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filed under: /journal

see also: Felix Felicis

see also: and the thrilling conclusion

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 keep straight.

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 "prejected."

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.

11 May 2010 01:43 PT - persistent link - trackback - 2 comments

still alive

filed under: /journal

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 fun.
  • I went to Cheryl and Ed's house in November, for Thanksgiving.
  • 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 room.
  • 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.

15 Mar 2010 00:12 PT - persistent link - trackback - 5 comments

sure to be discovered any day now

filed under: /journal

see also: the Pei Pei art project

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 stay."

° ° °

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.

28 Sep 2009 22:00 PT - persistent link - trackback - 13 comments

what it is, ain't exactly clear

filed under: /journal

chapter 2: phish

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.

i saw you with a ticket stub in your hand

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 August 5.

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, unfortunately.

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.

free bacon

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 Orange 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.

15 Sep 2009 10:33 PT - persistent link - trackback - 2 comments

there's something happening here

filed under: /journal

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 relationships.

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 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 wardrobe.

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 Wales.

To be continued...

19 Aug 2009 00:47 PT - persistent link - trackback - 5 comments

Canon D10 vs. Pentax W80: Fight

filed under: /hacks/photo

see also: G7 vs D-Lux 3

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 out.

First look

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 W80's twenty-four.

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 this:

Pentax W80

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 Photoshop:

Pentax W80 after white balance correction

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 problem:

Canon D10

Taking a closer look, things only get worse for Pentax:

Canon D10Pentax W80
Canon D10 noise Pentax W80 noise

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 its best.

And the problems don't stop there:

Canon D10Pentax W80
Canon D10 chromatic aberration Pentax W80 chromatic aberration

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 in pictures.

Movie mode

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.

16 Aug 2009 23:09 PT - persistent link - trackback - 3 comments

July in Sunnyvale

filed under: /journal

65 degrees


24 Jul 2009 19:51 PT - persistent link - trackback - 0 comments

Vanity phone numbers that can be yours

filed under: /journal

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 now:


(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.

16 Jul 2009 02:01 PT - persistent link - trackback - 4 comments

Rocking to excess

filed under: /journal

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 either.

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 bother.

Microphone hack

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 stopped anyone?


09 Jul 2009 23:08 PT - persistent link - trackback - 0 comments

In which a lot of time is pointlessly saved

filed under: /car

File under "things I wish I had known three years ago":1

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.


1A list which contains some whoppers, by the way.

14 Jun 2009 11:08 PT - persistent link - trackback - 0 comments

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