Thursday, December 28, 2006

My Linguistic Profile

Tony has so many fun ideas for posts.... This one determines my linguistic profile - the derivation of my own particular English. Now given that I grew up in the midwest but I've also lived in Massachusetts and California before Washington state, the results are not that unexpected.

Your Linguistic Profile:
60% General American English
15% Upper Midwestern
15% Yankee
5% Dixie
0% Midwestern

I am Mal

Tony did this web survey to see which character from Serenity (or Firefly) he was the most like and, being a sucker for such things, I took the same survey. I came back as Captain Mal Reynolds though I was very close to being Kaylee - just like Tony was.

You scored as Capt. Mal Reynolds. The Captain. You are the captain of the ship, so the crew are your responsibility. You just want to do the job, get paid and keep flying. Why is that always so hard?

Capt. Mal Reynolds


Kaylee (Kaywinnet Lee) Frye


The Operative


Simon Tam


Shepherd Derrial Book


Zoe Alleyne Washburne


Inara Serra


Jayne Cobb


Hoban 'Wash' Washburne


River Tam


Which Serenity character are you?
created with

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Back from Boarding in Whistler

We spent Christmas in Whistler this year. The snow was absolutely amazing - lots of new powder and when you're learning to snowboard, like I am, that is just perfect. We drove up on Thursday and took a day to just relax on Friday but on Saturday I went for a snowboard lesson.

I signed up for the Super Group lesson where you will have at most 3 people in your group and lucked into a effectively private lesson as there was no one else at the same level I was (I could turn in each direction but have little real practice doing much more than that). The lesson was one of the kookiest lessons I've had. We started with the standard "take a few runs and show me what you've got" bit. The instructor noticed that my board might not be set up right for me so we took a break and he repositioned the bindings and it was much better after that. A few more runs in, we went from Blackcomb to Whistler but rather than boarding into the village (which we did later), we took the bus over. While spent the bus ride practicing the turns by standing in the back and "riding" the bus. As it made hard turns, we were up on our toes or heels trying to get the same feel. Not the same feel, of course, but a good little drill along the way. After lunch, we headed to the top of a hill and did a bit of tai chi to shake off the post-lunch food coma. By the end of the day, I was turning and making it down the Olympic run pretty smoothly.

The snowboarders I know always tell me how crappy green runs are for snowboarders because they tend to the be the snowcat tracks. I thought it was just because they liked going faster but it turns out it is because it is really hard to both keep an edge and keep going straight on those narrow tracks. Particularly with all of the little grooves made by skiers. It is way too easy to catch the bad edge and go down as I learned by doing just that several times. I guess I'd better just get better soon and head for the blue runs instead.

The next day I did more of that in about 8 inches of new powder while Kate and Zach zipped down on skis and Leslie took her snowboard lesson. Man that was fun! As the soreness fades, I'm already itching to get back up there.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

That Was a Hell of a Thing

Last Thursday night we had one heck of a windstorm. Apparently, the winds hit nearly 100 MPH out on the coast though gusts here topped out around 60 MPH. That was more than enough to wreak havoc on the whole Puget Sound area. After a few brownouts early in the evening, we finally lost power around 8PM. Leslie and I went to the living room to look at some of the trees and they were swaying wildly. It wasn't long before we realized how stupid it was to be next to a window with all of this going on so we headed to bed. Around midnight the storm was really going full force and the big window in our bedroom was groaning during the big gusts.

In the morning, our power was still out and we headed out to see the damage. We were insanely lucky in that nothing was damaged at our house. No trees in our yard, no broken windows, just a very dark house. Others were not so lucky. The road towards town was closed when a tree fell across the road, bringing down power lines and a utility pole along with it. In fact, there were huge trees down all over the place making it very hard to get around.

This picture was taken about a mile from our house on one of the main roads with the giant tree being held up only by the power lines. Driving under that was a bit nerve wracking.

The Sahalee neighborhood near our house was particularly hard hit. Sahalee is a gated community but with the power out, they had to open the gates which let riff raff like us drive through. Truth be told, it was the only way we could get home with so many other roads closed due to fallen trees. As we drove through, we saw a house with a tree in its living room - not unusual at this time of season but given that it came in through the window and was over 100 feet tall this was no standard Christmas tree.

As you can imagine, there was debris all over the golf course, though in this shot, you can't see any of the trees down. Just some stumps where they used to be.

We finally got our power back late Sunday morning. Leslie and I were just arriving at the local bagel shop when Zach called to say the power was back on. We did a little "we got power!" dance and others in the store clapped for us. Some people are still without power nearly a week after the storm and may still be in the dark for some time to come. While most things are back to normal, we still don't have cable TV. Apparently the storm knocked out the cable company's receiving gear because our internet connection still works fine but we don't get any TV channels. Oh well - I'll take electricity over cable TV any day of the week.

One interesting side effect of the storm was that a lot of people were using their fireplaces for heat and so the air became very smoky and hard to breathe. It did make for some nice sunrises though.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Blackout Lightsabers at the Ready

There's a big storm coming in tonight. We're expecting wind gusts of up to 65 MPH. When that happens, we always lose power so I checked to make sure our blackout lightsabers are ready.

You'd be amazed at how well these things light up a room when the power is out - and they have a cool sound!

Monday, November 20, 2006

Zune - First Look

I'm a gadget geek though that is a key part of what puts the geek in Duffergeek. I bought a Zune yesterday cuz I'm a sucker for a nice video screen that can do photos and music but also because there may be something to some of the key differences that Microsoft has against Apple's iPod.

Last year, Microsoft made a video parody of their own tendency to put too much crap on their packaging. It actually did a good job of pointing out how much Microsoft often missed the boat on both simple and elegant. Zune is an obvious opportunity to show that Microsoft can be cool, stylish, hip and... well... elegant.

The moment I looked at the box, it was clear this was a bit different from previous Microsoft products. The box is not covered with feature comparisons, disclaimers and marketing speak. It is a rather simple affair with a product logo on the front and a nice picture of the product on the back. The bottom of the box has a little bit of text but it is well done. The cool thing is how the box opens. The top part slides up like a hat revealing an inner box that simply says "Welcome to the social." The front part flips up for access to the Zune itself while the top of the box has an almost secret compartment containing the install disc and simple carrying case. Overall, very sweet packaging and presentation.

Installing the Zune software under Parallels was, in the end, completely unsuccessful but since most of the problems were related to the Windows environment in Parallels to even get to see the device, I have to chalk that all up to shortcomings in Parallels. When I booted into a real Windows XP environment (the Vista version won't be available until around the time Vista is publicly available) everything worked flawlessly.

The Zune feels very nice in my hand. It is somewhat smaller than my video iPod with it's protective case and the plastic of the Zune case feels like it is safer than the video iPod (time will tell if I'm wrong there). The main control looks like a wheel but it is actually a 5-way switch. It works well for navigating through media a lot like the Windows Vista version of Media Center. I was able to set one of my own pictures as the background which is a great way of personalizing the device.

I signed up for my 14 day free trial of the Zune Marketplace giving me "all you can eat" access most of the music available. I also copied many of my MP3 albums into the folder that Zune is watching but with the subscription, it was almost easier to get the music from the service than from my own CDs. It is liberating to be able to browse for artists you like, or that you think you will like, and be able to download all of their music with just one click. Fantastic.

The syncing worked just fine though there are places where Windows Media Player pops through (mostly in the configuration dialogs) and each time it does the client app feels a little less elegant. Too much flexibility adds complexity to the dialogs and it is easy to get overwhelmed. Most people never really need to get to those settings, though, because so much of it just works.

