Vincent Cheung

Vincent Cheung's Blog

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Monday, October 31, 2005

Real life bumper cars

Funny thing about the car rental that Microsoft gives me. I didn't have to specifically sign anything regarding collision damage or insurance when I rented the car. Presumedly, since Microsoft handles so many car rentals for its interns and new employees that they have their own insurance policy or something.

Anyways, I got into a bit of a bump the other day. It was pretty dumb and it was the first time that I've ever damaged a car, and I've been driving for almost 9 years. I was working late here and when I was backing out of my spot in the parking lot, I saw that there weren't any cars around me or behind, so I looked back and reversed pretty quick, because it's fun going backwards. Next thing I know, I'm jarred back and the car had smashed into something. Hard. I thought I hit the tire on something. There was a concrete post to my left that I had neglected to see and the front side of my car had smashed right into it!

It was a pretty good dent and there were large scratch marks on the car. Fortunately the car still worked fine (didn't hit the tires or whatnot). The only thing was that since the metal side got bent pretty good, the door made a large creeking sound when I opened it.

I remembered reading on the interns mailing list about people having accidents with their cars and just exchanging them for new cars with no repercussions or costs. One girl said that she made 3 car exchanges in one 3 month internship! I recall one guy also saying to bring the car back low on gas b/c they didn't charge for it :)

So, I kept using my car until the gas was down to about a quarter before taking it in for the exchange (that was yesterday). The service guy was nice and noticed the tank but let me off saying that it was going to be serviced anyways. If it wasn't for the guy at the desk inside, I would've gotten away with it too! He made me go fill up the tank (US$40). But, in terms of the accident, all I had to do was put down my info and a description of what happened. No questions asked. He did ask whether to just charge it to the company and I nodded my head. I think they handle a lot of car accidents from Microsoft employees at that location as that's the closest Avis place to the main Microsoft campus.

So, the car I've got now is a metallic blue Chrysler PT Cruiser. I'm not a big fan. I think the PT Cruiser's a pretty damn ugly car. Seems like such an old person's car. Though the colour's not bad - it's the same as my little sister's beatle. It's not that quiet, doesn't show the name of the song on the radio, and I don't like the way it drives, but at least it's smaller than the boat I was driving before (Chevrolet Impala). Oh well, I'm only going to be using it for two weeks and I don't drive that much.

Consequence free car accidents, now that's the way to live. Wonder how much tolerance they have? Who wants to play bumper cars? Meet in the middle of the freeway at 6 ;)

Why anyone cared about my blog and how my post got famous

What started as a simple blog post about my take on sleep and how I wake myself up in the morning, along with a simple desire to garner a little bit of web site traffic and attention through a submission to digg.com, has turned out more successful than I ever would have thought.

To date, I've gotten 2,300 digs (26th most dugg article this year), over 45,000 hits, almost 500 del.icio.us bookmarks, a mention on the 18th Diggnation podcast, and almost 150 links to my post. All this seems a little absurd for a blog post by some random guy.

Jump to the end of this post for a detailed look at the web traffic that digg caused.

So why did a blog post get this much attention? There are thousands of blog posts each day, why this one?

For one, I submitted it to digg and people "dugg" it. But how did a blog post neither about news nor technology get on a "technology news" website? My story doesn't once mention Google, Microsoft, Apple, Linux, digg, or Slashdot (typical of dig stories). Alarm clocks can hardly be called technology. So seriously, why did anyone pay attention to my blog?

Here are my theories:


Original content

While my story was not news, it was completely novel material. Written from my very blood (my keyboard needed cleaning afterwards). In short, it wasn't just another blog entry. Here is one of my favourite comments that was on digg (thanks wildjohn999):
"This is a blog, marked as LAME."

Nope because unlike other blogs this is orginal content not some douche linking to another site with a single sentence saying "Click this link to see the doucheyness I found at douche.com"

Many blogs just link to something else or regurgitate material. Conversely, I don't use my blog to just link to other stories. If I want to bookmark something or tell someone that I found something interesting, I use del.icio.us. I use my blog to rant about whatever I see fit and sometimes I gather up my thoughts sufficiently to write something almost comprehensible in an attempt to share what limited knowledge I have.

Of course, I don't have enough material on any one topic to rationalize an entire website to it, so that's why I just mash it all together in my blog… amateur writing and random organizational skills at its best.

Universal appeal

My story was about sleep. What could be more ubiquitous than sleep? Aside from the crazies who claim to never sleep, my story potentially affects everyone; crossing all types of boundaries – gender, race, nationality, age, sexual orientation, knowledge, intelligence, education, interests, geekiness, l33tness, social status, appearance, fitness, and wealth.

The vast majority of people that have Internet access have to, at some point or another, wake up at a specific time, whether to go to school or work, get to an appointment, run an errand, or make it to the airport for a flight. We are all slaves of the clock.

The title, "Alarm clocks are bad" catches peoples' eyes because of their ubiquitous use and the shocking statement that what they're using could be bad for them. Many people are also sleep deprived and wake up grumpy and feeling horrible. "Wake up and feel better" gives them hope that they can improve their lives.

"Free lunch" self-help

People love self-help. Why wouldn't you want to improve your own life? The problem is that people want change, but they don't want to change. Ultimately, people want results without the price – no effort, cost, or change in lifestyle.

What I offered was a "free lunch" – the potential to feel better, maybe have more energy, all without having to spend money, go to the gym, change your diet, or change what time you go to sleep. All you had to do was change what you did with your existing alarm clock. Simple. Effective (?). Free.

Not (complete) bulls*t

I started the post by offering some very general and basic science about the sleep cycle. Many people may not have been familiar with it, for the rest, a brief refresher didn't hurt. This helped to meld in the readers' mind the basic premise that my system was based upon; a system that would then seem sensible, reasonable, and had a shot at working.

I referred to two commercial products that worked on this basis of the sleep cycle and targeting when you wake up. But of course, people want self-help for free. I offered similar results without the cost, humility, or hassle of having to use these products.

