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Atonement is one melancholy film that captivates me. It opens in the Tallis castle. Cecilla and Briony, the aristocrat sisters, both have a crush on the house keeper's son Robbie. When the disenchanted young girl Briony made a false statement against Robbie, she did not know her action will bring ruin to Robbie and cause him to be convicted of a crime that he did not commit.

The story fast forward to world war II. The war effort has interrupted their cloistered life and bring down the distance between the aristocrats and lay people. Robbie was send to fight in France. And both sister volunteered to work as nurses. Cecilla and Robbie has a reunion before he was sent off. These brief episodes becomes a yearning that stay with them, with Cece's call to "come back to me" a recurring voice that stay with him.


I have seen the movie about four times and know almost every scene. The Dunkirk retreat scene is a work of mastery. Demoralized soldiers loosing their discipline while waiting for evacuation. Ruins are everywhere. Horses were shot and equipment being destroyed. The whole apocalyptic scene was done in one long sweeping shot.

A lot of scenes are played twice in the movie. Sometimes it shows us something new by looking at things at a different angle. Mostly it offers us plenty of opportunities for retrospection, plenty of what-if contemplation. When we see lovely scenes that we wish would have happened, it brings up great emotional feeling with a lot of depth.

2011.12.25 [] - comments


Home Power Usage

I have bought the Kill A Watt meter a while back. I went on to measure every gadget and applicances I can possibly measure. Here is some result to share.

Wattage Appliance
0W Clock Radio 1
Stereo off
TV off
LCD monitor off
1-5W Fax machine standby
Mac Mini sleeping
Wifi router
Charging small gadget
Inkject printer idling
clock Radio 2
6-10W Stereo playing Radio
DSL Router
11-25W Stereo playing CD
Laptop 1
15" LCD monitor
Compact Florescence tube
Space header (fans only)
Mac Mini On (+8W when playing DVD)
Motorola Set-top box (use same amount of power whether on or off)
20-60W Core i5 laptop
  • 0-1W while sleeping
  • 6W recharging while sleeping
  • 20W when idle
  • Power use increase when charging other devices or running many applications
30W 10cu ft refrigerator (24 hour avg)
46W Water Boiler & Warmer (24 hour avg)
Compact refrigerator (24 hour avg)
70W 32" LCD TV
340W space heater (24 hour avg)

My main observation is the concern on power usage by electronic gadgets, and also the phantom watt issue, that is gadget continue to draw power when they are off, is largely overblown. Most sustain on just about 1 watt of power. The only rogue applicance is the set top box that uses 18W whether it is on or not. Even that is only 18W. In fact all the electronic gadgets added together does not match thw power usage of one space heater. This is evident in my skyrocketing winter power bill (or in hotter climate, the summer air conditioning cost).

Another interesting find. My new refrigerator uses 50% less electric than a much smaller but dated compact refrigerator. At this rate, it will actually come very close to the estimated annual electric cost of $38 that is posted in the tag in the store.

2011.12.24 [] - comments


Rivers And Tides

River and Tides

Sinuous rivers, pods make of rock slabs, a circular hole, these are some of the recurring forms artists Andy Goldsworthy use in his sculptures. He create his arts inspired and situated in a natural setting. They are often ephemeral. A string of flower petals flowing down the stream, driftwood on the beach to be washed away by rising tides, ice that is going to vanish without a trace. They may seem impermanent. And yet it perfectly symbolize the flow of the nature. In this documentary you will see the creation of many works by Andy Goldsworthy. They are really very inspiring.

2011.12.23 [] - comments


Snow Park

Snow Park

We have much fun in the snow park in civic center this afternoon. There are sled ride for the kids. They can make snow man in a patch of artificial snow. Like a typical day of activity, kids are tireless, parents are tired.

2011.12.18 [] - comments


Book Reading Statistics

The Kindler e-reader I got one year ago has sparked a major book reading drive for me. At the end of 2011, I have completed 35 books in a span of 15 months. The full list of book is compiled in the entries of Apr, Aug, Nov, Dec.

Even though the drive is triggered by Kindle, I am far from abandoning paper book for ebook. 17 out of the 35 books I've read are physical books. I have done a lot to clean out the piles book I've purchased but never read. But this is offset by the new paper books I've purchased recently. This drive has also gives me a lot of confidence to tackle long and classical books. It has instilled a discipline in me to follow through a long book to completion. I plan to read Les Misérables and 紅樓夢 in the coming months.

Here is a little tally. There are 8 technical (computer science) book, 5 fictions, 5 business and economics books, 4 popular science, 2 academics and 11 are uncategorized.

I am still stuck with a number of academic books. They can not be read at a fast pace like fictions. There are mathematics to digest, and in other cases, paper or programming exercise to do to really understanding the subject. I queue them up one by one and hopefully can see some result in next year.

2011.12.17 [] - comments


2011-12 Reading List

I have finished 5 more books in my last push in 2011. Many of them are short books however.