I synced a bunch of photos to the device along with the music and then headed to work. Listening to it in my car, the Zune did not clip as much as the iPod does on my cassette adapter which was nice. The screen is gorgeous and while it is a bit icky to see the album art stretched to fill the top part of the screen, it is nice to have it there and the controls work very well. Once I was at work, I set the Zune to display a random slideshow of photos as it sat below my monitor. This was a great addtion to my workspace (except that after a few hours, it ate all of the battery life -- guess I need to get an extra A/C adapter).

For photos, there is one thing I would like to see which is a mode for viewing photos where they are never rotate in the screen since it is so easy for me to rotate the device itself. It is nice that it defaults to landscape mode to reduce the black bars for those shots but it would be great if it could do the same thing when the picture is in a portrait aspect ratio. This would need to be an option, though, since otherwise slideshows would get weird and at least they got the slideshows right for a first release. Simple but nice.

Tonight I am converting a DVD to WMV format so I can see what watching a movie is like on it. I've done that many times on my iPod video and I think the Zune will be much better given it's nicer screen. I am looking forward to trying sending a song to someone else, I just need to find someone else with a Zune. :)

There are certainly downsides beyond the complexity of the player showing through. First, the Zune Marketplace doesn't have any video content yet which is a shame given how nice this device is for video. The other big shortfall is that the hard drive is only 30GB. Mine is already 2/3 full and I still haven't put any movies on it but that is more of a reason for me to get a second one once Microsoft has an 80 Gig edition than it is a reason for me to not get one yet. Other folks may not have that flexibility...

So in summary - for a first release, the Zune shows a huge amount of promise. I really like the feel of the device, the UI on the device and the subscription model for getting music. It is a particularly good sign that Microsoft went from concept to this release in such a short period of time. Hopefully, their next release will maintain the elegance gains and fill the missing holes and not turn into a gargantuan feature-laden release of complexity. If you're looking to get a taste of the future, go grab a Zune.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Deconstructing Bellevue

Kate and I were having dinner in Bellevue the other night. As we left, there were lots of police cars and fire trucks blocking the street back to the highway so we were detoured another block south. As we neared 108th, the buildings to our left had their fire alarms going off and people were being evacuated but we didn't see any fire. We didn't see anything except a lot of people looking at the buildings with their cell phone cameras held aloft and the news media reporting live.

Kate and I were sitting just 2 blocks away when it happened but we were totally unaware until Friday morning when saw on the news that one of the many giant cranes erected in Bellevue had fallen over, severely damaging three buildings and killing one person as it crashed into his apartment (man... would that suck!). The crane operator was still in it at the time of the fall and he "rode it down" 200 ft before being stuck 30 feet off the ground in the control cab.

More info on the incident here.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Who

In 1980, I happened to set my VCR to record The Kids are Alright, a film by Jeff Stein about The Who covering their history from the earliest mod days through the end of the Keith Moon era. I don't know why I set it to record, I wasn't a big Who fan at the time but in the end, that event changed nearly everything that came after. I watched the movie over and over and over again. Watching Pete Townshend play those black numbered Les Pauls in Baba O'Reilly and Won't Get Fooled Again, seeing John Entwistle walk through his house with guitars and basses covering every inch of wall space, and of course the incredible energy of the music totally hooked me. I had to play guitar and be in a band.

So I bought a guitar (within a few weeks I would have 3 - crappy things from flea markets with brand names like Morse and Silvertone) started taking lessons and started a band with some friends. Over the years, my guitar playing got better, as did the bands. When I was in high school, I was hanging around with the music crowd. In college I helped run a recording studio where we produced and engineered our own songs as well as numerous local bands. One of those recording sessions ended up getting me a job doing recording and eventually running my own business which eventually led me to writing software. Most importantly, I met my wife because I was playing guitar in the dorm freshman year - one of her favorite songs as coincidence would have it - and she had to find out who was playing it. So in a butterfly effect kind of way, it is pretty safe to say that my life would likely be extraordinarily different had I not chosen to record The Kids are Alright.

Last night The Who played at Key Arena in Seattle and Leslie and I went to the show and it was an absolutely amazing experience. First, the show was fantastic - even in their early 60s Pete and Roger still put on a great show and exude all of the same energy that they did back in the 70s save for smashing guitars and knee slides across the stage. The fact that they brought along Pino Palladino on bass (one of my favorite bass players in the world -- simply amazing) and Zak Starkey on drums (Ringo's son who was able to play Keith Moon parts brilliantly) and you have the best group capable of matching the original intensity of the Who from the Kids are Alright era of the band.

They were there not as a "remember us?" band like so many 60s, 70s and 80s era bands today -- they had something to say. They have a new album called Endless Wire (which includes a new mini rock opera) coming out in just a few weeks and much of that album was played during the show. The songs were fresh, yet clearly Who songs and a great part of the show.

It was when they started to play Baba O'Reilly that it all hit me. I was looking at the guy playing the guitar (a Stratocaster this time) and playing the song that completely changed my life and it was happening right there - right down on that stage - right in front of me and I got emotional realizing how connected that moment was to everything that has happened since 1980. Then it smacked me again during Won't Get Fooled Again, Amazing Journey, Sparks and finally -- like a bat upside the head -- in Listening to You.

Listening to you I get the music.
Gazing at you I get the heat.
Following you I climb the mountain.
I get excitement at your feet.

Best concert ever.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Onward to Paris!

After Photokina, I met Leslie, Kate and Zach in Paris for the weekend (how decadent!). This was Kate and Zach's first trip to France (or Europe for that matter) and while it was pretty quick, we all had a great time zipping around Paris for a couple of days.

It was pretty gray for most of the time we were there but on Sunday afternoon, the overcast broke to show blue sky with gorgeous puffy clouds just as we were heading back up towards the palance at Versailles. Perfect for pictures!

The palace at Versailles from the gardens.

The fountains were awesome when the sun finally came out.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Another Trip to Köln

A couple of years ago, I went to Cologne (Köln) Germany for Photokina, the world's largest photography trade show which only happens every 2 years. Guess what - it happened again! The details of the trip are over at Imaging Society but I'm posting some of the pictures here.

In an interesting repeat of the last trip, I apparently still look German. Once again, a number of people would walk up to me in a group of Americans and start speaking German to me. When I got on a plane from Paris to Amsterdam, the flight attendant was greeting each person in their apparent native tongue. She did a pretty good job of detecting French, American, Dutch and Japanese passengers (ok, that last one is easier...) but when I got on she said "Guten Morgen" to me. This one was more remarkable given that we were in France. Nutty!

Anyway, on to the pictures...

The centerpiece of the Cologne skyline is the Cathedral (Dom) which took over 600 years to complete. It is particularly nice in the evening.

The rail bridge heading across the Rhein is nearly as interesting as the Dom itself.

This is the Cologne Dom from the top of a nearby building. The panoramic views were really nice though getting the shot through the glass windows was tough with all of the glare from nearby lights.

Nice sunset over Cologne, again from the top of the building across the river.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

A Silver Lining

Yesterday as I was driving back to my office after a meeting I heard what sounded like a rock hitting the side of my car. When I got to the office I couldn't see any marks and thought maybe I got lucky. Then, when driving to dinner someone pointed out that my right rear tire was nearly flat. Ugh. I got the spare tire on and figured I would take it in to the dealership to get it fixed today.

So I drove into the Lexus service center today and they said it would take an hour or so to get fixed but in the meantime, I can sit in a comfy chair with free soda, fresh cookies, free wifi and the Michigan-Wisconsin came on the big TV. And Michigan just scored a touchdown!

Maybe I should get flat tires more often...

Monday, September 18, 2006

Imaging Society

You may have noticed that I haven't been posting here as much. That's because I've been putting a fair amount of energy into my imaging blog over at Imaging Society. Lots of useful news and information about digital photography and developing your personal workflow.

Check it out!

