The impact of our “life environment” on who we are/become

June 19th, 2010

I think it’s common to underestimate the impact of our “life environment” on who we are and who we become. And the impact on “who we are” can happen amazingly quickly.

One particularly drastic example is the famous Stanford Prison Experiment where college students truly became who they were expected to be (either prisoners or guards) in a matter of days. The experiment was originally designed to run for two weeks but needed to be shut down after only six days because the behaviors that we born of the environment became too extreme.

The Stanford Prison Experiment is certainly a very extreme situation. However, I believe that the basic principle it demonstrates — we are strongly (but fortunately not completely) molded by our environments is directly relevant to our daily lives … or at least calls into question some common beliefs. Some examples:

  • Are the common tensions between employers and employees really a result of employers and employees each having inherent flaws? Or could it just be a product of employers and employees falling into their respective roles in the employer-employee relationship?
  • Is the large imbalance between the number of men and women in math/science/engineering really the result of inherent differences between men and women? Or is it a result of years of expectations that boys and girls have different capacities when it comes to mastery of technical skills and concepts?
  • Are war atrocities due to the inherent evilness and sadistic nature of the soldiers involved? Or could the war environment be pushing the human psyche into a regime that leads to these unforgivable behaviors?

I recently ran across a few interesting blog entries that discusses the concept of life being a mirror that influences who we become and how we feel about ourselves.

The fundamental idea is that existing in an environment that fits our talents and personality allows us to live to our fullest potential. Our task then is to find our ways to put ourselves into environments and situations that will help shape us into the people that we want to be.

While we may want to believe that who we are/become is something intrinsic that comes completely from within, it is important to acknowledge the strong impact of the environment we live in and the situations we face in life. If we accept this fact, then at least there’s a chance that we can rise above our situation and become the people that we truly want to be … not merely by trying to change who we are from within but also by changing the external world that we choose to interact with.

Copyright © 2010 Kevin T. Chu

Which Type of Leader Are You?

March 25th, 2010

Ran across an interesting short blog posting this morning: Which Type of Leader Are You?

It highlights the need for two types of leaders in any organization – the Visionary and the Master of Operations.   The Visionary is primarily involved with setting the direction for the organization while the Master of Operations focuses on turning the vision into reality. A single person is rarely both a strong Visionary and Master of Operations, so it is important to work to find people to fill both of these roles in an organization.

The blog posting also made another interesting point: an individual should seek a role in an organization which matches his/her strengths. Otherwise, the individual is likely to become “de-energized and deflated” and “cease to be successful as [he/she becomes] less enthusiastic about [his/her] role.”

Copyright © 2010 Kevin T. Chu


Using FileVault with Time Machine on Mac OS X

January 30th, 2010

A few quick notes on how to use FileVault with Time Machine.  First, some general rules:

  • Time Machine will only backup FileVault if is is using the sparse bundle format (Leopard and later).
  • Time Machine will only backup users with FileVault enabled when they logout.

Restoring Accounts of Users with FileVault Enabled

  1. Recreate the users account with exactly the same password as used originally.
  2. Copy the username.sparsebundle directory to be restored into the users new account located at <drive>/Users/username


  • username.sparsebundle is located in “Time Machine Backups/Backups.backupdb/<drive>/<timestamp>/<drive>/Users/username”
  • It is important to retain the permissions for the contents of the username.sparsebundle directory when copying (e.g. use the -p flag)

    Restoring Individual Files of Users with FileVault Enabled

    1. Log in as the user.
    2. Using the Finder, open the “disk image” named username.sparsebundle on Time Machine.  After entering the user’s password, the “disk image” will be mounted as a drive called username.
    3. Restore the files from the username drive.


    • username.sparsebundle is located in “Time Machine Backups/Backups.backupdb/<drive>/<timestamp>/<drive>/Users/username”
    • When accessed via a terminal, username.sparsebundle is a directory.
    • If the username drive is mounted directly from the Time Machine drive, then it will be mounted read-only.  This prevents accidental corruption of the Time Machine backups.



    Copyright © 2010 Kevin T. Chu


    Section 179 Deductions

    January 9th, 2010

    The Section 179 Deduction is a convenient alternative to the usual depreciation method for expenses equipment purchased for business use. As long as the equipment and the amount being expensed meet certain requirements, the full purchase price of the equipment can be deducted during a tax year it was purchased or financed.

    For small businesses, the Section 179 Deduction can reduce (or eliminate) the need to track capital expenditures, which significantly simplifies accounting. One downside of using the Section 179 Deduction it can potentially make it a little more difficult to “value your company” because capital investments will need special accounting (unless you’re tracking it anyways … in which case using the standard depreciation methods shouldn’t be too much trouble for you ^_^).

