Archive for March, 2011

March 30, 2011

Stocking up

In just a few days I will be Washington bound to start my internship at Microsoft. I expect to be busy. Very busy. In addition to my internship, I will have my thesis to keep me company. I need to make as much progress as possible so I can stay on track for graduation. Still, I need something to occupy my hands with. It’s good to take a break from research sometimes, no? I need something somewhat monotonous, that I can do with the TV on or while I’m waiting for dinner in the oven. Most of the projects I have planned have multiple stages. I find that if a project isn’t monotonous, I have difficulties putting it down to pick up again later. I therefore need to find a large block of continuous time for them, which is something I doubt I will have in the coming weeks.

I think I found my project.

I love this idea for seed bead ornament nets. I’ve been looking for ways to personalize our Christmas tree. The problem is I’m very picky, even when it comes to something as simple as the ball ornaments. These embellishments will really let me personalize, and add a bit of sparkle. Lily, our cat, discovered this past Christmas that she can bat ornaments out of the tree. While the ball will be destroyed, the net will survive the fall to the floor. I can keep reusing them. Perfect!

The timing for this new project is also excellent (despite Christmas being a solid 9 months away). This week’s Michaels coupons includes a 25% off the entire purchase. Perfect for stocking up on seed beads.

I just have to start off by saying what a difference a year makes. Compare my Anniversary photo to the photo of me in the “About Sarah” section of the side menu. The bathroom scale might not report much of a change, but I see a world of difference. Okay, back to our regularly scheduled programming.

I have been wanting to do a family travel map for a while, so when our anniversary was coming up I thought it would be a fun project to do together. I loved the idea of working on a project together, that’s also practical in the sense that we’ll hang it up and love to look at it rather than something that gets stored away. (Like our wedding album. Sad, but true.) We wanted to combine the traditional first anniversary wedding gift, paper, with the modern anniversary gift, clocks, so we added a series of world clocks to the map.

I’m very happy with how this turned out. I ended up using just traditional rubber cement to mount the map onto a foam core backing. Most people recommend spray adhesive for an even spread, but I had so much rubber cement left over from a wedding project that I wanted to use up. Rubber cement worked fine for this project because the map was on thick matte photo paper: no wrinkling or bulging. It’s not perfect, but it works well enough.

The frame came from Walmart (about $18 + tax). I could have gone a little cheaper, but I liked the look of the frame, and the dark mahogany brown color. It matched the map perfectly. The frame had a plastic shield over (ie fake glass) but it was fairly easy to rip out and make room for the pins. Once I pulled out the plastic, I realized how flimsy the frame was. The foam board backing is necessary to help it keep it’s shape, as well as provide a place for the pins to go.

We used medium black tacks (purchased on amazon since they were cheaper when you factored in shipping – $9). The tacks have a tendency to disappear when you stand a few feet back because the map is so dark. We decided to pin places we had been to together, including before we were married or even engaged. Other options include having pins of different colors for each family member, or pins for with kids and sans kids.

The wall clocks are of important locations to us. We met, married and honeymooned in three different time zones which happen to move West to East. The progression works very well with the concept of world clocks. The time is set to the time of our ceremony, 5 o’clock Eastern Standard Time. I suppose, if we hadn’t, I probably would have had one large clock for where we were married, and several smaller ones indicating either places we had been, or wanted to go. I printed the clocks on photo paper which gives them a bit of a glossy shine, kind of like the glass on a real clock.

I want to keep up the tradition of an anniversary craft project, but next year will prove to be a challenge. The traditional gift is cotton, and the modern gift is china. I have no idea what I will do.

March 27, 2011

Happy Anniversary!

One year ago we said “I do!” It’s been an amazing year, I am so lucky to have found the love of my life.

March 24, 2011

Very Un-Sarah Like

I’ve been doing something very un like myself… waiting for airline ticket prices to go up before booking. Usually I am the queen of the discount. I love a good sale, and the hunt for the good sale! Sometimes you gotta spend more in the short-term to save in the long-term.

Domingo and I generally fly Southwest domestically. We racked up a fair number of credits during my last summer internship at Microsoft. It’s just 2 hours away by plane, and if you book early, not too terribly expensive, making it easy.