Countries I've Been To

I found World66 -- a site that creates maps of all of the countries you've been to. I have my work cut out and it begs the question - do you go for volume or try to fill in a region? I mean there are lots of Caribbean countries that would be easy to hit on a cruise but they would barely fill in dots. Now Greenland - there's a big dot! Russia too. I am hoping to fill in that little gray spot in Europe soon when I take a train through Belgium in a few weeks. Perhaps I'll even zip over to Luxembourg as well.

The bigger issue is that I'm still missing 3 contents and one of them - Antarctica - doesn't even appear on the map! Poor lonely Antarctica!

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

I Will Sing... Sing a New Song...

Today is my birthday. It's one of the big ones and the title of this post is a hint. Leslie did a really cool gift thing this year in anticipation of our trip to Vegas. It was a "good karma" birthday where she bought my next year's carbon usage in advance and a gift certificate to Kiva.

The Carbon Counter site is nice, it estimates how much carbon you emit during the year based on your home, how much you drive and how much you travel. Then you can become carbon neutral by donating money to offset that carbon usage.

Kiva is even cooler. It is a micro-loan website where you create an account and loan that money to an entrepreneur in a third world country. It isn't big money but it makes a big difference to people's lives. They need money to expand their little shop, or buy more chickens, or buy a new taxi -- somewhere in the $500 to $1000 range. You loan then what you feel right about, maybe $25, and then when everyone has put in their part and it hits the total, they get the money and pay it back over time. Once the loan is paid back, you get your initial investment back to put into the next business. You don't get interest in the financial sense but I bet some nice karmic interest is even better :)

Thanks Leslie!

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Watch out for flying fish!

Giant Jumping Sturgeon Stir Up Mystery in Florida River

Seriously. I never thought I would need to worry about this. 8 foot fish that jump out of the water and knock you off your boat. Now I'll want to wear a helmet!

But then this happened and now I'm thinking kevlar.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

100% Liquid Free Travel

Today was not your typical day to fly home from San Francisco. I saw the news of the broken up attempt to bomb airplanes from Britain this morning while exercising on the hotel and figured that this would be a very good day to get to the airport very early. It also looked like trying to carry my suitcase on the plane would not work either since I've got to carry my favorite liquids and gels somewhere.

I arrived at the airport about 2 1/2 hours early and at first everthing looked fine. The like at Alaska was short and I checked my bag with no problem. There were makeshift signs everywhere telling travelers that they could not carry liquids, gels or creams either through security or on to the plane. Then I went to get in the security line. It was HUGE! It stretched all the way down the concourse and when it could go no farther, it went outside. It took me about five minutes just to get to the end of the line and over an hour to get through it. Fortunately, everyone was in a pretty accomodating mood.

As I got close to the front, there were some TSA people coordinating the masses into efficient lines and periodically reminding people about the new limitations and showing each other some of the contraband they had collected. One woman mentioned to a coworker that they had to confiscate a big bottle of Chanel No. 5 and some other poor guy's really nice wine that he was just trying to get home. I asked the question that had been going through my mind.

"What about a really runny cheese?"

"Huh?" she asked

"What if I had a really runny cheese? Would that count as a liquid, gel or cream?", in my mind, there is not much of a line between runny cheese and cream -- don'tcha think?

At this point I was wondering how hard Leslie would laugh when I called her from jail for asking such questions.

"Hmmm...", she pondered. "I think you would be ok -- and if you have crackers, I've got some great wine!"


The rest of the trip was reasonably uneventful. We left a bit late but had a good tailwind. The one thing I did notice as I was getting my backpack from the overhead bin was that all of the bins were remarkably empty (and thus I remarked on it). I wonder if this "no carry on liquid" thing ends up lasting a long while if all of those people who try to bring everything on the plane so they can skip baggage claim will start having to check at least one bag and then perhaps the overheads will not be nearly as crowded as they have been in the past.

Sadly, though, it looks like something as simple as taking my own bottle of water on the airplane may be one of those little liberties - like carrying a little pocket knife everywhere - that just went away.

Monday, August 07, 2006

My Next PC

I am down at Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference this week and this morning we went to the keynote. As expected, they announced the MacPro which is the new high end desktop Mac. A few weeks ago, I sold my dual G5 PowerMac so that I would be set to pick one of these puppies up. I sat with baited breath waiting for the announcement and it came fast this morning. Only 8 minutes into the presentation they announced the quad core Xeon machine with gobs of memory and 4 drive bays. Excellent! This will be an awesome MacOS and Vista machine.

I ordered mine this afternoon :)

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Hey... I never noticed that Space Needle before...

I was just looking out my window at home and I could see the Blue Angels doing most of the high passes. I'd never watched them before from that distance and I just noticed something while I was waiting for them to start their show. Keep in mind that we've lived here for 6 years now, but it wasn't until today that I realized that I can see the Space Needle from my office! You need to look really closely and it could be mistaken for a branch on a tree but there it is. Who knew?!?

Blue Angels 2006

After last year's Blue Angels craziness I wasn't sure that I would go and take pictures again this year but then I realized I had a new camera and I didn't have any pictures of the Blue Angels in 5D Raw so Zach and I headed down to Lake Washington on Saturday to get some more shots. Rather than lug the big 600mm lens with us I stuck to my 100-400 and we decided to try to get closer to the water for a different view. In the end, we were a bit far north for the best shots but I got a few fun ones. Nothing captures the roar as they fly overhead so low that it feels like you can reach up and touch. Zach and I both did our little happy dance after each fly-by.

The Blue Angels coming in across the lake in formation.

There is something more ominous about a fighter coming in low over the trees.

I'll put the full web album up shortly.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Falling and flying...

You know that dream where you step off of the last stair and you're falling? I did that today but I wasn't sleeping. I did it five times -- and it was cool!


Playing with Alice: Golf at Nicklaus North

We're up in Whistler for the weekend with my parents and yesterday we played a round of golf at the Nicklaus North golf course. After my last couple of rounds I didn't have high hopes but it ended up being quite nice. First, the altitude helped some with distance, as did the heat and dry fairways but it was also just one of those nice days where the clubs are working well.

Kate joined us as my caddie though her real goal was to name each of my clubs as she had done almost exactly 2 years ago. During putting practice she went a step further and named the three golf balls I was putting with -- Alice, Denzel and Fredrick. To keep them straight she took my sharpie and wrote their initials on the back of the ball, but then she drew faces on the front as well. Hmmm -- now I have an extra challenge cuz who wants to hit a golf ball in the face? I teed Alice up on the first hole so that she was looking straight down the fairway and hit a great drive down the middle of the fairway. On the green I set her up to be looking at the hole and we walked away with par. Maybe we're on to something here... Maybe my golf balls just needed eyes!

From that point on, Alice was looking down the fairway or towards the hole and most of the time and each time I would ask her if she could see it. Certain of the clubs did a great job including Neo - my driver and Buddy - my 5 iron. Buddy in particular was really on top of things and was my go-to club finding the green even from off the fairway. On the 15th hole, Neo had an uncharacteristic slice and Alice bounced towards a rock wall by a bunch of houses and as hard as we looked, Kate and I could not find Alice. Denzel came in for a few holes of relief and we closed out with an 89. 6 pars, 8 fairways 31 putts and only one lost Alice.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006 - Peeking around the world

As we drove around Provence, we kept seeing familiar climates and commenting on how this place looked like Northern California and this other place looked like Michigan, or Utah or someplace else. I started wondering what our latitude was as compared to those places and if that could explain some of this though I didn't think that any of the mapping sites would let me just see a list of places along the same latitude. Sure, I can follow a latitude line in Google Earth or at Mappoint but it is a pain and slow so I did what any geek would do when faced with this problem.

I wrote a website.

