Sunday, January 18, 2009

Circuit City Begins Liquidation

Yesterday I happened to be shopping next door to a Circuit City and when I came out at around 9:45, I saw a line. I guess people wanted to see what sort of sales there would be on the first day of Circuit City's liquidation. I didn't think that they'd have any drastic reductions yet, since they are planning to complete liquadation somewhere in March, but who can resist standing in a line?!

Even though nearly every item had a special sticker on it, the "sale" prices were still a bit too high for me - still well above what I could get the stuff on Amazon for. For some reason, Circuit City only had one cash register open, and there didn't seem to be more than 4-5 members of staff on the floor, even though there had to have been 100-125 people standing in that line with me, and lots more people streaming in after that. Meh.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Finding Duplicates in Excel

Here's an easy way to find duplicate entries in excel using excel's OR function. This method is pretty much obsolete in Excel 2007 and above since it has a built-in duplicate finder/eraser, but for earlier versions, such as Excel 2003, this is still a useful trick.

Let's say you have a list of customer numbers and names and need to find duplicated entries. This sample list is unrealistically short, so imagine a list like this with hundreds of entries.

Using excel's OR function, we can check to see if the entry above or below a particular row contains the same number. To facilitate the calculation, create a new column in front of the data you wish to check.

Then enter the calculation into cell A2: =OR(B2=B1, B2=B3)

The logic behind this calculation will return a TRUE response if EITHER of the conditions are met. It looks to see if either the cell above (B1) or below (B3) cell B2 is a duplicate. Copy this formula down.

Remember that in order for this formula to work, the list of customer numbers will need to be sorted first, so that duplicate entries show up adjacent to each other. You can apply an auto-filter or just data/sort the list.

In this case, sort by customer number.

After the list is sorted, column A will show TRUE for the entries which are duplicated. To group the TRUE entries and find them more easily, you can further sort the list by column A, or apply an auto-filter to the sheet, or you can apply conditional formatting to column A to highlight TRUE entries in color.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Review of Skydiving at Skydive Orange! with pictures

A video of my, and 4 of my friends', tandem skydiving adventure! I remixed our individual tapes into one video.

So we decided to go skydiving/parachuting! The closest (or rather, best known) drop zone to Washington, D.C. is Skydive Orange, located in Orange County, Virginia. From Fairfax / Northern Virginia, it's about a 1.75 hour drive. We reserved noon as our time to arrive so I expected to take the class and that we'd jump by 2 PM, tops. We arrived at noon, signed our lives away on their legal waivers, took a short 10 MINUTE class on how we would jump tandem, and then waited until 7:30 PM to jump!


That was not a typo. We did not jump for seven and a half hours after our arrival. And this place is out in the sticks so there was nothing to do there. Literally. There were some wheeled carts laying around, so we rolled around the pavement like idiots for seven-odd hours, while the other people waiting sat and laughed at our antics.

It was especially aggravating because several people who came with, or after us, went and jumped before us. They were also tandem jumpers, so I didn't understand why we were put so far back in the schedule. We repeatedly asked the front desk when we might jump, or if we could just get an idea of our jump window so we could drive around and maybe get some food, but we were just told curtly each time that we would know when to jump when we saw our names on the whiteboard. Keep in mind that the jump was a healthy $255 - I'm not expecting the world, but just a little consideration of our situation would have been appreciated.

In any case, we ended up jumping just around sunset. It was gorgeous and nearly made me forget the wait of the previous seven hours. However, my pictures, which cost $125, all came out black. If we had gone earlier, when there was sunlight, my pictures would have come out much better. Actually, my friends got great pictures - it was just that my photographer messed up some settings on his camera so they just all came out bad. So the pictures I have posted here are either taken from my friends, who had decent photographers, or heavily edited versions of my severely-underexposed pictures. My skydving video, however, came out pretty nice.

To be fair, I wrote an email to Skydive Orange with a complaint about the wait and the uselessness of my photo package, and a request of at least a partial refund on the pictures, and they wrote back apologizing for the long wait, and offered a refund on my photos.

/The Jump

But the jump was so fantastic! Here are my observations on how it felt to go skydiving, and some pictures of us skydiving.

We went up in a twin-engine plane, and halfway up, the instructor strapped me into his harness, as he was the one wearing the parachute. In the plane we were squeezed in with 21 other people like sardines. There were some solo jumpers who sat up front and they jumped at around 8,000 feet - watching them jump and perform flips in the air made all of us even more excited about our own upcoming jumps.


We went up to 13,500 feet (about 2.5 miles in the air) when one of the instructors opened the bay door. I was the first one on the bench so my instructor stood up and started inching me toward the open door, and when I reached it, he began a count:

1. leaned me out slightly
2. leaned back in
3. vaulted out




It's was not a slow three-second count; all three counts occured within a single second!

I've been told, and have read on other websites about skydiving experiences, when asked "how does it feel to go skydiving?", that it would feel like a cushion of air when I first left the plane. Not quite! The sensation was that of falling at full speed, like a rock, and it was just the craziest feeling because the idea of jumping out of a speeding plane is so counter-intuitive. When you jump, you're falling fast, and you know it! The sensation was like nothing I could have imagined.


