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Hanoi: Day 2

I packed a banana with me so I had a snack during our tour. After eating it, a guy on the street noticed I was holding an unwanted banana peel and directed me to just toss it into the street gutter. I had seen other people do this before, but I was trying to stick to my silly Western conceptions of garbage disposal by putting it in a proper receptacle. But you know, when in Rome…

I’ve had pho twice so far. Hoisin sauce, which for years I’ve been telling my friends was a near-essential part of the pho-eating experience, hasn’t been seen anywhere. Neither time was at a specialized pho place, so I may still yet encounter the brown condiment.

Anyway, as far as sights, we saw a really old pagoda (the name escapes me right now), One-Pillar Pagoda, the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum and museum, the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology, and the first university in Vietnam (now nothing but a tourist attraction). They shuffle you so quickly through the Ong Ho’s supposely-preserved body (it’s gotta be wax) you get about 10 seconds with him. No hands in your pockets, no shorts, no sunglasses resting on top of your head… There are very strict restrictions on what you can look like in there.

I didn’t realize I’d be shooting video in such short snippets, but so far the clips are 30 seconds to at most maybe 5 minutes, so by the end of the day I have like 70 segments on the SD card. Identifying and editing these clips is going to be a massive nightmare. Also 99% of it is shot handheld and it’ll look like shit probably. There’s rarely time to unfold a tripod. Thankfully Dad and Quynh have the still photography duty.

Hanoi: Day 1

We got settled in our rooms by around 3pm and spent the rest of the day just walking around exploring. One thing to get used to are massive volumes of motorbikes in use and how traffic will stop for nobody. I’m not saying Philly or New York drivers are particularly pedestrian-friendly, but but there’s a much greater understanding here that you can’t rely on lights and right of way to help you cross a street. You just have to weave yourself in between the vehicles as they fly down the road. Also, when you see a family of four packed onto one Vespa scooter, it’s hard to justify the “need” for suburban SUVs in the U.S.

I feel like an idiot for not knowing much Vietnamese. Even if I can formulate the sentence in my head (which itself is rare), pronouncing it in an intelligible way is another matter. I don’t feel too bad, though: a shop proprietor noted to my parents that they must not be Vietnamese since their accents were off. My father corrected her, but it’s clear that decades away from the homeland have an undeniable affect on your ability to merge back in.

First meal here was a bowl of pho that was red instead of the usual brownish broth. It wasn’t bad, especially for under a buck fifty.

Myth about mismatched RAM

It’s pretty well-known by now that you’re supposed to maintain symmetric pairs of RAM in your computer to take advantage of the double data rate. These benchmarks performed by OWC seem to indicate otherwise, however (at least for MacBooks). The advantages of having more RAM (and thus avoiding having to use the hard drive for virtual memory) far outweigh the loss of DDR performance. They test Photoshop performance and gaming.

I want to shoot a mini-documentary of sorts when I visit Vietnam next month. I’ll have my parents talk about their experiences and whatnot and it can be something future Nguyen family generations can watch.

I’ll be shooting with a Canon HF100 that I’m getting for Christmas. Editing HD video takes a lot of hard drive space, though, so I recently ordered a Western Digital My Book Studio Edition II 2TB External Drive. It’s one of the lowest-cost 2TB drives available (especially when purchased on eBay with Microsoft Live Cashback), and has an eSata port which was critical to me for speed. It’s set to RAID 0 (striping) by default for speed, but you can change that to RAID 1 if you want mirrored protection.

Here are benchmarks (translated in English). It’s not the fastest, but for the price it’s good enough. These are the only tests I could find that compared its Firewire 800 performance vs. eSata.

The Best Run Campaign Ever

OK, I don’t know if Obama’s presidential campaign was the best run ever, but it was pretty damn smooth. The New Yorker goes over how Obama won. One particularly interesting moment that stuck out to me as a sign of intelligent leadership:

According to an aide, Obama said something to the effect of “This is ridiculous. We met with Stalin. We met with Mao. The idea that we can’t meet with Ahmadinejad is ridiculous. This is a bunch of Washington-insider conventional wisdom that makes no sense. We should not run from this debate. We should have it.”

Newsweek has an extremely long (7 chapters; read ‘em all), but very interesting behind-the-scenes look at the 2008 campaign from within both the McCain and Obama camps. One key source of infighting within the McCain campaign was between Mark Salter, who thought that McCain’s legendary heroism should be held above the fray of dirty politicking, and Steve Schmidt and his Rovian counterparts who felt that those tactics were necessary to win. There’s so much good stuff in this series that it’s hard to pare it down to a few quotes, but I will share this interesting scene:

Obama’s chief of staff, Jim Messina, had slept only a few hours when his cell phone rang. It was still dark on the morning of Aug. 29. Messina and a few other staffers had gone to a bar to carouse after Obama’s speech.

“Get your ass up,” said the voice on the other end. “They picked Palin.”