While we were still in France, I was playing around with getting GPS coordinates from both MapPoint and Google and while Google was simpler to get started, MapPoint was much more flexible. Once I got home, I took what I learned and created which lets you enter a city and it will show you a list of other cities that are at the same latitude as the one you entered. OK, technically it is close to the same latitude and I'm still tuning that part but the results are pretty interesting. For those of you who think the other way, I also have a way to look for cities that have a longitudinal similarity.

Once you've found your cities, you can look at pictures of them from Flickr or look at maps directly in the website.

Give it a try and let me know what you think.

BTW, Cannes is about the same latitude as Rutland, VT, Boise, ID and Guelph, ON. Much futher north than I would have expected.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

More pictures from France

Well, we're home again but I have a few more pictures to process. On Friday, Monika suggested we visit Roussillon because it should be great for photos and she was absolutely right. Roussillon was known for having one of the biggest ochre deposits in the world and it is the source of much of the color in the nearby villages. The Mistral had started blowing on Thursday which meant that a lot of the haze that had been around would be gone and the reds, yellows and oranges of the ochre deposits would show up great against the blue sky. The first collection is of pictures from that trip. You can see the full album here.

The colors were amazing in the quarries near town

and it was much the same in the town of Roussillon as well

The other collection was from the previous day's visit to Fontaine de Vaucluse which is the start of the Sorgue River - it just pops up out of the side of a mountain in a box canyon. The water is crystal clear and the views are breathtaking.

Fontaine de Vaucluse

It was remarkable how clear the water was in the river

I still a few more pictures to get through including the Pont du Gard and Aix-en-Provence but that is for another day.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Fire near Cavaillon!

What is up with us and fires on our last night of vacation? So we're having a nice glass of wine in the yard and we start to hear large airplanes flying very low. I look to the northeast and there are great plumes of smoke billowing only a couple of miles away. Since then, about 7 airplanes have been attacking what looks like a big brush fire towards Robion from here. Good thing the wind is blowing away from us.

A fireplane making his drop

It's a matter of priorities, I guess

When we were in Cannes, we would return to our room at night, prepare our dinner and that was when the photo editing and blogging would usually take place. Since we've arrived at Cavaillon, though, there have been other things that have taken priority. Like kicking back in the pool and cooling off from the heat or sitting out in the yard and watching the plane tree and cypress trees sway gently in the breeze (or the wind if the Mistral starts kicking up). Heck, I've even been writing some code to play around with GPS locations. The net is, that I haven't had much of a chance to keep up with the blogging or the posting of pictures.

Now posting pictures should be easy. Copy them off of the camera, weed out the blurry or incredibly boring ones figure out the few that you want to post and and upload them. But not me. I've been spending some time playing around with a bunch of different RAW photo workflow applications during the trip and that has slowed things down as I've tried to figure out how each one works and how to best use it. I've been using Capture One for Windows for several months now so that one was out. For this trip, I've been working with Aperture, Lightroom beta 3, iView Media Pro v 3.1 (which became a Microsoft product while we were here).

I've been using a MacBook Pro for my editing, going back and forth between Windows and MacOS. I really like this laptop though it does have the downsides of getting extraordinarily hot and, when plugged in, of having an electrical current flowing through the metal case since the AC adapter is not grounded. It has the advantage of being one of the fastest Macs out today, though, and quite a nice PC to boot (burns notwithstanding).

So here are my thoughts on each of these applications and what I've liked and disliked about each.

Apple Aperture

Aperture is certainly the best looking application of the three. It is full of convenient tools like the loupe, full screen mode, the "heads up" editing pane. I particularly like the organization aspects, being able to rate pictures and do smart lists based on these properties. The thumbnail views are very nice and have some cool animations which feel natural but make it feel polished. It is really nice to be able to easily switch between "modes" like project management vs editing vs applying ratings and keywords.

Aperture bases all of its edits on versions which means that for any original photo, you can have multiple versions of it and edit each one separately. I like this concept though I haven't used it much since I'm really just trying to clean up the pictures some. The editing tools are nice, though pretty basic still. It doesn't have the color fixing options that Lightroom has and it has a tendency to over do it and ending up with over-saturated photos. One of the things that is frustrating moving between tools is that each tool has its own sensitivity to the controls - sometimes moving a slider just a little bit will make a huge change and sometimes they really use the full gamut of the slider and keep the result pretty useful. The straighten tool in Aperture is a great example of this. The slightest move of the mouse rotates the image a huge amount and, because it is also a very slow operation, I almost always go way too far. Doing the fine adjustments needed to straighten a picture is very frustrating.

There were a bunch of places where Aperture really fell down, though. First, it requires that each of my RAW photos is sucked into their proprietary hidden folder hierarchy which pretty much locks out any multi-tool workflow (with the exception of supporting Photoshop). I understand why they do this but I hate it and it will keep me from using Aperture for the long term. These are my pictures and I don't want them locked away from me. It prevents me, for example, from using another application to straighten an image while maintaining Aperture for the rest of the workflow.

While I'm sure it must be there somewhere, I can't find an easy way to compare before/after versions of edits in a photo. I suppose I can create a new version before making a change and then compare those but then I'm responsible for cleaning up each of those versions and that's pretty lame. Lightroom does this much better. I also can't figure out how the Spot and Patch tool works. Maybe it is useful, but it isn't intuitive.

Aperture has a publish to web gallery feature which is surprisingly bad. The default templates are very boring and while the publish to .mac works nicely, I can't see really publishing my pictures with any of their templates. This should be easy for them to fix but I was surprised that a company that puts so much emphasis on design would blow this one.

The bottom line - Aperture shows a lot of promise but it feels like Apple put more emphasis on looking cool and adding innovative though not as useful features like auto stacks and not enough into a great touchup toolset.

Adobe Lightroom Beta 3

Maybe it is unfair to compare a beta 3 of a product with a version 1.1 but I figure both are the second public release of the product and Adobe has such a head start in technology and expertise, it should be a fair comparison. My first ding against Adobe is that there is no Windows version yet, though I'm sure they'll correct that soon. Beta 3 feels like a halfway point between the Elements applications and Photoshop. It's modal, big text main window feels very consumer-y and is much less elegant looking than Aperture. It is kind of strange that when I am in Library mode, it keeps the filmstrip pane open that I used in edit mode so now I have 2 listviews of my photos open concurrently and as I choose a picture in one, the other one jumps to select the same item. The fact that the filmstrip view animates and the thumbnail view jumps shows some lack of polish that is not unexpected in a beta but icky nonetheless. Aperture's modes work much more nicely.

One big plus for Lightroom is that it gives me the option to keep my RAW files in their original location. Yay! It does have the option to copy them to a secret store but it seems to work just as fine when they are where I want them to be which is great. On the downside, it doesn't do a very good job of dealing with pictures getting deleted by a different application. It does recognize that the picture is gone, but it makes me go through, select each one, and delete it from the database.

Lightroom's best feature is, not surprisingly, in the editing mode (or develop as they call it). The toolset is very nice, though incomplete and I particularly like the flexibility in adjusting color in the photos. The tone curve, split toning and HSL color tuning are quite nice though it can get very confusing in figuring out how they interact with one another. I really appreciate the flexibility these tools provide though they require a Photoshop mindset to really get the most from them -- and I don't have that yet so it is a bit of a stretch.

The biggest problem, though, is that it is SLOW! Painfully slow. Like I'm waiting five to fifteen seconds for things to happen or for pictures to load and these delays happen all the time. I'll make a change of some sort and when it tries to apply it, I'll need to wait several seconds. Each little tweak is tracked separately in the undo chain so if I am just playing around with exposure, for example, and want to get rid of any changes I may need to hit undo 6 times. At least it is very clear what is being undone but it would be nice for some of those changes to get collapsed.

Their web templates are pretty nice, giving options that include a flash gallery though, again, there need to be more options. Hopefully those will come in the final version.