I gave no evidence that it works aside from my own anecdotal evidence from the past 7 years. I was however, later backed up by a number of readers who had been doing something similar and those that actually tried it out for themselves.

Bookmarkable and shareable

The ironic thing is that while my non-news story was submitted to a "news" site, it is its lack of "news" which may have helped it succeed. People don't bookmark news, or at least I don't bookmark news stories. What's the point of reading old news that you've already read? People bookmark things that they will want to refer back to at some point. Self-help is exactly the kind of material that people would want to save.

Approximately 1 out of 90 unique visitors that viewed my post bookmarked to their del.icio.us page, for a total of almost 500 del.icio.us bookmarks. I think that's a fantastically high number. Considering that relatively few people use del.icio.us (although my traffic would have definitely been skewed towards the technologically adept crowd), I must have had a few thousand regular bookmarks. That's incredible to me that anyone would save my page, let alone hundreds or thousands.

The number of del.icio.us bookmarks made my post the most popular bookmark for a short period and in the second spot for a good day. This in turn, gave me more hits.


The kind of post that mine was, also lent itself to be told to others by word of mouth, hence my almost 150 links (according to Technorati) from other blogs and webpages. Who knows how many e-mails were sent (at least a couple as I saw some hits from gmail, yahoo mail, hotmail, and aol mail). Word of mouth is a powerful thing. That's very much how digg works.

Final thoughts

This was not an attempt to write a guide about how to get your blog on digg and get a lot of diggs and hits. I doubt the repeatability of this even for myself, at least on a grand scale of which it happened this time. I'll be the first to admit that I'm a one hit wonder.

I would say that original content on blogs will get you more traffic than just links to other webpages. Blogs can serve as an outlet for amateurs to present to the world some novel material. How to get the world to read about your fantastic post is the difficult part. For me, I found digg to be quite successful, but your mileage may vary. In comparing Slashdot and digg, introducing new content was something that came up. Maybe blog posts is part of the solution.

As a final "final thought", are "diggers" really digging the best stories? Well, they dugg my story and that's cool and I really appreciate it, but it's a funny system when a random blog offering advice based on little more than anecdotal evidence and a sketchy bit of science can beat out (get more diggs than) articles like these:


Traffic analysis

I had no idea that my post would be as successful or as well accepted as it has been. My intentions were to get a bit more traffic to my recently reincarnated blog. I hoped for maybe a few hundred diggs and a couple thousand hits. I got an order of magnitude higher than my highest expectation.

The thing that caught me off guard was that people were actually bookmarking my page and linking to my post. At one point, I was the most popular bookmarked site on del.icio.us. Approximately 1 out of 90 unique visitors were bookmarking my post on del.icio.us. I don't know what the typical numbers are, but I thought that this was quite high considering the relatively few people that use del.icio.us.

Without further ado, here are the rough numbers during this whole fiasco. I submitted to digg on Sunday, Oct. 23, 2005, at about 5 pm (PST), so all the following data considers this as time "0". The stats for the first little bit are a little rough, as I wasn't tracking the stats very carefully at the time and I was out playing volleyball. For all intensive purposes, my blog didn't get any traffic before.

Here's the total number of diggs and hits that I got in the first 48 hours. Things obviously slow down the further you are from the front page. It's a shame my post was on the front page for such a short amount of time. Things really start to crawl after 24 hours. I hit exactly 2000 diggs after 48 hours.

 


Here are the total number of diggs, hits, and del.icio.us bookmarks my post got over the first week.


  


Finally, here are the numbers for each 24 hour period over the course of the past week. I got onto the diggnation podcast (episode 18) during the 6th day. It gave me a little bump in the number of diggs and hits. Funny thing, they didn't actually talk about my post because Alex forgot to read it and just made up shit, laughed, and drank. I wonder if this actually gave me more attention?...


  


Initially, all my traffic was coming directly from digg. After about 12 hours, I was already on page 2 of digg, but I was getting about 10 – 15% of my traffic from del.icio.us's popular page. After a brief stint at the top, I was delegated to 2nd for the good day before dropping like a rock and falling off the popular list. del.icio.us itself has it's own snowball effect since other sites create their own lists based upon del.icio.us bookmarks, such as populicio.us, LiveMarks, Daily Mashup, and Spiderous. del.icio.us copycats, such as Spurl and Furl, also helped to spread the word about my post, but only had a fraction of the impact that del.icio.us had.

With word spreading around the Internet, other places began to link to me and also served served as sources of traffic (the snowball effect). Some of these places gave upwards of 20% of my traffic at times.

I would like to thank digg and all the diggers out there. I appreciate all the comments that people have left me both here and on digg. All I wanted was to share some information and if people found it useful, then that's absolutely fantastic. And lastly, I would like to thank you if you've made it all the way down to the end of this post.

Digg this article

Friday, October 28, 2005

Strange search results on Google

Even more entertaining than googling yourself is to "image google" yourself.

My search results unfortunately doesn't give the picture from my webpage, but does show some different aspects of myself that you may not be aware of.

This image is of me from 2003 in my orange prison jump suit after being convicted of a double murder. I was sentenced, at the age of 40, to life in prison with no possibility of parole. As such, today's post is coming straight to you from behind bars.

This is a picture of my boat. I'm throwing a party once I get out of prison.

This picture is a little embarrassing. The lighting really messed with my skin tone and the camera didn't catch my good side.

Finally, while this picture is not of myself or related to me, it caught my eye because she was pretty cute.
It was later brought to my attention that looking for pictures of girls when searching for your name is a little creepy.


I was uploading some research videos onto Google Video the other day. While I was at it, I did some random searches . I searched for "cats" and came up with this little gem entitled "Funny cats video". I had seen the video several times before, but it's still hilarious :)

I searched for "dogs" and got the complete opposite - an absolutely horrible, gruesome, and disturbing video. The video is called "Shooting dogs for sport" and it's a video of American soldiers in Iraq shooting dogs when they got bored of shooting humans. Just to warn you, it can make your stomach churn.

