No cure for geekiness

Alyssa is learning the multiplication chart recently and likes to ask me to test her all the time. Being a lazy geek, here is my solution in perl:

#!/usr/bin/perl -w
my $script_name = 'multiplication_test.pl';

# Chih-Horng Kuo
# multiplication skill test

use strict;
use warnings;

my $answer = 0;
my $count_question = 0;
my $count_correct = 0;
my $count_wrong = 0;

print "\n";
print "*** Multiplication Test\n";
print "*** Type 'quit' to end the test.\n\n";

while (1) {
# get 2 random integers
# the first one should be between 2 and 9
my $a = int(rand(8)) + 2;
# the second one should be between 1 and 9
my $b = int(rand(9)) + 1;

print "\n";
print "\tQ$count_question:\t$a x $b = ";
$answer = <>;
chomp $answer;

if ( $answer =~ /(\d+)/ ) {
if ( $answer == ( $a * $b ) ) {
print "\t\t\tYeah!\n";
else {
print "\t\t\tOops. The correct answer is ", $a * $b, ".\n";
elsif ($answer eq 'quit' ) {
else {
print "\t\tYour answer is not a number. Try again!\n";
print "\n";
print "*** Thank you for playing!\n";

my $count_total = $count_correct + $count_wrong;

if ( $count_total > 0 ) {
my $score = int ( ( $count_correct / $count_total ) * 100 );
print "*** Your got $count_correct questions right",
" and $count_wrong questions wrong.\n";
print "*** Your score is $score%\n";
if ( $score >= 90 ) {
print "*** Great job!\n";
elsif ( $score >= 75 ) {
print "*** Good work.\n";
elsif ( $score >= 60 ) {
print "*** That's okay.\n";
else {
print "*** Try harder next time.\n";

Initially I wasn't sure if it's a good idea to use a while loop, however, after she got a chance to play with it, I am very glad about the decision. She simply can't stop!


I am a free man

Resigned from my postdoc position today and currently living without any formal affiliation. I will remain a free man for the next 2 weeks or so. It actually feels kind of weird this way, perhaps I have spent too much time at work.


Potato harvest

The kids were thrilled to find the three tiny potatoes they planted gave them quite a bit of return on investment.


It is official!

The contract for my new job finally arrived, so I guess it is safe to say this out loud now: I will join the Institute of Plant and Microbial Biology at Academia Sinica in Taiwan this summer as an Assistant Research Fellow (a tenure-track position that's equivalent to an Assistant Professor in the universities).

We are all very excited about moving back to Taiwan, however, how we are going to handle the upcoming move remains as an unsolved mystery...


A man of many talents

My most memorable line from the movie "The Sound of Music" is when Captain von Trapp sarcastically refers to himself as "a man of many talents". I don't really know about Austria, but recently I realized that home-ownership in the US provides plenty of trainings for me to move toward that goal.

When we bought our first house a couple of years ago, I started with some simple woodworking and gradually moved up to making furniture, replacing windows and doors, fixing toilets, replacing faucets, and today, advanced to mixing mortar and setting tiles. I never thought that I will learn all these, more or less all by myself (with a bit of help from the For Dummies books and Google) when I grow up in Taiwan (where people hire professionals for almost everything). I wonder what will be the next in my curriculum.


Pen Review: my "precious" Edison Pearl

Also posted on the FPN.

0. Background
When I saw a picture of an Edison Pearl back in October 2008, it was love at first sight. The design is so simple and elegant, I know I must have one in my collection. The question then, is why I waited for more than a year before finally putting in an order? Both parts of my answer have something to do with it being a custom-made pen. First, Brian at Edison Pen Co. offers a dazzling array of possible materials to make this beautiful pen and it is really difficult to pick just one. Furthermore, the idea of having a pen custom-made just for me somehow creates a luxurious aura to it, so I have been waiting for a special occasion to celebrate with such a special pen. Finally, something wonderful happened at work this spring and I quickly decided that an Edison Pearl would be the ideal milestone pen for this occasion.

It took quite some time, not to mention dozens of emails, to figure out what exactly do I want for this pen to be like. Initially, I was thinking about a colorful celluloid pen. However, after some unexpected twists, I ended up going to the other extreme and got a stealth-theme pen for its understated elegance (partly inspired by the Savage Detective Pearl). Working with Brian is a pleasure; he was fast in responding to my questions and provided many helpful suggestions in the process.