I'm going to keep playing with Lightroom some more, but it feels like it is going to need to have a bunch of books written about it before users will be able to take full advantage of the editing features.

iView Media Pro 3.1

iView Media Pro is not an editor. Sure, it has some editing features but I don't expect it to be an editor so I didn't even try to use them. It is a digital asset management application, though, and it does a very good job at it. It has been the first step in my work flow where I first triage the pictures that are coming in and delete the clearly bad ones. It has also been my solution for posting web galleries since I really liked one of the templates they have. It is fast at indexing the photos and does an OK job at letting me step through them. My biggest complaint is that when I zoom landscape pictures to take the full screen, it uses that same zoom percentage to apply to portrait pictures so they are cropped on the top and bottom. If I set it up so the portraits are fully visible then the landscape pictures take up a small space in the middle of the window leaving lots of wasted screen space around them. Ugh! Lightroom does this very nicely, not only showing me as much of a picture as possible, but also zooming to 100% when I click in the picture (and returning to normal when I click again).

As an organizer, though, it is fast and it is easy to have different sets of photos to work with since it uses a document model for each collection. I would like it better if there was better support for organization by hierarchical tags though I must admit that I haven't spent as much time tagging photos with anything more than labels and ratings.

Well I could go on and on with more data and to be completely fair to all of the applications I probably should. But now I need to go next door and have a drink and watch the trees sway in the breeze and that sounds much more fun. I'll post more pictures of our adventures soon.

Monday, June 26, 2006

From the Riviera to Cavaillon

It has been a couple of very busy (yet very relaxing) days since my last post. We left Cannes on Saturday, rented a car and drove to Cavaillon where we are staying for the second half of our trip. The farmhouse we're staying in is fantastic -- it has a pool, views of the mountains and a wonderful hostess and is in a great location to go to any number of great sites during the day.

Leslie did a great write-up of today's events so I won't repeat it here but I will add that we went to a farmer's market in Coustellet and picked up more yummy cheese and wine. Man it is easy to get good, inexpensive wine here!


We did pop from lavender field to lavender field today, both at the Abbaye de Sénanque and at the Lavender Museum. I particularly liked the rogue poppies.

It isn't even peak lavender season yet!

Gordes is quite remarkable (besides the waitress that Leslie mentioned). The toughest part of visiting is finding a place to park along the tight winding roads up to the village to go get pictures. I had to hang out over the edge of a very high cliff to get this shot.

Gordes is very impressive!

The full album of the last few days pictures is available here.

Tomorrow we should he heading to Aix-en-Provence. Home of the University of Michigan year abroad program. Go Blue!

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Monaco and Monte Carlo

One of the places I was really excited to see on our trip was Monaco. Part Las Vegas, part Miami Beach and part something entirely different. The entire principality is only a couple of miles long so once we were there, it was really easy to get around. Built on the steep hills around a bay, the tough part is all of the climbing but they have built public escalators into most of the hills so even that part is easy.

Monaco is absolutely gorgeous. The architecture, the views, the immense yachts and the museums are all outstanding. Space is really at a premium here so you find interesting things like an aquatic stadium right between the marina and the International Horse Jumping championship which is going on this week. It makes for some interesting juxtapositions. Leslie and I were amazed by the yachts we saw in Cannes but the ones in Monaco blow them away. It left me wondering why I don't have a yacht with a helicopter on it.

My new boat

We went to two museums, the Oceanographic Museum and Aquarium (where Jacques Cousteau was the director for many years) and the National Museum both had lots to see though I think my favorite part was the aquarium. It is the first aquarium I've been at that not only allowed photography but also did a great job of lighting the different tanks so that you could get pretty good results. The Canon 5D's low noise at 1600 ISO helped out some too :)

The Oceanographic Museum and Aquarium

There is a Japanese Garden right near the National Museum which should not be missed. It is very nicely done and really neat with the views of the mediterranean through some of the trees and the hills of Monaco on the other side.

The Casino at Monte Carlo

Much of Monaco's income comes from the casinos which, given my experience there, is easy to understand. Our last stop of the day was at the main casino in Monte Carlo (which is more of a neighborhood than a city). It is a beautiful building overlooking the waterfront but nobody really looks out the windows. Compared with the Las Vegas casinos I'm used to, it was subdued and tiny. There were only 2 blackjack tables open, one with a 25 Euros minimum and the other with 100. I sat down with 95 Euros and lost the first three hands with 16, 17, 16. I tried a bit of roulette but lost the rest there (I've never liked that game) Well, that was that. Leslie had slightly better luck at video blackjack, losing only 10 Euros. It wasn't that we were losing, though, it was that there was no excitement in the whole place. While I was watching roulette, people were winning a bunch of money but you wouldn't know it from their laissez-faire attitude. OK chalk one up for Vegas but with all of the other unique advantages of Monaco, it is high on my list of places to return to.

You can check out the full photo album here.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

A quick trip to the islands

Just across from Cannes are two islands known as the Iles de Lérins. The first is Ile St-Honorat named for a monk who founded a monastery on the island and the second is Ile Ste-Marguerite, named for his sister. There are quick water shuttles to each of these islands but since we didn't want to rush in trying to get both islands in, we just went to Ile Ste-Marguerite.

The boat ride across offered a number of great views of Cannes and the island as well as all of the boats out and about (including, apparently, the USS Bulkeley which was anchored offshore). There seem to be a lot of sailing schools operating in Cannes because we saw several groups of sailboats toodling around between the mainland and the islands in loose formations.

Now the big attraction on Ile-Ste Marguerite is the fort that dominates the north side of the island and served as a prison for many years whose most famous prisoner was the man in the iron mask but since you can read the history anywhere (er, anywhere) and this is, after all, France I'm just going to talk about lunch. We hiked around the fort to find a little restaurant called La Guerite which, we had been told, had great bouillabaisse. We sat down at a nice shady table and the waiter came up to take our order. It went something like this.

Us: We would like the bouillabaisse for two please

Waiter: No. <very fast French happened> You will like the bourride. (he provided no web link)

Us: Um. Ok sounds great.

He was right. It was not quite the same as bouillabaisse in that it had no shellfish and instead had some big hunks of potatoes in it but it was really tasty and came with some little bread crisps, spicy aioli, and some shredded cheese. Accompanied by a local rosé wine and we were in Provençal heaven.

La Guerite

After lunch, we toured the fort which in addition the the prison cells also included some pretty cool Roman ruins and an interesting display on all of the shipwrecks around the island including the contents of one ancient greek ship that sank nearby.

The museum at Fort Ste-Marguerite

While we waited for the boat back to Cannes, a man was throwing a soccer ball into the water for his German Shepherd to swim after and retrieve. On the far dock was a group of about 30 young French kids who were cheering on the dog. Sometimes both the man and the dog would jump into the water and swim for the ball and the kids started singing "Allez le chien! Allez le chien!" It was very cute and the dog pretty much always won :)

You can check out pictures of the trip here and if you're wondering about the last 3, once we got back to Cannes we took a walk around the pier. The Windows Live flag was flying above one of the giant sailboats docked at the harbor and the sand castle is something we've been watching progress over the past few days. Perhaps I'll get a few more pictures of it before we leave.

Let's Talk Cheese

A wise cartoon mouse once said:

Cheese! I just love cheese. Really I do.

Well I totally agree and France is one of the best place in the world for a cheese lover, such as myself, to partake. As we walked to our temporary home in Cannes on Sunday we walked by a Fromagier's shop and marked that location for a return trip once they opened. Did you know that many fromagier's are closed on Monday? I didn't. So it wasn't until today that we actually got to stop in and negotiate the vending of some cheesy comestibles.

