Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

A Christmas Milestone

Around Christmas time, the Seattle suburbs work to chase away to early darkness with lots and lots of Christmas lights. Most houses have some lights on them, and a few houses go all out with crazy amounts of lights and displays from the rooftops to the front lawn.

Each year, we like to take a drive in the evening around Christmas to just see all of the lights. This year was no different and last night, on Christmas Eve, we all piled in the car and drove around for about 30 minutes oohing and aahing at the neighbors work. There was one difference this year though - a difference that clearly marks a milestone in our Christmas tours and a big indicator that time is passing.

Kate drove.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Today I Learned... Norad Santa

For that last few years, we've occasionally kept a web page up on as they track the big guy across the sky on Christmas Eve. Today's Seattle Post Intelligencer has the back story on how a huge military site got involved in the annual radar tracking of Santa Claus.

The story is here though my favorite part was about the first phone call they ever received.

"The red phone rang," he says. That never happened, and it meant huge trouble. The red phone was the emergency line: It could only be his commander calling, or the Pentagon. "I picked it up and I said: 'Yes, sir? This is Colonel Shoup.' "

There was no answer for a moment. Then came the hesitant voice of a small boy. "Are you really Santa Claus?"

Shoup was taken aback. "I looked around my staff and I thought, 'Somebody's playing a joke on me. This isn't funny.' I said, 'Would you repeat that, please?' "

The boy asked again if he was Santa Claus. "I knew then that there was some screw-up on the phones."

There certainly was. A local Sears Roebuck store had advertised a Santa line, on which children could talk to the man himself as he prepared for his rounds. But the wrong phone number had been published. Instead of talking to a Sears volunteer, the child unwittingly got through to one of the most important lines in America -- and certainly to one of the most uptight men in the country that Christmas Eve.

Merry Christmas everyone!!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Today I Learned... Mac Mini Memory Enhancement

I'm going to be using some Mac Minis for running some parts of our shows. Since our animations are pretty busy, and the minis use a pretty low end video chip that uses system memory, I need to make sure there is plenty of memory on the machine, so I bought a Mini at the Apple store and then bought 3 GB of PC2 5300 667 memory and was met with the challenge of sticking said memory into said computer.

When Apple wants to make it easy to change memory, they do a beautiful job of designing their computers so you can put more memory in without using any tools. The Mac Mini is not one of those computers, though, and taking it apart is quite a challenge. Fortunately, there are a couple of good walkthroughs on the web of doing just that. The one at MethodShop is the most specific while the one at has plenty of nice pictures which help a lot when you're trying to figure out where that doo dad came from.

While they both cover the fact that you need to pop out the airport antenna to get at one of the screws, neither of them mention that if you aren't careful, the cable that connects that antenna to the motherboard will also pop off and there are no diagrams that show where it might have come from. Fortunately, I did find a picture that kinda sort hints at where it might go and I was able to re-attach it. A few minutes later and BING, I've got a 3 GB, 1.83GHz Mac Mini up and running.

Woo hoo!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Today I Learned... Artist focus

At DeepRockDrive, we are working on creating a very cool interactive experience between the artists and the fans who are watching on the web. Among other things, we have a feature called "Shout outs" which lets fan type a message to the artist and it shows up in the studio on a big screen with their username, picture, location and the message they typed. It is an amazing opportunity to say something to the artists you love and we've known for some time that between songs they read them and respond, but one thing I've wondered is whether the shout outs register with them during the song.

The answer, apparently, is yes! Last night, the Wylde Bunch played a show at DRD. They were awesome - think Earth, Wind and Fire for the 21st century. Tight and funky! They also did a great job of interacting with the fans through the shout outs.

After the show, I was talking with a couple of the guys in the band and I asked them what they thought and they really loved it. They wanted to keep on playing! When I asked if the shout outs registered while they were in the middle of the song he said "Definitely! I saw them coming up and it was great. It felt like the audience was right there! (points at screen)"

I always figured that these would register for many artists during the song, perhaps not with the same focus as between songs, but it was great to get that data point.


Monday, December 17, 2007

Today I Learned... Bozzio & Wackerman

I had no idea that Terry Bozzio and Chad Wackerman ever played together. This is awesome!

Terry's set is chromatic and diatonic - that is one huge kit!! You can actually get a better sense of it here.

And is Wackerman the best name for drummer or what?

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Today I Learned... My dog can eat a whole pizza

Oh sure, back in the day she was known to eat a loaf of bread and we know we need to keep the butter way back on the counter but generally, Tiki does not jump up and grab things from the counter. She's very good that way.

Last night, while Leslie and I were at a neighborhood Christmas party, Tiki seems to have pulled down not one, but two pizza boxes from the stove which each had a bit more than 1/2 of a pizza still in them. Well, I assume she did cuz when we got home, there were two empty pizza boxes on the floor and one guilty lookin' dog.

One guilty lookin', quite full, dog.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Today I Learned... How to Take Down a Mac

Actually, I learned a few things today, like that I can subscribe to the DeepRockDrive past shows video collection at in iTunes and presto, awesome new videos on the iPod!  I also learned that Pearl totally rocks!

But the most interesting one came when I was trying to stress test some PHP code I was writing.  I wrote a javascript function that just posts to the server (also running on my machine) a bunch of times in a loop and then does a get to see what I get back.  This works fine, in general, but I started out with 1000 posts in that loop.  Things got totally crazy.  Of course the machine was locked up during the post cuz it takes a lot of CPU to do a fast loop with async callbacks but even after it was done, nearly every application locked up and I had to do a full system reset to get it back.

Running it a hundred times worked fine later on.  Clearly 1,000 is over some limit and I really don't feel like going further to figure out what that limit is.