I waited about 3 weeks for the pen to arrive after placing my order. The waiting period wasn’t much fun because I really wanted to hold the pen in my hand immediately after spending weeks finalizing every detail of it. To his credit, Brian always kept me updated about the status and gave me a pretty accurate time estimate in the beginning. The positive side of this long waiting is that I lost interest in any other pen while I was waiting, so my pen budget got some time to recover from my recent pen-buying frenzy.

One special thing about Edison Pen is that Brian has a webcam set up in his workshop so you can watch him making pens. He told me about the date he scheduled to make my pen and invited me to watch if I want. Unfortunately, things were quite crazy at work on that day and I ended up missing it completely.

1. Appearance & Design
The pen arrived in a simple box with the Edison Pen Co. mark on it. Since I expect this pen to be in use most of the time, I don’t really care what the box looks like. In fact, I am happy to know that only a tiny fraction of cost went into the box.

The material I choose is a black acrylic, which Brian refers to as "faux ebonite". According to Brian, this material is almost indistinguishable from ebonite in term of the look and feel. I don’t have any ebonite pen and I am happy to take his words for it. I opt for acrylic because my two concerns about ebonite: the smell and the oxidation problem.

I chose the satin finish for this pen and I am very happy about this decision. The understated look of this finish is quite elegant and it does not attract fingerprints at all. The best part? It is wonderful to touch.

These photos were taken by Brian and he has graciously agreed to let me use them for this review.

Before getting the pen, I was a little bit worried about the step between barrel and section. Fortunately I don’t really notice it when I use the pen.

2. Construction & Quality
The pen is extremely well made. All threads are nicely done and the finish is excellent. The only imperfections I can find were some tiny tool marks on the cap lip. They are not really a big deal but when I asked Brian about how to polish them out, he immediately offered to take the pen back and make a new cap for it. I was stunned by this extraordinary level of after sale service. I struggled with this decision because (1) I didn’t want to part with this wonderful pen, and (2) as I mentioned, these are really tiny marks and I felt like I was just nitpicking.

Finally, the desire for a ‘perfect’ pen got the better of me and my new pen went on a brief 2-week visit to its birthplace. I included a note in the box to tell Brian that a new cap wasn’t necessary and I’d be very happy if he can just polish out the tool marks. I am not sure if he had followed my suggestion but when I got the pen back the cap feels like a new one. This time, I can’t find any imperfection no matter how hard I try. Really amazing.

3. Weight & Dimensions
The specifications of a standard Pearl below are taken from Edison Pen’s website:

Weight w/ Cap: 16g
Weight w/o Cap: 11g
Cap Diameter: .610"
Body Diameter: .610"
Length Capped: 5 1/4"
Length Uncapped: 4 3/4"

I made two requests to modify the design so the one I have is slightly different. First, after trying out a bunch of different pens, I found the ideal length for me is 5 1/8” uncapped (I don’t post). Second, instead of the regular concave section used for Pearl, I asked the section to be slightly slanted toward the nib side with a lip in the end (similar to the design used for Huron). Brian accommodated both of my requests and delivered a pen that is ideal for my needs.

4. Nib & Performance
The black/silver dual-tone 18K gold nib is truly a beauty. The color scheme is unique and goes well with the “stealth” theme of this pen. Furthermore, I like the Edison Pen Co. logo engraved on the nib a lot. The logo looks like a light bulb with a nib in it; I think the Edison-connection here is quite clever. The logo also makes me looking forward to having some ‘Eureka!’ moments while writing with this pen.

I requested a custom regrind for a 0.6mm stub nib and Brian did a great job on it. The balance between smoothness/feedback and the wetness were both exactly what I have requested. Although I may like a 0.5mm cursive italic nib that Richard Binder did for me just a tiny bit better, the two are really close and both are my favorites.

It is worth noting that the nib unit can be screwed out for easy swapping and Brian sells additional nib units at a very reasonable price. I don’t have the need for extra nibs at the moment but it is good to have the flexibility.

5. Filling System & Maintenance
By default, the Pearl is a C/C filler that can be converted into an eyedropper. Although it is also possible to order a Pearl as a bulb filler, I prefer the simplicity of a standard C/C filler.

6. Cost & Value
A standard Pearl is priced at $250 and I paid some more for the gold nib upgrade and the custom nib regrind. Brian didn’t add any charge for my requests to change the dimension and the section profile of the pen. I feel the price was quite reasonable for a pen of this quality. Considering that it is a pen custom-made to my spec, just for me, I have to say the value is quite good.

