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Monday, June 29th, 2009

Subject:Music Creation using Reason 4, ProTools... Looking Wistfully at Cubase-5
Time:12:41 am.
Pretty much all of my free time is spent playing with Reason and Protools.  Tonight I investigated Cubase-5 and Albeton Live as a comparison, because I'm feeling really confined in ProTools.  Tonight I did an exceptional amount of research on the alternatives.  My main focus is MIDI music production, though Cubase I think can hold its own on ProTools as well.

Reason 4 is excellent for MIDI music production, beats and loops.  It gives you a virtual rack and you plug your cables from output to input between them and create your sounds, mix things up, split out your drum machines into channels, whatever you please.  Reason 4's power is literally in the simplicity of its interface.  It is great for creation of MIDI music and the best sequencer feature is the ability to keep adding "note lanes" to each of your instrument track so you can test things out, split things out, merge or whatever.

The things I like about Pro-Tools are the instruments, mixer, post-production effects (like EQ, reverb, chorus, flangers, etc.), elastic time and a ton of other features that I see are useful for sequencing and production.  It is industry standard, powerful and pumps out some high quality sound.  It is great for post production and manipulation of audio streams.

On the other hand, ProTools is a music creator's nightmare.  First of all, you are charged for everything that other packages include right away, you are hardware dependent, and licensing of modules is all via this iLok crap.  ProTools 8 is awesome in terms of new features and it will entice a lot of people who work on electronic music, but the cost of the additional plugins will run your finances into the ground.  It's limited to a low 64 tracks (with an expansion pack), isn't 64 bit (like Cubase-5, which supports Vista 64), and has the worst workflow and interface for moving freely around different instruments and tracks while you're trying to stay in the creative flow.  RTAS support only - no native VST support!  Speaking of their (fantastic) instruments, THREE leading members of the A.I.R. team left in the last month and went to Apple (Live Pro, anyone?), including the CTO.  Oops.  That doesn't bode well for the future of MIDI at Digidesign.

Cubase 5 looks incredible.  It's powerful, and the vocal and wave editing is just as easy as moving MIDI around.  The instruments are innovative. The interface is really clean. You can get 64 bit for Vista64 and address a crap load of RAM.  The vocal tweaking interface is just ingenious and allows you to move voice around like it were MIDI, right down to the tiniest little sonic variant within the sound.  Instead of needing an app like Melodyne, they have pitch correction plug-in built in right off the bat.  It handles VST off the bat.  I can go on and on, but it's refreshing.

Albeton Live is completely another beast.  It is structured in a way that you can drop any loop sample of any tempo into a "slot" and it will start playing it on the next downbeat, in time.  It's a different concept.  Albeton Live encourages you to just write up music as it comes to you, then later on combine it or see how it is best arranged. It is really oriented towards those techno/house guys who do things live in the clubs, but for creative flow it gets away from the "tape deck" approach.

Ultimately, since I own PT 8, which still has a lot of advantages for getting a good sound, I'll stick with it for the post-processing and some of its great MIDI instruments. It's still excellent for the final mix downs and tracking once you've got your arrangement.  Reason is great for synthesized loops and sounds and simplified creative flow, and PT will still be good for combining all that stuff.  But if I were to drop some cash again, I would go straight to Cubase-5 and leave PT behind.  Industry standard, maybe, but it limits creative flow.  PC interfaces should be innovative and creative, not stagnant mimicking old ways of recording music.  Creativity isn't a linear process and UI designers need to keep pushing forward.
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Thursday, January 15th, 2009

Subject:Intelligence Test at IQTest.Com
Time:12:43 am.
Mood:dorky.


Because I was bored tonight, I decided to find a reasonably satisfactory IQ test that could pit me against other test takers, so I paid $10 to take a test at www.IQTest.com. It wasn't out of ego, it was because some cheezy ad showed up on the facebook.com sidebar and I got to thinking about the smart people I work with (I feel like I'm the dumbest one on the team, frankly) and got curious. Turns out, overall, I'm above 98% of the 5 million some-odd people that took the test. Note ironically, however, my computational speed is significantly lower, but this is based on the time it took to complete the test. The explanation of this ability kind of fits me however - disorganized brain! It was also based on test timing, and I have had a slow reading problem my whole life so this to me was an obvious factor.

What surprised me was where I fell compared to 5 million other test takers, yet if everyone in my office took this test, I would bet money most of them would beat me in score and time. The people I work with are so incredibly brilliant, yet egos are low and there is a general feeling of modesty/humility. It's truly a phenomenal work environment.

IQtest.com spits out a bar graph and explanation of the score:


Here's their explanation of my test:

General IQ Score

Your General IQ Score of 133 shows how able your mind is in general. Anyone with a General IQ Score this high is considered to be gifted. This score is better than 98.61% of all persons taking this test. Virtually all occupations can be comprehended with a General IQ this high. You should be able to handle almost all academic challenges.
You scored higher than your General IQ Score in 7 individual ability categories. 1 of these better scores could be called statistically significant and may indicate special abilities, or that you were distracted on those parts of the IQ Test that counted more heavily in the other ability categories.

Arithmetic

Solving many of the IQ Test's problems required the ability to add, subtract, multiply, and divide numbers mentally. Many mental tasks require arithmetical operations even though numbers may not be involved, and thus number manipulation abilities can strongly indicate general intelligence.
Your Arithmetic IQ score of 129 is not significantly different from your General IQ score.This score is better than 97.34% of all persons taking this test.