Ghosts of research past

I've been haunted recently by some ghosts of research past. Research that happened way back when I was a mere naive undergrad student doing my thesis. Interest is building upon the results of my thesis and in using it to actually do something. On another front, the journal paper (on this same work) that never gets published is potentially nearing publication after like 3 years.

Will these ghosts never go away?...

Microsoft Parties

So, the Microsoft research halloween party was today, hence all the kids running around and screaming for candy. I was too lazy to dress up and didn't feel like buying or making a costume, although there were prizes for the best costume for employees. So generally at these soirees, it's very family oriented, like at the research picnic, they had ponies, tug-of-war, those big blow up jumping things, and some other activities. There's also some snack food at these things, hey, can't beat free food (the food here's not free like at Google). At these events, there's also free wine, beer, and coolers ;). The research wine-down (a get together at the end of every month), also had some snacks and drinks, but no activities and few kids.

Anyways, I've been swiping drinks and bringing them home, since I didn't want to drink there b/c I had driven to work. Now, I have enough in my fridge to get me hammered!..... 2 coolers

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Oh god, they're coming!!!

There goes the productivity for the day. The sounds of little pidder-padder. The high pitched screams. The kids are here for trick-or-treating!!! Seriously, who's bright idea was to do this in the office? Well, if you can't beat them...

New TikiBar TV Episode!

Ya, I'm a little slow on this, but there's a new TikiBar TV episode out! For those of you out of the loop, TikiBar TV is an Internet tv show that is also broadcast as a video podcast of sorts, or vidcast, that you can subscribe to in iTunes. It's an absolutely hilarious tv show and the episodes are just long enough to remain within your extremely short attention span (3 - 5 minutes).

More strange things in the big room

I came home from work pretty late today and the really big room was already dark (someone keeps turning off the lights earlier and earlier). It was pretty amazing as I saw all these little bright things on its really high ceiling. It made me happier for some reason. I haven't seen the big room like that since I was in Winnipeg. Here the ceiling always seems gray and in downtown Toronto, there's so many lights on the ground that it basically lights up the ceiling, but back in Winnipeg, there tends to be a lot of little bright things on the ceiling. I don't like the big room here. It's too depressing and someone keeps spilling water on the ground.

What's the difference between Chinks, Japs, and Koreans?

Beats the hell out of me because I failed miserably on this test: All Look Same. I scored a fabulous 4/18....

I'm just glad they didn't throw in Viet and Thai, otherwise I would've gotten zero...

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Horrible way to start the day

Ironic how I wrote about waking up from sleep and yet, I woke up feeling like complete shit this morning...

Being only temporarily here in Seattle, I'm living in corporate housing, and I get the luxury of apartment cleaning every second week. They always come "early" in the morning on Wednesdays, like 9:30 am. Also, since I had to relocate here from far away, I just brought the minimum stuff with me, which means that I left my beloved dual alarm clock back in Toronto. Since my hours are flexible, what I generally do here is set the one alarm to be quiet and just wake up when I wake up.

The first thing I hear this morning is a pounding on the door. I know it's the cleaning people. My first thought was, why are they here so early? I set my alarm to 8 and should've woken up way before they came. I don't like to have to brush my teeth, etc. and eat breakfast when they're here cleaning. I glance over at my alarm clock and was like, "What??? Why are they here at 7:30????" I decide to let them just go away and come back later. While they have the keys to my apartment, there's an extra deadbolt that cannot be opened from the outside, so I figure that they'll just go away. Well, they didn't go away, and they keep pounding on the door. I give up and decide to get dressed and let them in. As I'm blind without my glasses or contacts, I glance at the clock after I put on my glasses and see that it's 9:30.....

Words to the wise: DON'T FORGET TO TURN ON THE ALARM!!!

I hate my alarm clock here. I have to flick that little switch to on, which I'm not accustomed to doing with my alarm clock back home. Ya, so anyways, I woke up feeling like crap after sleeping for 8 hours. Stupid cleaning people did not wake me up during "light" sleep. I had the urge to crawl back into bed, but they went right into my bedroom to change my sheets, so being robbed of both my sleep and bed, I decided to get up and go to work.

On another note, as my revenge, I had left a sizeable mess in the kitchen from the past few days of cooking that I was going to clean up this morning before they came, but they had to deal with it since they woke me up from my slumber.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Randoms

Randoms are an odd group of people. They scour the Internet prodding into stranger's blogs, reading about their lives. I don't particularly have a problem with this, as if you post something online, then it's expected that anyone can and will read it. My problem is with the randoms who have the nerve to insult complete strangers on their own blog.

This is exactly what happened to my friend the other day. She posted about this ladder theory stuff. In short, the ladder theory is a "funny, scientific explanation of how men and women are attracted to each other". So, my friend writes about a recent event where a male friend of hers tried to "jump ladders" and become more than friends. After the gentle rejection, she is confused why the guy seemingly committed "suicide" into the abyss (within the framework of the ladder theory) and is now completely shunning her, even though she is fine with remaining as friends and forgetting the whole thing happened.

After several comments in and amongst her friends, a random, let's call him "Jimmy", posts an offensive comment basically putting her down and calling her naive. Of course, this whole post and ensuing rant was all in good humour, yet this random feels that he can pass judgement on a complete stranger. Her friends come to her defence immediately, but it's something that shouldn't have happened in the first place.

So, randoms, you're welcome to come and snoop around, but in case you've forgotten, in real life, it's impolite to tell people off in front of their face; the net's not so different, so treat people with respect online!


Speaking of randoms, this reminds me of a random i ran into at the grocery store. The cashier, an early 20's chinese guy and pretty fob, is scanning in my groceries very unenthusiastically, though other than that, not doing anything out of the ordinary. He made the absolute minimal amount of conversation and just grumbled everything. Just as I'm putting the bagged groceries into my shopping cart, he's like "Oh, where'd you get your hair cut?" I was like "umm.... (shocked that he was actually saying something to me) I haven't gotten a hair cut in a while". I've actually been wanting to get a hair cut for a while, but have just been too lazy. He was like "oh". And I was like "it's been about a month". And he was like "oh, that's not long". He gave me a funny look (or was checking out my hair), and we both said "bye" and I left. It was kinda awkward.

