Sunday, August 29, 2004

AirTunes - Ca Ca?

Apple has a new device that operates both as a WiFi base station and as remote speakers for iTunes. Now, I don't need another WiFi base station. Particularly one from Apple since I have already had 3 Airports die on me and have vowed to not rely on them for my wireless network, but the ability to remote my iTunes playback to speakers built into my house sounded great to me so I figured I would try it out.

I bought the Airport Express at the same time that I bought my iPod. After I had the iPod up and running I gave the Airport Express a try. I installed the requred software on my PC, unwrapped it from about 10 layers of SaranWrap&tm; like plastic, hooked it into my wired network and plugged it in. I launched the Airport Express Assistant and it brought up a dialog saying that Windows is not allowed to manage wireless networks on this computer. Huh? Just not true, but perhaps it was because this PC doesn't have a wireless card. I tried it on my laptop though and it gave me the same warning. It turns out that the dialog doesn't matter, though, because if I kept clicking through the wizard (er... assistant) it did show me the Airport Express but when I tried to have it join my local wireless network, it couldn't find it. Dead end.

I then tried the Airport Admin Utility which did let me configure it so I set the correct network name, gave it the 128 bit WEP key and turned on Airtunes. Then I told it to save the setting and that was the last I saw of that device. From that point, it would not show up in any config utilities that Apple provided, it didn't have an IP address and even if I tried to do a hard reset on it, it never showed up again. Dead. Make that 4 dead Airport devices.

I took it back to the Apple store yesterday and got a new one. After waiting 20 minutes to talk to someone at the Genius Bar, they looked at it for a couple of minutes only to confirm that it was indeed dead. They gave me a new one and I went home. Followed the same steps. It once again disappeared from the radar, but this time it did respond to a hard reset. I tried a bunch of different options but every time I gave it my wireless network name, it just died trying to connect and since it ignored it's ethernet port once wireless was configured, there was no way to talk to it without a hard reset which threw out all settings.

It turns out, though, that I could try to get the AirTunes part working on a wired connection so I turned that option on and plugged the device into a nice power amp that was powering the speakers for my Media Center PC. The result was a very loud hum that would not go away. It wasn't the cable. Perhaps it was because the Airport Express was so close to the power outlet (since it doesn't have a separate power cable, the unit plugs directly into the outlet) but it was completely unacceptable. The pair of speakers did show up in iTunes but even when I tried to play music through it, with the hum and all, I never actually heard music. iTunes was smart enough to know when an audio cable was plugged in but not smart enough to actually make music come out.

While I assume there is a way to disable the wireless networking features of the Airport Express without locking it up, I was not able to find it so even if this wired solution had worked, I would have either had a non-secured wireless access point to my net, or I would have had 2 networks, both secured differently. No thanks.

I returned it to the Apple store. The sales guy suggested I get rid of my current wireless network and replace it with the Airport Express. Yeah, like that's going to happen given that this appears to be my fifth Airport with hardware problems.

So as far as I can tell, with the Airport Express:
1) You can't join it to an existing wireless network with a WEP key
2) It must be a base station, even if you already have one and don't need that part
3) It is unusably noisy (the Apple sales guy says it works fine for him so maybe it is just a coincidence that both units I had were seriously flawed)


Saturday, August 28, 2004

The Second Return of the Ignite - Golf @ Plateau Club

Paul and I went for an early round at the Plateau Club this morning. I thought it would be interesting to try the Ignite driver again. I had put away the Ignite before my trip to Hawaii because the Taylor Made R580 was giving me better results, I figured it was because of the stiff shaft. Over the past couple of months, though, I have been developing a more consistent swing with my driver -- more smooth than before and working on keeping the plane less upright and my arm straighter. So I figured I would see how this updated swing works with the Ignite. The answer is that for today at least, it works great!