Spatial Skill

Understanding what changes will occur when conditions vary is a deep and powerful ability of the mind. All invention and creativity of every sort is based upon this ability. Although test problems usually involve manipulation of objects in space, persons with a stronger ability to spatially manipulate can also be expected to use this ability to be able to better predict how social and psychological situations would change due to variation.
Your Spatial Skill IQ score of 138 is not significantly different from your General IQ score.This score is better than 99.44% of all persons taking this test.

Logical

This is the ability to determine if a set of rules has been correctly followed. This ability is most useful in combination with other mental skills listed above. Those with strong logical ability are quicker to see where a given set of conditions is going to lead, have a strong sense of justice, and better understand--from an intellectual analysis--the benefits of harmony.
Your Logical IQ score of 133 is not significantly different from your General IQ score.This score is better than 98.61% of all persons taking this test.

Spelling

The ability to spell can indicate general intelligence. Remembering a set sequence of letters indicates the mind's ability to retrieve remembered facts. Learning how to spell and use the words of a language is almost a complete IQ test in itself. Although poor spellers with high IQ scores can be found, it is rare, and in general--everything else being equal--the better spellers have higher IQ scores.
Your Spelling IQ score of 148 is exceptionally higher than your General IQ score.This score is better than 99.93% of all persons taking this test.

Short Term Memory

The ability to remember things for a short period of time allows the mind to check back and retrieve facts needed to complete a problem solving operation. This ability becomes more critical when problems have many aspects that need consideration and/or need to be solved mentally. This ability strongly determines how efficiently one handles the many aspects of normal life. If your short term memory ability is strong you are much less likely to seem inattentive or "slow to get it" to others.
Your Short Term Memory IQ score of 131 is not significantly different from your General IQ score.This score is better than 98.06% of all persons taking this test.

Rote Utilization

This is the ability to take a set of memorized facts and mentally extract and/or operate with or upon the facts within the set that are pertinent to the problem at hand. Persons with more of this ability can be expected to spell well, remember telephone and other numbers easily, be more adroit in procedural operations, and have a stronger foundation for tasks that require the use of memorized material.
Your Rote Utilization IQ score of 138 is not significantly different from your General IQ score.This score is better than 99.44% of all persons taking this test.

Algebraic

This is the ability of the mind to abstractly handle quantities and qualities. Persons who are strong in this ability can more quickly and more deeply understand analogies, stories, derivations, equalities, and hierarchical structures.
Your Algebraic IQ score of 138 is not significantly different from your General IQ score.This score is better than 99.44% of all persons taking this test.

General Knowledge

Knowledge that is casually picked up and remembered can indicate intelligence, because persons with higher intelligence will exhibit greater retention of those pieces of information that are encountered less often. Because higher intelligence allows a person to have a deeper appreciation of the connectivity of facts that may seem disparate to others of lesser intelligence, memory of such facts becomes easier.
Your General Knowledge IQ score of 138 is not significantly different from your General IQ score.This score is better than 99.44% of all persons taking this test.

Visual Apprehension

This is the ability of the mind to mentally picture visual information and to be able to extract portions of that information for separate use. A person whose visual apprehension is strong enjoys a richer, more creative appreciation of visual aspects of experiences.
Your Visual Apprehension IQ score of 138 is not significantly different from your General IQ score.This score is better than 99.44% of all persons taking this test.

Geometric

How well one can comprehend geometric relationships of lines, sides, planes, angles, and topological properties strongly determines one's ability to make sense of visual information. The strength of one's geometric ability can strongly determine how quickly knowledge can be absorbed if it is presented visually.
Your Geometric IQ score of 136 is not significantly different from your General IQ score.This score is better than 99.18% of all persons taking this test.

Vocabulary

Knowing the meaning of words is an ability that directly increases along with the increase of general intelligence. The meaning of a word is more easily remembered with higher intelligence, because it takes more intelligence to understand and correctly use words based upon the subtle differences between words with similar meanings and to comprehend difficult concepts which are sometimes symbolized by a single word.
Your Vocabulary IQ score of 131 is not significantly different from your General IQ score.This score is better than 98.06% of all persons taking this test.

Intuition

Intuition is defined as that ability of the mind to develop answers to questions without consciously dealing with the problem at hand. Often a question will provoke your mind to answer without using conscious processing time, and the answer is said to come "out of the blue" or "suddenly, it just struck me". Of all the many abilities of the mind, this is one of the most often used. Just knowing what to do is often an automatic process that occurs without much conscious figuring. Those with stronger intuition make less mistakes and can seem luckier, wiser, or more mature.
Your Intuition IQ score of 132 is not significantly different from your General IQ score.This score is better than 98.36% of all persons taking this test.

Computational Speed

If you can correctly solve a variety of problems faster than another person, you may be demonstrating a generally more orderly internal arrangement of your mind's problem solving methods. While speed cannot be the sole factor in determining overall superiority in one mental operations, in general faster computational speed will often indicate that a problem's comprehension was more complete. With everything else being equal, a person with faster computational speed than another person's will be better at tasks that require the synthesis of many bits of information.

Your Computational Speed IQ score of 94 is significantly lower than your General IQ score.This score is better than 34.46% of all persons taking this test.

 






Finally, a few stats on their website/testing, which I thought were significant:

Explanation of IQ scores and standard deviation


From their FAQ:

My score is higher/lower than I expected. Is this a valid test?

The Standard Deviation of our test is currently 14.889

The mean score is currently 108.447 (Confounding variable: The lowest IQ holders will not be capable of using the internet to measure their own intelligence.)

Total test takers to date is 5.42 million

The test has high validity for adults, but is not accurate for those under 16 years of age.

The test is not intended for professional use. The test is offered for personal entertainment purposes.