I was gonna get my haircut on Saturday, but was too lazy. I'll probably get one this Saturday. I'm getting a little bored with my hair. I've had like the same hair cut for a while now and think it's time for a change, but I'm not sure what to do...

Monday, October 24, 2005

Driving on the wrong side of the road

Funny thing happened to me when I was driving to the volleyball game tonight. I found it strange that one particular on-coming car was so close to me. Upon closer inspection, the car was driving down the turning lane on my side of the road! The driver got totally confused when the road he was on suddenly ended onto on-coming traffic :). He thought that his lane merged left and was about to come onto my lane, when he realized what a complete fool he was.

Being a sub for a team

Because of my superior Canadian volleyball technique, I've been asked to play for 3 different volleyball teams down here in Seattle. One team wanted me full-time, but that team was a mess and I didn't want to have to invest time and effort into the team as I have 3 teams waiting for me back in Toronto. Two teams wanted me to play for them tonight because they were both short players. I decided to play on the men's team with a bunch of guys from pick-up at the Pro Club. It was fun and I had a good time. I was hitting better than I've ever hit. I've never gotten so many kills in my life. We won all 4 games.

So, back to the intent of this post. Playing as a substitute for a team is an interesting concept. You're only there temporarily, replacing someone who couldn't be there. You're obviously not good enough to be a permant player (well, in my case, of course I'm amazing, but my excuse is that I'm only here temporarily). It can be difficult to mesh with the team since you're not familiar playing with them (well, today was different b/c I play with those guys every week, except one, who I didn't know). You want to do the best you can to help the team, but in the end, you don't reap the rewards. You and your performance is just one huge favour to the team, yet they can blame you for any mistakes you make (but that's not a very nice team if they do). So, in the end, you have to have enjoyed yourself, otherwise what's the point. I thought I had more of a point, but I guess not.

FYI for the regular readers out there...

What is going on??? (said in Matt Kennedy Gould's voice from Joe Schmo)

Well, reader, I made a post about sleep, then I blatently self-promoted myself by submitting my post to digg. You can read my previous post about digg here.

The end result is that enough people thought my post was worthy enough of a read, so then it got promoted to the front page of digg. Then, all hell broke loose and I've been getting thousands of hits ever since (you can check my site stats from the link on the sidebar). Fortunately, it's not my server :).

Here's the link from the digg site. There are more comments there. People seem to be generally acceptive of it and are willing to try, because heck, why not? A number of people are also saving my post to their del.icio.us page, as seen here.

So, as a follow up to my previous post on digg vs Slashdot, I'm liking digg because I'm getting a lot of hits. I'm not sure what to think about this. One, a post like mine and others like it, would never have made it onto Slashdot as it's not "news". But on the other hand if it's useful to people, shouldn't people know about it? The thing about digg is that if enough people think it's worthy, then others get to know about it.

So, my loyal readers, continue to read on. Ultimately, I value you more than these in-and-outters. Don't worry, I won't forget the little people if I get famous.

Update (later that day):  The best thing ever was when "Princess" was freaking out about my site being on digg and the sudden fame of my blog, and then she checked her favourite blog of someone she doesn't know, and my post was on the list of recently "dugg" articles on the sidebar :D

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Alarm clocks are bad. How to wake up and feel better.

Waking up abruptly by the sound of an alarm clock is an inherently unnatural thing to do. Sometimes you can wake up after 8 hours and feel like crap. Other times, you can wake up after 6 hours and feel completely rested. The problem lies in what you're doing when you're suddenly woken up from your slumber.

I use a very simple, safe, and free (as in beer) system that I think works quite well and is more natural than suddenly waking up to a buzzer. I don't drink coffee. I don't drink soda/pop/cola (regularly). I don't need to use any sort of caffeine to stay awake. Disclaimer: I am not a doctor (yet) and while I'm an expert, it's not in sleep. What I can say is that this has worked for me for the past 7 years and throughout university.

Sleep is not just a single thing that happens to you at night. There are 5 stages of sleep and over the course of a night's sleep, you cycle through these stages, with each sleep cycle taking approximately 90 minutes. Stages 1 and 2 are considered "light" sleep, while stages 3 and 4 are "deep" sleep. The 5th stage is REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, which is when you dream. When you wake up during "light" sleep, you wake up rested and feeling good. Conversely, when you wake up during "deep" sleep, you feel groggy and are more tempted to hit the snooze button.

The traditional alarm clock has a set time to wake you up, but you could be in any stage of sleep when that happens. Nature did not intend for us to wake up during "deep" sleep.

This guy claims to sleep in 90 minute intervals to attempt to wake up during "light" sleep. The problem with this is that 90 minutes is not a hard cut rule – every person's sleep cycle is different. Further, it's not like a person's sleep cycle is constant – it varies in length through the night and is affected by things like exercise, alcohol, and drugs. Even more, there's no guarantee that you'll fall asleep right away, so it's hard to set the alarm to wake you up in multiples of 90 minutes from when you think you'll fall asleep. Plus, if you wake up during the middle of the night, that'll kill this system. The end result is that you can still be woken up during "deep" sleep.

There are commercial products that attempt to measure your EEG and wake you up during "light" sleep. One product that I've seen, SleepSmart, makes you wear a headband or something around your head while you sleep. SleepTracker is a watch that claims to be able to read your brain's EEG from your wrist. The downside of course, is that they're expensive, you have to wear them (so they can be lost or fall off at night and of course, you will be laughed at by your friends and loved ones), and worst of all, if they measure incorrectly, you can be woken up at the wrong time.

