Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Cleaning with Vinegar

This is my third speech on the ToastMaster club. More information about the topic can be found here.

Cleaning with Vinegar

Some things in life are unavoidable. Tax is one of them. Cleaning is another one. If we neglect to file our tax, the government will come knocking on our door. If we don’t do cleaning, our house will be messy and full of bacteria and viruses.

When it comes to cleaning, a lot of cleaning products are available out there. But believe it or not, the title “The Perfect Household Cleaners” is hold by vinegar. This is the same vinegar that we use for cooking. Households around the country have proven the effectiveness of vinegar.

Vinegar is surprisingly effective, when compared to other cleaners. It is an 'all-in-one cleaner,' so there is no need to buy specific cleaners for different purposes. Vinegar is good for cleaning kitchen surfaces, sink, bathtubs, toilet, ceramic tiles, appliances, painted walls, floors, messy microwave, top of the fridge, and other solid surfaces. It can also be used to shine mirrors, glass, stainless steel, and chrome, to remove unpleasant odors, and to remove stains from clothes.

Vinegar is non-toxic, so there is no fear of breathing harmful chemicals while cleaning. It is a natural organic bi-product of vegetables and grains. It is therefore edible and biodegradable. If in the course of normal household cleaning you 'pour it down the drain', its impact on municipal sewer and water treatment systems is just like any food product. It is very safe for the environment, for family members, especially those with asthma, and around young children.

Vinegar is economical, much less expensive than other cleaners. You can buy a big jug of vinegar and use it for a long time. The shelf life of vinegar is almost indefinite, according to The Vinegar Institute’s research studies. Because of vinegar's acid nature, it is self-preserving and does not need refrigeration. When an opened vinegar is let sit for a long time, sometimes you can see changes in color or development of sediment. This is, however, only an aesthetic change. The product can still be used with confidence.

Vinegar is also gentle on hands, so there is no need to wear rubber gloves.

Now, what about the smell of cleaning of vinegar? Vinegar does have a distinct odor that some find unpleasant. But it is a clean smell and it dissipates quickly. Some have suggested mixing peppermint oil to counter the smell.

In the course of cleaning, sometimes we you accidentally spray our eyes with the cleaning solution. Vinegar will sting your eyes if sprayed directly into them, so direct contact with eyes should be avoided. However, vinegar will not cause any short or long-term damage to your eyes.

To start cleaning using vinegar, put distilled white vinegar in a trigger-spray bottle. Spray it on the surface you want to clean. Let sit for several minutes, wipe with a paper towel, and that’s it. Vinegar cleans streak free, so there is no need to rinse after cleaning.

I hope I have convinced you to start cleaning using vinegar. I have prepared a short handout of how to clean using vinegar, and I wish you will try some of these methods. Your wallet will thank you. Your environment will thank you. And your family will thank you.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Audio Book Review: Dr. Blair's Japanese in No Time

Thanks to the AudioBook library on BC Online Libraries, I started borrowing audiobooks more often. I found it very handy, especially since my commute takes about 45 minutes one-way every day.

The audiobook I recently listened to was Dr. Blair's Japanese in No Time: The Revolutionary New Language Instruction Method That's Proven to Work!.

As the name implies, this book teaches Japanese for total beginners. The tape runs for 3 hours in 3 CD's. It begins with a story where the listener is a tourist in a Japan amusement park. As it turns out, the park is taken over by a group of Flower Ranger fans, that are angry because their favorite show is canceled. The listener's mission is to find out these fans' plan and prevent it from happening.

The story is quite amusing, and each "to be continued" section stirs the curiosity to know more about the story. The Japanese lessons themselves are arranged to suit English speakers best. With stories to accompany vocabularies, it makes it easier to remember Japanese words. For example, for body parts in Japanese session, the book tells the adventure of a girl called Ata. Remembering the story actually makes it easier to remember the Japanese words phonetically.