Southwest recently changed over the point system. Before you received 1 credit per hop, regardless of how short it was. We are just 3 credits (1.5 trips) away from a free round trip ticket. This march, they changed their system. Now you are awarded points based on the cost of the ticket. You can convert points to credits, but even with the 5 hops we have planed (2.5 trips) before the credits expire, we still won’t qualify for a free ticket! We would be about $30 worth of points shy! We can’t have that. Especially because it would be another 3 or 4 additional hops to make up for those expired credits, which would put us right back to square one.

So for now I’m waiting, and watching like a hawk for a slight uptick, so we can nab the free flight.

BTW, the new point system? Love it! It’s basically a 10% discount (well, technically 9%). You earn 6 points for every dollar spent, and redeem at a rate of 60 points per dollar. (1 free trip out of 11 ~ 9%). The points don’t expire as long as you fly at least once within 2 years and with my family on the other side of the country, we have a built in excuse to fly. Last but not least, you get more points for spending more. If I don’t time my ticket purchases well, and the price jumps up a little, at least I get something for it.

March 21, 2011

1 Down, 11 to Go

I spent way too many hours in bed this morning with a bad migraine. I want to blame it on standing in a small room full of cleaning chemicals for a few hours yesterday. Oh the other hand, one zone down (the master bathroom), and another almost finished (the guest bathroom).

The biggest challenge was the water stains. Our house has hard water. Very hard water. The worst hit was the tub in the master bathroom, which had acquired a raised blue stain around the drain – a combination of the calcium and (I think) soap scum. We had tried all the housing cleaning products we had to no avail. They were so bad I thought we were going to have to hire professionals to come in with the super strong chemicals, stay-out-of-the-house-for-24-hour chemicals.

Saturday we went back off to Target to acquire some different cleaning products to try. The winner: Comet. It still took 4 applications to get it cleaned up, but it’s finally gone. Some of our other cleaning products we tried weren’t as remarkable. We tried Kaboom Foamtastic for the toilets, which sprays on purple and turns white when it’s finished. The sides of the toilet ended up being too slick, and it slid down into the bowl before changing colors.

I still have to recaulk the shower, but I think I’ve had enough of the heavy chemicals for now. (Yes, I know caulk isn’t a heavy chemical, but there’s still a faint smell from the others.) For now, I’m moving on to the office, where most of the work involves organizing and not scrubbing.

Every fall I think “My house is a mess, I should clean it! As soon as the SIGIR deadline has passed…”. And I by clean I really mean organize. Donate old things we no longer use to good will, dispose/recycle of electronics that no longer work. Sure enough Spring comes around and I get distracted with something: School Work, Internships, Weddings. I usually do two half-houses passes a year, either tackling the downstair or the upstairs, but really what I need to do it all at once.

This years SIGIR deadline has come and gone nearly two months ago, and you couldn’t tell by the disorder chaos that is my home. No more.
Today I got out the scrub brush and got cracking. We’re not just talking clean, were talking Monica-Geller-scrub-the-toilet-brush clean. (Not even kidding on that, I already scrubbed down the toilet brush).

My goals are tri-fold. Clean, Organize, and Fixup.

Clean. This one is pretty self evident, but scrub down every possible surface.

Organize. A few weeks before packing to go to Hawaii we made a note that we were running out of toothpaste. I found a three tube pack under the sink in the guest bathroom. Being a three pack, it must have come from Costco, but our membership had expired over 18 months ago. Yes, we had toothpaste and we had ample supply of toothpaste and we didn’t even know it for probably two years. Did you know toothpaste expires? Another cuplrate for me is deodorant. For some reason I always thinking I’m out, but never am. By getting organize we know how much of each item we have, and what not to waste our money buying more of.

Fixup. We have a list of minor imperfections in our house. The previous owner had secured the toilet paper holder directly into drywall, so of course it’s starting to fall now. The water pressure is low in the guest bathroom sink. As we clean up we’re making a note of all the little things (and fixing a few on the way.) One can’t tackle the honey-do list, if one forget’s what’s on it.

I’ve divided the house into 12 zones (including the garage). Spring Cleaning will not get the best of me this year!

March 13, 2011

Hawaiian Adventure

We’re back from our vacation to Hawaii. It was great! Warm weather, warm water beaches. Seriously why can’t California’s beaches ever get that warm? We returned to the same location as last time, even the same hotel since it was just a stone’s throw from the beach.