I use a very simple system that can be done by even the most frugal of people. I can't remember when I first started doing this, but it's been at least 7 years. Here's what you do:

  1. Set an alarm to go off before the latest time you want to wake up.
    • Make the alarm really quiet radio or music.

  2. Set a second alarm to go off at the latest time you want to wake up.
    • This is your regular alarm that will wake you up no matter what.

The whole point is that the first alarm should be so quiet that it will only wake you up if you're in "light" sleep, like a whisper in your ear. Waking up in "light" sleep should leave you feeling more refreshed than waking up in "deep" sleep. The second alarm is the back up to make sure that you wake up in time :).

You can use two alarm clocks to accomplish this. I personally use a dual alarm clock that lets me do this easily (I didn't buy the alarm clock to do this, it just so happened that I had this alarm clock when I created this system or the alarm clock led me to create this). My alarm clock lets me set two alarms; I set the first to use the radio with the volume set low and the second alarm to buzzer. I have something that looks like this:
You'll have to adjust two things in this system. The first is when to set the first alarm. You can use the 90 minute rule to estimate when you'll be in "light" sleep and set the alarm accordingly. Alternatively, you can just set the first alarm 30, 45, 60, or 90 minutes early and hope that you're in "light" sleep during that time. The second thing you need to adjust is the alarm itself. You want it loud enough to wake you up during "light" sleep, but not so that it'll wake you up during "deep" sleep.

This is an easy to implement system that doesn't require you to drastically change your lifestyle, but can improve how you feel when you wake up and throughout the rest of the day. This is in contrast to some of the more drastic things out there that may actually be harmful to you.

My favourite is what I like to call, the "Wolf Sleep System". In his book, "Never Cry Wolf", Farley Mowat wrote that he was using a strange system that he swore by in which he tried to mimic the sleeping patterns of wolves. He would sleep for a short period of time, something like 15 minutes, then he would get up and crawl around on all fours in a little circle, and then go back to sleep for 15 min. and repeat. He claims that he had a girl in his bed once that was not pleased with his sleeping pattern and he gave up the girl rather than his sleeping system. I tried this system long ago, but didn't make it through the night. I did it maybe 2 or 3 times, but then I was like, screw this and didn't wake up until morning.

There's been a lot of buzz recently about polyphasic sleep, where you attempt to sleep less by spreading out sleep throughout the day with short naps. There have also been some warnings that this may be unhealthy and that it can reduce your ability to stay awake for prolonged periods of time, i.e. you'll need an emergency nap every couple hours.

I figure that my system can't be worse than just regularly using an alarm clock and doesn't require much effort on your part. It's worth a shot and if it helps you, more power to you.

Disclaimer: The techniques and suggestions presented here are not intended to be a substitute for proper medical advice. Vincent Cheung assumes no responsibility for any damages, injuries, or ailments suffered while using this system. Consult your physician before altering your lifestyle.

Follow-up story on the popularity of this post

Digg this article

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Desperate Housewives

Having finished reading Harry Potter, I needed something else to occupy my time. I decided to take up Desperate Housewives to see what all the fuss was about. I had seen an episode or two here and there, but never really got hooked as I didn't know the fully story line.

Anyways, I finished the whole first season yesterday (Friday). And if you're following my blog, you'd know that I finished Harry Potter on the previous Friday. I don't think I started watching Desperate Housewives until Sat. or Sun. That's 24 episodes (including the special) in 6 or 7 days, so that's 3-4 episodes per day on average :p.

It's entertaining enough. I'll have to start the second season soon :). I've also had a few people tell me to watch Battlestar Galactica, and I'll probably watch that first since I already have it on my computer in Toronto.

Convocations and Operations

A bit of delayed (read: old) news, but I'm gonna post it anyways.

My younger cat, Tigger/Tiggy, had an operation on Monday to remove a skin mast cell tumor on his back. It was found to be benign and he's recovering well from the surgery. Here are some pictures of him, his stitches, and his cone! Cones on animals are hilarious! Tiggy actually looks pretty cute with the cone this time. (cones are so they don't lick/bite the stitches)






In other news, my younger sister had her convocation at the University of Manitoba on Thursday. As my older sister is already working as a pharmacist, this leaves me as the last one in school. I'm all about supporting the profession of being a perpetual student. My older cat now has 3 high school degrees, 3 bachelor of sciences (1 in engineering), and a pharmacy degree. Here's a shot of the family back in Winnipeg.

More Blog Eye Candy

I added "Peek-a-boo" comments to my blog. If you have Javascript enabled and you click the "# comments" under one of the posts, the comments pop-up under the post without having to leave or reload the main page! If you don't have Javascript enabled, then the comments link points to the post page with the comments at the bottom.

Try it! Click the "# comments" link. Click it again to hide the comments.

Update (later that day):  fixed some stuff and now it works for the Microsoft whores using IE.

Update (even later that day):  changed the link to say "Show # comments", which switches to "Hide # comments" when the comments are shown.

Friday, October 21, 2005

I have to stop playing with my blog at work

This thing is killing my productivity! I know exactly who to blame...

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Me? A Policy Leader for the Government of Canada?

I got an interesting e-mail from NSERC today that the Government of Canada is recruiting policy leaders that would manage and develop policies and report to ministers and senior officials. The requirements are quite high for the position. You must have a graduate degree or a law degree by Dec. 31, 2006 (not me) and "must have received a graduate level scholarship or a graduate level distinction; examples include the Trudeau, Rhodes, Fulbright, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), Natural Sciences and Engineering Council of Canada (NSERC) scholarships, and Governor General’s Gold Medal". That's quite the demand! Rhodes scholar? Governor General's Gold Medal? As a job requirement? Strange....

So, I found the website for this job posting. It seems interesting enough. You get the chance to tell the Government what to do! Then you look at the salary and it's $55,000! HAHAHAHA! Ok, well, it's the starting salary, but given the requirements they demand, that's not very high. My intern yearly salary (if I could be a full time intern at MSR) is almost twice that :p. Hey, I guess if you graduate from an arts program this would be quite tempting...