Messina could not mistake Plouffe’s flat, no-nonsense voice, but he was still groggy. “F––– you,” he said. “Why are you waking me up? Stop teasing me.” “I’m serious,” said Plouffe. “Get up and get your team together.” Messina stumbled out of bed, thinking that Republicans must really be panicking, that they would never pick someone like Sarah Palin unless they were desperate.

And some more background on the organizational sophistication of the campaign:

The geeks at new Media, working with the field department, had created a program that would allow a “flusher”—the term for a volunteer who goes out to round up nonvoters on Election Day—to know exactly who had, and had not, voted in real time. The New Media magicians dubbed it Project Houdini, because of the way names disappear off the list instantly once people are identified as they wait in line at their local polling station. “I have no idea how [Project Houdini] will work,” Steve Schale, the campaign’s Florida state director, told NEWSWEEK a week before Election Day. “But if it does work, it will redefine get-out-the-vote … It’s an amazing, fascinating tool, and if it works, it will be the model that everyone uses going forward.”


The Absegami High School Class of 1998 reunion was last night. I know these things are often just opportunities to judge the success of your former classmates, but I didn’t get that vibe. It was cool seeing everyone, and talking to people I didn’t interact with much in high school. I can’t say I was too impressed with the food, though, other than the salad bar.


I don’t know why I’m up since I have to be awake at 5:00 AM so I can get ready and meet at a coworker’s house, from where we’ll go to Reading, PA to get out the vote.

This election could be called 20 hours from now. Let’s do this.

Halloween Party #1

Went as Joe the Plumber to a vegan Halloween party Saturday. Last minute costume was conceived at Wal-mart with less than an hour before we had to leave. It’s lame, but it was easy: t-shirt with “JOE” printed across it, along with $2.97 plunger (of course I bought a new plunger you sickos). Fortunately, no other Joe the Plumbers at this party. I’ll need new ideas for this weekend’s parties.

Just bought a MacBook Pro

Last year I got Amber a MacBook for Christmas. I had grown fond of Mac OS X and Apple hardware, and Amber needed a new laptop. In addition to finally giving her a reliable computer to use, I had an opportunity to make sure that I could personally make the switch to Mac full time. It wasn’t long before I decided I could commit. Besides, it was easy enough with Bootcamp or Parallels/Fusion to run Windows on a MacBook.

Then it just became a matter of waiting for the impending update of the MacBook line, which came this past Tuesday, October 14. The MacBook and MacBook Pro are now made of a block of aluminum carved out into a sturdy frame. The result is the most rigid notebook computer I’ve ever held. The new trackpad is pretty awesome too, but it’s really just a bonus. I decided on the Pro basically because I wanted the bigger, higher-resolution screen. The discrete graphics card is just a bonus, and it’ll allow me to play Starcraft II when it comes out 5,000 years.

I love the new trackpad. The glass surface is smooth, but not too smooth. The larger area makes it so much easier to move the cursor around. I like that the entire pad clicks. It can distinguish between a click on the bottom left versus the bottom right, so you can set up the driver to register right clicks the way a Windows laptop would. I always enable the “tap to click” feature on any trackpad, though, so I rarely actually do a firm click. Sometimes it’s nice, though.

I’ve read that the MacBook screen is considerably lower quality than the MacBook Pro screen in that the viewing angle is much narrower. I never would have noticed if I hadn’t read it online, but now that I can compare Amber’s MacBook to my MBP, it’s pretty obvious (you can see the difference between the MB and MBP screens, along with comparisons between the old MacBook Pro and the new unibody one, right here). The LED backlighting of the new MBP is pretty sweet too. The image is insanely bright and uniform.

Anyway, I’m happy. I’ve come to love Mac OS X as I learned it on Amber’s MacBook. One year later, her laptop still comes out of sleep without delay. There’s no slowdown that comes with the expansion of a Windows registry. My 3 year old Toshiba M45-S265 has become intolerably slow. I shouldn’t have those problems with my new laptop.

Afraid of donating online

I’m holding a fundraiser at my house in a couple weeks and I must say I’m pretty irritated that out of 12 RSVPs only one of the attendees has donated online. The others have made a pledge and will be bringing their donation to the party. This is, by the way, a gaming party (my unique way of attracting attendees), and the group skews young. Despite that, most of the people coming continue to cling to an old-fashioned method of money transfer. I don’t understand it.

It makes life harder for me. I have to manage their checks and collect their information to properly report the donation. It’s also going to be awkward demanding money from them as soon as the enter the door, but I’ll have to do it because it is a fundraiser and not just an opportunity to drink my beer.

But just as importantly, it makes life harder for them. Checks cost money and take more effort to fill out and manage than simply entering credit card information online. You have to manually track your expenses instead of having them tracked for you on a credit card statement.

I have no explanation for this 20th century behavior. I’m happy to hold this fundraiser, though, because without it these people would probably never donate to Obama’s fight for the presidency.


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