For $10.00 I thought it was entertaining,  but I'd probably be angry and want my money back if I found out I was an idiot.


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Saturday, January 10th, 2009

Subject:Quest for XV6800 Phone Replacement: Samsung Omnia, Samsung Alias, iPhone
Time:3:05 pm.
   I set off on a quest to purchase a new phone last week. My current phone crashed three times, and each time it downloaded Verizon ROMS and forced me to re-sync my contacts. Combined with all of my other intense frustrations (below), I also considered my lifestyle: I carry a Blackberry for work, an iPod Nano G3, my personal phone (the XV6800) and must have my keys accessible on me at all times for work purposes. So, my pockets are pretty full.  My objective thus became to reduce the number of devices I carry or reduce the weight and footprint, and improve my user experience.

A Run Down of my Run Down XV6800

My old XV6800 Considering how excited I was over the XV6800 for most of 2007, how could I possibly justify replacing it after only a year? On paper, it looked excellent: It was a full Windows Mobile device, boasted a faster processor than its predecessor, featured a really nice spring-loaded keyboard and a bright, full touch-screen display.

Ultimately, owning this phone was a disaster. I was frustrated within about two months and started feeling the pain. First, the mini USB-connector port stopped holding cables in place and started popping out when using the phone while powered, or during charging (to leave me with a dead phone in the morning). Battery life was horrible. One-handed use with the XV6800 was nearly impossible because of the sideways keyboard, not nearly as natural as a Treo or Blackberry. The worst part was the bulkiness of the phone and the weight! It sat in my pocket like a brick. The CPU was faster than its predecessor but still not enough to handle the bloat of Windows Mobile 6.

Separating Must Haves from Tech Gadget Fever

   The reason I ended up with the XV6800, above all else, was the coolness factor.  I decided to step back this time and look more objectively at what I actually do with my phone.  First, I text quite a bit.  I also use my phone for personal email (from Yahoo!, and multiple accounts),  so I don't need to synchronize with a corporate server.  My corporate Blackberry nearly eliminates my need for personal calendar.  I browse the web frequently too, so web browsing capability is high on the list.  I currently enjoy my portable music via my iPod Nano and frequently use iTunes, and have no desire to convert to another format.  Bluetooth is required, but I could live without Wi-Fi (though it's nice). Finally, reducing the thickness and weight of my current phone is an absolute must.

   This led me to these requirements:
  1. QWERTY keyboard or Touch-screen equivelant
  2. Web browsing capability with enough to view Craigslist (Facebook never worked on my XV6800)
  3. Around 0.5" thickness or less
  4. Around 4.5oz or less
  5. Bluetooth
    Another strong factor of phone choice for me is carrier.  Verizon Wireless by far has the best coverage and call quality and I'm currently with Verizon.   Their customer service is great.  My 5 year experience with AT&T/Cingular was very negative, but Apple and AT&T are in bed together so if the iPhone were to remain an option it meant biting the bullet to switch back to AT&T.


The Candidates

Samsung U740 (Alias) - A creative, very small and light SmartPhone with a QWERTY keyboard.

Samsung Omnia - A full Windows Mobile 6 device engineered for touch-screen usability (no hardware QWERTY just like the iPhone).  This baby also comes with an FM radio built in and a processor around 200 Mhz faster than my old phone, 8 GB internal storage and plenty of RAM.

Apple iPhone - BLA BLA BLA BLA BLA.  BLAH BLAH Bla, bla bla bla, wank wank wank.  Go get your box of Kleenex, enough already.  Everyone knows the iPhone is best of breed, slim form factor, trick UI.  I like this option because iTunes is Apple's platform and the iPhone would reduce my number of devices by leaving my Nano in the car.

I won't go into a full review of each, but I'll mention what I liked or disliked about the options and the considerations I made before settling on my new phone.

Samsung U740 (Verizon Alias)

The Alias is a Samsung Smartphone with a unique design that allows the phone to flip open in either direction.  Flip it open like a flip phone, and you have a nice phone and display for dialing and browsing contacts.  Go horizontal, and you get a QWERTY for text messaging, email and browsing.  I liked this phone because it weighs around 3.5oz and it's about 0.5" thick.  It has the smallest footprint of all my candidates.

   I typed on it in the Verizon Store for a while and its keyboard is quite comfortable.  This phone is great for messaging and basic Email and Web.  It's true advantage is the small footprint and simplicity compared to the full PDA-style devices I've owned in the last four years.  The limitations are email access and web browsing.  Accessing Yahoo! means logging in each time through the web interface, and there's no touch screen, so navigating by hardware buttons is required.  Still, I highly recommend this phone to any avid texter who doesn't need full PDA functionality. Even with its age, it's still a really nice piece of hardware.

Apple iPhone G3

   My first impression of the iPhone was "thin".  As expected, the hardware and UI works seamlessly to bring a fast and responsive user experience.  Remember, my first requirement is QWERTY so I can text and email.  So when I jumped on the iPhone in the Apple Store of Stoneridge Shopping Mall, my primary focus was its SMS client and the keyboard.  Well, the keyboard is terrible.  My thumbs were all over the place, and though I went back to the Apple Store four times to retest, I could not gain any confidence in my accuracy typing on this device.  I started anticipated that I would be trading one set of frustrations with my current phone for a new set of frustrations from Apple.

   Don't get me wrong, I love some Apple stuff, but those who know me know I am a fan of using the right tool for the job.  My laptop is a Mac 17" Powerbook Pro, and I really love it.  The iPhone, however, left me with a different impression.

