Monday, January 28, 2008

When Your Roots Hurt

I was very busy in the last couple of weeks for me to properly update this blog. Something weird happened to me today upon hearing of the news from Lebanon. I stopped caring. I just don't care either way. Really. The only thing I care about is the safety and well being of my family and friends there. Other than that I am completely apathetic about the entire country. The Syrians and their hoodlum can have it. Same goes to the Israelis and their war machine. Sa7tein. I am neither angry nor scared. I am numb. The Lebanese have treated each other (17 years of un-civil war) and others (Sri Lankan maids, Palestinian civilians, Syrian migrant workers) so badly that the country is made to suffer. Even the environment is plundered. Last time I visited, I couldn't find a green spot away from noise and pollution to show off to my tourist friends! We went to the top of Mount Sannine. There was an empty restaurant there that was blasting Najwa Karam all night all the way into the hotel rooms! I was livid! What goes around comes around. Everyone pays for their sin somehow. The very sad thing for me is not having seen my family in long time. I miss all of them a lot.

Update: When your mother gives you tough love on not giving up on your country, you listen. I humbly see the folly of some of the sentiments above, especially the scratched part. They've seen much worse than I have, AND they still live there without their children, YET they haven't given up... Who am I to whine.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

My New Brain Extension

So I finally got it! It took around 10 days to build. It was shipped from HONG KONG last Saturday. It was in SOUTH KOREA on Sunday night, and in ANCHORAGE, ALASKA on Monday evening. When I went to bed on Monday, it was en route to some American airport. I thought that if I was lucky, I would get it by Wednesday. My roommate's estimate was gloomier, estimating the arrival on Friday. I woke up on Tuesday morning, and as usual, I tracked the package (which I had bookmarked). To my surprise, IT WAS OUT FOR DELIVERY! It landed in LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY a little after midnight, and was on a truck to NASHVILLE shortly thereafter. It arrived at dawn and was out to delivery. It was in my hands at 10:30am. I have to say that I'm really amazed by UPS. Thank you UPS!

My thoughts so far on the Lenovo IBM T61 Thinkpad: The screen resolution and image crispness is very good. I use 1680x1050 resolution. It did not ship with any recovery CDs. Thinkpads have this feature called ThinkVantage. They store the OS (in my case Xp Professional) and drivers and other utilities in a separate partition. You can boot from that partition and do various recovery and backup stuff. You can, if you want, wipe the active partition and restore it to factory settings (i.e. clean install of OS). I am not too comfortable with this setup. What if I buy a new hard drive? I think you can pay for the software to be shipped to you if you need to. I love the keyboard size and the rebound of the keys. The whole ThinkVantage(tm) suite of utilities seemed complicated at first but grew on me. The connection management stuff (wireless profiles etc.) were good enough for me to use instead of the native Windows applications. The 15.4" screen makes the whole thing heavy, but I am okay with it. Overall, I like it very much so far and would recommend switching to Lenovo from DELL like I did.

I am working on a post with all the software installs and customizations that I do for every computer I own.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Computer Woes Turned Opportunity

Last month, my laptop (DELL Inspiron 600m) seemingly kicked the bucket. It wouldn't power up, and when it did, it didn't boot. There were hard disk errors, affecting the Windows files. After further troubleshooting, I found an independent power problem. The battery was charging, but pressing the power button didn't seem to power it up, not even the BIOS screen was showing. This power problem had started back in October. It occured roughly around 1 in every 10 times I turned it on. It become more frequent and more consistent over the next couple of months.

As for the hard drive, retardedly, there were some research related stuff on the laptop that I had not backed up. Luckily, it was not affected by the hard drive errors. I took the drive out and copied that stuff out of it using a USB enclosure.

So I was resigned to my fate over the holiday. After all, I did not have a single problem with it since I bought it in May 2004. Khadam 3askareeto (=it served its military service) as we say in Arabic. It didn't take me long, though, after I came back to work to realize that I needed to buy a new laptop. I thought I can tough it out over the next few months and reward myself later for finishing a PhD milestone or something. By then, I would have saved enough money for another one. I am teaching Matlab (applied math software) this month and that requires that I have this software up and running in class (on a laptop). My boss loaned me one of the labs' laptops to prepare lectures and use in class, but I already feel extreeeeemely uncomfortable with that. Objects that don't belong to you, usually have a higher probability of breaking or being stolen. Basic Murphy's Law Thermodynamics. Especially if they belong to someone who has absolute power over your graduation outcome. I took this laptop home to finish preparing for Friday's lecture. It was housed in a very padded laptop case, but I was so paranoid that I set it horizontally on the passenger seat cushion, padded on all sides. I also drove reaaaally slowly over pot holes for fear of "shaking it up."

Being captive to my desktop at work was also getting to me. As a graduate student hoping to finish his PhD this year while working part-time for an unrelated grant... and teaching, my day doesn't typically end at 5pm. It's a hassle coming back to the office after dinner just so I can use a computer. So I broke down and bought a new laptop on Wednesday: IBM Thinkpad T61 with Inter Core 2 Duo T7500, 2 Gbs of RAM, 15.4 wide inch WSXGA+ (1680x1050 resolution), 100Gb HD, DVD-burner, Bluetooth, and NVidia Quadro NVS 140M (128MB) graphics card. Hello neighorhood coffeeshop with free wifi! I can join the ranks of hipsters again! Of course I have been checking the order status every 10 minutes until it ships, which the website says will happen on January 28! It will probably ship earlier, and Lenovo is simply covering their asses with respect to timing.

