When you haven't written anything in a long time, it's hard to
start again. There's too much to cover, for one thing. What have you
done since March? You can't talk about all of it, but whatever I did
this weekend doesn't make much sense without knowing what I did last
weekend, and so on and so forth. Yet a new entry was specially
requested, via anonymous letter, a baffling turn of events. So,
rambling and pointless though it may be, how could I say no?
TODAY'S PRO TIP: If your safe-search defaults to off, think
twice before doing an image search for "shy girl."
Against all odds, Helen is still around. We are going to Los
Angeles over Memorial Day weekend, Lord willing and the creek don't
rise. Looking forward to seeing as many people as we can see.
I had only the vaguest idea who Banksy
was before going to the
movie, but I liked it anyway. It is a "documentary"
that is, in all probability, another prank: an engineered piece of art
that is about the process of making art that is itself trying to
satirize the making and selling of art. (Yet if you should be of a
mind to spend a lot of money to own a piece of Banksy Art, that can
certainly be arranged; make no mistake.) Who knows if there is even
such a person as Thierry Whatever his name was? So that's a lot to
One more thing, I have been looking at facebook more than usual,
for various reasons. Fact: My mom signed up for the facebook on the
day that this comic was
published. Question: is there an established word for the way you
feel when you realize that you have been facebook-blocked by somebody
you never attempted to contact? If not, I suggest
Next stop Florida, to see the space shuttle launch Thursday. This
is a Dickerson family adventure, so you know everything will go
according to plan.
Now that I have bored most of my innumerable readers into never
checking this page anymore, I will summarize the last six
months at the rate of 0.83 bullet points per month:
I jumped out of a plane in October. It was fun, then scary, then
I went to Cheryl and Ed's house in November, for
I took 50 people to Las Vegas on a work trip in December. For the
record, running up a $20,000 hotel bill at the Venetian makes you a
little bit of a VIP, but not as much as you would like. This was my
I went to the Virgin
Islands in January and February, and spent a week living on a 45
foot catamaran (sailboat) with five other people.
So why so unusually concise? Well the thing is, there is a new
girlfriend on the scene. She is a corporate lawyer for the Google,
and thinks blogs are weird and creepy and a bad idea. (Especially
that post that was up here previously, which is why it is gone.) We
will call her Helen, because that's not her name.
Anyway, am now getting ready to go to Death Valley, because it is
that time of year. (This is 10 years, or 12, or something.) For the
occasion, I bought the FJ
Cruiser that I have been talking about since they came out in
2007. So let the record show, although it may take years, I generally
do eventually do the things I say I will.
We interrupt this tedious and stale chronology of summer trips for
the important news that I am now an Award Winning Photographer. Last
week, somebody on the photography mailing list at work declared his
intention to start a series of minor contests. He picked a theme,
"Sweet Things," gave people a week to submit something, then
picked an overall winner (me) and some runners-up. There were 67
entries. My prize is to pick the theme for the next contest, and
judge the next winner.
Cheesy though my picture may be, I will say in my defense that I
was the first person submitting not to take the theme literally. Many
entries were pictures of cookies or cupcakes or what have you. Who
the little girl is, I don't know. She was at Steve's kid David's
birthday party in April 2008, when he turned 2.
For the next contest, I picked "nothing gold can
° ° °
Chapter 5 in the ongoing series would have been the week I spent at
sailing school in Berkeley. I had a really good time at that, but
don't feel like talking about it just now. I have given away my
secret plans to too many people as it is, I think.
In my head there is always a version of the doomsday
clock that represents how long until I go crazy, assuming no
course changes. "Go crazy" most probably means "quit
job and leave Northern California," but there are other possible
outcomes. Shortly after I moved here, it got wound up for about 4
years. It advanced as far as 5 or 6 years at one point, then snapped
back to a few months. Right now it's set for about 12-18 months, I think.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. The point was that during the
very boring month that followed the trip to Boston, the Clock seemed
to have mere weeks to go. So I set out to pack the calendar with
activities meant to fill the rest of the year, or, failing that, help
decide where to go next. This all started with the Phish concert on
The concert was ok. Better than they were playing in 2000 when
they finally quit touring the last time, but the songs they picked
could have been better. I was hoping for Stash or Bathtub Gin or
something in the encore, but no, just a couple more songs I didn't
know. And there really aren't that many of those; I even listened to
some earlier concerts from this summer to see if that was going to
happen. Oh well.
chapter 3: santa monica
The morning after the Phish concert, I went to Santa Monica to work
for the next two days. I went to talk to some people about Picasa,
thinking I might try this whole thing that some people do, working on
something I'm actually interested in. That's no kind of magic bullet
for a happy life, however. I really believe my relative lack of
attachment to anything we work on has been an advantage more often
than not. I can schedule myself for whatever of our projects nobody
wants, and they will be happier and I won't care.