   The SMS UI didn't allow me to put the phone into landscape mode to type, apparently a long-standing complaint by iPhone users.  The typing correction software was okay, but overall, Apple's keyboard was enough to turn me off for good.  While I loved the integrated iPod, the games and impressive use of the accelerometer, I also couldn't help but retain my distaste for Apple's control over the software availability or my past experiences with AT&T's poor coverage and poor customer service.  With all the hype over iPhone, I was left feeling dissapointed.


Samsung i910 Omnia (WINNER Derek 2009 Phone Awards)

As with each of my candidates, I spent nights reading reviews on Engadget, PhoneScoop, GSMCellPhoneReview (where I snagged this nice picture) and others.  I particularly paid attention to the opinions of users who actually owned the phone, and took those opinions that were based solely on play time in a retail store with a grain of salt.  Finally, I played with the phone in the Verizon Wireless store over a couple of visits spanning two days.
The Samsung Omnia is a full Windows Mobile 6 device, but Samsung has gone to a good deal of trouble to re-skin the OS with thumbs and fingers in mind.  A complaint you see on many forums is that the stylus doesn't fit inside the device.  After extensive play with the phone it is clear Samsung never intended this phone to be used with a Stylus, but in my opinion they provided one as an accessory for convenience (and it is arguably needed for initial touch screen calibration).  This brings me to the optical D-Pad at the bottom.  As suggested by many reviewers, I switched this into Mouse mode, and it virtually eliminates the need for ever using a stylus and can be used when you need accuracy.

The Samsung Omnia is only 12.5mm thick, and to give you a frame of reference, the iPhone is a comparable 12.3mm.  The Omnia weighs in at 4.3oz,  beating the iPhone in weight by nearly half an oz (iPhone 3G 4.7oz).  The screen resolution is an odd 240x400 (iPhone still has the best display on the market) and is adequate.  What really sets the Samsung apart is the 5.0 Megapixel camera and the FM radio.  The camera is awesome and sharp.  Europe has had 5.0 mpx for a while but this is the first we're seeing in the USA.  And now I can listen to NPR when my iPod Nano battery runs out.  Of course the phone has Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and allows me to set it up as a wireless router for my laptop.

Back to my requirements.  To test the QWERTY keyboard, I jumped straight to the SMS application.  My first surprise was probably the same as everyone else: when you press a key the entire phone gives you a tiny little vibration and thus clear, tactile feedback.  Typing at first took me and my thumbs a little practice to get used to the touch-screen.  The phone requires ever so slightly more pressure than required for the iPhone,  but my accuracy grew quickly and I started feeling more confident in about five minutes of use.  (The phone does need to be calibrated correctly, and I recommend doing this with a stylus at setup).  I was also happy to see that SMS conversations are now threaded and I don't need a 3rd-party app to accomplish this.

The device uses an accelerometer to change the orientation of the screen to whichever way you are holding it: portrait or landscape and it works upside down in either direction.  Since I've owned it I have reduced the sensitivity of the accelerometer so the screen doesn't shift on a whim - this sensitivity can be adjusted in the Settings.  I don't know that the transition has the smooth feel of the iPhone beat, but the processor sure makes it faster than changing the screen orientation on my old XV6800.

Samsung thankfully opted for Opera Mobile instead of Internet Explorer Mobile as the browser, and it's all set up to be driven by your fingers.  In fact, browsing in Opera is really comfortable and almost fun.  Of course, email integration with my Yahoo! account worked as expected,  just like on my old XV6800.  I was also able to easily import contacts by synchronizing the data from my PC back to this phone.  To do this, I just had to rename my phone through the Settings to match the name of my old phone, thus tricking it into downloading my contacts.

Conclusion
At first impression the phone had a lot going for it, and it grew on me more with each visit to the Verizon store.  (After my purchase while the rep was configuring the device, even he said it was starting to grow on him.) But I wasn't going to jump into another gadget on a whim this time.  It paid off to do research and assess my personal needs, preferences and lifestyle.  The Samsung Omnia is on the Verizon network, which has great service, the phone gives me a powerful (if not dated) operating system and access to plenty of PPC software out there (I even run Skype Mobile which is nearly fully featured).  I can't attain the typing speeds of a hardware keyboard, but ultimately the interface is clean and typing on the device has become pretty easy.

Of course, it's only been a short time and I'll be honest later about any frustrations that arise.  But I have to say, as an experienced Windows Mobile user, I am very happy with the effort Samsung has put into this phone.

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Tuesday, September 30th, 2008

Subject:Software Test Automation - the Human Element
Time:12:42 pm.
Mood:geeky.
I just got around to sharing some of my experience with software testing in an automated fashion in one of my blogs:

http://devsense.blogspot.com/2008/09/one-approach-to-automation-frameworks.html


Looking at the job market, it seems every company worth its salt has a requirement either for test case automators or framework developers. This position is in high demand, but as to why is still up in the air. I wonder if companies are recognizing the longer term benefits of automation as a tool to improve software stability over time and measure process improvements/degradations in the organization? Or is automation predominantly in demand due to the misguided belief that automation will save headcount (and thus save money) while improving quality?

There is no substitute for a creative human tester who goes out of his way to break a product. Only a human can ask, "how will our customer use this, interact with this and what frustrations will they feel? What will they like about it?" Once the test cases are established and the bugs are worked out, test automation can then replace the manual testing steps and the test can become part of a regression suite (a collection of tests used to ensure past bugs don't reappear).

Given the above, it can be stated that you cannot automate new tests, because as the test is manually performed, bugs are reported and worked out. Automation can only be used to prove something is not working as intended, but can not find a flaw in a new design on its own.