Then, after I placed my order, the old laptop powered up! I repartitioned the drive and installed Windows again. It's still extremely unreliable as far as choosing or not choosing to power up, but at least when it does, it boots a clean install of Windows. I don't encounter the power problem when I restart from within Windows. I will keep it running all the time, and leave it in my cube as a second desktop for testing/debugging stuff. Definitely won't rely on its failing hard drive.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

The Road Trip Served Its Purpose

We had a great time. The road trip was exactly what I needed: getting away from my everyday life to get perspective on goals, life, work, etc. The drive was not bad either. I clocked around 2500 miles. I am compiling my gas receipts to figure out the mileage, but roughly my gas guzzler SUV was doing around 18 MPG. It's so easy packing for a road trip. Over-packing is NOT a problem. Carrying your girlfriend's ginormous suitcase up and down stairs is. You have to budget for a massage after the trip for that.

In New York, we stayed with my childhood BFF who lives in Middletown. My other childhood BFF flew in with his wife and stayed with her family in Manhattan. Naturally we drove everyday down to Manhattan... around 75 miles each way. Parking in the city was surprisingly easy on weekends. It wasn't so easy on Friday afternoon. I ended up parking the car in a garage operated by a blunt guy with a Russian accent. The way they vertically stack cars in parking lots in Manhattan freaks me out. I wasn't comfortable relinquishing my keys at all. To make things worse, we were hungry that afternoon and decided to have a late lunch at a place called "Burrito Loco" in Greenwich Village. I was told that I sounded like a grumpy midwestern dad that afternoon, complaining about slow service [or complete lack thereof] and portion sizes [literally 6 tortilla chips in an order of Nachos!] [and they charge for coke refills!], all while complaining about the cost of parking my SUV [16 cents-a-minute!].

Speaking of bad restaurants, our worst culinary experience happened in Scranton, PA, yes the imaginary location of The Office. I thought people there were friendly and quirky, just like they are in reality on TV. We wanted a quick stop on our way from Cleveland to Middletown. Although we were slightly running late, we decided to risk a delay in a nicer restaurant in Scranton rather than some generic roadside fast food joint. The internets on my GF's phone suggested a good Indian Restaurant called New Amber that got good reviews. So we called-in for directions and got off the interstate. We were there at 7:00pm. The hostess asked us to wait to be seated. We thought that was odd CONSIDERING THAT LESS THAN HALF OF THE TABLES WERE OCCUPIED. At 7:20 [20 minutes later!] we were still in the waiting area. It was just the two of us and the hostess who was shining wine glasses behind the empty bar. Angry-midwestern-dad-slash-Lebanese-male-with-short-temper stands up, pokes his head into the dining area and mentions something really loud to his girlfriend wondering about the delay. Luckily the hostess got the message and said that no booths were available, but she could seat us at a table. Booth?! Who said anything about a BOOTH?! We politely inform her that we would sit anywhere because we need to be back on the road. At 7:30, she takes our order, shortly thereafter, my Mango Lasse and the generic complimentary dip and bread thing arrives. At 7:50 the couple next to us were getting ansy and talked about getting a waiters attention. We asked them what the problem was. They had finished their food a long while ago but no one had come by to give them the check. The man stands up and goes up front to talk to the hostess. She follows him with the check a few minutes later. He had his credit card ready, and puts it in the folder while she was there to expedite the process. She PUTS THE FOLDER DOWN AND INSTEAD STARTS CLEARING THE DISHES FROM THE TABLE AND LEAVES. We all look at each other in disbelief. They decide not to wait anymore and stand up to pay the bill up front or something. They wish us a happy new year and I respond by saying that we will probably be still there to celebrate new year's eve. At 8:15 we were still waiting on our order. Fourty five minutes have passed and the appetizers still haven't arrived! We were starving. The mango lasse glass was clear from my sucking on every bit of goodness in it, and there were no more bread crumbs left because we had used our sticky fingertips to pick up every remaining grain on the plate. There were 4-5 other full tables at that point, and whenever the waiters emerged from the kitchen they walked around hurriedly, did whatever they had to do, and went back in. They were MASTERS at avoiding eye contact. At that point I wasn't just making eye contact. I was sitting sideways in my chair, right arms resting on the back of the chair, glaring, and waiving my left arm. Finally one waiter comes by and asks us whether someone had taken our order already! My girlfriend was explaining the situation and I rudely interrupt her to tell the guy more bluntly: "listen, we've been here for 1 hour and fifteen minutes and we haven't seen the appetizers yet. We are in a hurry and if the order has not yet been placed, then please just let us leave." He disappeared. The hostess returned with a crumbled order sheet in her hand, apologizing profusely and explaining that the crumbled piece of paper in her hand is our order that she forgot to place. The poor thing was horrified. She said they would take care of what we've had so far and promised that our order would be up shortly if we still wanted it. I don't know if she was high, or simply had an unusual evening of incompetence. We declined to place the order because (a) we were already late and (b) we were so claustrophobic from sitting in that place for so long. Luckily all went well that night, and my friend and his wife had not yet had dinner, and there was a delicious spread - Lebanese style - waiting for us when we got there an hour later.

That experience was not representative of the trip, however, neither in the culinary nor in the personal sense. I loved meeting all the family and friends that we hung out with. Like I said it served its purpose and I am ready to take on the New Year.