Recent Comments in Blogger

As you can see on the sidebar, I now show the most recent comments on my blog!

I'm using a hack that I found on a blog that puts the recent comments on the sidebar for Blogger/BlogSpot blogs. It's not the ideal solution, as it requires Javascript and may "break" in the future, but it does the job. I modified it a bit to suit my needs and handle the situation when the browser does not have Javascript enabled. If you want my code, just look at the page source or ask me.

I wanted a comment feed like "Princess" has. Basically what she has is a RSS feed that has all the comments on her blog so that you can see when people post new comments. Then, using some sort of RSS reader (read my previous post on this), you can instantly see the new posts and comments on her blog. Blogger doesn't do this and I couldn't figure out a nice and easy way to do it, but at least now you can see what new comments have been posted.

Update (Oct. 21, 2005):  after some javascript hacking, I got "More..." to show up under "Recent Columns" that will show all the comments for all the posts in the current view.

Strange colour on the ceiling

It's starting to creep me out a little. Sometime over night or in the early morning, someone went and painted the ceiling blue. You know, that big room with the really high ceiling and there are mysterious, hidden fans blowing around air and sometimes the fire sprinklers randomly turn on and you get wet. There's also this strange bright light attached to the ceiling.

The police should really do something about these crazy graffitiers....

Lord of the Wasps

The scene in my apartment when I came home on Oct. 2, 2005.

As you can see by this disturbing picture and the title of this post, I've been having wasp problems in my apartment. Wasps come to my apartment to die. They get into my apartment, I think through cracks around the window in my living room, then they fly around the window a bit, walk around a bit, then just stop moving. This has been happening for maybe 3 weeks now :s.

They generally confine themselves to a corner of my apartment that is quite a distance away from the space I use (bedroom, kitchen, dinner table, TV and couch, and bathroom). They don't really bother me as they're not very active. They don't try and attack me or my food.

I've become quite accustomed to living with them and cleaning up dead wasps has become a daily ritual for me. They make the apartment less lonely, they're like little pets.... Ok, I'm starting to creep myself out now. I tell you, the first time it happened it freaked the crap out of me. This picture is from the worst day - that one day was crazy... It's slowed down a lot lately, usually only maybe like 1 or 2 on the floor per day; the "typical" day gave around 5-10.

I read somewhere that the wasps are invading to escape the cold, but since they're near death when they come into my apartment and they don't bother me, I've learnt to deal with them. What ever I was reading said that they couldn't stop the wasps from coming in, even after trying to seal all the cracks. I hoping for a good frost to kill them once and for all...

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Coming and goings, well, I guess maybe just goings

A good friend of mine left the country this morning to go home. Kinda sucks that I did my internship at a funny time. I can hardly be called a summer intern since I'm here August - November. All the other summer interns I met have now left. Fortunately the "winterns" (winter, or Waterloo, interns) have filled their place, but they're all undergrad, and such, aren't in my building, so it's hard to meet them. I've met a bunch of people from all over the world since I've been here - Canada, Mexico, Spain, Serbia, Germany, Britain, and more. The rarest people around here are Americans, j/k. There's a lot of "imports" around here and I've found a couple situations where the single American in the group looks around and suddenly realizes that he/she is the minority in his/her own country :)

Orange Juice Fermenting

I was too lazy to wash out a 1.89L carton of Tropicana orange juice after dinner last night. I go to wash it out today and the carton was bulging quite noticeably. Those crazy orange juice fermenting bacteria work fast! The carton let out a nice puff of air when I opened it up. Wonder how much bigger it would've gotten if I left it longer?....

You know you need to do laundry when…..

I have a healthy supply of maybe two and a half weeks worth of underwear. This, I’ve found out, is the maximum amount of time that I can go without doing laundry. It’s that time. Wearing the last pair, so it’s now, or neve-, umm…. or well, just gross, so I guess now :p.

RSS is key – c’mon, everyone’s doing it, why aren't you?

The punchline: if you read the news on the Internet and/or follow blogs, RSS can save you a lot of time. Check out Google Reader.


RSS is the little orange icon in the address bar or in the bottom right corner of your web browser if you’re using a good one, such as Firefox. Basically, RSS lets you grab headlines and articles from webpages, without having to go to the webpage. Then, you can go and view the headlines in a similar fashion as you read your e-mails.

While this doesn’t seem mind-blowing (it didn’t for me when I first heard about it), it’s a godsend for quickly scanning for new articles and blogs. I just blogged about Digg and Slashdot. Wouldn’t it be great if you could just get the articles from both sites without having to actually go and load up both web sites and then you have to sort out which ones you’re read and ones you haven’t? Well, RSS does this for you. You can get the feed from these sites and load them up in a RSS reader.

Do you read blogs? Well, you’re obviously reading mine. Do you read more than one blog? Don’t you hate having to check each blog individually only to find out that most of them haven’t updated since you last checked? Wouldn’t it be great if you could just go to one place and instantly see all the new blogs that your friends have made? RSS does this.

I hope you’re intrigued by this point. So, how do you actually get all this RSS stuff to work for you? My RSS reader of choice at the moment is Google Reader. Just login using your Google account (same as your GMail account, btw if you want a GMail account, just let me know), and you can search for feeds and subscribe to them.

If you want to say, subscribe to my blog, just add my feed: http://veenix.blogspot.com/atom.xml

There are two reasons why I like Google Reader. First, I love tags/labels now. Ever since I started using del.icio.us, I really understand why multiple labels for one thing can be good.


Quick tag/label guide:

With labels or tags, you associate something with several key words.

E-mail (GMail):
For example, an e-mail from your friend in Toronto about volleyball gets labeled as "Toronto" and "Volleyball", then when you're in GMail, you can look at all the labels with just volleyball or Toronto, or both. With folders, you have to put them in either Toronto or volleyball, but with labels, you give it both.