Of course, as with any audiobook, the downside of this is that you won't learn the writing of Japanese language. But the speaking and listening side is actually not bad. I found myself remembering more and more vocabulary only by listening to the whole tape once.

I would recommend this tape for any English speakers who would like the basic of daily life speaking in Japanese. You won't understand a school lecture any better, but at least you will be able to ask direction to the nearest washroom by the time you finish this book.

My rating: 3 stars out of 5

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Origin of the Temple of Prambanan

I joined the Toastmaster Club at my work, and here is my speech number 2. The purpose of the speech is to have a good speech organization, with an opening, a body, and a conclusion.

Since it took me a long time to organize this speech, I might as well post it on my blog. Note that this is a trimmed down version of the legend, with some parts edited out to avoid cultural confusion (and to fit the speech into a 5-7 minute window).

The Origin of the Temple of Prambanan
(also known as "The Legend of Bandung Bondowoso")

When you look on any of the wonderful architecture, have you ever wondered who built them, for what purpose they were built, and the stories behind the construction? Indonesia has a lot of lakes, temples, mountains, and beaches, and each of them has its own story. Each of these stories teaches its audiences a lesson in life.

Today, I am going to tell you the story about controlling your temper, and of a temple called Prambanan.

Once upon a time, there was a kingdom called Prambanan. The people of Prambanan lived happily and harmoniously. But this harmony did not last for very long. A neighbouring kingdom called Pengging attacked them. The Pengging ruler, Bandung Bondowoso, was very skillful in the art of war. He killed the king of Prambanan, and under his command, Pengging took over Prambanan.

Bandung Bondowoso was a cruel ruler. Anyone who dare to speak against him was executed immediately. The people were afraid of him and would not dare to refuse his requests.

One day, Bandung Bondowoso saw a very beautiful girl. He fell in love with the girl, only to find out that she was the princess of Prambanan. She was the daughter of the man he killed. But he wanted her. So he approached her and asked her to marry him.

The princess was surprised and annoyed. "This man has no manner," she thought. "He killed my father, and now out of the blue, he wanted to marry me?" She disliked him, but was afraid to refuse his proposal. So she thought out a plan to discourage Bandung's affection.

"I would be happy to marry you under one condition," the princess said. "You must build me 1,000 temples within a night. I love temples, and 1,000 temples would prove to the world and to me that you really do love me."

Bandung Bondowoso agreed to the condition, and he immediately gathered all the supplies and the equipments to build 1,000 temples. Now, Bandung knew mere human could not build 1,000 temples in a night. But he had a mystical power. He ruled over an army of djihnns.

When the dusk came, he summoned the djihnns and commanded them to build the 1,000 temples. The djihnns went to work immediately, and with unbelievable speed, more and more temples were built in just a few hours.

The princess was crestfallen when she saw this. She did not wish to marry Bandung. So she gathered all her servants and the ladies of the village. "Help me," she said. "Please beat the bamboo drums as loudly as you can, as you usually do." The ladies did as the princess wished.

The roosters heard the bamboo drums, and crowed loudly, since the ladies always beat the drums in the morning. Hearing the roosters' crow, the djihnns thought that dawn was coming. They were afraid of the sunlight, and fled to avoid the morning light.

Bandung counted the temples and found 999 temples ready. He was 1 temple away from being able to marry the princess. He was angry that the djihnns ran away before finishing their work. But when he saw the princess, still beating the bamboo drums, he was enraged at her trickery.

"You asked for 1,000 temples," Bandung said. "Here I have 999 temples, and may you be the thousandth one," he cursed and pointed at the princess. To his amazement and regret, the princess turned into stone. His moment of anger caused irreparable damage.