The Question of Separatism By Jane Jacobs (1980)

This short book from great thinker Jane Jacobs takes on the contemporary issue of Quebec separatism. Unlike other discussions on separatism, which is invariably emotion laden, Jane Jacob is making a largely rational and non-partisan argument on the issue that embroils her country.

Drawing on the lesson from the peaceful break up of Norway from Sweden in the early twentieth century, she lays down the foundation of an independent Quebec in this book. Ever skeptical on large centralized government and the bureaucracy it brings about, Jane Jacob believes it is possible for an independent Quebec to thrive. Ultimately it can bring economic development and cultural diversity that benefits both itself and the rest of Canada.

The 4-Hour Workweek By Timothy Ferriss (2009)

After reading Tim Ferriss's 4-Hour Body, I've already decided he is not my favorite writer. But the book has come through the library reservation system after many weeks. So I give it a look anyway.

The idea of 4-hour workweek is he shows you how to setup a Internet mail order company, outsource everything you possibly can to service firm, and cut down most of the things you used to do everyday because they are just time waster. When everything works according to his scheme, you will have so much time left that you can travel around the world while money automatically roll into your account with little work required from you.

There are actually quite a lot of wisdom and good advices in the book. The problem is they are so greatly amplified that they becomes just hot air. His contrarian theories are backed not by evidence or statistics but total self-conviction and a handful of anecdotes. If motivational talk is your thing then this is the book for you.

Ferriss is a huge fans of what I'd call strict Pareto principle. The idea is 20% of your work gets 80% of result. The other 80% of work is such waste of time that you should just not do it. I find the best way to practice strict Pareto principle is on his book. Since 80% of the book is going to be useless anyway, I just skim through the other 20%. The result is I've wasted much less time on this book. As least I can claim a small victory base on his method.

One Day, One Dollar 美國華工田園生涯 By Peter C.Y. Leung (1984,1993)

California's Sacramento river delta is a fertile agricultural region. Back in 19th century, Chinese migrant farm labor are instrumental in developing the estuary into productive farms. Chinatowns are booming along the river. They were bustling with activities back in the days.

Fast forward to 1980. These Chinatowns are in its last days. Most residents have already left. These once bustling towns are only left with a small number of elderlys. To record the history before they vanish, historian C.Y. Leung visited and interviewed the elders and compiled their history into this book.

Migrant workers recount their story in first person format. They left behind their village in China to escape poverty and found work in farms or packaging factories in the Sacramento delta. They worked really hard to make a living. Some of them are able to move up the economic ladder to become tenant farmer or merchants. Many travel back to China to get marry, but after only a short union, they left the spouse behind and return to California to work. In some case they did not get to see their children after many years.

This is a fascinating book on a forgotten history. It may be an really obscure book today. But when it is first published, it has received a well deserved recommendation from then California Secretary of State March Fong Yu.

Programming HTML5 Applications By Zachary Kessin (2011)

This is a short book on programming HTML5 applications. The best is the chapter 2 on JavaScript. It gives a great tutorial on programming JavaScript in functional programming style. Otherwise it is yet another resources on HTML5. I prefer Mark Pilgrim's presentation in his HTML5: Up and Running quite a bit more. (The coverage of this two books actually have little overlapping).

Gödel, Escher, Bach

Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid
By Douglas R. Hofstadter (1979)

This is a fascinating book that probe the nature and limitation of mathematics, artificial intelligence and human mind. It is intriguing but rather difficult book to follow, with concept that involves recursion, self referencing, meta-mathematics and meta-meta-mathematics and so on. Nevertheless it is a rewarding journey that really open your mind. Also it has the best introduction to molecular biology that I've seen anywhere. At least it is the best from the point of view of a computer scientist.

The book is uniquely brilliant that it intertwine the abstract concept above with the art of Escher and Bach. In fact the author has created his own parable of Achilles and Tortoise and use them and their dialog to reenact the concept he is exploring. His story is written with much talent and highly entertaining.

Gödel, Escher, Bach also has a personal meaning to me. I have stretched the reading of this book over many months. Every night when I try to rock my baby Hangchee to sleep I pick up this book. While I was gently swaying him, my mind is occupied with all these fascinating and entwined idea of Hofstadter. Soon enough Hangchee will get big and not need me to rock him to sleep anymore. But while he was a baby, we read Gödel, Escher, Bach together.

2011.12.15 [] - comments


CAHSR - Hard times are the right time

Public support for California's high-speed rail project is eroding. The main concern: How can we embark on construction of an infrastructure project of this magnitude in a time of economic difficulty?

"Hard times are the right time. Not only does it create jobs, it makes the cost of land acquisition and construction cheaper", says Dan Richard of the High-Speed Rail Authority.

2011.12.13 [] - comments


My New Work Place

My new work place

This is my new work place in the financial district. I'm having a lot of fun with my two large monitors. I look up a bunch of panoramic pictures, aligned the monitors and then fit the pictures across the monitor as wallpaper :)

2011.12.01 [] - comments


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