In conclusion, test automation takes care of the mundane tasks and allows testers to focus their creativity on new problems, and more efficiently spend their time in the analysis of bugs rather than running regression tests that a computer could do more easily and with greater consistency.
Comments: Add Your Own.

Wednesday, May 14th, 2008

Subject:I blew out my knee! ARRRGHHH nooooooooo!
Time:8:35 am.
Mood:in pain.
SYNOPSIS
Right knee now at the point where it wants to buckle when I walk, so I have to pay real attention to stability. Knee brace is helping only mildly; pain is constant, like a hot iron under and below the kneecap and the PCL or MCL feels torn.

CAUSE
Hyper extension during high-speed Wing Chun combat. He backed away from me rapidly so I chased his white ass down with chain punches. At one point my foot slipped on the hardwood and the force of my next step went up through my knee and over-extended the tendons and probably tore something.

ANALYSIS
Dr. Long in Pleasanton has evaluated the situation by probing with a series of questions, observing knee for response. Observations included protecting of knee by compensating with other leg, soreness in opposing hip due to compensation; inability to make a motion like "kicking a soccer ball"; direct examination concluded that knee is injured and MRI is required.

RISK
Falling, not being able to get up, winding up on a late night TV commercial

RESPONSE
Going in for an MRI this morning

WORK-AROUND
Girlfriend helping me get around; boss cutting me some slack from coming into work today; elevators
Comments: Add Your Own.

Wednesday, November 14th, 2007

Subject:The Silent Humans are Holding Their Own!
Time:2:14 am.
Mood: complacent.
This morning I stared outside of the BART train car window at the wide world, contemplating. Well, not much. More or less marveling at the idea that we're one of the very few intelligent creatures on the planet. My thoughts began with the idea that without humans, the planet would balance itself more readily in a natural equilibrium. But nonetheless, we are here and as such must consider ourselves a part of the environment. I then started wondering why we have either been gifted with, or have developed, our complex human minds - the chemistry that drives us. Our egos and desires drive us to destroy the planet and each other, yet our kindness and reason compells us as a species to put up resistance to this very same thing. Why were we, alone, given the ability to contemplate good and evil, order and chaos, on such a complex level? We think about ourselves, our families, our communities, our countries and our planet at different scales, and somehow throughout billions of billions of individual choices, we have been both stupid enough to build The Bomb and then smart enough not blow ourselves up.

It's easy to look at the negative sides of our species and what we do to harm each other and our planet, but sometimes it's more interesting to step back and realize that somehow, somewhere, there is another side fighting relentlessly to preserve our environment and push the agenda of order and justice. Somehow, the singular good nature and sense of Right found within most individuals holds in check the corruption and chaos that seems to engulf our planet at the collective (governing) scale.

I guess we can sum this up by saying that the newspapers only present the worst. The silent majority is still holding its own!
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Sunday, October 28th, 2007

Subject:California Wildfires while down in Palm Desert on Vacation
Time:11:26 pm.
Mood: okay.
It's been a while since I've written here. I returned today to the Bay Area from a week vacation in Palm Desert (near Palm Springs) with my father and his wife. It's been nearly two years since I've seen family, other than my daughter, so it was a really great rendezvous. We golfed for six days straight!

The California wildfires impacted the area, as they did most of southern California. On October 21st, 2007, during my drive to Palm Desert along I-215, I actually photographed the smoke billowing over the mountains. This eventually became so dense that headlights came on and the sunset was blocked out. To worsen the fires, the winds were gusting hard enough that people were almost blown over while we stood outside our cars pumping gas, and the cars shook on their shocks as gusts broadsided them. The air was thick with ash as I drove through the area.



Two days later while in Palm Desert, the smoke started to loom over the distant mountains, but it was still sunny and clear in Palm Desert. That evening we saw the reports on the news that the smoke and ash would be blowing over Palm Springs and heading "as far as Palm Desert", much to our dismay. The air quality advisory stated a smoke density of 15 parts per million.


The next photograph taken of the sunset on October 25th. The smoke is now fairly dense and the mountains, normally visible in the distance, are obscured.



Finally, a photograph of the sunrise taken from our resort's balcony on October 26, 2007. We golfed this day as well, but for the first time didn't need to wear our sunglasses. (In fact, it was almost impossible to see while wearing sunglasses, throughout the day).

The ash was very noticeably settling all over my new car (which has black paint) and all three of us were coughing throughout the night from the smoke particles. Even my regular dose of allergy meds that I take while golfing only partially helped. But I think I shot a 98 that day, so it was good.

It's one thing to be on vacation and deal with a little bit of smoke, but the unfortunate news was broadcast that several of the fires may have been intentionally lit, and five people were arrested under suspicion of arson. The actions of these bastards caused thousands to flee their homes and put hundreds of people through the emotional trauma of sifting through the belongings of their once beautiful homes. Apparently, one reported filmed his own house being burned to the ground, something he and his wife had worked for decades to establish. Intentional arson to wilderness areas really upsets hikers like myself. We tend to be extremely careful to preserve nature and leave it as we found it. To do something like this is unthinkable.

Our thoughts go out to the people of California whose lives have been disrupted by these events.

Comments: Add Your Own.

Sunday, March 25th, 2007

Subject:A Wonderful and Fufilling Day in San Francisco
Time:12:29 am.
Mood: chipper.
I had absolutely the most relaxing and wonderful Saturday I've had in a very long time. I spent an hour with my wing-chun/chi-gong teacher, and we went over a lot of what is called our "third form", which I just started learning recently. It is incredibly complex with the subtleties of body unity, and is supposed to demonstrate explosive power ultimately generated from the hips and legs, with moves used as "emergency" techniques. The chi-gong aspect teaches relaxation, control of internal energy, muscular and skeletal alignment and basically how to open certain areas of the body (like the hips or groin muscles).