    Examples of qualifying equipment

    • Office equipment
    • Office furniture
    • Computer equipment
    • Computer software (off-the-shelf)
    • Office furniture

    Limits on deduction

    • cap on total amount deducted under Section 179
    • cap on total amount of equipment purchased
    • cap based on amount of business income during the year




    • This information is intended to offer general information about business taxes but is not provided as official tax advice. For tax advice about your specific circumstances, please seek the counsel of a tax professional.
    • I sincerely apologize for any inaccurate or missing information in this blog entry.

    Copyright © 2010 Kevin T. Chu


    “work for yourself” or “work for somebody else” – the choice is yours

    September 15th, 2009

    I just read this article titled 10 Reasons You Should Never Get a Job.  I think it gives an interesting perspective on the psychology and sociology of working as an employee vs. being “self-employed.”  Enjoy!

    (Thanks to Jason Yeh for posting this link to Facebook)

    Copyright © 2009 Kevin T. Chu


    Dropbox: a file sharing and synchronization solution

    August 9th, 2009

    Shortly after I posted a blog entry on Unison, I was introduced to Dropbox, a cross-platform file sharing and synchronization software solution. While I still think Unison provides a nice solution to the file synchronization problem, Dropbox very elegantly solves several key issues (not addressed by Unison) when it comes to file sharing and synchronization. In a nutshell, Dropbox is easier to configure/use and provides valuable sharing options that are unavailable through Unison (without significant effort on the part of the user). So far, Dropbox “just works.”

    The key advantages of Dropbox are:

    • Dropbox securely hosts your files online;
    • Dropbox makes it easy to share individual files/directories with collaborators;
    • Dropbox automatically updates the contents of the special “Dropbox” folder/directory to the online repository and all machines that share content (including files and folders shared with collaborators);
    • Dropbox is seemlessly integrated into the native operating system; and
    • Dropbox provides version control for all files under its management.

    Dropbox uses the “freemium” model for pricing. “Basic” service is free and provides up to 2 GB (or up to 3 GB with the current referral promotion) of online storage. “Pro” services provide much larger online repositories for a fairly reasonable fee. More details about the pricing structure is available here.

    The alternatives to Dropbox are the same as the alternatives to Unison. A short (and surely incomplete) list was provided in my blog entry on Unison. In terms of functionality, Dropbox is probably most similar to Apple’s MobileMe or Windows Live Sync. Disclaimer: I don’t have any experience with either of these alternatives, so there may very well be features of these systems that make them superior or inferior to Dropbox.

    As a result of its simplicity of use, collaboration support, good performance and price, I have decided to transition my previous Unison setup completely over to Dropbox.

    (Thanks to  Tim Nardine and Christine Yang for introducing me to Dropbox.)

    Copyright © 2009 Kevin T. Chu


    Unison: a cross-platform file synchronizer

    July 23rd, 2009

    For a long time now, I haven’t had to worry about synchronizing files across multiple computers because there was very little overlap in the way I used different machines (i.e. each machine served a mostly unique purpose). But now that there are some tasks (e.g. download and reading papers) that I do on multiple machines, a good file synchronization system has become more of a necessity.

    The solution that I am currently using is the Unison File Synchronizer, which was introduced to me by Keng-Hwee Chiam at the Institute of High Performance Computing (IHPC) in Singapore. In a nutshell, Unison is designed to allow you to keep the contents of two directories, known as replicas, synchronized. Some features of Unison:

    • changes to either replica are propagated to the other replica;
    • replicas can be either local or remote;
    • profiles can be used to create shortcuts that tell Unison which set of replicas to synchronize.

    I have found Unison very easy to install, set up and use. Binary installations and installations for package distribution systems are readily available for the most common platforms.

    To quickly get up to speed on how to use Unison, I recommend taking a look at the following:

    It’s worth noting that even though the number of preferences is rather large, a basic configuration only requires a few of them to be set. The following is a minimal set of profile preferences (provided to me by Keng-Hwee) that I have found to be sufficient for my basic needs:

    • root = <local directory to be synchronized>
    • root = <remote directory to be synchronized>
    • ignore = Name <name of file to ignore>;
      • to ignore multiple files, use a separate ignore line for each file to ignore
    • log = false
      • suppresses generation of log file
    • silent = true
      • suppresses textual output
      • automatically sets batch = true which deactivates interactive mode
    • fastcheck = yes
      • tells Unison to use a file’s modification time and length of file to check whether it has been modified.  This flag is especially important when using Unison on Windows where the default is to compare the full contents of every file.
    • times = true
      • propagate file modification times

    Synchronizing more than two replicas

    As mentioned earlier, Unison is really only designed for synchronization between two replicas. To keep more than two replicas synchronized, the Unison User Manual recommends a “hub and spokes” architecture. This architecture should be sufficient as long as the number of replicas you want to keep synchronized isn’t too large.

