and as the Baby Boomer generation starts to retire, we will not be able to continue to fund our government programs and health care benefits and everything else by borrowing more from other countries. Just recently on Sep. 30, the National Debt Clock in New York City ran out of digits to display the $10 trillion figure. When they made the display in 1989, they didn't anticipate that the debt will go over 13 digits. Actually, if you include outstanding Social Security and Medicare benefits that are due in the future, the debt is close to $53 trillion. Currently we don't know how we are going to fund these benefits.

Something I learned today is that David Walker is now PGPF's CEO and he is trying to raise public awareness on issues that will affect the future generations of Americans. David Walker was the US Comptroller General from 1998 to March 2008, and he must have seen and understood the problem in the federal government when it comes to budgets and spending.

There are also some related books on this topic: Empire of Debt and I.O.U.S.A.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Recent Highlights

China successfully completed its first space walk 340km above the Earth surface. China plans to continue space technology development, put a space station in 2010-2020 time frame, and eventually a mission to the moon.

US space programs will get $17.6 billion for 2009. They continue to explore the origin and future of the universe and looking for Earth-like planets. There are plans to put a base on the moon to facilitate missions to Mars and other destinations. Well, the US budget is $2,700 billion, so we really aren't trying very hard in the space programs. The NASA budget grows on par or less than the inflation.

Warren Buffett, a wealthy investor, recently went shopping. He got good deals with $5 billion of Goldman Sachs and $3 billion of GE in preferred stocks. Response to this is two-sided. Some people think that if Warren Buffett is investing in these firms, they must be doing well. Some think that if these firms so desperately need cash, they must be in trouble. I think Warren Buffett is not stupid, and he is looking at the long-term prospects of these companies, so that just means he thinks the current price is cheap. Warren Buffett also said the congress needs to pass the bail-out plan.

Today the House of Representatives passed the revised bail-out plan 263-171. It was quickly signed into law by Bush. The bill authorizes $1.8 trillion from the government to help the economy. Reuters has a detailed coverage on this: http://www.reuters.com/news/globalcoverage/creditcrisis

The senate bill is 451 pages long and I wonder if each House Representative actually gone over it all in detail before voting yes. There are items in there that doesn't help the economy, like tax cuts for wooden arrow companies, rum industry, and renewable energy tax credits. They call these small items sweeteners, or "pork". Nonetheless, these items are valued at hundreds of million dollars each. The $700 billion of buying power that is granted to Secretary of Treasury is just scary, because Henry Paulson can now appoint whoever he wants to be the asset managers and buy anything he thinks would help the economy. We don't really know if this new law is going to help the US economy, and the potential for fraud is great.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Melamine and Milk

Milk scandal, as they call it on the news these days, should not be too much a surprise to anyone. We have seen enough of these tainted products from China that we should still keep in mind that regulation in China is still questionable for quality control on many products. We had the pet food recall in 2007, toys with lead, and I have even seen rumor that someone added newspaper in meat buns as meat substitute.

This time, somewhere along the supply chain, milk suppliers added urea or melamine to boost the products apparent protein concentration so they can sell diluted milk for more profit. Melamine itself is about as toxic as sodium chloride, or salt, but the problem is that melamine can bind with cyanuric acid (another relatively non-toxic chemical) to form kidney stones. Cyanuric acid can come from drinking water treated with disinfectant. Many infants have been diagnosed with kidney problems after prolonged exposure to these baby formula or powdered milk.

It is not clear to me whether the milk suppliers added melamine directly or urea, which is a fertilizer and cheaper than melamine, and then the high heat process in pasteurization turned it into melamine. In any case, the diluted milk would be less nutritious and the high level of melamine may be the reason behind kidney problems in the infants.

In China, the police has arrested some people engaged in making and selling protein boosters based on melamine to milk producers and suppliers. They said they had been doing this since the second half of 2007, which coincides with the time major milk powder manufacturers started to receive complaints in Dec. 2007. They were not allowed to bring the news to light due to the Olympic Games in the summer.

Many products containing milk like cookies and coffee have been recalled, and countries around the world are testing products for melamine, but I think no one really knows how much melamine is safe for consumption. Plus, we get melamine from certain food packaging as well.

More information can be found on the World Health Organization website
http://www.who.int/foodsafety/fs_management/Melamine.pdf

A post about the same thing on The Economist
http://www.economist.com/daily/columns/techview/displaystory.cfm?story_id=12343910&fsrc=nwl

Monday, September 29, 2008

High Emotion and High Stake

Today the news is that the federal bailout package for Wall Street was shot down in the House of Representatives by a small margin of 13 votes. Bush was disappointed, and I think many common people are relieved, for now. Listening to NPR, the word on the street is mostly against the bailout package, and the ones supporting it are saying it because they believe the bailout is necessry for US to avoid a bad depression.

The S&P 500 were down 8.77% today, which is a big drop for a one-day period. Based on media coverage, I felt that this thing is overly hyped and maybe there are many people who went ahead and sold their holdings because of these negative opinions. Maybe I can buy up a little more of these lower priced shares.

On another front, last week the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) held an auction for green house gas emission allowance for the 10 states in the Northeast region. The states are Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont. This is the first time a cap and trade system is implemented for carbon dioxide, which is believe by some people to be contributing to climate change. RGGI is aimed to hold the current emission of CO2 at the current level until 2014 and then lower it by 10% by 2018. The hope is that it can serve as a model for a national cap and trade system. The price for electricity and other things is expected to go up as the utilities pass the burdon to consumers.

This year the auction sold 12.5 million tons at $3.07 per ton. My apartment uses about 2000 kWh per year, that's about 4000 pounds of CO2, or 2 short tons. Will I see a $6 increase in my annual utility bill?