(Photos in our family album)

We were there for a week, flying back on Saturday. We got to the hotel early Thursday night (around 8ish). We wanted to get up early the next day to drive to the valley of the temples. Domingo had his Droid and was checking the news when I was putting together our final plans for our final day. Earthquake! A 9.0 had rocked Japan. We immediately turned on the news, which was already talking about a possible Tsunami for Hawaii. The watch turned into a warning, and we were instructed to stay put in the high rise hotel.

We had five hours to prepare. We knew we were safe in the hotel, the tsunami that hit Hawaii would be no where near the size of the one in Japan. The news had emphasized that the hotels in the popular tourist areas were we were were well equipped and preformed drills to prepare for Tsunami. Still, I think it would be foolish to stay Domingo and I weren’t at least a little nervous about the Tsunami. The video from Japan was heartbreaking, and the same geological event that caused their tsunami was sending another one towards on. The civilian defense sirens were going off every hour, and the police bull hard telling people to seek shelter were not exactly settling.

The Tsunami ended up bouncing between the islands, so even though the main wave was gone we weren’t aloud out of our hotel until about 7:40am, and not in the water until 11:56. Once the adrenaline had passed, we enjoyed a peaceful final day, even if it meant we didn’t get to visit the valley of the temples.

March 10, 2011

Underwater Snaps

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It’s a general rule in photography that the more light you have, the less of a difference you’ll notice between a sophisticated camera and a simple one. Since there’s generally a good amount of light when snorkeling, a simple underwater disposable camera would be all that we need. Right? At least that’s what we were told.

The benefit for a disposable camera is the cost. I thought I would be saving money when we purchased the two disposable cameras for our Hawaii trip two years ago. The cameras were only $15.99 a camera, much better than a digital camera. (They were even cheaper in Hawaii, at only $12.99 a camera, hello Californian High Cost of Living!) Turns out I forgot about the cost to have the film developed for the two cameras, an extra $20 dollars. In total I ended up paying about $52 plus tax. That’s about half the cost of a cheap underwater digital camera. Below is the best photo I took using one.


Snorkeling in Hawaii ’09
Disposable Underwater Camera

Size: 7 X 3 at 220 DPIs
Number of Photos Taken: 34
Percentage of “Good” Photos: 38%

The underwater photos have a bit of a grainy texture, but that could have been the way they were developed. It also might be possible to have the photo developed at a higher resolution. I didn’t include the above water shots in my total counts, (although I didn’t factor them out of the costs). I didn’t want to bring my normal camera and leave it on the beach, so I took a few pictures of the bay top side using the disposable camera.

We enjoyed snorkeling so much, I figured we would do it often. I purchased a FugiFilm Underwater XP10 (for $110), since it was only twice the cost – just two trips and it’s paid for itself. Another option would be an underwater carrying case for my old point and shoot, but the camera wasn’t a particularly popular model, so the cases were rare and nearly twice as expensive as the new camera. Below is a comparable picture from 2011 using the FugiFilm to the “best” 2009 disposable picture.


Snorkeling in Hawaii ’11
Digital Underwater Camera

Size: 18 X 13 at 220 DPIs
Number of Photos Taken: 175
Percentage of “Good” Photos: 54%

It took a little while to get into the groove with the digital underwater camera, the first dozen were almost all bad. I had to point the camera lower than where it looked like the fish were. But once I hit a groove, they were turning out much better, and I got so many more of them. I could also stop to look at the photos, determine if I got “the shot” and move on to other areas of the reef. For this trip I was limited by the battery life, rather than the number of exposures. As you can see, I got nearly 9 times the photos!

On drawback to the underwater digital camera, the waterproofing supposedly doesn’t last forever. The instructions say to send it back in to the factory about once a year to be re-coated. I’ve owned it a little under a year, so I have no notion of how necessary this step is.

Which is better? It depends on what you want. If you’re only going to go snorkeling once, and want a few pictures to remember it by, the disposable camera works great. Otherwise, my advice would be to go with a digital underwater camera above the disposables, despite the general rule of light. You can also use it any time you go swimming, really and if you go snorkeling twice, it’s the same cost.

I just have to say – Jillian Michaels, you kick my butt!  I bought her workout DVD ’30 day shred’ almost a year ago, but only recently got took it out of it’s shrink wrap.  I know, I know – wasted time I could have been getting fit.  C’est la vie.  The important thing is I’m getting healthy now.  I haven’t noticed much of a difference weight wise yet, but I do notice a difference in my appearance.