Bookmarks (del.icio.us):
Take bookmarks. I bet your bookmarks are a mess (unless you’re using something like del.icio.us). Let’s say you want to bookmark my blog. If you were using folder like things, you’d probably put it under "blog". With labels, you can call it a "blog", "friend", "Winnipeg", and "Toronto". Then you want to bookmark someone’s personal webpage. You wouldn’t put it in the "blog" folder, but you could give it the labels "friend" and "Winnipeg". Then, you could look at all your bookmarks that are “blog” and see only blogs, goto "friend" and see all pages related to friends, etc. Things can be grouped together even though they are different things.

RSS (Google Reader):
Now, RSS feeds. I have maybe 20 RSS feeds that I’m currently following. I label all the blogs I follow with "blog". That’s a no brainer. When I click "blog" I instantly see all the new posts in the blogs I’m following. I label Slashdot and Digg as "news" and "technology". I label the Globe and Mail as "news" and "Canada". This way, when I want quick technology info, I click the "technology" tag, and this separates the articles from the other news.


Second reason for liking Google Reader is that I tend to read news from multiple computers (at work and at home). Google Reader, being online, keeps track of which articles I’ve read regardless of where I’m reading them, that way I can easily sort out which ones I’ve already read at work or home.

Ok, there’s 3 reasons, and the third one is because it is delivered from my Lord, the mighty and all-powerful, Google.

One caveat though, Google Reader is in beta and last week when I was setting it up, it was a little slow for me, though it's improved this week.

Update (Nov. 21, 2005):  Added a "Add to Google" button on the sidebar, which I got from here. This button lets you easily add my site feed to your personalized Google homepage or reader.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Blog Comment Spam

Within minutes of my last post, I already had 2 comment spams. You now have to do the word verification thing to post comments. Take that stupid computers with poor character recognition!

Slashdot vs Digg

I've been a Slashdot reader since the summer of 2000. For those of you out of the loop, Slashdot is "News for nerds, stuff that matters". It has links to interesting articles (those of interest to nerds) - primarily technology and computer related, but also science, politics, and education. It also has a system whereby people can leave comments about the articles. What usually results is that you get an interesting discussion about the article. Slashdot is read by A LOT of people. There's a term for an article that's made it onto Slashdot and visited by so many people that it crashes the server - the "Slashdot effect".

I've recently discovered Digg and have been finding that I visit it quite often. Digg is also a place where you can find a collection of links to articles of interest to geeks. The difference is how the articles make it to the site. With Slashdot, there are editors who determine which articles make it onto the page. With Digg, the users decide. Once an article has received enough votes or "diggs", then it gets promoted to the front page. This distributed and democratic method works quite well.

There was a recent article on Digg that discussed which one was better. Here are my points on how the two differ:

  • Articles get onto Digg faster than Slashdot - hundreds (or thousands) of eyes are better than just a small handful.

  • Digg has more articles than Slashdot

  • Digg sometimes misses some of the articles that Slashdot has, plus Slashdot has things like interviews and "Ask Slashdot"

  • Digg's audience seems to be younger than Slashdot's - Digg seems to have a significant number of "kids" and lacks the knowledgeable professionals that read Slashdot

  • Digg often has no-news articles (blogs, rumours, old news, etc.) - articles make it because people vote for them and see #4

  • The comments on Slashdot are more thoughtful than on Digg - see #4

  • Slashdot is really aimed at geeks/nerds and people with knowledge (university students and professionals), Digg has a wider audience and its reflected by the articles it has (includes the "kiddie script generation")

I think it's frivilous to try and argue which one is better. I like both and they do serve separate purposes, although rather subtle.

In the end, I visit both and read articles from both (I tend not to read the comments unless I find the article particularly interesting). I just deal with the fact that I see duplicates.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Life-Altering Decisions

Yesterday marked a significant change in my life. I have made choices. I don’t know if they’re the right ones, and I don’t think that I’ve entirely realized the ramifications of my actions. Whether I will regret them in time, I don’t know. I’m not proud of some of the things I’ve done.

Things will be different, probably for the worse initially, but seeming as how I’ve misplaced my magic 8 ball, I’ll have to wait to see if it gets better.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Online Handle

I've decided that I need a new online handle....

Veenix is no longer unique enough (Google search).

I'm taking suggestions.... (just fill out the form and drop it in the comment box)

The main criteria is that a Google search should come out with zero hits and you should be able to make a Hotmail account without having to modify the handle (good indications if the handle is unique).

So far I've come up with:
VEpitome (Vincent or video epitome or just something that sounds cool)
Dr. Mooboy / drmooboy (an older version of a childhood nick)


This reminds me of an article I was reading earlier today about funny domain names, like:
Who Represents -> whorepresents.com -> WhorePresents.com
Therapist Expert -> TheRapistExpert.com
Students Exchange -> StudentSexChange.com
Pen Island -> PenisLand.net
Via Grafix -> ViagaraFix.com

A cool handle could have something funny like this.... but maybe not so perverted.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Harry Potter

Finished Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince last night at 3 am. Took me maybe a week and a half. Not suffering from as much withdrawal as last time when I read the first 5 books all in one week :p

Who would've thought that Harry was actually Dumbledore's father! Not to mention the thing that happened to that person that did that thing!! Oh, man, it was crazy!

Being stuck on dial-up at home, I need some more forms of entertainment.... I just might have to pick-up another book to read...

RIP Mailblocks

The reign of Mailblocks has ended.

Mailblocks was created by Phil Goldman (also the creator of WebTV) and went live on March 24, 2003 and I’ve been a devout worshipper of Mailblocks since April 5, 2003. After Phil Goldman’s death at the age of 39 on Christmas 2003, Mailblocks sold out to AOL Aug. 4, 2004. I hate AOL.

I got an e-mail today saying that AOL is shutting down Mailblocks on Nov. 16, 2005 and this is my 30 days notice. Apparently, I can signup for a free AOL e-mail, but I’d never sell my soul to devil. They say I can get a refund (I paid something like $10 or $15 for 3 years as it was some sort of sign on bonus), but I’ll believe it when I see the money.