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The World Around Me Today

In the past few months, I spent my days with Jenn and we are having a great time. Perhaps it is the best times of our lives so far. Jenn used to be bored when she comes home and so she takes up activities like organizing social events or other similar leadership roles. Now she just comes home and relax, because it is fun for her to relax now. We watch TV for some entertainment. We don't have cable, so there is only one channel: NBC. I like this channel; it is entertaining. We watched the Olympics, Deal or No Deal, Heroes, Friends, America's Toughest Jobs, America's Got Talent, ER, Office, The Biggest Losers, Knight Rider, and sometimes local news at 11pm. TV is pretty addicting, and it messed up our plan to sleep by 10:30.

Recently I have gotten more interest in houses. I keep an eye on the local housing market to see how the supply of residential homes change, and what kind of houses are available for sale. We go to open houses on Sundays when we see some we liked. I also got interested in the principles of green and sustainable building techniques. I like to have a house that is energy efficient and built to last. Many of the houses built today are not built to last. Some doesn't even last as long as their 30-year mortgages. What a shame. In my area, even the luxury homes of 500 to 1000k are not impressive. They seem to try to include many amenities and use high quality materials, but I would say they are only above average for me. Another trend I see is that high end homes are usually big in square footage, like 3600 sq. ft. and such. They are often better built and use nice hardware, but they are not suitable for young couples or small families. The movement of green building has not come to this part of the country yet. There is one reputable solar installer in the area, and the NYSERDA is working on renovating properties to be LEED certified, but I think it's still far from mainstream. I wish more people know about the value in orienting their house for southern exposure to benefit from natural sunlight and heating. After we moved to the new apartment in July, the unit faces south, and we now come home to naturally cool rooms in the afternoon, as opposed to toasty room back in the old west facing apartment. We only turned on the AC once from July to now, and we find the morning sunshine enjoyable when we step outside. Many homes I see are oriented in an inefficient way and that's the first thing I use to filter out the homes I will consider.

Another interesting topic this summer is how do I go about building my own house? There is a good website at www.byoh.com for Build Your Own House. There it tells you the things you need to know to start building a house. It makes good arguments for doing it, but I can imagine it will be a lot of time commitment. If I can, I would like to build one. The reason that they don't build houses to last is probably the price they can sell a house for does not depend on how long the house last and more on what they look like now, so the kind of house I am looking for is not popular or is less profitable to builders. For now, I am pretty happy with our apartment, and if we get a house, I would like one that is less than 2000 sq ft and built with good craftmanship. Oh, and the front should face north with south facing backyard for growing vegitables.

More recently I have been hearing about the turmoil in Wall Street and the collapse of some financial firms. I wonder how are those people working in those firms are faring now. These bad news got many people concerned, even researchers in technology companies. I do see my retirement mutual fund at an all time low since I started investing last year. My account is 12% lower in value than when I put it in, but I believe in the long run, it will be okay. I just wish I have more cash to invest now that the price is lower.

The presidential election is coming up in a few weeks, and I am not hearing as much coverage as the financial crisis. I think these problems are bigger than the president can handle but I will go out and vote on Nov. 4. I have checked up the candidate for the different offices I can vote for in this district, and one thing I saw was that the candidate I wanted didn't win the primary! I was disappointed because I didn't put in the effort to vote in the primary. The remaining running candidates are less ideal for my ideals so I won't be voting for either of them in one of the elections. The issue I care the most about is how to become energy indepedent. I believe that being a large importer of foreign fuel is the biggest issue that affect our national security, our economy, and our lifestyle. The fossil fuel is not a renewable source of energy, and the fact that it is limited will drive counties to ever more conflict. Maybe so much so that counties will destory each other before this resource is fully depleted. We must invest in renewable energy in a much greater way for a bright future.

Fall is Here

Yesterday was my last day of my internship. I spent the day wrapping up documentation of the work I have done, and said goodbye to some of the people I know. It was a good ending to the summer. The internship was a total of 17 weeks and I have learned a lot in this time. I have also gotten a job offer to come back next year when I finish school. Everything went well this summer. I feel blessed that I was given the opportunity to have this internship and meet these people. Now my path has been set before me, and I will follow it to see where it will lead me.

I have gotten positive feedbacks from my colleagues and boss about my organization and planning skills and being punctual, what I need to work on is developing my technical skills and establish a good reputation among my peers so I can define and steer future technological developments in my area of expertise. All this sounds good to me and I will take these advice and develop my career in this phase of my life.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Summer

Summer is here and I am starting a summer internship soon. Will it be the beginning of a new chapter in my life, or just a side note? I hope it is the start of something new and exciting. Sometimes I hope the future will come sooner because I want it to be good and have a happy ending. Right now there are many uncertainties and I don't really like to operate with too many unknowns. My brain works better with numbers and factual statements like I will do X on day Y. Recently I've noticed that I don't remember things well. I am not sure if I am always like that or my memory has gotten worse. I still have trouble eating mushrooms but some people tell me it is good for brain functions.

Amy has come to the East Coast to visit me and Jenn and my mom. We are having a good time doing many fun activities. After rock climbing and canoeing, we were pretty exhausted. I feel my arm has gotten thicker by a quarter inch. It is nice to feel strong. I want to do more of those activities. It is more fun than lifting weights in the gym.

Last night we were watching The Heartbreak Kid, where a 40 year old guy who had been apprehensive of marriage finally decided to marry a woman whom he met and dated for 6 weeks. After that, he found many things about her that he doesn't like. The movie seems exaggerated, which makes it funny. I think when two people come together, they go from two very unique individuals with their own strengths and pitfalls to become one unit that sort of has the best parts of both. That's what I think a successful union, but it takes a lot of effort, compromise, giving, and love to achieve. It is not something just happens automatically. It doesn't stay that way forever either; it requires constant maintenance too, because people are constantly changing, however slowly that may be.