Not much to report about Santa Monica, though. I went to supper
with Laura on Thursday night, but Alice was out of town,
chapter 4: los angeles
After work on that Friday (August 7), I went on a tour to Pasadena
to see Yi, then Pomona to see Meg and Kevin. This was the first time
I have seen Yi since her baby was born. Being back at work, with a
two year old, it's probably not the easiest year ever. I bet her
first couple years at Pomona (which were my last couple) seem like a
vacation now too. As always I stayed later than I meant to at Meg and
Kevin's house, but not too bad, I still got to Cheryl and Ed's house
by about 10 or 11 or something.
Much of the reason I went, of course, was that it was Miriya's
birthday. She's 10 now, so she won't be a little girl, and I won't be
her favorite person, much longer. We went to Frank and Son's on
Saturday morning, then she had a birthday party on Saturday afternoon.
(There wasn't a whole lot for me to do there, being neither a 10 year
old girl nor the parent of one.) But the next day we went to the
County Fair. I got a deep fried White Castle hamburger and
Twinkie. The deep frying of both is pretty unnecessary, but you know
that going in. Miriya climbed both the rock-climbing walls that they
had, which were too easy. Actually the first guy called up the second
one on the radio to tell him that he was sending Miriya over because
his wall was too easy. (Why the climbing wall ride operators are
linked by dedicated VHF channel, I do not know.) Then we went to the
pig races, after which they gave us all coupons for free bacon. This
is not a joke. Can't be beat.
Leaving again was hard, even more than usual. Miriya is old enough
now to understand that I won't be back for a long time, and she gets
sad. So do I.
When I was in Los Angeles last week, I was reminded how few people
I have bothered to inform of a recent development, which was that
Megan broke up with me on May 31. I got little warning; she came back
from yet another baby shower one Sunday afternoon and announced that
because she and I were not "leading to anything," we were
not going to see each other anymore. I was not asked for an opinion
as regards "leading to anything," so I formed none. The
whole conversation lasted about five minutes. So it goes.
First off, I got to re-plan my exciting Boston vacation, which had
been set for dates suiting her schedule and filled with activities
suiting her tastes. But Kyle, it turned out, did not cancel the
wedding, so I did not have the option to just stay home.
PRO TIP: When you are buying plane tickets for yourself and another
person, put your own name on the non-middle seats. Because once you
are both on the plane, you can always trade seats if you want...but if
you should find that you aren't using both tickets, you can't change
which seat is yours.
There, let it never be said that I don't learn anything from past
chapter 1: reorganization
So what now? As Don Draper said in the episode of Mad Men
that I just watched, I have a life, and it goes in one direction.
Forward. The first thing that happens is that everything is on the
table. After two excruciating weekends, there literally wasn't
anything left to clean. Every room of the house was done, the
basement, the shed, and I stripped and re-waxed the car. Next I got
rid of a generation of video games, old rock band and dance dance
stuff (I kept the newer versions, so far), various old electronics,
two cameras. A trunk full of clothes went to the donation bin.
A hypothetical long-suffering reader would remember that I do this
regularly, and this episode arrives right on schedule, 14 months after
the last one. For every
object I own, I consider whether it is worth buying a box, putting it
in the box, carrying it out to a truck, carrying it in again somewhere
else, taking it out, and throwing away the box. It's safe to assume I
will be doing this by myself, in suboptimal conditions. I have
carried this stuff on a quarter-mile round trip from the street to the
back of the Long Beach apartment complex in 100° of June sun, and
driven it 4000 miles in blizzard conditions on two consecutive round
trips from LA to Denver, and I'm tired of it. So if the answer is no,
this thing isn't coming when I move, then I might as well get rid of
it. Possessions are a burden. My living room now contains one shelf
of books, Rock Band, and two pieces of furniture.
After the actual housekeeping was done, I did the metaphorical
kind. Such as closing my 10-year-old Speakeasy account to replace it
with the cable modem, which at 10x the speed, I am finally forced to
admit is better. I closed the Smith Barney account that I inherited
with the company stock plan and moved it to Charles Schwab. Which led
me to close my airline credit card and replace it with the one from
Schwab (which you should do too, if you are a customer...it pays 2%
cash on everything, with no annual fee). Which leads me to liquidate
ten years of AA miles and American Express points. The American
Express points translate to a couple thousand dollars of credit at
Banana Republic or whatever, which fits with the Extreme Makeover plan
just as soon as I find someone that is willing to consult on
I sold my old computer and bought a new imac. I bought two new
lenses. I rearranged some investments. I sold the tickets to the
Phish concert at Red Rocks. Now the easy stuff was done, and it was
time to face the bigger changes that need to happen.