I hit 9 of 14 fairways and two of the misses were just off in the first cut. My approach shots were even pretty good today, my 5 wood in particular was rockin'. On 3, I tee'd off with my 4 iron and had about 190 into the green. I hit my 5 wood and the ball rolled to about 6 feet just left of the hole. It was the first of 4 putts for birdie I had today and while each of them still took 2 putts to sink, that is 4 pars from GIRs. A strong improvement. In fact, if I hadn't started off with 2 double bogeys (and finished with 2 doubles in the last 3 holes) it would have been a stellar round. As it is, I had an 89 which is one of my best rounds from the golds.

I think the most interesting moment of the day occurred on 5 when Paul and I both hit good drives to the fairway and as we were walking up to the balls, a young coyote comes out of the woods and starts eyeing us suspiciously. As we keep walking towards it, he walks over to Paul's ball and picks it up and starts to walk off. We both start whooping at it and that scares it enough to drop the ball and then walk back to the edge of the woods. Now if he was heading towards the hole, perhaps we would have let him get a bit closer before making him drop the ball. :) As it is, the coyote spit must have been pretty lucky as Paul hit the shot to the green and then drained a long putt for a birdie. This hole was another of my GIR pars so we were none the worse for wear on this hole.

This is the second round where we were just not that worried about the score and so it was nice and relaxed. Perhaps the fact that we were playing pretty well made that easier, but it was a good fun round.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

Where's the Ark? Golf @ Plateau Club

Paul and I had a 7:09 tee time this morning and as my alarm went off at 5:55 I listened to the sound of pouring rain outside my window. I looked out our front door, half expecting to see an ark of some sort go sailing by but all I saw was a lot of water flowing down the street. I stumbled to my laptop to IM with Paul and figure out what our plan was. We decided to wait for an hour to see how things went. When I checked in again it was starting to let up so I suited up and headed for the Plat.

We decided to skip that pesky warm up phase and went straight to the back 9 where we knew that no one would be ahead of us. It was still raining though much less than it had been over night. I hit a nice 3 wood to the middle of the fairway (who needs warm up time anyway..) and as I looked down towards the 10th green I noticed that the whole area to the left of the green was underwater. In fact, the bunkers were filled with at least a foot of water as well. This was going to be a wet day.

I hit my second shot to the green and two putted for an opening par. Nice! I started tracking my score, but would later give up on that as it was so wet, I really couldn't post anything realistic given the number of times I would have to move my ball to someplace that wasn't under water. We had a good time though. A total of 13 holes of no pressure golf where we didn't really care how we scored and could try a second shot if the first one got too wonky. My driver was going left today but generally staying in play. On 16, rather than slicing it into yuckiness, I pulled it past the trees on the left and put myself in a great place for the second shot. The three wood was shorter than I wanted, largely due to the wetness of the fairways but I still came away with a nice bogey which on that hole is a victory for me.

On 18, my second shot was also a bit short and landed in a bunker. When I went to find it in the bunker, I was concerned that it had rolled down into the foot deep water that covered most of the trap but instead, it was in a small canyon left by the run off, about 5 inches below the top of the sand and sitting on the black plastic lining for the bunker. I don't know what the rule is, but since trying to hit it would probably damage the bunker, I figured a free drop was in order.

Nothing else terribly remarkable to the round. This is a good indicator of what play will be like in a few months. Perhaps this year we can just stop scoring when it gets bad and just play for the fun of it. That would be cool.

I bought an iPod

I finally took the leap. I’m not sure what took me so long. Perhaps I was waiting to see who would win the format wars, or some odd sense of loyalty. Perhaps I was just waiting for something better to come along or for the next generation but nothing ever did. So today I went to the Apple store in Bellevue and picked up a 20 gig iPod with the new ClickWheel technology.

Apple does a great job with packaging (well—they have for the past 6 or 7 years at least). It is always an interesting experience opening a Mac or some other Apple product. The iPod was no different but in some ways, it was stranger than I expected. Pulling off the outer wrapping felt like I was trying not to tear the wrapping paper that someone had clearly spent a long time trying to get just so. Then I unfolded the black cube inside and was greeted by the words “Designed by Apple in California”. As I opened the left flap, it said “Enjoy.” Ahh.. a bit of class, and a bit of good old American (or at least Californian) nationalism.