So what is marriage? Some people don't think the act of marriage is important in the sense that you get a piece of paper from court saying you are married, and now you are allowed to call someone your husband or wife. There is a difference in how people perceive you if you have a girlfriend or if you have a wife, and people may not take you seriously if you are not married. One thing for sure is that the act of marriage, along with the ceremony, tells everyone that you are committed to sharing your life with someone until the end of time. This is the ultimate commitment and the most important part of the whole act. Why do you make such a big deal out of it? I think the commitment is stronger than anything else, including those to your parents and children.

I think in a harmonious family, spouse comes first, then your children, and then your parents. Some people think they should place their parents first, but there are 4 of them, which one do you listen to if they don't agree among themselves? Some parents may educate their children to place parents first, but that's a selfish act in itself. I don't think that will create a harmonious family structure. Children should be next, because you didn't choose your parents, but you chose to have children, so your responsibility for their well being and future is greater than that for the parents. I am not saying parents are worthless and you should ignore them and let them live their late life in misery. Parents no doubt contributed a lot for who you are today, and they often prefer to spend time with their children and need assistance from the children, so I think you should try your best to accommodate them if you have the resources to do so. If you don't, you might regret it when they are gone.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Followup to CPU temperature and PSU fan

On March 11, 2008 I mentioned that my power supply is mounted such that its fan draws air above the CPU heat sink and exhausts it to cool the CPU. The computer case also has the option of mounting the power supply such that it draws air from the top of the case so the power supply can breathe cooler air from outside the case. I wondered what would be the difference between the two configurations for my CPU temperature. It turned out to be a huge difference.

The original configuration where the PSU help cool the CPU, I call configuration 1. The second configuration where the PSU only cools itself, is configuration 2.

Config 1
@Idle: 36C
@Load: 50C

Config 2
@Idle: 60C

During testing in configuration 2, I let the computer idle and waited for the temperature to settle. It kept going up and once it hit 60, the BIOS alarm starts to go off because that's the current setting. I thought this is too high to be acceptable and didn't proceed to test the temperature at loading condition.

From this comparison, it is obvious that the CPU heat sink needs a good amount of air flow to cool efficiently. Since it doesn't have its own fan, it relies on other fans in the system to move air through its fins. There are two small exhaust fans at one side of the heat sink, but I think the vertical air movement is much more important than horizontal ones in cooling the heat sink.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Graphics Benchmark

I ran 3DMark06 on my old computer and my new computer.

The old computer has a score of 211 for 3D performance with shader model 2.0 and CPU score of 686. The overall score is 448.

The new computer has a score of 397 for 3D performance with shader model 2.0 and CPU score of 2101. The overall score is 1227.

The motherboard vendor claims that they could get a score of 1500, maybe that's with a more powerful CPU? The performance of the onboard graphics is related to the amount and speed of onboard RAM, so if I can overclock the RAM and the GPU core then maybe I can do better.

What if I add another Radeon HD 3870? Looking at other benchmark results with the same CPU and with the HD 3870, scores range from 8258 to 12355, with 3D performance of at least 10x improvement from my results. That's a pretty drastic difference! The 3D rendering used in the benchmark would go from my 3 frames per second to 30 frames per second. Looks like if I want to enjoy any recent games I would need to get that extra graphics acceleration.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Building New Computer - Photos

I finally got around to downloading pictures from my digital camera. Now I can document the process of building my new computer. Eariler on February 29 I already mentioned the parts I ordered, now I will show the photos I took along the way to putting them together.

Here is the case; Thermaltake Lanbox Lite. It has clear windows on the left and right side panels. The whole box is steel construction with platic front panel. It is kind of heavy compare to my old Lian-Li PC-60 which is all aluminum. After using aluminum for many years I think steel case offer better acoustics in terms of noise damping.

The side panels have plenty of vents for fresh air to go into the case.

To open the case, unscrew all the thumb screws in the back and remove the top panel first by sliding it towards the back. The back panel slides out along with the motherboard tray. The drive bay cage can be removed from the top by undoing two thumb screws, but the power supply bracket requires a screw driver to undo the 6 small screws. The side panels don't come off but it is possible to remove the clear windows without any tool. The windows come protected with a plastic sheets on both sides and can be pulled off easily.

The front panel air intake is a perforated sheet metal fixed to the plastic panel. I think it will be difficult to clean when dust builds up. I think the only reason you need to remove the front panel is to take the drive bay cover off.

The power supply packaging has a lot of information. This is Enermax Infiniti 720W. I think it's pretty overkill for my system but I like its other features.

The motherboard; Gigabyte GA-MA78GM-S2H. It came with a free game Stranglehold when ordering from ClubIT. The box is smaller than usual because it is microATX instead of the ATX I used to get.

The motherboard came with the usual accessories: I/O shield back plate, FDD, PATA, SATA cables, driver CD, and manual.

This photo shows the motherboard installed onto the motherboard tray. Next to it is the power supply attached to the power supply bracket.

The AMD Athlon 64 X2 5000+ Black Edition in a nice package. This CPU is designed for people like me, so it doesn't come with a heatsink and fan. People like me will most likely replace the stock heatsink and fan right out of the box anyway.

This is a closeup of the CPU once it is removed from its outside box.

Here the CPU is placed into its socket and locked in. Notice that the stock heatsink bracket has been replaced by the special brakets supplied by Thermalright.

Here I have applied Arctic Silver thermal paste to the CPU.