So, um, don't do that :)

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Today I Learned... Fullscreen mode made easy

I'm gonna start posting little things I learn each day (yeah - like it will actually happen each day...) Perhaps they will be of use to others. Leslie has already done this a few times and it seems like a great way of sharing little tidbits on the intarwebs.

Today's tidbit:
- (BOOL)enterFullScreenMode:(NSScreen *)screen withOptions:(NSDictionary *)options
- (void)exitFullScreenModeWithOptions:(NSDictionary *)options

These two little nuggets of joy from the Cocoa NSView class are incredibly useful when building an app that you want take over the whole screen when it is running (like a certain application I'm working on...) It's one thing that it goes full screen, but it is even cooler that it is for any NSView, not a full window so my custom view that hosts CALayer stuff can take over the whole screen during shows and hide all of the other config stuff around it.


Thanks to David for pointing this out.

Edit: Oh, and you need to be very careful with this API. Make sure you have a way to call exitFullScreenModeWithOptions, or activity monitor on a second monitor or you will have a perfectly functioning, yet completely unfunctional computer on your hands :) SSH'ing in from another machine and killing your process is a good back door if you get stuck here :)

Kataklysm: “Audience or no audience?”

This video from Bertrand (our video director at DeepRockDrive) is awesome! It also raises a great question...

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Aviation Nation 2007

November was a crazy busy month with all of the excitement of more and bigger shows at DeepRockDrive, but I was able to get away for a weekend with Alex to go to Aviation Nation 2007 at Nellis AFB just outside of Vegas. This year is the 60th anniversary of the creation of the Air Force, so it looks like this was a bigger show than usual.

Any regular reader of Duffergeek will know that I go to the Blue Angels show in Seattle each year and take lots and lots of pictures of the planes, trying to get helmet shots - where you can actually see the pilot's helmets and, ideally, what they're looking at. I figured that Aviation Nation was a 2 day opportunity for helmet shots and I was not disappointed :)

In addition to two shows by the Air Force Thunderbirds,we saw some great performances featuring a number of aircraft spanning the history of the Air Force as well as the standard stunt spectaculars we've come to expect from great airshows.

The most amazing thing at the entire show, though, was the F22 Raptor. ZOMG this thing is incredible, performing maneuvers that I was pretty sure were not possible in a fixed wing aircraft, let alone an incredibly powerful jet fighter. Thanks to the vectored thrust on the F22, it can do incredibly tight turns and loops, in one case doing a full 360° loop IN PLACE. While I've seen biplanes do tail slides, where the plane flies vertically to a stall speed, then starts to slide down towards the ground backwards, doing this in a jet usually features one additional step known as "ejection". Not so with the F22 though. He slid backwards, did a flat spin, and then just headed forward into the wild blue yonder. Of course, it is also a supersonic fighter so when it wanted to, it would shake your guts as it flew by. Most air forces can't match our previous generation of fighters and this one is a whole new level. Too bad we don't fight air wars so much any more...

The Thunderbirds were, as usual, fantastic. All of the classic close formation flying, combined with two very nice Las Vegas days. I had never noticed before that Thunderbird 5 has its number painted upside down - funny since it does so many inverted maneuvers where it looks downright normal.

My full set of photos from the show are here and include some really fun shots of their fake bombing runs where a plane would fly by and they would blow stuff up on the ground and sometimes made smoke rings that would hang around for several minutes.

Enjoy :)

Saturday, December 08, 2007

This one goes to 7

I've been playing my guitar a bunch more with all of the music at the new job (and I'm loving it!), but after listening to all of the great heavy metal shows at Deep Rock Drive over the past month, I was itchin' to get a 7 string guitar. 7 strings have an extra low B string which helps in getting a dark, growl sound and play a bit lower than usual. I have a 5 string bass that works the same way and I love it.

Ebay to the rescue! I spent a few weeks checking out different 7 strings and looking for something that looked good, but wasn't too expensive since I'm not even sure if I'll like it. I ended up buying a Galveston 7 string with a Floyd Rose tremolo. Galveston is an inexpensive Korean brand that seems to specialize in nice looking wood and finishes for the bodies but I was curious about the quality of the guitar. At only $250, I figured it was worth the risk. The pictures looked great with a tiger-eye maple top and a nice red finish. The guitar arrived last weekend. It sounds good and looks really nice, but it really needed to be set up by a guitar tech to set the intonation correctly so it is off at American Music getting tweaked right now. It should be ready tomorrow.

This is my first guitar with a Floyd Rose tremolo. For those who aren't familiar, tremolos (or whammy bars) are the things you push to bend the whole set of strings either up or down. Very popular with most electric guitars. The problem is that they often make the guitar go out of tune when the string gets a little stuck on either the bridge or the nut. The Floyd Rose system clamps the string at both ends so there is nothing to get stuck on which should make it stay in tune better. The downside is that you can't use the standard tuners unless you have unlocked the nut with a hex wrench so it takes a but of getting used to...

I'm really looking forward to trying it out some more!

Update - It was definitely worth the $250, but getting used to a neck that wide takes some time!

Friday, November 02, 2007

Signs: You'll need to use the one in the back of the cabin

Last week I flew Southwest down to San Francisco and got to the airport early enough to get a nice window seat near the engine. Well, it was early so I actually slept most of the way down but as were were coming in to the Bay Area I looked out the window at the engine and noticed a strange place for a bit of iconography. Along the inboard side of the engine was a familiar image with a slash through it. It struck me as odd, so I whipped out my handy iPhone and took this picture.