Today, if you visit the temple of Prambanan in Indonesia, please make sure to look for a lone statue of the princess -- cold, but still beautiful. And when you find it, remember that angers could cost you far more than you are willing to pay, and learn to control your emotion.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Adobe Digital Editions & OverDrive Media Console

I recently found the site for British Columbia Online Library, where members of BC library can borrow the electronic versions of books. These do not include CD or DVD, but includes a sizable selection of ebooks (in DRM'ed PDF format) and audiobooks (in DRM'ed mp3/wma). The DRM is there to ensure that the files "expire" after the checkout duration (21 days for ebooks; 14 days for audiobooks).

Because the e-books and audiobooks are DRM-ladden, special softwares are needed before enjoying them.

The e-books require Adobe Reader version 6 or 7 with Adobe Digital Editions. This is quite troublesome, since my computer has the latest version of Adobe Reader (version 9), and it wouldn't work with version 9. I cannot install previous version without removing version 9.

So I need to take these steps:
1. Uninstall Reader 9
2. Install Reader 7
3. Install Adobe Digital Editions
4. Authorizing my computer to read the DRM books (by registering and logging in with Adobe username/password)
5. To enable reading those books on my PRS-505, I authorized my device as well (via Digital Editions, while connected to the computer).

This process is quite straight-forward and error-free. Oh, and I need to add that afterwards, I re-install Reader 9, and it doesn't affect the functionalities of the Digital Editions. I am still able to download/transfer the ebook files.

The audiobooks require OverDrive Media Console. Installing it is quite easy. But then it gives me an error everytime I try to download the audiobooks. "A problem has occured in retrieving the digital rights management machine identification," the pop-up window says. How frustrating!!

After googling around, I find a solution to this problem:
1. Open “Control Panel”.
2. Open “Folder Options” and select the “View” tab.
3. Select “Show hidden files and folders”.
4. Un-check “Hide protected operating system files”.
5. In the warning message you receive, click “Yes”.
6. Click “OK”.
7. Close the Control Panel.
8. Rename the DRM folder to DRM.old
Depending on your OS, it can be found in different locations:
- Windows 2000 and XP: C:\Documents and Settings\All Users\ DRM
- Windows 98: C:\Windows\All Users\DRM
- Windows ME: C:\Windows\DRM
9. Close this window and open OverDrive Media Console.
10. Go to “Tools > Windows Media Player Security Upgrade”.
11. Attempt to download an OverDrive Audio Book.

Now I can download the audiobooks and transfer them to my MUVO MP3 player.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Book Review: Enid Blyton's Secret Series

Growing up reading Enid Blyton's books, I am really pleased to find this series again. I set down to read them and was transported back to my childhood times. I knew these books are geared toward young readers, and I was prepared to capture only a portion of the magic I remembered.

To my surprise, I still found them very entertaining. The story is set in England on early 20th century. However, the thrill of these adventures does not lessen, even if I am reading them in the 21st century.

The first book in the series is The Secret Island, which tells of the first adventure the children had. Mike, Nora, and Peggy are treated badly by their aunt and uncle after their parents went missing for 2 years. Their friend, Jack, is not better off, with his parents both passed away. Jack finds a secret island, and the children then plan their escape from the home life they cannot stand.

The second book, The Secret of Spiggy Holes tells of the children's vacation on a coast where smugglers used to roam and trade. Surely there won't be any smuggling going on now on these days now, will it?

In The Secret Mountain, the children are off to find their missing parents. They are in a strange land with the people whose language they don't understand. How will they survive this ordeal?

The Secret of Killimooin tells about the adventures the children are having in a foreign land called Baronia. A journey that starts with a simple vacation plan turns into a more heartbeat-raising pace when they encounter unexplainable phenomenons in this faraway country.

When their friend's parents decide to vacation in England, the search for an appropriate vacation home (a.k.a. castle) is on. Dozens of choices are discarded, and then they discover the Moon Castle. But why are the caretakers trying so hard to prevent them from renting it? What could The Secret of Moon Castle be?

All five books are delightful to read. I highly recommend them for beginner readers.