    If you want to be able to sync up no matter where you are, it’s nice to put the hub on a server that is available over the internet.

    Alternative to Unison

    There are several alternatives to Unison that I have chosen not to explore for various reasons. I list them here in case people would like to know what other options are available:

    • MobileMe
      • Provided by Apple
      • Storage in the “cloud”
      • Fee for service
    • Windows Live Mesh
      • Supported on Windows and Mac OS
      • Storage in the “cloud”
    • Windows Live Sync
      • Supported on both Windows and Mac OS
      • Peer-to-peer architecture (both computers need to be on to sync)

    (Thanks to  Jerry Quek and Nathanial Ng at IHPC for sharing these alternatives with me.)

    Copyright © 2009 Kevin T. Chu


    Upgrading RAM on the Dell Mini 10v

    July 11th, 2009

    Even though the Dell web site only offers a maximum of 1GB of RAM for the Dell Mini 10v, the hardware supports a maximum of 2GB of RAM. Since I’ve successfully done hardware upgrades in the past, I figured it shouldn’t be too bad to upgrade the RAM by myself. While I managed to successfully complete the upgrade, the process was the second most involved hardware surgery I’ve ever done (the most difficult being replacement of the hard drive on a Powerbook G4). The required disassembly and reassembly of pretty much the entire netbook is not for the faint of heart.

    I followed a set of instructions I found online (which I can no longer find…), but there is now a nice video tutorial available: Dell Mini 10v 2GB RAM Upgrade. I would definitely recommend watching the tutorial before attempting the RAM upgrade (I wish I had run across it before the operation…).

    Some pictures of my disassembled Dell Mini 10v:

    Copyright © 2009 Kevin T. Chu


    Notes on business filings for sole-proprietorships and partnerships

    June 30th, 2009

    From a legal standpoint, setting up a simple sole-proprietorship or partnership (i.e. no legal entity separate from the business owner(s)) is remarkably easy. There is really only one required step (assuming your business does not require any special certifications or licenses):

    • obtain a business license (usually handled at the city/township level).

    If you have a partnership or are a sole-proprietor doing business under a name different than your own, then you will need take one additional step before applying for your business license:

    • register a fictitious business or “doing business as” name with (usually handled at the county level).

    That’s it!

    For my business, I needed to do both steps. The entire process from start to finish took about four weeks.

    Registering a fictitious business name

    To register the fictitious business name, I did the following:

    1. Check the availability of my desired business name using the online name search provided by the county clerk recorders office (free).
    2. Mail the fictitious business name registration form to the county.
    3. Publish the fictitious business name statement in an approved local newspaper.

    For me, the entire process cost around $55 (~$40 to process the registration + $15 to publish in the local paper). The turn around time for registration by mail was about one week. A few possible variations on this procedure include:

    • visiting the county clerk’s office in person, which cuts the registration turn around time to one day; and
    • using an online services, such as, that takes care of steps (2) and (3) for you “at cost” or with very low processing fees.

    It is worth mentioning that registration of the fictitious business name is required before you can set up many parts of your business infrastructure (e.g. business bank account), so it’s important to get it done early.

    Obtaining a business license

    Applying for a business license only required

    1. filling out a short application form with information about the business (e.g. address, type of business),
    2. taking trip to the local city hall to turn in the application form,
    3. paying a small business license fee (which may depend on what business you are in) and
    4. waiting for the city to send me an official business license.

    For me, the business license fee is about $30 per year and it took about two weeks to receive the official business license from the city. I will need to remember to renew the business license every year, but I doubt I’ll forget because the city is kind enough to send an annual reminder.


    • This information is intended to offer general information about starting a business but is not provided as legal advice. For legal advice about your specific circumstances, please seek the counsel of a legal professional.
    • Please check with your local government offices to obtain the proper filing procedures and fees for businesses in your area.
    • I sincerely apologize for any inaccurate or missing information in this blog entry.

    Copyright © 2009 Kevin T. Chu


    Human echolocation

    June 28th, 2009

    Isn’t it cool that people can locate and identify objects in their environment in the same way that bats do?

    Thanks to Michael Okun for telling me about this amazing phenomenon!

    Copyright © 2009 Kevin T. Chu