The CPU heatsink; Thermalright SI-128, unpackaged. The heatsink is huge. Although I have read reviews saying this thing is huge, I was still surprised by its size when I actually held it in my hands.

The heatsink came with some thermal paste but I bought Arctic Silver separately so I didn't use this one.

The heatsink is attached to the CPU. There is very little room left above the heat sink before touching the power supply. The power supply bottom surface starts at the top of those exhaust fans.

Next is the RAM; Corsair XMS2 DDR2-800 1GB x 2 for a total of 2GB RAM. These come with standard heat spreader.

I was surprised that these actually fit even if I plug them into the slot close to the heatsink. Originally I thought the heatsink would render the first slot useless, but I was wrong.

This photo shows that you can use the first two slots with these memory modules but the space between the RAM and the heat sink is very tiny.

I decided to put the RAM in slots 3 and 4 to allow more room to breathe.

The optical drive is a DVD-+RW with Lightscribe from ASUS. Pretty standard drive. Lightscribe is a feature that allows writing disc labels directly using the DVD drive. I have not tried it so I am not sure how well it works.

The harddrive is Western Digital Raptor X 150GB. It has a clear window to show its operation. Basically you can tell when it is spinning and when the read-write head is moving and making a lot of noise. Its seeking noise is definitely louder than my older Maxtor DiamondMax drives but at idle it is quieter than my case fans.

Here is another photo for the back of the Raptor X.

The drives fit nicely into the drive bay cage.

Here I show that there is still a lot of space left behind the harddrive so I think I can put a harddrive fan in this space to help cool the drive, if necessary. It turns out that the drive temperature is about 40C so I think even without a cooler it will be fine for many years.

After connecting the drives and front panel I/O to the motherboard, and hooked up all power supply lines, I took another picture before putting the top cover back on. Notice that I mounted the power supply with the fan facing down. I didn't take advantage of the vent holes above the power supply. This way, the CPU heatsink should get extra cooling from the power supply exhaust fan. If I have time I could try to mount the power supply the other way to see if there is any difference in CPU temperature.

This is the assembled new computer from the side. The side panel shows the Raptor X harddrive nicely.

It boots! This motherboard comes with BIOS version F1 and I was able to update it to the new version F3E using Gigabyte's @BIOS utility.

The integrated graphics and sound are sufficient for now. I tried playing Call of Duty 4 demo and the game is playable at medium-to-low settings. I am going to run 3DMark06 to see how it compares to my old computer and also to see how much better it should get if I add another graphics card.

Internet Speed

We are using the free internet provided by the apartment complex and we've had many complaints about its reliability and speed. I use Visual Wave's software to test for the speed and it tells me my download is 500 kbps and upload is 38 kbps. Using speedtest.net, the best I can see is 534 kbps download and 63 kbps upload. I remember doing similar tests before when we still have Road Runner cable internet service and the download was 10 times and upload was 5 times the current speed.

Compare that to what I get in my office; 17604 kbps download and 6311 kbps upload, that's at least 30 times faster than what I have at home.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

New computer overclock

Yesterday I put together my new computer and installed Windows XP. Today I took a screen shot of its speed settings at stock speeds. The picture says it all. One thing that confused me for a while was my DDR2-800 was running at 371MHz instead of the 400MHz I was expecting. It turns out that if the CPU is running with a multiplier of 13x then the divider for memory is 7 and not 6.5 because it was designed to be integer divider. The CPU and system temperatures are looking good. The room is at 25C and the system temperature is at 37C with CPU at 31C. The new harddrive tells me its temperature is at 38C which is like the system temperature.

I got a black screen when I try to run Speed Fan while these hardware monitors were still running. Maybe too many things try to poll the system temperature and fan speed and caused a crash.

I overclocked it to 2.8GHz and so far it still runs and the temperature is only 1C higher. Interestingly CPU core0 is 10C higher in temperature than core1. This is true still when I load the CPU and they go up to 58C and 48C. I found some people saying the CPU core temperature reporting is wrong in this generation of CPUs. I guess the motherboard CPU temperature sensor is more trustworthy and it shows 53C when I load the CPU with Prime95. There is a third temperature sensor on the motherboard and it starts at 80C at idle and 108C at load. That is really odd. I think it is for the integrated GPU temperature but I am pretty sure it's not that hot.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Building New Computer

Recently I have been looking and finalizing my plan to buy a new computer. Last night I finally pulled the trigger. Here's what I am getting:

Case: Thermaltake Lanbox Lite
Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-MA78GM-S2H uATX motherboard
CPU: AMD Athlon 64 X2 5000+ Black Edition
RAM: CORSAIR XMS2 2GB DDR2 800 SDRAM TWIN2X2048-6400C4
HDD: Western Digital Raptor X WD1500AHFD 10000RPM 16MB SATA
Power Supply:Enermax EIN720AWT Infiniti 720W
CPU cooler: Thermalright SI-128 SE
DVD Drive: ASUS DVD+-R SATA w/ LightScribe DRW-2014L1T

The computer case is a small form factor case designed for gamers who goes to LAN parties. This case is made of steel so the case itself is already 15 pounds. It's got clear windows on left and right sides to show what's inside and I can put lights inside to decorate it. Its cooling is from a 90mm fan in front and 2 60mm fans in rear. The power supply can be mounted to either draw cool air from the top or exhuast warm air from above the CPU. I think I will go with the second mounting orientation. One of the limitation of this case is that the power supply is above the CPU so the choice for CPU coolers is quite limited. The height of the cooler cannot exceed about 100mm, so those tower passive heatsinks are out of the question. On the other hand, there are some cases where the power supply is place above the expansion slots so you can choose a wide variety of CPU coolers, but for me I wanted to get a graphics card and install a large passive heat sink on it and it wouldn't work if the power supply is above the graphics card. I think the CPU I choose will be low power enough that it won't need the large tower heat sinks to run passively.