They also told us that in the first few seconds out of the plane we would need to take deep breaths, but it was really hard to breathe. The air was cold and was just rushing by, and in those first few seconds, I honestly felt as though I had forgotten how to breathe, and that my heart had stopped beating. The feeling was so exhilarating, of being completely disconnected from the world, of having nothing to hold on to, and nothing to hold on to me.

I wanted to scream at first, but I couldn't at first - nobody did! At least not until 15 seconds or so into the jump when I finally started taking "normal" breaths, and finally realized what was happening! Then I just let it all out and started screaming at the top of my lungs, only I couldn't even hear myself over the rushing wind around me.



Just under a minute went by when the chute opened up. I've read that you don't actually move up when this happens, but in any case, I felt like I was being pulled up by like god or something, or maybe the feeling of a rock that has just fallen from the sky and has smashed into a pool of water.

We then floated for about 4 minutes. The instructor pulled on his parachute a few times, making us speed from side to side. Again, being suspended in the air just gliding down, experiencing the sunset from a mile in the sky was just indescribable. It was serene and I felt so at peace with everything.


The landing was surprisingly soft. We were still moving very fast as we approached the ground, and we started moving much more horizontally than before. The grass continued zipping past us, and finally the instructor landed - tandem skydivers stick their feet out forward at this point, so I ended up landing by sitting on the grass. It was all very gentle and not at all what I had imagined.

Although I'm a little bit leery about going to Skydive Orange again, I would definitely go skydiving again. If the price weren't so high, I'd proabably go do it every weekend. It was just so liberating to be disconnected from the world, even if only for 5 minutes.

Total Cost: $255 (tandem jump) + $125 (picture/video package) = $380.00 for 5 minutes of total liberation

Friday, July 25, 2008

Pictures of Great Falls, McLean

Great Falls is just a few minutes drive from Falls Church, VA and offers some pretty sweet sights.



IMG_4147 for the full set of pictures.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Shenandoah River Panorama

Shenandoah river panorama
Click to see the full-size pan of the river.

A set of pictures stitched together. From a public launch point along the Shenandoah River in Charles Town, West Virginia.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

DC's Folklife Festival 2008

metro railI went to DC this weekend to check out Amnesty International's Guantanamo exhibit. I didn't know that the Smithsonian folklife festival was going on as well, but it ended up being the more interesting of the two activities of the day.

Anyways, the AI exhibit had very few visitors and a lot of AI staffers. I hesitated because I'm always apprehensive about such situations (where the organizers of an event significantly outnumber visitors), but I decided to take a look at the cell since I had made the trip. I don't really know what I was expecting, but it was underwhelming. The exhibit was just a re-created jail cell with a staffer explaining the plight of those held at Guantanamo.

This year's folk life festival centered on Texas, NASA, and Bhutan. An eclectic mix to be sure; Bhutan ended up being the only part of interest to me. The NASA exhibit seemed to be more geared toward kids, and the Texas exhibit was boring.

Bhutan: Land of the Thunder Dragon

I started of by listening to a lecture on traditional Bhutanese archery. A few members of the royal family were on hand to demonstrate:

archery competition

The lecturer waxed poetic about the finer points of archery, and how he believed bow-making to be one of the more skilled arts in the world. I listened for a while before moving on to the cuisine exhibit. There a crowd was listening to a mother/son pair discuss the food culture of Bhutan.

your chili and cheese, sir

Chili and cheese, the national dish of Bhutan. Apparently, a New York food critic, Ruth Reichl, had declared that Bhutanese cuisine was the worst in the entire world. The son, a former monk, explained that Bhutan had many regions, and thus, many different regional cuisines, so it wasn't fair to lump all the regions together. But they wanted to show this one dish in particular because it was the one universal dish that was eaten across the country. Note that those are actually red hot chili peppers - the dish doesn't contain meat, as one might think based on the name. When asked if eating chili peppers would be very spicy, the mother replied that the cheese and spinach made the extreme spiciness bearable!

So the son began to speak again, and explained that meat was eaten very sparingly in Bhutan. It's a predominantly Buddhist country, and if meat is eaten at all, it would only come from an animal that died of natural causes - animals are not generally raised as food and slaughtered in Bhutan.

congressman Brian Baird sampling bhutanese cuisine

Congressman Brian Baird (flanked by the Bhutanese ambassador to the US and a member of the Bhutanese cabinet) was on hand to sample the dish -"it's like a red bell pepper, but with a thicker skin", and declared that Ruth Reichl was wrong in her assessment of Bhutanese cuisine. He even seemed to be right at home eating the rice (red rice is a prestige food) and chili with his hands - the preferred way of eating in Bhutan. I'd have tried it myself but the price tag of $9 for four chili peppers and a lump of simulation Bhutanese cheese (made from brie and cream cheese) seemed a bit exorbitant :p.