These two areas overlap and compliment each other. To reduce all of this down, my focus at the moment is simple: try to keep my spine straight while rotating my hips with power generated from my legs. If I twist the spine, then the power generated from legs-to-hips obviously isn't being applied at the striking point
(my hand), whereas if my body moves as one "explosive" or "uncoiling" unit, theoretically all of the energy can be transfered from legs to hands.

But after that hour, I called my friend/Spanish teacher, Santiago. We started off at the Vietnamese restaurant we both enjoy, and I had a bowl of soup and some pork chops. Then we went to Vesuvio pub, and for the first time in YEARS, you know what I did? I drank my drinks casually, stared out the window, and my mind thought about NOTHING. There was nothing on
my mind! I just felt so peaceful, and laid-back. We chatted, I in Spanish and he in English, for mutual practice, and when he went out for a smoke, I would pick up the book I am reading and just read.

We met a well-read individual in the pub who majored in Philosophy at one time and discussed such a variety of topics, more than I can recall enjoying in a long time. The subjects ranged from Mathematics to cryptography and back. It was so refreshing to not be just sitting around talking about women, how much we like them, how much we want them, how difficult they are to understand, which unfortunately (and now apparently, to me) seems to be all too common.

Later, Santiago's friend from Spain joined us. This guy is funny. No qualms about hitting on any girl anywhere at any time. A cute brunette was in the bar, by herself, and he approached her several times with one of the mind-puzzles that Santiago makes and sells (these little things where you have to remove the ring from a funny shaped thing without force). Eventually,
she joined us, and we all continued to have good conversations about travel and the world. After two years in the United States, her visa has expired, and she is leaving for Buenes Aires on Tuesday. She had a hard day, saying good-bye to her friends. She was a funny girl, a model from France with the cute accent bit and all.

After another round of beer, Santiago and I took her for dinner. At first we were headed back to the Vietnamese place, but then we decided on House of Nanking, a San Francisco must at least once. It was thoroughly amazing and distinguished Chinese food, like it always is. We really made her day, as she told us many times throughout the evening. We all went to the Buddah Bar after that, a famous dive bar with a funny Bar tender.

Then we went to BART and now I'm home!
Comments: Add Your Own.

Thursday, December 21st, 2006

Subject:Please, Take a Taxi
Time:1:20 am.
Tonight, I had a great time with my friends at the Buddah Bar, my local watering hole in San Francisco. I had too much to drink, feel pretty damn good right now, and I am very happy that I met friends both expected and unexpected at the bar.

A DUI (Driving Under the Influence) conviction gives both an administrative and criminal penalty under California law, and this can cost someone up to $10,000 in fines. A criminal conviction will remain on your record permanently, and can affect employment opportunities and your credit bureau reports, not to mention the hassle of going through the criminal court system. Even with the plethora of DUI attorneys and legal firms available to help reduce the penalties or even get away with irresponsible driving based on technicalities, there's always the reality that someone else's life (or your own) is on the line when you drink and drive.

So tonight, before I go to bed, I write this blog for my friends and say, please take a damn taxi cab. Look. For $28 I can do a round trip to my apartment and back to the BART (train) in the morning to pick up my vehicle. It's responsible, it's smart, and it's the right thing to do for your life and the safety of others. Yeah, so you might be able to handle a vehicle after 2 or 3 drinks. So can I. That's not the point. The point is if you're over the limit, your Christmas/New Years holiday becomes a nightmare, and that's no way to remember 2006.

So please take a taxi and live your life to the fullest. It doesn't cost nearly as much as you imagine.

Happy Holidays!
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Thursday, November 16th, 2006

Subject:Pack Configuration Testing
Time:2:32 am.
Mood: optimistic.
Tonight I decided to pack all my stuff for Peru in the various configurations that will be needed for this trip. Different things need to be packed in the pack and different things need to be out of the pack (in ultra light stuff sacks) depending on where I am on the trip.

Configuration #1: Travel from home to work, and work to airport.
Option 1:Pack contains everything I am bringing.
The pack, when full of everything, stands about 4 feet high on its own, and when I wear it it goes well up over the height of my head! The weight at this point is about 40 lbs, including powerbars and gatorade. This option works well for getting to the airport. This options means once I get to the airport, I need to extract my ultra-light carry-on pack and sleeping bag, and place my big pack into the collapsible duffle to have that checked in.

Option 2:Pack in duffle bag, carry-on and sleeping bag already split out.
The problem here is I have to carry the duffle on a shoulder or one handed. At 40lbs, this gets pretty heavy walking around, but if I were to backpack it, the weight is centered properly on my hips and I barely feel it. Hrmm.

Configuration #2: Travel from San Francisco to El Salvador, on to Lima, and finally Cuzco.
This time, the pack is stowed safely in its duffle-bag, being gently and expertly handled by well-paid and happy airline workers who lovingly care for their customers' stuff. Right!
With me is my ultralight pack -- this thing is tiny, about 1.5 feet long and half a foot thick, the same size as a compressed sleeping bag if you can picture that. In this bag is a few items like a travel neck pillow, my backpacking pillow-case stuffed with my fleece sweater, my poncho (for our stop over in El Salvidor, just in case), GPS, snacks and other stuff. Attached to this is my sleeping bag -- we're sleeping in the airport!

Configuration #3: Hike from Cuzco to the ruins of Machu Piccu
The intention here is to keep as light as possible. This time, I put as much as I can on a porter, and only take what I need on my back each day. This includes water, rain gear, change of sox, my personal med kit (which I carry wherever I go), and items such as flashlight, GPS, water purification and some snacks. All in all, I shouldn't have more than about 20 lbs on my back during the trek.