I’m still on workout one, largely because I’m a big fail at circuit 1.  I can do Circuits 2 and 3.  I can even do the harder versions of the exercise.  I just cannot manage a pushup for the life of me.  Even on my knees.   I’d say it’s because I have no arm strength, but I can do all the other arm exercises with the weights.  Although, to be fair, I do feel it, and one of the areas I think I see improvements is my arms.  I think I must have bad form with the pushups, and the added torque is just too much for me.

I was interested in Yoga too, so I figured I’d mix up the 30 day shred with her Yoga video.  Guess what? Chataranga pushups.  Eventually I will get stronger.  Or my arms will fall off.  One of the two.

March 1, 2011

What’s in a name?

I recently came across an article on the internet claiming that .co’s were going to be the next big thing for domain names. The argument is the .co is close to .com, and looks like it’s short for “company”, even though .co is a country code top level domain (ccTLD) for Republic of Colombia. The top level domain .co’s aren’t new (although the ease of registering them is), and neither is the logic. The same statement was rehashed for .biz’s, the .us’s, the .cc’s and the .ws’s (some claim .ws is meant to be “website”, but it too is a ccTLD, for Western Samoa), and will be repeated as new TLDs are created. The argument is simple: we’re running out of good .com domain names, so surely some other extension must become popular. Yes, it’s true that thousands of domains are registered a day, the lion’s share are still the .coms

As I see it, there is one critical flaw in the argument to register non-dot coms: for companies, it’s all about brand. No company wants their brand to be confused with someone else’s – unless they can profit from it, of course. Go ahead, I challenge you to come up with a domain name which has been registered with two different top level domains, and belong to different successful companies. I’ll even let you define successful.

Sure there are some examples of famous companies with non-dot com names. The most famous example is probably del.ico.us. But if you notice, del.icio.us now forwards to delicious.com. Once del.ico.us had enough equity, they purchased the .com. I recently discovered binged.it, which is also very clever and also redirects to bing.com. The fact that del.ico.us is the defacto non-dot com example used also shows how hard it is to come up with a creative non-dot com name. Wikipedia, slashdot and others use .org, but they also have the .com registered, and can redirect traffic to their .org as need be.

But don’t take my word for it that dot coms aren’t going anywhere, let’s look at some numbers.

The percentage of newly registered domains that were dot-coms only slightly decreased from 67.7% in 2008 to 65.0% in 2010.   This number accounts for new registrations, and does not including existing registrations which are already dominated by .coms.  To reach this conclusion, I used HosterStats from 2008 and HosterStats from 2010. The top level domains .us and .co as were not available to this particular register in 2008 and .me, .asia was not available in all of 2008. Often individuals and companies buy “add-on” domains to prevent anyone else from owning them. As new top level domains come online, we expect a bump in registration the first month it is available. We didn’t want this “Add-on” bump to affect out analysis, so we removed .co’s, .us’s, .me’s and .asia from analysis. Simply put, over half of newly registered domains are .coms.

Even accounting for add-on bump, the popularity of .co’s is less than random. Using the August to November statistics from 2010 HolsterStats, the percentage of domain registrations in August, September and November are .co’s are 4.5%. The registrar has 19 different top level domains. A randomly selected top level domains is 5.3% likely to be .co. Thus, when users have a choice, they prefer .co’s less than a user who selects a top level domain purely at random. There is not a strong preference for .co’s.

On the other hand – of the other domains, .Info is growing in popularity. While there are fewer .info’s than .net or .orgs, newly registered domain name are almost as likely to be .info than .net and .org, combined. We see this to be true in DomainTools. According to HolsterStats, domains with .info made up less than 1% of all domains registered in 2008, but 14.1% in 2010. This finding has peaked my interest since .info’s have been around since 2001 and were always easy to register. Why then are they now becoming popular?  Is this localized to DomainTools and HolsterStats, or a more global phenomenon? Of course, in terms of raw numbers, .net and .org are still more popular than .info.

Do does this mean every single new domain should be a dot com? Clearly not. There are a number of successfully branded non-dot com examples, and .infos seem to be raising in popularity. But dot coms are still the option that is strongly preferred by the internet community. It still seems to be the de facto standard.