Then as I open the right flap, I am confronted with a warning. It says “Don’t steal music” right on the top of the iPod. Whoa! I’m getting a stern talking to from an electronic device I just met. It also has the same warning in French, German and Japanese (I suspect). Strangely, only the German version seems to say please. It makes the Enjoy a little bit less friendly, like someone is saying it cautiously through squinting Clint Eastwood eyes with their hand on their revolver just waiting to draw at the first sign of Kazaa.

I go to the Apple website and download and install iTunes. During the install, it starts to yell at me about some file being busy, then it brings up a dialog with the title “Error” and the only thing in the dialog is the number -2003 and an OK button. I click the OK button and it comes up again. I hit enter and another dialog pops up and disappears, then my computer starts to shut down. WAIT – I’m writing a blog entry! Stop! NO… DON”T DO IT!!

It’s too late. The computer proceeds to shut down and everything that I try to copy and save this text is in vain.

I reboot.

Why did I need to reboot? I can install Windows Media Player updates without rebooting. OK, start re-writing this entry. Odd sense of loyalty... Wrapping paper… Stern warning (except in German)…

Now I run iTunes. I don’t want it to search for MP3s. It will convert my WMAs to AAC but I don’t want that either. Really, I don’t want AAC anywhere; let’s just stick with the format that works on all of my players.

I need to get all of my music in a form that makes it easier for me to sync to the iPod, so that will take a while. I looked at the iTunes Music Store for a few minutes. It is very nicely done though I am curious about some of their searches. I click on the Van Halen II album cover, then click to Fair Warning. On the right side it says that people who listened to this album also bought 4 other Van Halen albums (no surprise) and “Hymns Ancient & Modern” by Passion Worship Band. Somehow, I don’t think so.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Lens Shopping 2 - Decision Day!

Thought it over, talked with a bunch of people. I am going with the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS and a 1.4x extender which gets me pretty close to the zoom that I had with the 75-300 IS but much sharper and better quality. I can also get a 2.0x extender at some point and get all the way to 400mm. Flexibility!

Order placed -- should be here by Friday.

Sunday, August 15, 2004

Another 36 hole day - Golf @ Plateau and Bear Creek.

Do you know what is wrong with playing 36 holes of golf in one day?


It has been a really long time since Rick, Paul and I have all played together at the Plateau. Like months. That streak has ended though and we all headed out at 7:08 this morning. This was also my round for the club's PGA Championship tournament, where I combine my net score with the final round score of one of the pros in the PGA Championship tournament. My strategy for that is to always choose who was in the lead at the end of the third day, so today my partner was Vijay Singh. The good news is that Vijay won today. The bad news is that he sucked doing it with a +4 today. Ernie or Phil would have been better. Tiger would have been better. Hell Woody Austin would have been better and I've never heard of him.

Anyway, we started out very early and I started out kinda icky. Sliced the tee shot, then hit my second into the junk. Ended up with a triple bogey on one. Once I got warmed up, though, it got better. Not a lot of outstanding shots, though my drive on 8 was longer than usual, bouncing over the left bunker and nearly rolling down the hill (if it had been a bit more to the right, it probably would have). On 7, we all either par'd or birdied. On 15 we all hit the green with our tee shots (when is the last time THAT happened??). 16 hosed me again. Par 17. Hit my best tee shot on 18 in a long time, right up to the left bunker but it stayed just short of it. Second shot was to the bunker next to the green, but it took me two to get out and then two putts so I ended with a double bogey. The total score for the round, though, was 90 (posted 89 due to the triple on 1). With my course handicap at 18, I shot net even par. Damn Vijay!

After the round, Rick and I had lunch, then I headed over to Bear Creek for the back 18. There I met Clint, Dave and Kevin (and Lara for the first few holes) and we teed off once again. For the first few holes, my driving just sucked. I sliced everything and it wasn't until the 7th hole that Dave noticed I was coming back too far outside. Once I fixed that, my drives got much better, though the damage was done on the front 9 (49). It is funny how I can just forget a key part of my swing like that, in the middle of the day. Okay, not funny, kinda lame.