The rest of the time, I should have a little hotel room and that place has a safe, so I can keep all my stuff locked up. If I'm moving around the city, to and from the airport, I think Configuration #1/Option #1 is the best way to go!

Right now my boots are in the backpack, in favor of wearing light-weight trail/hiking sandals around the airports and stuff. This is gonna be awesome!

I'll definitely post my full packing list later.
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Tuesday, November 14th, 2006

Subject:LJ's Picture Management Interface Sucks!
Time:3:29 am.
Mood: annoyed.
Okay, 3:30AM, can't sleep, and all I want to do is take a picture that's in my god damn gallery and make it a user pic. So the userpics interface says I have 1/15. One out of FIFTEEN. So why can I only see one picture? Oh, I know, I'll look at the other 14 pictures I have uploaded and try to tag one as a user pic. Manage the picture, then there's a link next to "Live Journal" that says "Manage/Upload Userpics". That link has absolutely nothing to do with the picture I'm editing so what possessed the UI author to put it there?

What I would expect that link to do is pull up ALL the shit I've uploaded and let me add one of my existing pictures as a user pic, because it's already on the LiveJournal server.

So WTF, do I upload it twice? Why can't this be straight forward?

I guess I'll just leave the hiking picture in place. Henry, dude! DUDE! Doood, help us mon!
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Monday, November 13th, 2006

Subject:Readying for South America
Time:3:03 pm.
Mood: excited.

Packing


All my stuff is on the floor, neatly arranged, beside my Gregory Palisade pack, a 5100cu monster pack destined to travel with me to Peru and haul all my gear. The gear list for two weeks of trekking and exploring is fairly extensive. I'm careful both on my pack weight as well as on comfort and safety. No matter what, after 4 days up the trail to Machu Picchu, we're all going to smell pretty funky!

My pack list is detailed, right down to the contents of my medical kit. I've cross-checked everything. The items that will be packed in various containers change depending on where I am on the trip. For example, when walking around Cuzco between hotels or hostels, I'll have absolutely everything loaded into the pack. But when travelling by plane from the US to Peru, only a small subset of my gear (including my sleeping bag and mattress) will come with me as carry-on, so we can sleep one night in the airport in El Salvidor.

For the 4-day hike to Machu Picchu itself, I've hired what's called a half-porter. He'll carry up to 9kg (19.8 lbs) of my stuff. My packing list shows I have 16 lbs mapped out, and I'll be taking the rest on my back.

My total pack weight, all things accounted for, runs about 35 to 40 lbs. This leaves some room for souvenirs on the way back. This pack will haul up to 65lbs, but on the mountain, I can't see myself carrying over 20 -- that includes water supply!

Training


I pushed hard these last few months to build some stamina and good muscle in my legs. I feel very good about my physical conditioning at this point (the benefits even show themselves in Kung Fu class). This past weekend I took it pretty easy to let everything rest. Other than coping with the high altitude, I'm set.

Itinerary


I depart Friday, November 17th. But don't plan on robbing my place until Saturday, I'll be taking a red-eye out of San Francisco. I get back on December 2nd! Look for photos and new stuff when I get back!
Comments: Add Your Own.

Sunday, November 12th, 2006

Subject:iTunes 7 Sucks Major Ass
Time:2:40 pm.
I was on the verge of buying an iPod Nano for my trip to Peru, but I'll just read a book instead, because the latest software for iTunes on Windows coming out of Apple is just crap.

What the hell are they doing over at Apple?

iTunes 7 for Windows skips songs as you multitask and makes the computer hang for a few seconds at a time as it transitions to the next song. Forget cross-fading between songs altogether! They must be taking the Microsoft route to software development, lately, because 6.05 was nice and stable but it's quickly going downhill.

With 7.02 out already, I would have thought this was fixed. Even worse, the option to roll back to 6.05 after you've installed 7 is next to impossible because of newer iTunes format ITL files that can no longer be read by 6.0.

I hope the new Microsoft Zune gives Apple a run for their money.
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Friday, October 27th, 2006

Subject:Drug Bust Nets Giant Dildo
Time:11:41 am.
Hilarious! From the Opie & Anthony show website.

http://www.foundrymusic.com/opieanthony/displaymedia.cfm/div/opieanthony/id/12648/media_search/opieanthony/page/download_Minnesota_Drug_Bust_Nets_Giant_Dildo.html
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Subject:Pushing it
Time:1:58 am.
Mood:in pain.
I have a 50km hike at altitude coming up in 3 weeks.



About 3 weeks ago I injured my pinky toe socket (the metatarsal-phalangeal joint of the left pinky). I had my chiropractor look at it, and she suggested it was sprained in the joint. Things started looking up.

My mother arrived last week and I promised her a tour of some hard-core hiking in California. We did 7 difficult miles in Sunol Wilderness on a Friday, and 12 miles in Big Basin Redwood SP doing Barry Creek Falls via Skyline Trail on Sunday. By the end of Sunday I was feeling a bit more pain.

Time for a second opinion.

Went to the doctor, and his conclusion was the same as the chiropractors - a sprained joint. So it was time to ease up on this thing. That said, I still had new boots to break in here! I wore them to work twice this week, and wouldn't you know it...

My left pinky toe is one big blister. I guess the new boots or socks + position of my foot while compensating for the sprain caused chaffing. Ironically, the blister is more annoying than the sprain!