My situation being what it is, something like moving or a job
change would take a while, and I would not be able to talk about it
until it was done. But I have a number of options. And along those
lines, I did take a week to go to Santa Monica and Los Angeles, and a
week in Berkeley taking the first sailing certification class (all
done). Then I'm going back to Dublin at the end of next week, then
Preparing for my first sailing class last week, I took another trip
into point-and-shoot land. The idea was to get something waterproof,
since I assumed it would get splashed on the boat, which certainly
happens when you go rafting.
Based on earlier
reviews, I wanted the Pentax W60. Unfortunately, it was already
discontinued, and nobody knew when the W80 was going to show up. So I
borrowed Ian's Canon D10. Then the W80 turned up in stock at Amazon
three days before I left, so I got one just in time. The point being
that I took both of them to Berkeley with me. Here's how it turned
All right, so the point of this camera is to get some kind of
pictures where otherwise I would have had none at all. I realize the
results are not going to be great, and it's going to have the kind of
gimmicky feature set meant for the most clueless user. In this
respect, the W80 immediately meets–nay,
exceeds–expectations. It's loaded with useless crap like
in-camera aspect ratio selection (which just throws away some of the
captured pixels), and I really don't need two different
"modes" for Kids and Pets. "Smile Detection" has
been chosen as the function of the one and only dedicated button.
Fine. But even given all this, I'm still surprised to find that there
is no Tv or Av mode. At all. Exposure compensation is possible via
clunky menus, but that's all as you get. Ouch.
How does the D10 stack up? I find it just a little more usable,
mostly because exposure compensation is only one beep away, and the
case has one more button. So it hurts a little bit less when Canon
dedicates one of them to that useless direct-print thing that nobody
ever uses, as is their custom. The D10 also restrains itself to a
mere fourteen goofy scene modes, slightly less redundant than the
Now for some pictures
So, figuring when-in-Rome, I kept both cameras on either
auto-everything or "beach" mode all week. Getting back to
the hotel with the W80 on the first night, I have many pictures like
Here is a nice 40-foot ketch (how about that sailor talk? YARRR!),
but what is going on with this picture? First of all, it has a strong
blue cast, which makes no sense. The only source of light is the sun,
at sea level, hardly difficult conditions. Here's what the scene
actually looks like, after forcing the sails to a neutral white in
Every camera blows the white balance sometimes, but this
blue-purple cast is pretty consistent, including after I took it out
of "beach mode," which seems to be trying to exaggerate the
blue of the sky and water. The D10 seems to be free of this
Taking a closer look, things only get worse for Pentax:
The Canon doesn't blow me away, but it's in the mid-tier point and
shoot ballpark. The Pentax would be in that ballpark too...if this
were ISO 400. But this is ISO 64. 64! Aren't we getting
about a trillion photons per pixel at this speed? Yet there's painful
noise in both chroma (fake magenta and green tints) and luminance
(overall grainy look). And at f/5.5, 1/400s, ISO 64, bright sun, on a
subject that is barely moving, this should be showing us the camera at
And the problems don't stop there:
If you need to illustrate chromatic aberration, both cameras will
do, but at least the Canon has to be pushed into blown-highlight
territory. Again, not too bad, considering how the optics must be
compromised to be able to zoom in a sealed package with no exposed
moving parts. But the W80 happily bleeds purple fringes anywhere
there's a light-dark transition. Fortunately those hardly ever happen
If the image quality problems of the W80 were too subtle for you so far, try the movie mode. Watch in amazement as skin tones, brown rails, blue life jackets, and shadows all fade to purple. This isn't even the worst video by far; it's just one that Chrisi already uploaded to youtube so I don't have to.
Too bad, because the W80 claims 720p video at 30fps. There are a whole lot of pixels, they just all suck.
Here's me doing the same drill, as seen by the Canon D10. Fewer pixels, and the contrast isn't great (and I don't do as well at slowing the boat down), but the color looks more or less like it was shot under the Earth sun:
I've never said this before, but Pentax has made the W80 so bad
that I don't want it. Assuming they'll take it, it's going back to
Amazon. Some updated reviews are coming out now, and they confirm
that somewhere in the process of smashing those so-very-important two
more megapixels onto the sensor, they made the actual image quality
dramatically worse than the W60.
If I really needed a waterproof camera, I'd have to get a D10. It
did a perfectly serviceable job, and my only complaint is that it's so
big and bulbous, and doesn't fit in a pocket. But the real moral of
the story is that I don't need either of them, at least not for
sailing. If you're going out for a class to do drills, it's hardly
worth bringing any camera, because you're going to be busy all day.