At the turn, the drinking began. We took a cooler with a couple of drinks o' choice for each of us and Clint and Dave both had a nice hit of Tequila. They loosened up nicely for a while, but after another 4 holes or so, things started getting sloppy :) Clint, who was only +6 after the first 13 holes proceeded to go +3, +4 and +6 for the next three holes. Yow! :) I was pretty regular with bogeys, an occasional double and less frequent par, ending with a 96.

Kevin had an interesting day. He kept hitting his putts 10 feet past the hole. It was really strange. At the Member/Guest tournament a few weeks ago, his putting was great but today he just had speed issues. I don't think it even mattered if the putts were downhill or uphill, they would just go and go. By the time we got to 17, it had become the joke of the day so he was sitting over a tap in of about 6 inches and he just slams it about 30 feet. I cracked up. It was another fun round at a nice course.


Saturday, August 14, 2004

Lens Shopping

My birthday is coming up and I am looking at getting a new lens for my Canon camera. I have a few consumer lenses (28-135 IS, 75-300 IS, 50 f4) but after the last Blue Angels shoot, I have come to the conclusion that I need to have at least one good long high end lens and probably one good wide angle one as well.

The problem is that there are sooo many cool options. I played with the Zoom Telephoto EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS at Glazer's today and it was pretty cool. The autofocus is much quieter, smoother and faster than the one on my 75-300 IS. The 100-400 is also sharper and, while we're at it, heavier. It is cool. Now I could also use the EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS which is not nearly as long but it is clearly faster than the 100-400 and it should be sharper as well. They both have advantages and disadvantages.

User reviews of both of these lenses are very positive and either way it will be a clear improvement over what I have now, so perhaps I can't go wrong.

Then there are the wide angle zooms. Super Wide Angle EF 16-35mm f/2.8L vs. Super Wide Angle EF 17-40mm f/4L. I don't have anything that wide and I don't want to get the consumer lenses anymore but there is a pretty big difference in cost between these lenses. Looks like I've got more research to do.

Sunday, August 08, 2004

Blue Angels Day

Each year, the Navy's Blue Angels fly at Seafair in Seattle. This is one of the highpoints of my year, I love to go and take pictures and watch them fly. The speed and the sound are so cool! This year, we went to Hillel and Deb's new house which has a great view of Lake Washington and we were able to watch them from their deck. It was a great vantage point.

The Blue Angels is also when I compare how my camera gear stacks up compared to previous years. It isn't hard to get pictures of them from a distance, flying in formation above the lake. What I keep trying to do is get closer and that requires a long lens and good auto focus. Last year I had my Canon G3 and it was terrible for this. Its auto focus was so slow that by the time it took the picture, the planes were long gone and I had a lot of pictures of empty gray sky.

Then I bought the Canon Digital Rebel and a 75-300 mm zoom lens. This made a lot of difference, the auto focus is much faster than the G3 is, and I also have a manual focus mode. Plus the 300mm lens should get me a lot closer and the 6.3 megapixel should let me crop and still get good detail. The results? This year's pictures are definitely the best so far, but I still had problem with auto focus. Granted, taking pictures of small distant things against a big blue sky has to be a challenge for auto focus but it seems weird that when it is near the farthest zoom already that it tries to go all the way to the opposite extreme, then go back out to infinity. This takes enough time to let the planes get away, so I needed to switch to manual focus for most of today's shooting.

Thanks to Hillel and Deb for hosting this year!!

Below are some of the pictures from today.

UPDATE: Check out the 2005 entry here

I love being able to see the helmets

I like the light on this one.

These guys are fast!

Look out Alex!

Sunday, August 01, 2004

It's August Already?!?!?

Wow, it is hard to believe that my 67 day vacation is over. Tomorrow I return to work after taking June and July off for my sabbatical. What a great time I’ve had! I compiled a few statistics about what I did this summer.