Mailblocks, although having a rather cheesy name which “Princess” has been pestering me about for the past little while, wasn’t just another webmail account. It was very innovative for its time and unfortunately, things went downhill (read: sold out to AOL and stopped innovating) after Phil Goldman’s death.

The key to Mailblocks was its ability to completely eliminate spam. To date, Mailblocks has stopped 13,695 spam from entering my inbox. Its challenge/response system requires the sender to verify that it’s not a computer by having the sender type in alphanumeric characters from an image, which, right now, computers cannot effectively do. Until this verification is performed, the e-mail stays in the “Pending” folder for up to 2 weeks. Some smarts were built-in in that this verification only needed to be done once, people I send e-mails to were automatically put on the “white-list”, and I could also authorize people manually.

Mailblocks was also able to fetch e-mails directly from Hotmail and put them through the challenge/response process, effectively eliminating spam from my Hotmail account (which back then before all this spam filtering stuff, I was getting close to 30 spams a day). Further, it consolidated all my e-mail into one account (I like getting all my e-mail in one place). Mailblocks also offered IMAP so that e-mail programs such as Thunderbird, could be used.

Another one of Mailblocks’ innovations was trackers. This was another spam / filtering system. I could for example, create a “tracker” with the e-mail address, vincentcheung-shop1@mailblocks.com and any e-mail to this address would go into my “shop” folder. I would use this e-mail address for online shopping, which then did two things. One, it sorted out my e-mails automatically for me as all shopping related e-mails went into my “shop” folder. Two, if a seedy online retailer sold my e-mail address and I started getting spam at this e-mail address, I could just remove this tracker and create a new one, say vincentcheung-shop2@mailblocks.com and delete the old one so I don’t get the spam at the old tracker. Gmail does support something like this now. You can say, use vincentcheung+shop@gmail.com and those e-mails will get into my Gmail account and I can filter based on who the e-mail is sent to. The problem is that the “+” symbol is incorrectly determined by many sites to be an invalid symbol in an e-mail address. Gmail does let you put a “.” anywhere you want, so for example, vincent.cheung@gmail.com is the same as vincentcheung@gmail.com and you can then filter based on this.

Lastly, I got 15 megs of space with Mailblocks at a time when Hotmail and the other webmail providers were only giving 1 or 2 megs.

I had known for some time that Mailblocks was eventually going to be killed off b/c AOL bought it to build its own webmail system. A few copycats started up after Mailblocks and I signed up for a “Fusemail” account a while ago. It has many of the same features as Mailblocks, but an even cheesier name…..

2.5 computer years is a long time and things have changed. I’ve effectively transitioned from my Hotmail account and get much less spam (maybe 5 / day at most) because of better spam filtering. Folders are outdated. 15 megs can be the size of a single e-mail.

I have been using my Gmail account more and more lately. One of the things that helped me transition was Gmail’s secure SMTP. I have Bell Sympatico DSL back in Toronto and they don’t let you use SMTP, except their server, but when I’m at say, school, I cannot use Bell’s SMTP server. Gmail’s SMTP server, being “secure”, doesn’t use the regular port 25 and thus, I can use Gmail’s SMTP server in Thunderbird to send all my e-mails from where ever I am. What then happens is that it looks like all my e-mails are sent from Gmail.

Gmail gives me 2+ gigs, has labels, tracker like things, and good spam filtering. Gmail doesn’t however, have IMAP support, which makes using multiple computers to check my e-mail with Thunderbird difficult. Gmail does support POP, which is a half assed solution. I use Thunderbird on my laptop to check my Gmail using POP, and for my desktop computer at home and school, I have to use the web page, though Gmail’s web interface is pretty slick. Plus, I’ve been using labels more effectively now, which is not supported in Thunderbird. Gmail also cannot fetch my Hotmail e-mail, but Thunderbird has a webmail plug-in that’ll somewhat do the trick. I rarely get any e-mail from my hotmail account, so this isn’t much of an issue now.

So, in the end, while I was quite surprised with the e-mail I got this morning and Mailblocks’ sudden demise, I’m not too upset, as I was already transitioning to Gmail anyways.

Let the reign of Google begin...

Friday, October 14, 2005

Internship Extension and VISA Stuff

I got a 2 week extension to my Internship here at Microsoft Research in Seattle, so I'll be here until Nov. 14th. They did all the extension stuff pretty quick. Once Nebojsa asked for it, he got all the necessary approvals (he talked to David earlier about it) within a few hours and I had set-up a meeting to update my J-1 VISA, DS-209, and I-9 stuff. I just came back a little while ago from filling out a new DS-209 and I-9 that lets me stay the extra 2 weeks. Didn't take long and it was quite painless. I guess that's why it's good that Microsoft has their own legal department to handle this kind of thing :).

Blog v2.0 Entry #2

Here goes....

The weather here sucks. Been cloudy since God knows when. I don't remember the last time I've seen the sun. But, surprisely, it was warm out today. It was like 20 Celsius, but of course, cloudy, dreary, and the ground is like permanently wet.

It's not like it rains hard, it just kinda spits, but like every day, and then it's not sunny enough to dry it up before it spits again. Pisses me off. I can't rollerblade b/c of all this wet ground... Well, I can, but it's too messy and it's bad for my blades..... and I'm getting spoiled by my car.... ah, the lazy life.

For the first two months I was here (Aug and Sept), it was great - sunny and warm, but now it's just chilly and cloudy. Well, it's not like I have a window in my office, so I can't tell one way or the other whether it's nice outside...

Let the Blogging Begin!

A friend of mine, let's call her "Princess", told me to start a blog. I said that I already have a blog, but didn't update it....ever. I've been meaning to regularly blog. I half blog in that I change my MSN name to convey short messages and I'm so addicted to updating my del.icio.us page. So now, being in Seattle with not much to do, I'm going to try to blog regularly, because, you know, I'm just that important that people should know what I'm up to. Let's just see how long this lasts.... *begin counter*
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