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Building Tallymark

On 29, Jul 2013 | No Comments | In Projects | By Daniel Kao

I started learning Django this summer, with the goal of creating a web based application with a friend.

Having never worked with Python or Django before, the only appropriate response to building this application was “challenge accepted”.

From the git-go (see what I did there), I had issues getting the right versions of Django and Python set up both locally and on the server. After a whole week installing Arch Linux and living in the terminal, I finally got Django setup and running without errors.

We officially unveiled the pre-launch page yesterday, opening the application up for people to stay updated via email.

To me, this project represents the power of autodidactic learning, or learning on your own, not bound by any requirements, grades, or work hours. In fact, everything I know about the web was completely learned on my own, independent of any academic classes.

About Django

Being the first time that I worked with Python and Django, there were a lot of things I had to get used to, such as the fact that python uses tabs instead of curly braces, giving me weird indentation errors on occasion.

But I’ve really grown to appreciate the framework, because of the way that it makes so many things so simple, and how intuitive the model-view-template philosophy is. I’m definitely beginning to like Python even more than PHP (gasp).

I’ll spare you the rest of the technical details, because there’s still a lot that I’m learning about Python and Django.

About Tallymark

Tallymark is an application designed as a hassle free way to divide costs between people who live together, saving you the trouble of figuring out how to pay each other back. The idea is simple: Have each person log their purchases for the apartment/house/room, and Tallymark will take care of the rest.

If you’re interested, head on over to to stay updated!

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My Computer

On 09, Jul 2012 | 2 Comments | In Technology | By Daniel Kao

Since one of my most viewed posts to date has been about finding a laptop for college, I have decided to write a post about my own setup.

I use a Lenovo Thinkpad R400 for traversing the Internet and being productive on a daily basis. The computer is about two years old, but I have been constantly upgrading hardware and software elements to keep it running in top shape. I have upgraded the RAM a couple of times, as well as equipped it with a Solid State Drive.

Hardware Specs: 2.53GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, 8GB RAM, 256GB Crucial m4 SSD, 500GB Toshiba HDD

Personally, I’m a fan of the Thinkpad series for a variety of reasons, including their durability, “upgrade-ability”, comfortable keyboard and trackpoint, among other things. The ability to have a dock is also notoriously useful. When I’m at home, I generally will dock my laptop into the dock, instantly connecting it to my dual monitor setup, keyboard, mouse, tablet, printer, and other peripherals. That way, it feels almost like a desktop computer when I’m at home.

Being an older thinkpad model, it isn’t the lightest nor thinnest computer out there, but it’s manageable in terms of size and weight. Battery life runs about 4 hours on average off of my 6-cell battery pack, so not terribly impressive there either.

In terms of software, I use a combination of Windows 7 and Ubuntu depending on the task at hand. Windows is used for the more casual emailing / chatting / browsing, while Ubuntu is dedicated to the programming side of things. (Who doesn’t love the linux terminal?)

What are you using? Feel free to comment if you have any questions.

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How to Buy a College Laptop

On 16, Apr 2012 | No Comments | In Technology | By Daniel Kao

Buying a new computer can be an extremely daunting task if you don’t know what you’re looking for. Buying a new computer can be equated one of the Navi picking their flying partner mate. Secretly inside, I like to judge people by the kind of laptop they use. I have a category for each type of person with their computer organization habits, hardware and software choices. To those of you completely lost to the technology world, here is a somewhat comprehensive guide (hopefully) with personal suggestions as well.

When it comes to a laptop, here are the major things to take into consideration:

  • Price (probably the most non-negotiable for some people, more on this later)
  • Size and Weight
  • Battery Life
  • Screen Quality (and Resolution)
  • CPU and RAM
  • Hard Drive Capacity (and speed)
  • Graphics (Mainly for gamers)
  • Ergonomics (How the computer feels)
  • Peripherals (CD Drive / SD Card Slot / USB Ports / Expresscard Slot / Docking Station / Bluetooth / Webcam)
  • Operating System (If you’re not confident changing it yourself)

I suggest thinking about all of these elements as a whole, and deciding which ones of these you need and which ones you don’t. That way you can narrow down your list. I am not going to go into detail on what these do if you don’t know some of the more technical details, so do a Google search to figure those out.

The following is my general opinion for a computer that will last you four years in college. Since you’ll probably need to be somewhat mobile, the weight should be 4-5 pounds at most. As for the processor and RAM, I would recommend nothing less than an Intel i5 with at least 3-4 GB of RAM. As for hard drive space, you’ll probably want at least 500 GB or so of space, although this will vary depending on what you plan to do with your computer. The rest of the items on the list above should be up to your judgment.

Also, be sure to check out a variety of computer manufacturers, and be wary of their often misleading advertising. Don’t look down on a computer just because it’s labeled a “business” computer, or any other advertising of the sort. Here is a list of major computer manufacturers, not an exhaustive list. (starred are companies I recommend checking out, and some of my personal opinion):

  • Acer
  • Apple* (You’ll be stuck with a different OS than everyone else)
  • Asus
  • Dell* (Generally the cheapest option, somewhat decent build quality)
  • Fujitsu
  • Gateway
  • HP (Overrated in my opinion)
  • Lenovo* (only the ThinkPad line, with super durable and high quality build)
  • Panasonic
  • Samsung (They make some super sleek computers, quite expensive)
  • Sony
  • Toshiba

Now that I’ve listed out parts and companies, here is how you actually go about buying a computer:

The Easy Way: (Making one purchase for a complete computer)

According to trends and statistics, it has been noted that computer prices are the cheapest around March and April. So if you’re on the hunt for a new computer, now is a pretty good time to be looking for one.

Be sure to look around at as many stores and retailers as possible to find the cheapest price. Check the manufacturer’s website, Amazon, Newegg, Fry’s, Costco, etc.

Also, as a note, be aware for coupon codes and promotions that can save you some money. A friend of mine saved nearly $500 on his laptop by applying 5 different coupon codes during checkout to purchase a computer for $300, and now he happily uses an i7 equipped laptop (he actually mixed this with the suggestion below as well).

The Cheap Way: (Finding the best deals on individual parts and assembling it yourself, saving up to $400)

This is slightly more difficult to do, as most laptop manufacturers nowadays will not allow you to simply buy a laptop without a hard drive and RAM. A laptop without certain hardware components is called a “barebone laptop”, which you can generally get for a significantly low price. Unfortunately, many of the barebone laptops that I am finding currently are not from the top manufacturers. The other way you could do this is buying a computer off of ebay / craigslist, although there will always be risks associated with buying computers second hand. You could try contacting a manufacturer by phone to order a barebone laptop.

After getting your barebone laptop, you would have to scourge for cheap hard drives, memory, and whatever else you need to get your computer functioning. I won’t go too much into detail because I know that few people will actually do this, but if you would like to assemble your own laptop to save a couple hundred dollars and learn a little something about computers, feel free to contact me!

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