Apparently, there are no men's rooms inside of the engine. Or does it mean that you can't store people inside the engine. Just like the photos in Amsterdam, I wonder if this means that every other part of the plane is, in fact, a men's room.


"Prepare For Glory!"

The tagline for the movie 300 where are small group of scantily clad Spartans take on a giant army at the Battle of Thermopylae.

Is it a coincidence that Apple is touting 300 new features in their Leopard upgrade of MacOS X or are we to see another analogy between the small but scrappy Apple, Inc. taking on the massive Microsoft Windows once again?

Probably a coincidence. It does give me a title for a blog post, though, and that is close enough for me.

My copy of Leopard arrived last Friday and I installed it on all of my Macs by the end of the weekend and so far I've been really quite happy with it. There have been a few issues like Last.FM's client locking up after launch and occasional annoyance with the new Finder sidebar but overall I am really loving many of the new features.

My top 10 favorite Leopard Features:

  1. Core Animation As a developer, I love the possibilites this unleashes. I'm already playing with ways to use this to make our shows cooler. Sweet!
  2. Spaces Even with multiple monitors, the number of windows that I have to deal with is huge. Between having lots of browsers open for testing the site, terminals, mail, iTunes, iCal, Skype, Adium and all of the rest, Window management is still really tough. Spaces does a fantastic job of making this workable again. My one minor annoyance, the default keystroke for switching spaces is a commonly used text editor combination. Easily fixed.
  3. Tabbed Terminal Windows Geeky, yes, but I love being able to keep them all together. Request: Let me name them independently.
  4. Live Partition Resizing I had two partitions on my laptop. One for the Leopard beta and one for Tiger. Once I had upgraded the Tiger partition to Leopard, I didn't need the other partition anymore. In Disk Tools, I just deleted the Leopard one, and dragged the Tiger one to take the full space, all while still running in the OS. No reboots and no lost data. Brilliant!
  5. Quick Look When nearly any file is selected in the Finder, just hit the space bar to get a very fast preview of the file. This is now the quickest way to figure out if this is the right photo or text file I'm looking for. Cool animation too :)
  6. Photo Mosaic Screensaver You just need to see it - it is brilliant!
  7. Safari 3.0 The new Safari is much much better than version 2.0 and I really like the inspect element feature. Add a script debugger like FireBug and I'll relegate FireFox to compatibility testing only. (FF is sooooo buggy).
  8. Spotlight Calculator I do little calculations all the time. New in Leopard, all you need to do is hit Cmd-Space and then type a calculation and it gives you the answer right in the Spotlight window.
  9. Mail To-Do lists and Notes. Just very handy. The fact that they sync between my Macs through .Mac is icing.
  10. Upgrade I've upgraded 4 machines from Tiger and each of them went flawlessly.

With all of this goodness, the jury is still out on a few things.

  • XCode 3 and Interface Builder A ton has changed here and it is taking a bunch of time to relearn things. Interface Builder in particular had a huge overhaul but I've run into a number of places where I can't find the magical clicking/dragging combo to hook things up.
  • Time Machine I haven't turned it on yet. Now that my safety backup disk is free after the flawless upgrades maybe I'll give it a shot
  • Back to my Mac I love the idea of being able to control the screen on my desktop machine at home while I'm out at one of our myriad coffee shops with the gypsy dev team. I just haven't tried it yet outside of our house. I'm dubious that it will work well, but I'll give it a shot :)
  • Boot Camp Parallels and VMWare work great and I don't need to reboot. World Of Warcraft still works. Why bother?
  • The glassy menu bar Feh. Not as nice as the glass in Vista, yet somewhat annoying.

So this 300 seem like a pretty formidable group. Let's hope that they fare better than the Spartans did.

Oh and speaking of Spartans losing - Go Blue!

DeepRockDrive - The Video!

This video is a really cool explanation and demo of what we do at DeepRockDrive. Take a look and then join us :)

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

It's LIVE!

After many years at Microsoft, I've gotten used to a certain rhythm of shipping. It takes place over a period of months (and sadly, sometimes years) but the process is generally pretty similar. When shipping large client releases of software, where the cost of getting a fix out to all of your customers is high if you make a mistake somewhere along the way, you need to spend a lot of time in the planning stage and even more time in the stabilization, integration and testing phases of the product. Sometimes that last phase can last a year all by itself. Then it takes a few months for all of the CDs/DVDs to be made and shipped out to the store. By the time it hits the streets, you are often months into the next project.

Even when I was writing my shareware utilities like DragStrip, there was a lot of work involved in releasing an update, even to the internet. Installers, upgrade testing from all of the previous releases, documentation updates, email to users about the changes, etc.

The wonderful world of web services is very different. The distance from a development build to a shipped release is often as little as synchronizing some code to some servers and updating a database. Boom, you've gone from working for a few people to having your entire user base up and running on the latest version. You still need to go through the integration and validation periods but they are much shorter because the cost of getting a fix out is much MUCH smaller and, in all of the cases I'm working on, the code base is miniscule compared to things like, well, Windows.

This is not news to anyone who has worked on websites and web services before. The really cool thing for me at DeepRockDrive now, though, is the fact that the software we're building is not just live on the net, but it is LIVE, as in Live on Stage. I'm working on updates for our interactive show experience which users can tune in tomorrow at 5:00 to see. Take all of the excitement of shipping new code, and add in the excitement of a live show where, honestly, anything can happen. This week, it is updates to our in show set list voting mechanism where the fans get to vote on what the next song they want to hear next and then the band actually plays the top vote getter. At last week's show, we had some "challenges" with this so this week, its a big update to help it perform better. We can do all the stress testing we want on it, but we won't know for sure until the crowds come in and start voting. It's LIVE!