  • 2 golf tournaments
  • 4 trips
  • 4 books finished (8 books started)
  • 5 Islands in Hawaii
  • 8 new golf courses played
  • 43 blog entries
  • 524 holes of golf
  • 2317 photos (totaling over 5.9GB)
  • Thousands of email messages deleted automatically

I have lots of great memories as well.

  • The first trip to Las Vegas with Leslie. We saw lots of shows and had a great time gambling and hanging out. This was the trip where I got to watch parts of the US Open from a blackjack table at New York, New York. Very cool!
  • Spending time with family. I saw a lot more of Leslie, Kate and Zach, but I also got to spend a lot of time with my parents and Leslie’s cousins in Hawaii.
  • The second trip to Vegas with the guys. Lots more blackjack and food with a fun bunch of people
  • Watching the entire first season of Alias as a family in June. The second season is scheduled for August. In fact, catching up on TV shows on DVD is really great, even better than on a DVR.
  • Snuba at Molokini. I hadn’t heard of Snuba before but it is like scuba-lite. Once I got the hang of it, I loved it.
  • The helicopter tour of the big island of Hawaii. In fact we got to see the volcanoes from land, sea and air. And the waterfalls hundreds of feet high were simply amazing.
  • Watching a Navy H-3 helicopter hovering only a few feet above our cruise ship during the rescue.
  • The PIX team beach party. OK, I went back to work for one day, but since it was a beach party at Alki Beach, I figured that was OK...
  • Celebrity encounters on Hawaii. Odd how those stick with you. I saw Kevin Bacon so many times at the Grand Wailea, I started to wonder if I just saw everyone there that many times and he was the only one I recognized enough to remember it.
  • C# lessons for Kate and Zach. Ok, we only did this once, but they were so excited by it. I really need to do this more.
  • Contact lenses. Huh. Who knew I could do that? I actually really like them now.
So what did I learn? Here are a few observations from the past 9 weeks in no particular order.
  • You can win in Las Vegas – but only if you are good at rationalization. I went to Vegas twice in June and won money at blackjack both times. If you count flights, hotels, food and shows, though, it is a very different story.
  • Sometimes, a cloudy day is really nice. After more than 3 weeks in sunny Hawaii and another week of hot sunny weather in Seattle upon our return, it was great to play Friday morning under a cloudy sky. Perhaps this is what makes me the right kind of person to live in Seattle.
  • Hard contact lenses are a cruel joke that optometrists play on people. I tried hard contacts for a week. I can’t believe that anyone buys these things on purpose. Corollary: I actually can put my fingers in my eyes. I never thought I would be able to.
  • Service in Hawaii is generally lacking. Same goes for Fry’s. Perhaps they are all just hanging loose, but I was surprised how many times employees seemed absolutely put out when we visited stores and restaurants in Hawaii. I’ve come to expect that from Fry’s where it took me three trips to get a working motherboard.
  • “Golf is not a Game of Perfect” is not just about golf. This book, by Dr. Bob Rotella was recommended to me by a member of the Harvard golf team. It starts out talking about having long term goals in life and goes on to developing the mental attitude to help you achieve those goals. For sure, there is a lot of talk about how this applies to golf but I saw many parallels to work and family life that I plan on working on in the coming months.
  • I still like writing code :). I spent some time during the first couple of weeks writing a photos screensaver that integrated with Windows XP Media Center Edition. It was fun to get a chance to do that again. It got me thinking about when I was still writing and shipping my own code and how I approached it. For example, I didn’t postpone bugs... I fixed them. I fixed everything I knew about before posting a new version for testing. I could separate prototyping for actual product coding. I think we can do this better, even in our big projects.
  • Even with two months off work, I still only got 1/2 way through my projects list. I never got around to fixing my home mp3 system, or getting my GCT working, or tweaking DragStrip. Oh well, there's always the Christmas break.

So it's back to work tomorrow. I am actually really excited because I love what I do and the people I work with. I'm looking forward to getting back into the swing of things, and trying to bring a fresh perspective. What a great summer!