Scientists have argued that the pinky toe is going out of fashion. I might simply cut it right off.
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Thursday, October 26th, 2006

Subject:Preparing for Peru (mandatory list)
Time:1:51 pm.
Mood:artistic.
I got my list for hiking to Machu Picchu, Cusco, Peru. So as not to bore the reader, I will keep this list down to the mandatory items that everyone should have on a hiking trip at 11,000 feet altitude in the mountains:

Rubber ducky (1)
Box of condoms (1)
Heinz Ketchup (1)
Floaties (2)
Leather Pants (1)
Flippers (2)
Snorkle (2)
Buckets of tar (22 gallons)
Mop (for tar)
Diesel generator (1)
1957 Chevy transmission (big block)
Tape (3M)
Matches (1)
Underwear

I think that's about it.
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Wednesday, October 25th, 2006

Subject:Punched in Mouth Repeatedly. Now they'll pay
Time:7:30 pm.
One side effect of working harder and more aggressively in wing chun is the shots to the mouth. I have (count them) SIX cuts on my inner lips right now. Last week I took a sa-sao (knife hand) to the lower lip, then my Sifu, Will, caught me with a pretty amazing upper-cut that hit my chest and my face in one shot. That one damaged my upper lip so well that it puffed up for a few days.

So I go in on Wednesday, and I'm thinking to myself, "I don't like being punched in the mouth anymore, and I gotta start going on dates again. Kissing girls and saying 'ow' isn't very macho." Things always happen to the body parts you're most worried about. I'm working with Henry, and he pulls off this incredibly tight lop-hammer-fist which scores big time. I'd give him 1000 points for this clean shot. Right in the bottom lip. Wham. Puts a cut about 3mm to the right of the other one.

God.

Damnit.

So I was like, "Fuck, just where I didn't want it" and walked to the bathroom to rinse the blood and assess the damage. Anyway, everyone was recommending salt water as a solution to healing. I'm not positive whether it works or not, but I will say when I got home that I made a glass of friggin' sea water and swished that for as long as I could take it. My mouth sure felt better at any rate, so at least the pain is curbed for a while.

In the meantime, I've started a new diet program. The Fist in Mouth diet. Dine at "Henry & Will's All You Can Eat Fist Buffet" and you're shit will be so jacked up you won't eat food for a week. Course I'm already too thin, but punching some fat bastards in the mouth might just be the key America needs to losing weight.

Thanks Henry & Will! You know I got nothin' but love.

BRD
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Thursday, October 12th, 2006

Subject:Hack and Slash
Time:9:23 am.
Finally, after sales screws the pooch again, Engineering gets cut. 5 people without jobs, some of them extremely good at what they did. But that's what happens in business -- you have to adjust your employee headcount to match your revenue and slow the burn rate. Our department was the only one without cuts, but the only reason for this is we had head count on the books that padded the situation.

So what am I gonna do? I think I'll hang in there for another quarter. I have offers, there's lots of work out there, and maybe this isn't the brightest idea, but there's still some cool shit to learn and I'm having a good time.

Like a co-worker puts it, "I will work for nCircle as long as they need me, and when they decide they don't need me anymore, I'll move on." Maybe he's right. It's a great place to be, even though stability certainly is a question. But, honestly -- was we knew that going in to work for a small startup in a new market segment of security, selling a product that everyone needs but nobody understands.

So, back to writing my automation framework, which has taken root in the company in a fantastic way.
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Tuesday, October 3rd, 2006

Subject:My Monitor is Flaccid
Time:9:18 pm.
Mood: exhausted.
I came home today and as usual peered to my computer system to the left of the hallway entrance, only to see my new Samsung SyncMaster 205BW 20" flatpanel... well, drooping. At first I tried to rotate it upwards, but it would just droop back down. Then I removed a plastic cover to see what might be wrong, and lo-and-behold, a the metal bracket that holds the hingle stiffly in place had broken at the back. Without the leverage of this poorly designed part, the monitor is sadly looking downward.

I've had the monitor for exactly 33 days... exactly 3 days over the store warranty. WHY IS IT ALWAYS LIKE THAT? Anyway, Samsung's website has a very effective Warranty return form, and they will ship a new monitor to replace this one via UPS; all I have to do is take this to the UPS station with my receipt and swap it.

I love the LCD quality and features of this monitor. It's a wide screen 16:10 ratio, makes games look great and offers a ton of screen real-estate. I'm just a little disheartened at the lack of engineering quality of the bracket. The metal would have been stronger if it were made of a different quality of steel alloy, but alas, it's not something I can fix.
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Saturday, September 30th, 2006

Subject:Preparing for Peru in Butano SP, California
Time:6:40 pm.

Up a steep switchback in Butano Up a steep switchback in Butano

Training for Peru, I'm carrying a pack weighing approximately 40 lbs up a very steep switchback. This was taken in Butano SP, located in the Santa Cruz mountains.



A friend from work, Tomasz, and myself are hiking the Maccu Picchu trail in Peru this coming November. We're trying to prepare our lungs and muscles for the onslaught that will be the hike at 11,000 feet of altitude and 48km over four days.

These ancient ruins are rumored to either be extremely historically significant in Inca history, or not significant whatsoever, but instead thought to be a summer home that was forgotten. The second theory holds that if Maccu Picchu held spiritual significance for the Inca people, it would not have been forgotten for so long, and someone would have gone looking for it long before. Instead, it was rediscovered by an American professor in 1911, and has become Peru's biggest tourist attraction (and thus source of foreign currency flow). This poor country depends on tourist dollars to progress, but environmentalists worry that the 400,000 people visiting Maccu Picchu each year are causing erosion on the trail and damage to the historical site.
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