I have to say it is incredibly cool to have a challenge like this. We have some work we need to get done before the show, and we can't slip because, as they say, the show must go on. It creates a whole new kind of urgency in development and it is really nice to be able to get stuff out to our customers like this.

So if you haven't already, head over to DeepRockDrive and create an account. Then tomorrow, join us for The Objex at 5:00 PM PST. And while you're there, vote on my latest petition for National Geographic Live to come to DeepRockDrive.

Why? Because it's LIVE!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Enter: DeepRockDrive

DeepRockDriveAfter my Exit: Microsoft post, a number of people asked me what was coming next. There was a subtle hint within that post (not to mention a cool logo in my sidebar), but I wanted to wait a little bit for the full description.

Well, now is that time! I have joined DeepRockDrive, an amazing startup focusing on building a community of artists and fans and an interactive performance experience that will create a cool new way for artists and fans to interact and share their music. Drawing on my background as a musician, audio engineer, networking guy and of course software engineer, DeepRockDrive is the perfect storm of my interests and I am really excited about what we will be building.

Even more exciting is the fact that our service has officially launched tonight. So right now, you should head over, create an account (it's free!) and start petitioning bands to come play for you at DeepRockDrive.

Go ahead! I'll wait...

Friday, October 12, 2007

Exit: Microsoft

In September 1996, I joined Microsoft to work on Internet Explorer for Macintosh. I've always been a Mac guy since I got my first Mac SE (I was an Apple II guy long before that). I was excited to be able to work on an application that was so ubiquitous on the Mac platform and it was really a thrill to do that.

After a couple of years working on Mac IE, a bunch of us Mac IE folks moved up to Redmond to start working on various Windows applications. I spent some time working on Outlook Express, and then joined the Windows Shell team for Windows 2000 and Windows XP. That was a real blast. Working on what would be the defining computer experience for years and the things my team and I created during that time - the Luna look, cool logon screen, fast user switching - are still to this date some of the high points of my coding days.

After Windows XP shipped, I worked on the MSN client, Digital Image Suite and many long years on what would eventually become Windows Vista helping to create the Digital Photography features and platform. As long as that slog was, we had a great team and a ton of fun.

For the past year, I've worked on <super secret project you don't know about yet> but as of this week, my tenure with Microsoft is ending.

I never really thought that I would be there for 11 years but there was always so much more to do and the people I've worked with were top notch! Heck, they're still top notch though many of them have left for cool new things. Well, now it's my turn. So at this turning point, I want to thank all of the folks I worked with and all of the folks who used the stuff we built.

I'll close with a funny story about the earliest days. Having been a Mac guy for so long, I figured that when I left my old company I would work at Apple. Apple flew me out to California to interview with them back in 1996 and while I was there, I interviewed with Microsoft. I got offers from both but this was during the dark days at Apple (aka - before the second coming of Steve Jobs) and Microsoft's offer was so much better that I went with it. When I called the Apple recruiter to tell him, I said "Who knows... maybe I won't like it and I'll go to Apple in a year..." "No," he replied somewhat dejectedly, "No one has ever done that..."

It sure sounded like I had made the right choice :)

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Throwing out Apple boxes is hard!

I'm cleaning up my office and I came across the boxes for my MacBook Pro and my iPhone. They are empty. There is no reason to keep them. Yet they are so pretty that I don't want to throw them out.

Now that's packaging!

Oh, and I did eventually throw them out :)

Friday, October 05, 2007

Keeping up with your car payments

I love Heroes. Certainly the best new show of last year. As they start the second season, they're making forays into the realm of in show advertising. The most obvious of which was in the season premiere, Claire - the hot, blonde cheerleader - is given a car by her "father". A new Rogue. "I get the Rogue?!?! Oh Dad, I love you..." blah blah blah

What's a Rogue? Never heard of it. A few minutes later during a commercial break, Nissan introduces the Rogue. Ah clever. I'm not sure how many teenagers would be so giddy about getting a small SUV but hey, more power to them.

The following week, Nissan must have missed some payments because Claire walks out of school and finds out her car has been stolen.


Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Replacing a camera just got easier

Well, I was going to wait for the 5D Mark II, but just yesterday I got a call from Glazer's that a 1D Mark III had arrived and I was at the top of the list. While I could wait to see if a new 5D comes out, I think I'll be needing a great camera sooner than that, so I think I'm going for it.

Woo hoo!

I contemplated replacing the 17-40mm f/4.0 L USM lens that was also stolen with a 16-35mm f/2.8 L II USM, but I just can't justify the higher price, even if it is faster and a bit sharper. A new 17-40mm should be fine.

Now as to where the posts have been lately? Well, lots going on but more on that later. For now, it's time to start learning a new camera. :)

Monday, August 27, 2007

Replacing a camera is hard!

After the theft of my cameras and the fantastic response by Amica, I am left with the seemingly simple task of replacing my 5D and 20D with something new. Over the past few months, though, Canon has started updating their whole camera line to their latest technology including Digic 3 processors, self cleaning sensors and an updated interface. They announced the 1D Mark III in February and the 40D and 1Ds Mark III just a week or so ago. The one camera they have not yet announced an update for is the 5D. Everyone knows it's coming, but no one knows when.

I borrowed a 1D Mark III from Josh for a couple of weeks and it was really nice. So much easier to use than the 1D Mark II which required lots of kooky multi-button gyrations to change any of the settings. The new model is significantly improved in that area. The shots look great, though I did experience some of the autofocus problems that many users have described. Updating the firmware might have improved this but I didn't get a chance to try (and I was hesitant to do this on a borrowed camera).