7. Conclusion
This is my first experience of ordering a custom-made pen. I really enjoyed the process of being involved in the making of my ideal pen and I am extremely satisfied by the end product. The pen certainly will be a daily user for the years to come. My only problem now is that I have already started thinking about what my next Edison pen will look like.


The new moon arrives!

No, this is not about the bloodsucker movie. While the special effects are quite entertaining, I don't really care for the crazy teenager love story. What got me excited was the arrival of a Taccia Staccato in Lunar Blue. The pen is big and light and extremely comfortable to write with. The color is slightly darker than I would like but the perceived depth of the resin used is truly amazing.


Live and learn

Just read something like this in a magazine: a child who is constantly making negative comments is not necessarily unhappy, he/she may be a deep thinker who is taking a highly analytical approach to understand the world around him/her.

I have to say that I am quite far from achieving this Zen-like state of mind.


Fiddle contest

With the encouragement from their violin teacher, Alyssa and Vivian attended their first ever fiddle contest today. It was a pretty big event in the Reid Park with a fairly large crowd.

Without any experience in competition and not having much time to practice, we only hoped that they can have the courage to go up to the stage, finish their songs, and have fun along the way. We were pleasantly surprised by how well they did. Both of them ended up in the same age group, the "Pee Wee", for kids up to 9-year old. Alyssa was the 2nd one on stage for the whole event, playing "Old Joe Clark", "Country Waltz", and "Long, Long Ago":

Vivian was the 5th one, playing "Boil 'em Cabbage Down", "See Saw", and "Long, Long Ago":

And while his sisters were busy with the contest, David had quite a lot of fun running around and having delicious kettle corns:

When the scores came out, we were really shocked. Vivian was in the 5th place and Alyssa was in the 3rd place!

They were very happy to share the good news with their teacher Ms. Laura:

It was definitely a fun day for our entire family, especially for the two girls. In addition to the medal/plaque and all other goodies, they also won some cash awards ($10 for Vivian and $25 for Alyssa). Now there are two rich girls in the house contemplating how to use all that money!


Growth record (Feb 2010)

Alyssa: 7 yr 11 mo, 132 cm, 22.7 kg.
Vivian: 6 yr 0 mo, 115 cm, 19.0 kg.
David: 3 yr 7 mo, 97 cm, 15.5 kg.


No cure for a busy mind

Things have been quite intense and stressful at work during the past few months. Fortunately, the situation is more under control now and I somehow retained my sanity through all that craziness. After being told to relax repeatedly by several people, I decided to do something that always works for me: shopping for a new fountain pen!

However, this turned out to be anything but relaxing. After failing to find anything that meets my expectation, I started the process of ordering a custom-made pen. With so many decisions to make, it actually requires no less work than designing a research project or writing a proposal. Well, at least these are the "good" kind of problems to have on hand. :)


The secret handshake

Finally my boss approved that I am worthy material and granted me the privilege of reading his treasured copy of "Academic Gamesmanship: How to Make a Ph.D. Pay" by Pierre van den Berghe (ISBN: 0200717154). The author's cynical view on the inner working of academic world was hilarious, which makes the reading experience some sort of a guilty pleasure. The level of sarcasm is truly astonishing; Bill Bryson's work reads like children's literature in comparison. Too bad the book is out-of-print now (1st edition was in 1970) and the price of a used copy is simply outrageous (ranging from $35 to $468 on Amazon), otherwise I'd want one just for the fun of it.


Frustration, frustration, frustration

My brother said "... My little brother has a bright career in science, making a shitload of money is not his top priority in life. It's just like I am in business and you can't judge my success by counting how many research papers I have published...."

My mom heard "blah blah blah. Your second-born is a loser. blah blah blah. Your first-born is a failure. blah blah blah"

Seriously, WTF?


That's what friends are for

Quite unexpectedly, an old friend from college called to congratulate me on some great things that happened to me recently. More importantly, he volunteered to offer some very useful info that I didn't even know I need (but found extremely helpful after I learned about it). The kind act was deeply appreciated.


hPDA rocks

As a part of my recent experiment with GTD, I started using a hPDA to organize things in my life. Incidentally, I had to make yet another intense week-long business trip to Taiwan earlier this month, which provided a good opportunity to test out this new system.

I am happy to say that the ingenious hPDA works great for me, particularly when things are getting crazy with an international trip that was filled with dozens of important meetings in a week. The flexible formatting of hPDA worked much better than any app that I can find for my iPod Touch. Furthermore, the portability/robustness/responsiveness of a hPDA is way better than any electronic alternative. Although backup and syncing remains as an issue with hPDA, I think I am hooked.