As we approached the shop, the first thing we noticed was the smell which was incredible. Strong and cheesy (some may have described me that way, though never that I know of in reference to smell). We picked out three cheeses and high-tailed it back to our mouse house after one quick stop at the bread store to get some freshly baked bread. Our first was Les Capitelles Banon, a goat cheese from haute Provence wrapped in chestnut leaves. The second was Ceneri et Fils St. Marcellin from here in Cannes and the last one was a Brie from Mieux. At first, I thought I had had lots of brie so why do that again but this looked much fresher from the typical refrigerated type we get back home so we gave it a try.

OMG this is some good cheese! I have never tasted such subtlety in cheese before and I suspect it is related to how cheese is made and sold in the states. First, by law, all cheese must be made from pasturized milk which destroys undesirable microorganisms but it also destroys a lot of desirable ones and we are left with a much less interesting cheese. The second problem is that cheese is then wrapped in plastic and then refrigerated - both of which kill the cheese so once again we lose out on so many of the things that make cheese so interesting (and tasty!)

The Banon and Marcellin are just wonderful. We had actually been eating some Marcellin from a local grocery store while we waited for the fromagerie to open and it was great. Not much different this time given it was the same local brand. Creamy and strong but far from overpowering. I really want to talk about the brie though. This was like no brie I have ever tasted. So light and creamy and it had a nutty taste as well but the flavor that finally popped through was truffle. It was fantastic. If you think you like brie now, you should just get on a plane and come here and try some. It is worth the 27 hour flight we took. Since we can't bring cheese back into the states, that is about the only option we have but if you'd like, I'll wait and make sure we have some ready for you :)

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

A Day in Grasse

Grasse, France is the perfume capital of the world and it is only about 15 kilometers from Cannes so today's day trip was to Grasse. Leslie is very into the process behind perfume and scents, largely from her interest in aromatherapy and I had read a bit about how they get the oils from the flowers so it promised to be an educational (and scentsational -- sorry) day.

We took a bus from the station in Cannes and stopped at Les Quatre Chemins for the Fragonard factory tour. There we saw the table where "the nose" works. He (and it's always a man) has a gift for scents and can distinguish between hundreds of different smells and figure out how to best mix them to come up with new fragrance that fit a theme. It seems to be kind of like creating music in that each scent is a different note and he composes with these notes. He even works at a table with hundreds of little bottles on it that looks like an organ. We saw where they made soap, and where they were filling tiny bottles with perfume and ultimately ended up at the factory store which had quite the collection of little gold bottles.

The scent organ

Now for a bit about transportation in Provence. This isn't Switzerland and the busses do not run on time. Our first bus was supposed to leave at 10 and it didn't leave until about 10:15 and given that they are supposed to go every 30 minutes, being off by 15 minutes from the start means that a bus could come at any time and you have no way of predicting when it will come. So as we left the factory and headed for the center of Grasse for other factories we had no idea whether it would take 2 minutes or 30 minutes for the bus to come. The woman at the factory told us that it was only 3 km to town, though, so we figured we would walk. It may have been 3 km to Grasse but it was also all uphill - way uphill - so it felt more like 6 km. About 4 busses passed us on the way so we figured we were on the right path and it seemed like it was always just around the next bend but that bend always led to another bend. Unfortunately, Grasse keeps all of their restaurants in the middle of town so there was no place to stop for a drink or for lunch until we got there so we kept trudging up the hill until we finally arrived at the center of town.

We finally arrived, exhausted and dripping and at that point, I was a way too tired to care much about perfumes but a good lunch at a cafe in the town square helped a lot and we were off to the second Fragonard factory/museum tour which was pretty similar to the first one. I did see an interesting book from the 19th century which talked about soap. It said that given roughly equal populations, you could tell which of two nations was more civilized by the amount of soap they consumed. An interesting perspective.

After that museum, we just walked around Grasse which, at its center is full of small winding streets and lots of little shops and restaurants. The colors were wonderful - bright and mediterranean blues, reds, oranges and yellows offsetting the unpainted grays. Great stuff! The tight and winding alleys full of character and scented with the perfumed bottles and soaps inside.

Very cool!

You can see the web album of some of my pictures here.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Long day of travelling

After a mere 27 hours of traveling, we've made it to our flat in Cannes. It is a great location sitting just a couple of blocks from La Croisette and very close to the market. We're exhausted but really glad to be here.

Over the last few weeks, I read A Year in Provence and the most important thing I got from it is that time runs at a different speed here in Provence so when our ride from the airport to our flat showed up an hour late, I wasn't surprised. It was actually kind of funny - he did a good job of letting us know that he was on his way and that he would be here in a few minutes and if you doubled or tripled each of his time estimates, he was pretty accurate. When we finally got into the room, we slept for a bit.

Once we got up - and I set up a little wireless network - we headed off to dinner at Maison du Porto which was right on La Croisette. Reasonably priced and quite tasty, Leslie tried the moules and I went for some lamb. After a day of airplane and airport food, this was delicious though I suspect we will do better over the next week or two. During dinner, the world cup was on the television so we got to watch France score their first goal against South Korea and the place went crazy.

After dinner, we went for a walk along the Jetée A. Edouard and saw some amazing yachts - I mean huge and beautiful. All of them had dingys around the size of Skippy's boat. I mean - whoa! I thought about just jumping aboard one of them to say hi and maybe we would become fast friends with the owners and then we could hang out on their yacht/destroyer later in the week but in the end, we kept walking. Perhaps tomorrow - after we get some sleep.

Friday, June 09, 2006

A Yardstick - Hard Drives Cost Per Megabyte

This is one of the yardsticks I use to see how prices are dropping or capability is increasing in computer hardware.

In 1986, I bought a 30 Meg hard drive for my Mac SE and it cost me $700. That comes to $23.33 per megabyte.

Today I can go buy a 500 Gig hard drive for $300. $0.00059 per megabyte. A bit over 1/17th of a cent per megabyte.

20 years ago, hard drives were 39,548 times more expensive.

Cool :)


P.S. Yes, I'm sure I could find the 500 Gig drive cheaper, but this will do for the yardstick.

An Inconvenient Truth

Leslie and I went to see An Inconvenient Truth tonight. It is a fascinating movie and you should all go see it. We can argue about whether you believe it or not later but first just go see it.

Al Gore has been giving this slideshow talk for years and he has really honed his message. In the film he makes his case that global warming is a fact, it is accelerating and it will have disasterous effects if not dealt with immediately. Personally, I think this movie is also a love story about Mr Gore and his PowerBook. He doesn't go anywhere without that computer and that bit was quite touching -- but the global warming bit is the main part.

I think there were two things that really struck me about this film. The first is the obvious one and that is the impact that global warming will have on us. Not our great-grandchildren but our immediate families. In fact, it already is impacting us. My parents live in Florida and they travel during the summer to get away from Hurricane Central. I wanted to go skiing last year in Whistler, but they didn't have enough snow. There are plenty more consequences coming which are much more dramatic, but it is real.

The second thing that struck me was what this movie says about discourse in America. Global warming is a complicated issue. There is a lot of data that needs to be presented for it to go from "yeah, it'll be a bit hotter this summer" to "San Jose, among other places, will be under water permanently if this continues." Over the 95 minutes of this film, Al Gore makes his case. He builds it carefully and leads the viewer down the path explaining each part carefully and never in the boring monotone that characterized him in the 2000 election. This is one of those issues that takes 95 minutes or more to really understand. There are lots of other issues like that as well -- the complexity of labor relations, what security really means in software, cloning but the sad thing is that we never make time for this type of discourse anymore. It's strange, too, because it is the same technology that makes it so easy for a presentation like this to be made that also oversaturates us with so much information that we feel the need to get everything cut down to a 10 second sound bite.