Clearly, if my 5D had not been stolen, I would have been quite happy with it for some time to come, but knowing that in 6 months or so I can get an update that has much lower noise, automatically gets rid of the dust on the sensor that is the bane of my existance and probably has a much better sensor make me wonder if I should just wait, or jump to one of the 1D series cameras.

The 1Ds' improvements are really awesome, but going from full frame and ~13 megapixel to a 1.3x multiplier and 10 megapixel is painful. Even if it is significantly faster and still a great camera. The 1Ds solves the framesize and megapixel issue (being full frame and 21 -- gack! -- megapixel) but at nearly $8,000 it just doesn't seem worth it. What I really want is the 5D Mark II.

Maybe that is the answer...

Monday, August 06, 2007

Amica to the rescue!

After my camera gear was stolen on the flight from Johannesburg to London, I contacted British Airways (whose response was abysmal) and Amica, my home insurance carrier. The folks from Amica were not only very sympathetic, but also very responsive. I spoke with a representative from the Seattle office a couple of days after the theft and today, lo and behold, I received a settlement check for the items that were stolen.

Now THAT'S service!

While British Airways has lost a customer for life, Amica has gained one.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Blue Angels Weekend

It's Seattle Seafair weekend again and I made it down to the I-90 bridge with Peyman to take some shots of the Blue Angels. After doing this for several years in a row, I've gotten most of the shots already but today one of the solos did a full speed run very low over the bridge and I saw something that I've not seem before -- a pressure wave (or something like that) building up behind the wing. Very cool!

It wasn't quite the same without my 5D -- the 400D is nice but not nearly as fast or clean as the 5D was. Still, it beat any of the old point and shoots for responsiveness and the 100-400L IS lens got pretty close, including my closest helmet shot to date.

Some other nice shots are available here.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Most expensive movie... ever...

Leslie and I went and saw the Simpson's Movie tonight in Leicester Square in London. 11.75 GBP per ticket. Times two tickets. Times two for USD conversion. $47.00 just to get in the door.

Then there were 25 minutes of ads.


The movie was good and really funny at parts, but I'm not sure ANY movie is worth nearly $25.00 per ticket.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

British Airways and Sucking Eggs

Britain has an extra rule when flying from or through one of their airports. You can only carry one bag on an airplane. No matter that all of the airlines allow two, they'll only let you through security with one. Of course, the airline size and weight restrictions still apply to that one bag you're allowed to carry, so in preparation for our flights to South Africa, I had to make a choice: carry on the laptop and misc electronics, or carry on the camera gear (Canon 20D, Canon 5D and a number of heavy lenses. I figured it would be safest to pack the camera gear in their nicely padded bags, and then pack those bags in a nicely nondescript black roller suitcase. And pray.

We made it safely through London and to Johannesburg this way, even though our flight to Joburg was a couple of hours late so we had to pay for changing our next flight. British Airways said they wouldn't help us ("Go suck eggs" sounds more polite with a British accent). Fortunately, I could carry the camera gear on to and from the short flight to Richard's Bay so all of our gear made it to South Africa.

The joy ends there.

On our return flight to London, I still carried my camera equipment on to the flight back to Joburg and then with us throughout the day visiting the Hills at their stunning home outside of town. When we returned to the airport that evening, we checked all of our baggage with British Airways for our non-stop flight to London. As we arrived in London, all of our bags showed up and looked just fine so we headed, exhausted, to our hotel and checked in. After lunch I went to get my camera gear ready for shooting in London and discovered that my bag had clearly been open because they were not as I left them and my 100-400 lens was not in it's camera bag. "Oh no!" I thought, they could have hurt the lens when they inspected it!

Then I realized it was worse.

Someone had opened my suitcase - this nondescript black roller suitcase that looks like 60% of the other suitcases in the world, and taken my 5D body, 20D body and my 17-40 lens. They left the other lenses in their bags, or at least in the suitcase (why -- I don't know but I'm glad they did).


I tried to contact British Airways but could find nothing in their website about how to contact them, other than to fill out the lost luggage form (which wouldn't let me proceed unless I told them I lived in the UK or Ireland - so I did, though I don't). Then I called my insurance company and emailed them with the list of equipment that was stolen.

This morning I got the response from British Airways:

I am extremely sorry to learn about your missing camera and equipment.

We go to great lengths to take care of our customers' belongings at British Airways, but of course all the checked-in luggage has to pass through various hands on its way to and from the aircraft. So on the rare occasions when belongings go missing, it is virtually impossible to pinpoint what happened. We always advise people to keep anything of special value on board with them during the flight, because of this - and because airlines have only limited liability for any items that do go missing.

Everyone is welcome to bring one piece of luggage into the cabin of a British Airways flight with them. We find this allowance usually caters for any valuable, fragile and electronic items, so I regret that we cannot offer compensation for your missing camera and equipment. If you had travel insurance, though, you may be covered through that. I do hope so.

In other words: Go suck eggs.

I am actually stunned that they have no accountability in situations like this. If people in the secured part of airports can steal cameras from baggage, they can plant any number of dangerous things into luggage as well. Apparently, they don't care.

Rather then spend the week with no camera in England, I went and bought the cheapest camera I could find that works with my lenses -- a Canon 400D. It will do for the week, but when we get home, I'm going to need to figure out what we can do next.