Originally I was going to get the Gigabyte GA-MA69GM-S2H, but that board uses 1" tall capacitors near its CPU socket so I cannot fit certain CPU coolers there, namely, the Zalman CNPS8700NT. For that reason I looked into getting the Thermalright SI-128 SE as the CPU heatsink and hope that it can run passively in conjunction with the case fans nearby. The two motherboards are very similar, the MA69GM uses AMD 690G as its northbridge chip while the MA78GM uses 780G. There are many advantages in getting the 780G one. It has better integrated graphics onboard (Radeon HD 3200), supports 6 SATA, 12 USB, can support newer CPUs such as the quad-core Phenoms. It support Hybrid CrossFire, which lets you utilize the onboard graphics processor together with another graphics card for more graphics processing power. It supports PCI-express 2.0 and HyperTransport 3.0. The 780G is manufactured in the 65nm process and consumes 11.4W at full load. Since the price for the two boards were about $80 and $90, I thought that getting the new version for $10 more was a better deal.

If I get the MA78GM then I could use the Zalman CPU cooler, but I think the thermalright one is better looking and maybe I can eliminate the CPU fan for lower noise.

I insisted on getting the AMD Athlon 64 X2 5000+ black edition because I can overclock this from 2.6 GHz to 3 GHz by just raising the multiplyer, since the multiplyer is unlocked in the black edition. This CPU has good performance to price ratio so I think it should be a good choice.

RAM is an upgrade from my current 1GB DDR-400. The DDR2 800 module has an effective data rate of 800 MHz because while the memory chips themselves still run at 200MHz like the old DDR-400, the memory bus speed is doubled to 400MHz. Since the memory chip is still as slow as before but the bus clock is faster, the effective latency in terms of number of clock cycles has gone up from 8 to 15. It's not clear how much the memory system has improved, if at all. But since DDR2 runs on 1.8V instead of 2.5V, maybe there is power reduction.

The harddrive is chosen because it has a clear window to see its operation. It is one of those things where you are not paying for the storage space nor speed. But the Raptor series are fast harddrives suitable for the system drive and installing applications. I plan to install dual boot XP and Vista and also have emergency backup of the disk image in a separate partition. Usually even if your case has a side window, you won't be able to see the window on the harddrive, but the Lanbox can mount the harddrive sideways to show this special drive. I see reviews about this drive saying it is pretty quiet at idle but pretty loud when seeking. I hope the noise will be acceptable.

I was deciding between 3 power supplies from Enermax; Liberty, Infiniti, and Modu82+. These 3 product lines are from 3 different generations and each generation boosts its efficiency a few percentage points. I think the Liberty's efficiency is around 78% - 80%, Infiniti is 80% - 82%, and Modu82+ is 82% - 85%. The Infiniti and Modu82+ also have bigger 13.5cm cooling fans whereas the Liberty has 12cm. Infiniti has status light and warning beeper in case it senses malfunction, and it continues to run the fan and other system fans after computer shut down to cool the case. All of them have modular cables which is pretty important in the Lanbox because the space will be tight. I like Enermax in that it has a fan speed monitor header that I can use to monitor its fan speed. And also I have been using their power supplies for years and never had a problem, so I think their products are very reliable.

This purchase will get the computer up and running, but it lacks a good graphics card and other case mods. In the future I would like to buy 2 Western Digital Caviar GP to make it into a RAID configuration to store movies and other files. Right now I don't need it as much becuase I have a 750 GB external HD. Right now I am looking at getting the Radeon HD 3870 graphics card. Maybe if I wait a while it will drop in price when I finally decide to get it. I also want other things like UV light, UV reactive connectors and wiring sleeves. I may also want to change the stock case fans to better ones for lower noise. I will have to put the initial parts together to get a sense of what if anything I want to improve.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Lunar Eclipse

Last night I saw the lunar eclipse at 9pm. That was the first time I saw this phenomenon and it is kind of interesting. It was a slow process so I didn't keep on watching, and just keep on processing my emails and planning for computer purchase.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Las Vegas

Last week, I went to Las Vegas with Jenn to attend a friend's wedding and also to have fun. It was Valentine's Day weekend + President's Day long weekend + some people have a few days off this week. The air travel capacity was beyond full. What made it worse was the east coast winter storm on the 13th. Many flights got canceled and people were bumped to the flights on the 14th. The result was delays, big time.

We slept 2 hours before getting up at 3am on Thursday and got to the airport. We opted to save a few bucks by going for the economy parking. Waiting for the airport shuttle proved to be unworthy of the few bucks we saved. It was very cold and we made a bad choice of waiting at the booth that gets picked up the last. We got to the check-in counters and was surprised by the crowd, because usually there is few people around no matter what time or day. Something was different that day, as we found out later it was becuase of bad weather in the previous 2 days.

We made it past the security check point in a timely manner and had time to go to the restroom before boarding. There were confusion about what flight it was because the information displayed at the gate showed 2 flights going to 2 destinations from this gate. The boarding announcement was vague, but we managed to walk in at an appropriate time. The flight didn't depart until 30 minutes after its scheduled departure time because they were trying to figure out who is supposed to get on this flight, and then after that they had to de-ice the plane.