This may have been part of the downfall of Gore in 2000. He knew too much and wanted to give people real answers to their questions but we don't want real answers anymore we want convenient answers that fit in with what we already know. Pieces that fit neatly into our puzzle of knowledge. This person / country / issue / policy / company / restaurant is good - or bad. We thin slice everything to get to a conclusion and then move on to the next one. The problem is that these issues can't just be thin sliced. They need to be fully consumed before you can really grok it and that takes time and energy.

So here's my recommendation for this weekend. Take just 95 minutes and go see An Inconvenient Truth. Drink it in and decide to do something about it or dismiss it and do nothing. That part is up to you but just give Al Gore and his PowerBook the chance to persuade you.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Retreat to Whidbey

This weekend, I drove up to Whidbey Island for a personal retreat. Leslie suggested this as it has helped her on numerous occasions to get away and focus inward. She’s spent a couple of weeks at Breitenbush Hot Springs in Oregon but since they were full this weekend (as were all of the other ones I've tried) I instead booked a room at the Boatyard Inn in Langley on Whidbey Island. The weekend is still going strong since I don't head back home until tomorrow but I figured I would share a few thoughts.

First, I made a pact to not do many of the things I usually do to pass a weekend. No Warcraft, no TV, no checking work email, no talking to anyone I already know and no outstanding projects from home (in other words, I can't move my mailserver to a different provider or update my websites).

Instead, I read a lot, went for walks around the town and on the beach and spent a lot of time staring out at the water and the Cascades, which are just outside of my room (the water is the close one).

I read Blink from cover to cover. It is really a fascinating book about that instant when you see something or someone and you make unconscious decisions about it which informs your conscious decision making but we have no idea how. Really it is about how we make decisions and I would recommend it for anyone who does.

As I've been driving around I've been listening to The Gnostic Gospels which covers Gnosticism, an early form of Christianity which mixed other religious traditions of the time into the Christian teaching and is described in a set of "heretical texts" discovered in Egypt last century. I have to admit that I am lost from time to time in the detailed dissection of the New Testament and the secret books of the apostles. I am also only a third of the way through the book but it is interesting to read how similar the politics of the day and their influence on the church sound so familiar to modern discussions of the same - particular with the recent discovery of the book of Judas.

Now I am reading Comfortable with Uncertainty by Pema Chodron which contains 108 short chapters each covering Buddhist teachings from her other books. A quick read though each chapter needs to be savored to get the most from it. One chapter is on the proper way to mediate so I figured I would try it out. At first I tried sitting in my chair but that didn't seem right so I opened the window facing Puget Sound and sat on a pillow as I followed the steps in the book. Sitting just so, breathing slowly and labeling stray thoughts as thinking. It is insanely difficult to sit there and not think of things or do things. Whenever a stray thought comes into your mind, you are supposed to acknowledge it as "thinking" then send it on it's way and get back to meditating. For me it went something like this.

Sitting there...
Itch on my arm - scratched it - thought about having just scratched it - thinking...
Ooh bird! - thinking...
My butt hurts, I'll get a pillow - got a pillow - thought about pillow - thinking...
Those mountains are cool! - thinking...
I should raise the blinds so I can see better - raised blinds - thought about it - thinking....
Another bird! I think it's the same bird - thinking...
<time passes>
I don't think I was just thinking about anything - oh crap - thinking...
My back is a little sore. I wonder if you can meditate when lying on your side - lie on my side - I bet this is frowned upon - thinking...

I woke up 20 minutes later when my Mom called. I think I need to work on this some more. The book is really good though. I definitely recommend it to anyone who wants a different way to think about life and how we try to find happiness in it.

Before I wandered up to town to get dinner, I played around with Garage Band for a bit and wrote a song. I kind of go back and forth as to whether arranging loops in an application like Garage Band or Acid counts as writing music but part of my discovery this weekend is that it absolutely does count. I'm sure that many classical music aficionados thought that Jazz or Rock songs didn't count as writing music and many Rockers from the 60s and 70s doubted that Hip Hop or Electronica were writing music but they all are and this is just a new instrument that still requires the creative process to turn the raw sounds into a musical expression so bring it on!

So right now, I'm sitting on my little back deck as the sun has gone down with my laptop, listening to the water lapping against the shore and writing this up to capture some of the events of the weekend. Tomorrow I'll catch the ferry back down to the mainland and drive to work before I go home and I'm hoping that all of the frenetic activity at work will seem a little more balanced and that I will be a little more mindful of how it all fits into the bigger picture.

Thanks, Leslie, for suggesting I do this!

Monday, May 08, 2006

The Grand Illusion

For some reason, this Styx song is really resonating with me today. Zachary put it on a playlist on my iPod over the weekend (ok technically he put The Grand Finale on it, but it is mostly a reprise of the same song) and it has been sticking with me.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Wednesday - Blog night

Finally catching up on my blog posts. I'm sitting outside of Tully's because they close at 8pm. I have no idea how people in the Southgate area will stay awake to see the Idol results but at least the WiFi works outside.

Reaching a new low (high?) in geekiness, I created a new blog tonight that aspires to chronicle my future adventures in World of Warcraft. If you are interested, feel free to visit Adventures in Warcraft -- but don't you have anything better to do?

Street Signs:

This is the second installment in a series on street signs I have seen. This was in the village of Alken in Germany and seemed a bit odd for the sign but whatever it was trying to say was definitely reinforced by the car behind it. Let's try to figure out what this one means.

1) Don't levitate cars while children are playing
2) No suburbs allowed
3) Do not drop cars on children

Hmmm... Now if the ball was black and not white, perhaps one could be led to believe that black holes sucking in people, cars and homes were forbidden (excuse me... verboten) but the color is clearly white so that can't be it.

I guess we can come to the less interesting conclusion that it means that cars should not drive here because there are children playing. Looking at the nearby car, though, I hope the children will have a speedy recovery.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Chicago and the 5D

Last week we took a quick weekend trip to Chicago to meet up with Leslie's family. I had been to Chicago once before, for the NAMM show back in 1988. It had been a while. In addition to being a lot of fun to see Leslie's family and getting to know our new nieces, this was a great chance to try out my new Canon 5D camera. Fun!

I got the 5D the weekend before for Leslie's graduation. OK, that's a lame excuse for buying a camera ("Congratulations honey! Look what I got me!") but with the trip to France coming up this summer, I really wanted a camera where a wide lens is a wide lens and the screen on the back of the camera is absolutely fantastic! I can tell you this... 12.8 megapixels is right on the edge of too much. In some of these shots from Chicago, I could zoom in to 100% to see lots of great detail but when I see the whole picture, that detail is lost. When I view them on my screen or in a digital picture frame that detail does me no good. Great to know that I can crop and still get really good results and that I can make great big prints, though.

Looking north along Lake Shore Drive in Chicago from the top of the Hancock building. The weather was wonderful with big puffy white clouds and a gorgeous blue sky.

Chicago's waterfront from the top of the Hancock tower

The Chicago Water Tower and the Hancock building. Old meets New meets the sky.

Ah the martini... and the grandeur of the 50mm 1.4 lens on the 5D. The depth of field is small but it does a great job of low light photography like in restaurants and on the 5D it is a real 50mm lens, not an 80mm which is way too long for food shots.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Shredding some hills

OK, we weren't shredding the hills, but Leslie, Zach and I all took a snowboarding lesson today at Whistler and it was awesome. I've been trying to master skiing up there for the past year or so - not enough to ever get any good but enough to get a bit better - but I wanted to give boarding a try. We had a great time.

The word is that skiing is easy to start but takes a lot of practice to really master. Boarding, on the other hand, has a steep learning curve but once you master the basics, you've pretty much know it all. After one lesson, I'm in no position to really say if that is true but I did get a sense that there are fewer things to keep track of on a board than on skis. Next time we go up, I'm going to give boarding another try and see if I can comfortably get to the blue runs more quickly on a board than on skis.