In the meantime, I've learned a few things:
1) Always carry the camera gear AND the computer stuff on the plane.
2) Don't fly through England anymore. Their restrictions make it unsafe to travel with valuable equipment
3) Don't fly British Airways ever again. They have zero accountability.
4) Thank goodness for stupid people. The theives left my lenses which were probably more valuable than the camera bodies they took and the one lens they did take was the least useful one in the bag.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Extreeeeme Whale Watching

After our day with the elephants, we thought it would be nice to go and visit the elephants of the sea... aka whales. We went on a cruise along the St Lucia estuary where we saw a few crocodiles hanging our along the shore and then we pulled up reasonably close to a whole bunch of hippos resting in the mud and giving us nasty looks. Apparently, in a battle between a hippo and a croc, the hippo will win by ripping parts off of the croc (we saw pictures) so the crocs tend to leave them alone.

After the cruise, we went whale watching, but this wasn't your namby-pamby east-coast oceanography-intern, "aren't they magestic?" whale watching. It was extreeeeme whale watching, bordering on whale harassment. There are no jetties out into the Indian Ocean at St Lucia, so we started from the shore on a boat that was then pushed out and we were given very specific instructions for how to hold on to the seat followed by "make sure you hold on tight, or this is going to hurt." The skipper guns the engine and we start flying out across the big waves coming in to the shore, trying to hit them fast enough to fly over them and he did that - we spent several seconds airborne before we made it past the breakers. Leslie lost her grip and nearly went over the side but she was able to grab on to another passenger until we slowed down and she could get a better grip. Finally, we were off at full speed to look for the whales. At this point, I figured that I was not going to take any pictures since the salt water would really mess up my camera (turns out, it wouldn't have mattered, but that's a different post...)

In the distance, we saw a humpback breaching and we zoomed over toward the site where he had jumped. The skipper was careful to not approach too quickly or get too close - at least in the beginning. We soon found 3 humpbacks swimming near each other and we followed them for a while. They would spout a couple of times, then dive deeper, then come back up and spout a few times. Soon the skipper was bored with this and brought us in very close to the whales - about 30-40 feet from them - which made them dive a little deeper to get away from us. After about 30 minutes of this, we spotted some more whales in the distance and we zoomed off after them.

This time, there were five humpbacks in a small group. One was doing fin slaps on the surface every once in a while and after a couple of minutes, one of them leapt out of the water and fell ker-splash just on the port side of the boat. Too bad I was looking out the starboard side trying to keep my lunch in its proper place. I turned around in time to see the large splash, but I missed the breaching. At this point, the skipper was ready to play as well so we were either right next to the 5 whales or about 10 feet behind them as they swam along. Once, they all came up and spouted at the exact same time - five whales in a row. It was like the Blue Angels, except, well, it was actually very different, but you get the idea.

After another 20 minutes of zooming up right on top of the whales, we headed back to shore. Coming in over the breakers is much easier than going out though any time that the boat comes to a stop by gunning it up onto the beach, you're going to have an sudden stop. In the end, we saw plenty of whales but unless you're really into fast and jerky boat rides, I'm not sure I would recommend it. The salt water would really damage any camera equipment so unless you have some sort of protective case, you can't really count on getting good shots. Hence, no pictures. Interesting stories though :)

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Elephant Encounter!

On our third day in South Africa, we went to the Hluhluwe Umfolozi National Park to get a wider variety of animal sighting opportunities. Not long after we arrived, we saw a couple of elephants behind some bushes on the right side of the car and the driver pulled forward some and stopped. We said, "look, on the right!" but he just laughed and said "check out the left side." Not 20 yards away there was a herd of maybe 10-15 elephants, slowly working their way through the trees towards the road.

One by one, they passed a short way in front of our truck, usually stopping to flap their ears and look at us as if to say "Hey, don't mess with me!" and then they crossed into a giant muddy area where they started rolling around, and in some cases playing with each other in the mud. A couple of adorable baby elephants joined in the fun, one of them got some mud in his eye and was trying to remove it using his trunk the way we might use the palm of our hand to mush something out of our eye.

A couple of younger elephants were playing off to the side. Chasing each other around, mock-attacking each other and pushing them to the ground. They looked like they were having a blast. I swear one of them looks like he's smiling in this shot...

After about ten minutes of watching this, a young bull came up the road and right up to our truck. Armand clapped his hands once to tell him to chill out and then the elephant just stood there, right at the end of the hood and ate some grass for a few minutes -- just a few feet in front of us! Now, with the long lens on, you're not going to get any full body shots of this, but it was a great time to get the closeups to see how amazingly textured their skin is. He raised his trunk once to tap the top of our truck and Armand said "ah.. ah.." to him, then he wandered off to play with the other elephants. It was really reamarkable to have them so close to us, but even cooler to watch a person who is so experienced with them communicate with the elephants and keep them from getting too frisky.

We saw a variety of other animals in the park over the rest of the day, including a white rhino that was quite the poser but the highpoint of the day, and perhaps the week, was watching the elephants just playing and romping in the mud.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

South Africa - Zulu Nyala

42 hours is a long time to fly. In fact, as mentioned previously, it is about as long as we could expect to fly to anywhere from Seattle, Oh sure, much of that time (about 1/2) was spent in airports, waiting for flights, or rebooking from missed flights (thanks alot, British Airways...) the net elapsed time from when we left our house, until we were at Zulu Nyala in South Africa was 42 hours. So we slept.

On Tuesday morning, we went out on our first safari ride around the grounds of Zulu Nyala. We stopped at our first sighting of warthogs and we were snapping away. Our guide told us that soon, we would be seeing warthogs and thinking, "oh... just another warthog" but for those first few minutes, these were some cool, armed pigs. We went out for about 3 hour rides in the morning and in the afternoon for each of the first two days and had some amazing opportunities to view warthogs, nyala, impala, giraffes, zebras, cape buffalo, wildebeest, monkeys, rhinos, hippos and a couple of somewhat obscured views of the elephants on site.