If you're going out to sail like a normal person, just use a normal
camera. The wettest I got either of these was rinsing them under the
faucet at the end of the day just in case they got splashed with salt
water at some point.
Beware that there are huge gaps in my non-scientific test, such as:
I never actually took either one underwater. So you'll want to read
other opinions. But I'm pretty sure you won't find I've got it
completely wrong, unless there is some kind of manufacturing problem
with these early samples.
This thing called Google
Voice has been around a while. The original idea goes as follows:
You sign up and receive a new phone number which is managed by Google.
You program it with the numbers of your existing phones, and then
whenever anybody calls your new number, it rings your existing phones.
The point being that people can call just one number, and you can
answer on your work phone, cell phone, or whatever else you have.
That was called "Grand Central" and it was its own company
until Google bought them.
Since then, Google has added a lot of features, but it was still a
mess to use, because they couldn't do anything about the fact that any
calls or messages you send from a cell phone still look like they are
coming from your original (non-google-voice) phone number. That might
be fixed today, with a new thing
you can download for Blackberry or Android.
The point of all this is, I finally signed up to try it, and the
first thing you have to do is pick your new phone number. So what I
did, being extremely motivated to do work today, was filter all the 7
letter words out of the dictionary and look up all of the ones that
seemed interesting to see if they were available. (Since you are
going to ask, there are about 20,000 of them, and it took about 90
minutes.) So I now present, as a public service, a list of
interesting google voice phone numbers that can be yours if you act
(The area code and state don't matter, you can pick anything you
want.) The one I picked for myself is not in this list. But
848-MATHNET was a strong runner up. 561-AIRHEAD, 507-RAGTIME,
409-BEDEVIL, and 510-VIBRANT are pretty good too. 530-BELOVED is good
for somebody that's not me.
Leave a comment if you take one of these...or just tell me, if,
like me, you don't want your new phone number on the interwebs.
Having played Rock Band for a year, there are few songs that are
still hard on the expert drums. This required the Ion Drum Rocker, first of all, because you will
never make it through faster songs that use a lot of hihat or ride
with the original drums. But I got that a while ago. We can't
possibly leave well enough alone, so what else could be improved?
Minimize the latency
The latency through my stereo was about 60ms. Meaning that 60ms
passed between the time you played a note and the time it came out the
speakers. This mostly didn't matter to the game, as long as you had
calibrated it, but it really sucked for the drum fills and vocals.
Last weekend, it suddenly occurred to me that the delay was
probably caused by using my 12 year old receiver to decode the SPDIF
audio, via an optical cable from the Playstation. Sure enough, when I
switched it to use the plain old 2 channel analog connection, the
latency went down to 18ms.
This makes a big difference to a fast song, although I don't know
why; the calibration is supposed to take care of it. The worst were
sections with a big long roll of sixteenth notes, so maybe the
mismatch between sound and action was just causing me to screw up.
It's annoying to have to change it back to play movies with
surround sound, but you know what, that really doesn't matter much
Two at once
This is hardly an original idea, but I finally went to Guitar
Center and got a microphone stand, which makes it possible to play an
instrument and sing at the same time. (Into the microphone, anyway.)
It's surprisingly hard to sing and play both on Expert at the same
time. The best I have managed is 98/91, as you see here. I wouldn't
have realized it, but it takes a lot of attention to make it happy
with your singing on Expert. Monitor headphones would probably help,
if they helped you hear the correct pitch over the drums. So maybe that
is the next addition...
Note that you might think, like me, that it would be possible to
just attach a boom to a light stand that you already have (for
photography). You would be wrong. Music stands all use a threaded
connector that's about 1/2 inch thick, and does not work at all with
any lighting equipment, which depends on studs and 1/4 or 3/8 inch
tripod sockets. You could use a clamp or something hacky, but a
microphone stand and boom is only $20-30 anyway, so I didn't
Many people have observed that the Rock Band microphone (unlike the
Singstar microphones) is just a generic USB dsp device. You can plug
it in to your computer and record through it without doing anything
special. So I figured I would try the reverse, and see whether the
Playstation will accept any random thing that looks like a sound
input. I tried this Alesis 8 track USB mixer
with a condenser microphone that I had from a previous project. It
works fine. So now you can use any microphone you want, turn on the
built in effects, or run more than one at the same time. I'm not sure
what the point of any of these things would be, but when has that ever
File under "things I wish I had known three years
See all those black plastic trim pieces? The ones that go all the
way around my car, and are annoying as hell if you try to wax it,
because they are in the way on every panel and tape doesn't stick to
them and they're black so they show every tiny bit of wax you get on
them by accident? Yeah, those all pop off if you pull on them.