Archive for November, 2009

How to use an astrolabe

November 27, 2009

The astrolabe has a projected map of the stars from a given latitude. It has a built-in tool to measure how high a recognizable star is in the sky. By bringing the two together and with a given date, you can tell the time (amongst many usages).


Funny pics (billboards, animals)

November 27, 2009

Some clever billboards that break out of the frame.

Some unusual animal pictures.


DataTips to improve Visual Studio debugging

November 26, 2009
[DebuggerDisplay(“Employee ( {FullName} )”)]
public class Employee {
public string FullName;

With this simple attribute, Visual Studio will display a one-line view of an object, so that you don’t have to drill down to get to the important information.

You can customize the Visual Studio debugger further with other other attributes,but they more involved. DebuggerDisplay costs nil.


Another useful tip for using Visual Studio is the CTRL + . (dot) expands the SmartTags menu. For example, if you rename a method, a small SmartTag icon appears, which once expanded lets you perform a Rename refactoring.

Kindle for PC released

November 10, 2009
Download it from

The application is pretty nice and straightforward. It lets you access your Kindle books on your PC and even see your notes and marks.

Two complaints 😉

  1. My custom books (converted and uploaded manually, instead of bought from Amazon) and book sample from Amazon are not available.
  2. You cannot search and add notes from the PC app (already listed in future improvements).

Food, Inc. (2008)

November 9, 2009


Food, Inc is an activist documentary, which aims to educate consumers about the food system. This is much of the same information found in the author’s books: Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation) and Michael Pollan (Omnivore’s Dilemma). But it puts together many interesting points, especially from economist’s point of view.

For one, most people don’t think about how food is produced. We clearly see the benefits of mass production, such as lower prices and standardization, but not so much the downsides, such as poor conditions (for animals and workers, environment problems with manure, pesticides and fertilizers), low diversity (system lacks resilience to external events, food is nutritionally limited) and health impact (unhealthy foods, obesity/diabetes, drug resistance, bacterial outbreaks).

The second angle is the role of government. The documentary provides key insights, but doesn’t seem to follow them through. On one hand, it states that “we put faith in our government to protect us”, but on the other it admits that it failed us in many ways (regulatory agencies are controlled/lobbied by the industries it means to regulate, revolving door between industry and agencies, the FDA often cannot close unsanitary factories, FDA hampers small local growers).
There are three government interventions which caught my attention. They are clearly called out, but somehow are not discussed in the context of reforms.

  1. subsidies to corn industry (pays to overproduce, distorts prices of meat, skews towards unhealthy food, makes it hard to compete locally and internationally)
  2. patent laws (give Monsanto leverage against farmers saving seeds)
  3. libel laws for food industry (mutes much of the criticism against them)

Finally, the documentary emphasizes consumer sovereignty. Aside from the artifacts of government intervention, the system is very sensitive to consumer demand. It shows the example of Wal-Mart which is shifting to some organic produces to satisfy customers, and marketing products without growth hormones.
The conclusion highlights consumer choice as a driver for the system, which I think makes sense. It also recommends asking Congress for additional regulation, which I think is a mistake (giving Congress more reach will give the industries more incentives to control the political process, leading to more negative effects as seen above).
But overall, this is a worthwhile documentary, especially if you have not read the recent popular books on the topic.

Moon (2009)

November 1, 2009

I’m always a sucker for good sci-fi movies. Good acting, decent twists, Kevin Spacey as robot companion (reminiscent of 2001 Space Odyssey)…
Nuf said.