The best way to sum it up has been "WOW!" I mean, here are these animals you've seen in zoos many times, but it is totally different when you see them on their own home turf, roaming freely. They are all simply gorgeous to watch and learn about. The terrain here is mostly rolling hills and we were driving in safari vehicles with the driver up front and eight of us in the back, either two or three to a seat. As we bounce along the roads, knowing that there are all sorts of amazing animals nearby but just out of site, we all turn into novice trackers, looking for clues as to where the buffalo have gotten to, or where the elephants are today. If only I had the beast tracking ability that my hunter in WoW has - man that would rock!

Oh, and the rides are bumpy! Leslie and I were riding in the front seat of the vehicle (behind the driver) and I was holding my camera in my left hand wrapped around the base of my Canon 70-200L 2.8 IS lens. We hit a particularly deep hole in the road (dug by a warthog for protection) and the lens banged against one of the metal support poles on the truck, well it would have had my hand not been sitting between the lens and the pole. More accurately, my wedding ring was between the lens and the pole and it was squished between then into more of a thin oval than its traditional ring shape -- while still on my finger. It took a few minutes of work with a Leatherman to get the ring back into a shape that would let me take it off of my finger. When we get back home, we'll need to do some work to make it round again, though it seems to me that if I can get a small hammer and a rhino that will hold still for a while, I could probably fix it here...

The sunsets here have been stunning -- probably due to all of the dust in the air. Each night around 5:30, the sun turns wonderful shades of orange and progress to pink and red as it slides behind the hills. We shoot photo after photo, hoping to find the right way to capture the amazing colors and vistas though I'm not sure that digital photos can quite do it yet, or maybe it's just me...

This is George. He is very tall :)

Next up: Hluhluwe National Park and the Elephant Encounter...

btw, posting from South Africa is quite slow, so it might be a while between posts. More pictures will come when we make it to London.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Longest... Flight... Ever...

Leslie and I are flying to South Africa soon for a photo safari. We are totally psyched for this trip, but MAN is that a long flight. First to London, and then to Johannesburg, and then to Richards Bay which is along the southeast coast of South Africa. A 9 hour flight followed by an 11 hour flight, followed by a one hour flight. I started thinking that this MUST be about as far away as you could possibly fly from Seattle and it turns out it pretty much is.

I first went to Google Earth and did the calculations to figure out where the farthest point from Seattle was and it looked like it was off the coast of South Africa, near the French Southern and Antarctic Lands. Zooming out from there, it looked like the nearest inhabited landmass was southeastern South Africa. Yeah, Durban and Richards Bay are a pretty reasonable nearest cities to Seattle's antipodal point.

Then I found, which does the math for you and also uses Google Maps to display where that spot is. Not quite as cool as, but what is?

Now the trick is to make sure I'm bringing the right camera gear for the photo safari. It's not like I can just pop back to get my 100-400L if the perfect shot presents itself. I need to know now what to bring and then tote it for two days on airplanes and through airports. I think I've got it figured out. I'm just hoping that I won't wish I had a very wide lens, cuz I don't have one.

On the way back, we're stopping in London for a few days to break up the return flight and to see a few sites and shows. Sounds great!

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Damn crows!

On my way to play golf at Newcastle with Tony this morning, I was driving behind a car that also appeared to be headed to the course, but not until he hit a crow that seemed to be eating something in the road. He just drove straight into him, no swerves to avoid the bird. I was thinking that was pretty mean and hoped it was the only birdie he would get that day.

On the 12th hole, while we were putting, a crow flew into my golf cart and grabbed my muffin that I had not yet opened, took it out of the cart, opened it, and started eating it. WTF!?! He flew away before I got back but there was no way I was going to eat that avian flu laden muffin anymore. Crow owes me 3 bucks.

After the round, I went to CameraTechs in Ballard to get the sensor on my 5D cleaned up before our trip to South Africa. On my way out, laden with 8 cupcakes from Cupcake Royale, I ran into Christopher Vaughn and while we were talking, a crow up in the tree crapped on my shoulder. WTF!?!?!?! I bet it was the same one from Newcastle thinking "here's your crappy muffin back -- I ain't payin' 3 bucks for that..."

Next time I get a chance, I won't swerve either.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Rollin' rollin' rollin'

A few weeks ago, I started riding my bike to work about once per week. Besides being better for the environment, cheaper than gas, and good exercise, it is fun! I picked up a new bike (a Cannondale Road Warrior 800), got a rack for my car and starting this weekend, Zach and I are going to start going for some longer rides.
In the spirit of Duffergeek I'm going to need to pick up more geeky toys to keep track of our rides!

Another iPhone first (for me anyway)

I picked up my new 4 gig iPhone last week and so far I'm loving it! This is my first blog post from it though. Cool!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Late Night Cocoa

As I've been getting back into Mac development and ramping up on Cocoa, one of the nicest resources I've found is the Late Night Cocoa podcasts available at and on iTunes.

Steve Scott (or Scotty, as he calls himself) does a great job of finding experienced Cocoa developers and helping them explain all sorts of different aspects of Cocoa - from the individual frameworks to the development tools and to goings on in the community. He occasionally gets a bit too rudimentary - like when Uli Kersterer spends several minutes explaining what memory is - but generally it is a nice way to pick up some new tips or ideas from other developers who are using Cocoa every day.

If you've got time during your commute, your exercise regimen, or just while you're taking a break from typing lots of square brackets Late Night Cocoa is a great resource for coming up to speed and picking up new techniques.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007


Well, I'm back from the Apple Worldwide Developer Conference in San Francisco. If you happened to watch the keynote, you probably saw the big public announcements about the new Leopard features (well, 30% of the features were new, the other 70% were covered at last year's WWDC), Safari for Windows and that developers can write apps for iPhone just by formatting their web pages better and supporting Safari.