Seeing as it is April - it might be a while before I figure that out for sure.

One thing is sure though - boarding gear is both cooler to look at and immensely more comfortable than skiing gear. That alone is a good reason to stick with it.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Skagit Valley Tulip Festival

On Thursday, our team went up to the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival to take some pictures of flowers (good place for that... eh?). It's a pretty long ride up but it was well worth it. I was expecting thousands of acres of tulips spread out across the valley though I was suprised by how few rainbow fields we saw but we definitely did see a great variety of tulips as well as a number of other types of flowers.

On Friday, we stopped by again on the way up to Whistler and caught one more location which did have a much better selection of flower fields though a poorer display garden. The sky wasn't as clear as I would have liked but the flowers are definitely striking.

Rogue Daffodil

As we were driving past a field, our guide mentioned that the few flowers that were scattered around it were rogue daffodils. When they cleaned up the field after the previous years batch of daffodils, they missed a few bulbs and sometimes those grew into daffodils. This one was another rogue. I keep picturing World of Warcraft rogue daffodils sneaking up behind some tulip and backstabbing it....

Tulips as abstract art - Thanks LensBaby!

Firebloom. OK, this isn't really firebloom but it is what I imagine it looking like. I bet this is the only discussion of tulips on the internet with so many links to thottbot...

Anyway, more pictures of flowers, rogue and otherwise, at

Friday, March 31, 2006

Street Signs: No Pee Zone

I've been meaning to do a series like this for a long time...

I think the iconography in signs is fascinating. As I travel, I run into signs that try to communicate something in iconic form -- something that will make sense to everyone regardless of the language you speak. Sometimes they are quite successful, other times they can be interpreted in a number of interesting ways. As a new feature on Duffergeek, I will be posting some of the pictures I run across and, when appropriate, trying to decipher their intention.

This time, it is pretty obvious.

Street Signs: No Pee Zone

I was in Amsterdam a couple of years ago and saw this sign. I only saw one in the entire city but it seemed to work because I had to walk a whole block away to find a guy actually peeing on the wall.

So I'm pretty sure this sign means you're not supposed to pee here but it could have some other meanings...
1) Don't drop stones
2) Stand up straight when peeing (no swayback urination)
3) No peeing on ants

Other thoughts on what this could mean?

On the plane back from Tokyo

I'm returning from Tokyo this morning. It's a long flight on what ends up being a 41 hour day. As we near North America the sun starts to come up for the second time today and I'm thinking "Here comes Friday again..."

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Golf at the Plateau

It's been a long time since I last actually posted about a round of golf. Nutty given that the duffer part is about golf but here I go again. Paul and I played a round at the Plateau Club today and just to mix it up we played from the white tees. At nearly 900 yards shorter than the golds where we usually play it was a pretty big change and, for me, it actaully made the Plat fun again.

It wasn't about trying to hit heroic shot after heroic shot at this insanely unforgiving course. It was about playing with all of the clubs in the bag and just focusing on excuting makeable shots. Oh sure, I had some crappy ones. Like on 11 - a long par 5 - where hitting my driver went through the main part of the fairway and into the junk that I've never contemplated hitting before. Oops - next time I wouldn't start with that. Or just thinning the approach shot into the crap on 9. But each shot was within my capabilities even with only playing once in the past 5 months and I was able to come away with an 86. Not my greatest score there, and less impressive that it was from the whites, but it was actually a lot of fun to play. The high point was hitting the greens on all four of the par 3 holes and walking away with four pars.

I'm doubt I'll play from the white tees each time I play there but we should for a while, and it will certainly make the game much more fun. Heh - golf... fun... how likely is that??

Sunday, March 05, 2006

It Must be Springtime

Cuz I'm eating a Thin Mint.

Ben Folds - Still Rockin' the Suburbs

Hillel and I saw Ben Folds tonight at the Paramount in Seattle. I've probably seen Ben Folds (including Ben Folds Five) about 8 or 9 times and tonight's show was one of the best. He was with a band again and while the solo piano thing is cool, his songs are just better with bass and drums.

Tonight was opening night of his new tour and his new band was really good. The vocals in particular were amazingly tight. While the bass didn't have the "blur my vision on Narcolepsy" effect like in the final BFF show we saw, it was still really good and the bass player looks something like Cal from the movie the 40-Year-Old Virgin.

Ben Folds Five songs, solo songs, newer songs, audience sing-along, oh and a rousing rendition of Dr Dre's B*****s Ain't S**t - or at least that's what iTunes Music Store calls the song.

Great show!

Thursday, March 02, 2006

C'est la même meme

Well, I got tagged by Skippy to provide a meme post -- an 8x4 list of all about me :)

Four Jobs I’ve Had in My Life:
1. Software Engineer
2. Recording Engineer
3. Guitar Player
4. Roofer
then there was that time I painted air conditioners for the summer...

Four Movies I Could (and I do) Watch Over and Over:
1. Star Wars
2. Twister - Really? Yep...
3. The Philadephia Story
4. Close Encounters of the Third Kind - Zey belong here, more zan we

Four Places I’ve Lived:
1. Dayton, OH
2. Ann Arbor, MI
3. Concord, MA
4. Sammamish, WA
I left out that whole California thing...

Four TV Shows I Love to Watch:
1. 24 - just started watching this season
2. The West Wing - Yeah, it has gone downhill but I still love the dialog when it is sharp
3. The Daily Show / The Colbert Report - OK, it's two shows, but I watch them as one
4. My Name Is Earl

Four Places I Have Been on Vacation:
1. Cape Cod, MA - for my honeymoon <3
2. Rome, Italy
3. Cairo, Egypt
4. Disney Theme Parks - more times than I can remember

Four Websites I Visit Daily:
1. Excite - still my home page. How 90s!
2. Thottbot - when I'm WoW'ing
3. - keeping up with the family
4. MSN - my homepage for machines that I haven't changed to excite.
Geez. I need to read more blogs.

Four of My Favorite Foods:
1. Cheese - Oh I just love cheese. Really I do.
2. Curry - A good Massaman, or something with Major Grey's Chutney
3. Sushi - The Lauren roll at Nishino in particular but others are great as well
4. Leslie's Thai peanut noodles. - YUM!

Four Places I Would Rather Be Right Now:
1. Sitting on the beach in Cape Cod
2. Golfing at Pebble Beach
3. Taking pictures in Europe
4. Skiing at Whistler (sans the falling at Whistler)

Four Tags to Continue this Meme:
Time to pass it on!
1. Leslie - Go Go Meme Master!
2. Katie - Time to update your blog
3. David - Where are you going to put something that isn't with photos?
4. Rick It is ON

Sunday, February 05, 2006

A few more pictures from Egypt

Sunrise at Sharm El Sheikh

Kom-Ombo Temple

Lone tree hill - St. Catherine's Monastery on the Sinai peninsula

The Moonhouse

Fresh Indigo - I don't recommend mixing this with your saffron

Friday, February 03, 2006

Egypt - In Summary

I'm going to add some more pictures and maybe a bit more detail to the Egypt posts but now that I'm home it's time to summarize the trip. In a word: Fantastic.

The folks at American Photo's Mentor Series did a great job of keeping everything moving along which is particularly difficult given that Egypt is far from Switzerland in terms of efficiency. The people running the show, the mentors, Bob and Pat and the other trekkers were all a lot of fun and it was great to get to know them all. I definitely would like to do some more treks in the future.

To make one stop shopping easier, here are links to each of my posts about the trip in chronological order.

Made it to Egypt!
Greetings from Egypt
Another day at the pyramids
Camel shopping
Hello Bakh Shish?
Flying high again
Oh look! More hieroglyphics
I miss ice
Where was I?
A few more pictures from Egypt

Also, if you want more detail, David did a great job of blow by blow for each of the days we were there on his blog.