Originally, we had 50 minutes of connecting time in Newark, but when we arrived, it was only 5 minutes before the next flight's departure time. We couldn't make it to the connecting flight to Las Vegas, so we went to the customer service center. They told us that the next available flight from Newark to Las Vegas would be 2pm on Saturday! That's pretty crazy alright. If that's the only way then we were screwed. The service representative was able to suggest an alternative route which is to go through Cleveland and that will get us to Las Vegas at 10pm for sure. It is less ideal than our original plan of getting there at noon but it is still ok. We were told that we could also try to do standby for an eariler flight in Cleveland or an eariler flight in Newark, but the chance of flying out from Newark was slim.

We flew to Cleveland and waited for the 2pm flight, watching everyone go through the gate and hoping they will call us to give us seats. Finally they called, and they had 1 opening. We were not going to split up so we decided to forgo the chance. By this time we were frustrated and tired, so Jenn called home and we decided to go to her home. Jenn's home is conveniently located in a suburb near Cleveland, so we had the plasure of taking a nap and eating home made Chinese food for dinner.

Finally, at 9pm we were on our way to Las Vegas. By the time we got to the hotel, it was already 11pm. Once again we had to wait in a long line to check-in to our room. We got a room on the 6th floor, so we navigated through the smoky casino floor to the elevator on the other side of the building, went up the elevator, through the long winding hallway to the door of our room, only to find out that our room keys didn't work! We were able to keep our cool and called the front desk, but they didn't pick up, so we had to go back through the long winding hallway, down 6 floors, through the smoky casino floor, wait in line again and get another set of keys. Then we went back through the smoky casino floor, elevator, long and winding hallway, and the 2 new keys still didn't work. At this point we called the security to let us in, as instructed by the front desk, and they promised us a room change the next day, plus $30 credit for any expense charged to the hotel. We finally got in our room at midnight, more than 12 hours later than we planned for, and that was after more than 24 hours of traveling.

The part that we didn't like the most was that Continental Airlines blamed the weather for their delays and didn't offer any compensation. We had reserved a restaurant for a romantic Valentine's Day dinner and that was gone, along with $25 penalty for canceling within 48 hours. 12 hours of our valuable vacation time was gone, along with many fun things we could have done if we got there at the time was planned for. I think they could have made a speedier departure had they managed the boarding procedure and seat assignment better on that first flight (CO3221). We even paid a couple hundred extra for this early flight!

The rest of the vacation went by pretty good, with shopping and shows and wedding. The only other thing worth complaining about was the alarm clock went off at 6:30am on Saturday in the room next to ours and apparently nobody was there, so we had to call the security again to shut it off. We promptly went back to sleep after it was shut up.

We went to see Le Reve at the Wynn. It was a good show. We got smoothie and foot massage at the Hawaiian market place, which is almost an exact copy of the same place in Waikiki in Hawaii. We saw lions at MGM Grand, but we didn't see the water fountain at Bellagio and the fire thing at Mirage is also not working. We also saw some animals at the Flamingo's natural habitat.

The return trip was amazingly smooth. It seemed like we didn't waste any time at all; we were able to catch the airport shuttle, the flight, and the airport tram, with minimal wait. I slept the whole way on the airplane, and it felt like a short time in the air.

Las Vegas was fun, and it was crowded. I think it's a good destination for a vacation for 4-5 days. It has all the high-end name brands to shop at, casinos to gamble, shows to watch, and nice restaurant to dine in. It's really a place to be if you have the money to have fun.

Finally, just for the record, we spent $10 gambling in the airport while waiting for our returning flight, it lasted for about 10 minutes.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Cool Video Card

I installed the manufacturer's hardware monitor software from Tyan for my video card and it tells me my GPU temperature is 45C. When I run a 3D renderer from ATI Tray Tools it goes up to 66C, but still not bad though.

Computer Cooling

I wanted to find out how cool my computer is, so I looked for some free software to monitor my component temperature and fan speeds. I used SpeedFan 4.33 on Windows Vista. It tells me that my CPU fan runs at 3750 RPM, PSU fan at 1800 RPM. The motherboard temperature is 35C and CPU is 51C. When I run Prime95 the CPU goes to 60C. My room is at 24C. So far I haven't found a program that can tell me the temperature on my old Radeon 9600 Pro.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Personal Computer Advancement

I am thinking about buying a new computer these days. My current computer was assembled around September of 2003, about 4.5 years ago. The major components are:

AMD Athlon XP 2500+

This CPU is based on the Barton core manufactured in bulk 0.13µm process. It has 54.3m transistors with 512KB L2 cache. Its rated clock speed is 1.83 GHz (166MHz front side bus (FSB) speed x11), runs on a supply voltage of 1.65V, and has a thermal rating of 68.3W. According to Wikipedia, this CPU was released on Feb. 10, 2003. It uses Socket A. This CPU's multiplier is unlocked; I overlocked it to equal 2800+ at 2 GHz by raising the multiplier to x12 and upping the voltage to 1.68V

ASUS A7N8X Deluxe

This ATX mother board uses the NVIDIA nForce2 Ultra 400 north bridge and NVIDIA nForce2 MCP-T south bridge. It has 1 AGP slot and 5 PCI slots, it has onboard audio and LAN x 2.

CORSAIR XMS DDR 400 (PC 3200) SDRAM 256MB x 2
CORSAIR XMS DDR 400 (PC 3200) SDRAM 512MB x 1

This memory runs asyncronously at 200 MHz while the FSB runs at 166 MHz. There are 3 slots on the mother board and all 3 are taken. PC 3200 means it is rated at a maximum peak transfer rate of 3200 MB/s. The access timing is 2.5-3-3-8 accroding to CPU-Z. Each number refers to the number of cycles it takes to do certain operations in memory access: CAS latency (tCL), RAS to CAS delay (tRCD), RAS Precharge (tRP), and precharge delay (tRAS). where CAS and RAS means column address strobe (or select) and row address strobe. Given a fixed clock speed, the lower the timing, the better the performance. These XMS memory modules come with heat spreader for better cooling. These run on a voltage of 2.5V.

Seagate Barracuda 7200.7 Plus 160 GB
Western Digital Caviar 120 GB Special Edition

These hard drives run at 7200 RPM, uses parallel IDE in ultra ATA mode 5 for maximum 100MB/s transfer rate. They have 8MB Cache. From the manufacturer's specs the Seagate one has a power consumption of 12.5 W and the Western Digital is 12 W when seeking.

Tyan Radeon 9600 Pro

This video card uses ATI RV350 GPU manufactured in 0.13µm technology. This GPU is basically a cheaper version of the R300 by cutting functionality in half. It has 4 pixel pipelines and 2 vertex shaders. It uses AGP 8X interface, has 128 MB DDR RAM with a 128-bit bus width. The graphics processor core runs at 400 MHz and the memory runs at 300 MHz. It supports DirectX 9.0 and OpenGL 2.0.

ENERMAX Noisetaker 470W

This power supply has a knob that adjusts the exhuast fan speed to trade temperature with noise.

Components not included for this computer are the case, floppy drive, sound card, DVD drive, monitor, and uninterruptible power supply (UPS).

The cost for this system back then was:

ItemPrice
AMD Athlon XP 2500+$84.00
CPU heatsink and fan$34.99
ASUS A7N8X Deluxe$124.99
CORSAIR XMS DDR 400 (PC 3200) SDRAM 256MB x 2$138.50
CORSAIR XMS DDR 400 (PC 3200) SDRAM 512MB x 1$66.00
Tyan Radeon 9600 Pro$154.95
Seagate Barracuda 7200.7 Plus 160 GB$109.56
Western Digital Caviar 120 GB Special Edition$110.66
ENERMAX Noisetaker 470W$78.99
NEC DVD Burner$66.00
Total$968.64

Now compare to the computer I am thinking about buying:

AMD Athlon 64 X2 5000+ Black Edition

This dual-core CPU is manufactured in a 65nm SOI process. The code-name for the core is Brisbane. Its rated clock speed is 2.6GHz (FSB 200MHz x 13) and each core has 512 KB of L2 cache. The supply voltage is 1.25V and the power consumption is rated at 65W. This one was released on Sept. 25, 2007. The Black Edition is different from the other CPUs in that its multiplier is unlocked and the retail box doesn't come with a heat sink and fan assembly. Online resources indicate this CPU can be easily overclocked to 3GHz.

Gigabyte GA-MA69GM-S2H

This microATX motherboard uses AMD's 690G chipset which has an integrated graphics processor (IGP) with HDMI and dual DVI output. It supports HyperTransport 2.0 at 1GHz. The motherboard is for AM2 socket CPUs and comes with integrated audio and gigabit ethernet. It has a PCI-express x16 slot, a PCI-express x4 slot, and 2 PCI slots. It supports 4 serial ATA devices at 3Gb/s max transfer rate. The actual maximum data rate is 300MB/s because it uses 8b/10b encoding so the actual data rate is 80% of the raw bit rate. SATA has 7 conductors in its cable: 1, 4, 7 are ground lines, 2 & 3 is a differential line for transmitting, and 5 & 6 is a differential line for receiving. No clock is sent on the wire so a clock and data recovery circuit is required on both ends. I am surprised that the bit rate is 3 Gb/s. But then they are using low voltage differential signaling (LVDS) with a differential peak-to-peak voltage of 0.5V.

CORSAIR XMS2 2GB DDR2 800 (PC 6400)

These are DDR2 SDRAM. They work the same way as DDR RAM but they run at a faster clock rate of 400 MHz. Like DDR RAM, the memory pumps out data both on the rising and falling edge of the clock. The latency for this memory is 4-4-4-12. The supply voltage for DDR2 is 1.8V so its power consumption should be about half if they run at the same clock frequency (power scales with Vdd squared). Since this memory runs at twice the frequency, the power consumption should be about the same. Looking at the latency number, this DDR2 RAM should perform faster than the one I currently have (24 cycles at 400 MHz vs. 16.5 cycles at 200 MHz).

Western Digital Second Generation Caviar SE16 750GB

This harddrive supports SATA 3Gb/s interface and has 16MB cache. It runs at 7200 RPM and the power consumption is 9.5 W in read/write mode.

SAPPHIRE Radeon HD 3850

This video card uses ATI's R670 GPU manufactured in 55nm technology. This is a slightly underclocked version of the high end 3870. Because of the smaller feature size technology, this card should be able to run with less cooling and so usually it comes as a single slot card, which is nice for my microATX system.

Enermax Liberty 620W

This power supply is ready to supply power to the newest graphics card with a 6pin and a 8pin PCI-express connectors. It has a 120mm fan exhuasting out and the power cables are modular so I don't need to clutter the inside with unused cables.

Zalman CNPS8700NT CPU Cooler

Given that I want to put the computer into a Thermaltake LANBOX Lite case, space is pretty constrained. The space above the CPU has a clearance height of about 100 mm before hitting the power supply. This CPU cooler has a dimension of 120 x 123 x 67(H) mm so it should work. It has a radial design with a 110mm fan in the middle of an array of heatsink fins. Its 4 wire power connector also allows automatic fan speed control that is available on newer mother boards. As a bonus it has blue LED so it will light up the inside of the case.

Thermaltake LANBOX Lite

This is a small form factor (SFF) case for microATX mother boards. It has clear window for the side panel for seeing what's inside. It has quiet fans in the front and in the base and room for two 5.25" external drives and 2 internal harddrives.

Right now the total cost for the new system would be about $940, which is about the same as when I built my current computer, but it would be way more powerful.

Airport Security

A lot of people seems to have bad experiences going through the security check points at airports around the country. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) manages the policy regarding the procedure of making airports safe for passengers and the airport. Recently they started a blog http://www.tsa.gov/blog that let people leave comments and ask questions about their practice and why they do certain things. Apparently very soon afterwards, some users indicate that certain airports require travellers to take out all electronic items like iPods and power cords, which puzzle and frustrate them. The TSA then investigated the issue and was able to correct it. The local TSA offices had set up that practice on its own.

Many comments I read were negative because the commenter had bad experience such as unfriendly security officers or officers who give unreasonable requests and that the commenter felt the TSA was getting in the way of their getting through and onto their travels smoothly. My personal experience with airpot security had been good. I think it is necessary for everyone's safety. Recently, I noticed that the security measures had been getting more lax. They don't have guards holding M16 assult rifles at the check point anymore; they don't test my checked luggage with chemical sensors anymore; they don't check my ID when I board at the gate anymore. Another thing I noticed was that they now have more sophisticated scanners that look like a CT scanner for luggages and what looked like better metal detectors.

There's one more curious change: I saw a booth for a service called CLEAR, that supposedly help you get through the security check point faster. It works by first storing your biometric data such as fingerprint and iris image. When you go to the airport, you would first let them ID you using your finger or eye, then they will let the security people know who you are so you can get through the check point faster. At least that's my understanding of it. It seems to be a new thing only availble at a few major airports and it's still pretty costly; at $150 a year. The price can probably come down once they get the economy of scale. The things I wonder about it though, is how do they tell the security check point who this person is, such that there is no mistakes in the communication? Even if they know who I am, it doesn't mean I am automatically a non-threat, right? The benefit is that fingerprint and iris patterns are much harder to fake than ID cards so they will be pretty certain who I am, and whether or not I bought a ticket to fly on a certain flight.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Love Affair and Differential Equations

In nonlinear dynamics class today, we reviewed linear algebra, differential equations, eigenvalues, and eigenvectors. Professor Strogatz was bored with this stuff, but he managed to keep his cool and proceeded at a fast yet organized speed. He showed the different classes of system dynamics that can arise from a 2-D system, as this will become useful when we start talking about nonlinear systems.

At the end of that review session, he made a comment about how you can model the love affairs between two people in a relationship using such second order differential equations. Just when the class laughed thinking he was kidding, he said that he once wrote a paper with the title, "Love Affairs and Differential Equations". Just as the class burst into more laughter, he claims that it is listed as the 3rd strangest title among mathmatics papers. I searched for it, and indeed that paper was written in 1988 for the Math Magazine, and it has also been cited by other papers discussing love dynamics.

The most hilarious part was when he said he wrote it in Freshman year while having trouble with a girlfriend and he was trying to analyze it with that model, but an older boyfriend makes the system a 3rd order nonlinear system, so it was too complicated for him.

After a little search for that ranking, I found a book called Wonders of Numbers: Adventures in Mathmatics, Mind, and Meaning. On page 102 it lists the top 10 serious mathmatical papers with strange, indecipherable, and/or amusing titles. The first one is "Zaphod Beeblebrox's brain and the fifty-ninth row of Pascal's Triangle", and the second one is "When homogeneous continua are Hausdorff circles (or yes, we Hausdorff bananas)". The fourth one is "Super super large numbers".

I also found a 2005 paper titled "Dynamical Models of Happiness" published in Nonlinear Dynamics, Psychology, and Life Sciences.


Interesting huh?

Microsoft vs. Google

To try to compete with Google in online search and advertisements, Microsoft is offering to buy Yahoo at a 60% markup price of $31 a share on Friday Feb. 1. Yahoo stock went up 40% immediately from $19 to $28. It is still rising slowly as of today. This stirred a lot of discussion, and I see some articles such as "Making sense of Microhoo" and "Why Yahoo should say yes to Microsoft". I find it interesting to follow the commotion, even though I didn't buy those particular stocks. I also don't feel bad that I didn't buy the stocks beforehand, maybe because I don't have cash to begin with. It is something to keep in mind though; maybe in the future I will have a chance to see another such sudden jump in stock value when I happen to hold the stocks. I will see what happens to Microhoo in a few weeks.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Company Image

I just read an article on Computer World. DELL closed its kiosks around US and moved its products into major retailers like Walmart and Staples. That was the right business decision to make, but for the closed kiosks, they had to lay off a few hundred people. Some commenters say they went to their kiosks to work in the morning and the kiosks were simply not there. They then realized that they got laid off without notice and compensation. That ticked off some other people and say they won't ever buy DELL products again. I think when a company wants to lay off its employees, they should treat them with support, otherwise the consequence could be bad company image. In this case I think the execution was poor.

The Economics of PhD

While walking home today on a lonely road at 9 pm today, I suddenly realized something important that never crossed my mind before. If doing a PhD is similar to a real job, then what is its performance metrics? I've heard the saying, "publish or perish", which means professors and graduate students are judged by how many papers they publish each year. But it costs money to run a research lab, lots of money. Where do the money come from? They come from grants and deals that the professor has to go and seek out. The professor writes proposals and try to convince a number of different organizations and sources to fund a particular research project. While doing one project, a grad student can explore related problems and propose new possible solutions, which in turn can be used in new proposals for continued funding. Thus a grad student should be judged by how well they can come up with these deal-making proposal materials in a timely manner, because professors have to pay a lot of money to fund each student.

I would say that is one of the most important thing to realize as a grad student and it's something I need to work on.