If that was all there was to WWDC, then it would have been a real yawnfest. Fortunately, there was more. The improvements in developer tools are significant with new features that make it significantly easier to build very cool looking and highly performant applications for MacOS X and those "last year" features of Mac OS X Leopard have evolved over the year and gotten more integrated. Quick Look has made itself quite visible in a number of the new features and promises to make browsing for information much more efficient.

The attendees of WWDC each got a development copy of Leopard to start working on and while it looks nice, and the new APIs pretty much work as promised, it is clear there is a bunch of work to do but not so much that they would miss their anticipated October ship date.

I installed my copy on my new MacBook Pro 17" with the high res screen. It is gorgeous! I particularly love the higher resolution though having more memory helps a ton with performance (here's hoping that Leopard's video driver support improve's in the coming months...).

I'm playing around with a new photo viewer application I started writing at WWDC. It is true what they say about Cocoa - it makes the common things easy and the rare things possible. Ramping up on any framework takes time but the consistency in Cocoa does make it much simpler to know how to use it once you grok a few key principles. Now if they would only take another great idea from Microsoft and improve their documentation to have great sample code with each API definition and they'd make it twice as easy to get going in Cocoa...

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Short Attention Span Playlist

I found a cool Dashboard applet on the Cool OSX Apps site called Tunes TEXT that goes and downloads lyrics to songs when they play in iTunes and then saves them to the song file so they show up both in iTunes and on the iPod. The trick is getting all of the songs to play so it goes and downloads the lyrics and saves them, so I wrote a little AppleScript that plays each song in order.

The tricky part is that if you go too fast, the dashboard widget will crash so you need to leave the song playing for about 8 seconds to pretty consistently get the download to succeed.
tell application "iTunes"
repeat while artist of current track ≤ "Zebrahead"
delay 8
next track
end repeat
end tell

It's been running for about 6 hours now and we just passed John Butler Trio. I added the current track artist ≤ "Zebrahead" since they are the last artist in my list and when it is done, I would rather have it finish cleanly than just barf an error when it runs out of songs. I'm sure there's a better way to do it but this certainly works. It also lets me stop and restart it wherever I want since it doesn't really care where it starts, it just keeps going through the list.

While I have muted it during the run, it's kind of fun to let it play out loud - you get up to 8 seconds of each song in your library. It's also funny to watch my Windows Live Messenger blip change every 8 seconds - if you're on my messenger buddy list, you can watch the progress :)

Monday, May 28, 2007

Micro Fame

This weekend had a number of interesting encounters with people who would fall into the Microfame bucket. Microfame is when you are very famous within a small circle of people, but outside of that you are largely unknown. These people would be easily recognized for their accomplishments in one environment, perhaps mobbed by fans if the location was right, yet be able to walk down the street in most places and be completely left alone.

On Saturday, we went to Star Wars Celebration in Los Angeles. It was a great way to spend the day between the two nights of JRock Revolution shows. At SWC, there were the usual attendees dressed like Star Wars characters (lots of Storm Troopers and too many people dressed as love-slave Leia) and the trade show with every Star Wars action figure you could possibly imagine on display or for sale. Near the back of the trade show was the autograph area where you could pay to get signed pictures of many of the cast members from the 6 films. A few of the "big names" were there, including Carrie Fisher, Anthony Daniels and Kenny Baker though none of the superstars showed up (Harrison Ford, James Earl Jones, and either of the Obi Wan Kenobis - though Alec Guiness has the best excuse). The most interesting ones, to me at least, were the small but memorable parts. The lines or moments in the movie that define it, if only to the geeks who've watched it dozens of times.

To that end, I got three autographs for my wall by some of the lesser known, yet still significant characters in the first Star Wars movie (aka Episode 4).
Richard LeParmentier as Admiral Motti - the first man to be "Force Choked" in the series and whose line "This station is now the ultimate power in the universe. I suggest we use it." leads in to Darth Vader's classic line "Don't be too proud of this technological terror you've constructed; the ability to destroy a planet is insignificant next to the power of the Force." Ah memories...

Garrick Hagon as Biggs Darklighter - Luke's friend from Tatooine and Red three in the final assault on the Death Star who's best line is when, as Luke's wingman on the final run, Luke says "we're going in full throttle, that oughta keep those fighters off our back" and Biggs says "Luke, at that speed will we be able to pull out in time?". Luke responds cooly, "It'll be just like Beggar's Canyon back home." I love lines that can be used just as effectively out of context...

The ultimate useful out of context line, though, is "These aren't the droids we're looking for". Uttered in our first hint that the Force really does have some power and the actor who uttered that famous line was Anthony Forrest. According to Forrest, lawyers are particularly fond of that line.

Getting back to Micro Fame, though, each of these people are very well known to the attendees of Star Wars Celebration IV and their role in Star Wars history is undeniable but outside of that world, they are not well known at all.

The best example from the weekend, though, relates to JRock Revolution. Each of those bands at the show are very popular in Japan, some of them selling out huge arenas back home and having millions of adoring fans. Yet nearly every one of them could walk down the streets of LA a block from the show and be completely anonymous. Not one person who wasn't attending the show would know who they were.

On Saturday night, we were sitting near the back of the main floor of the theater in a little section behind the sound board with bar stool seats and tables. Behind us was a little section with some additional seats, kind of like a boxed seats section within the theater. Part way through the first band on Saturday, Kate and Sandra tell me that Yoshiki from the band X Japan, and the organizer of the event was sitting right behind me. Sure enough, three feed behind me was a Japanese guy in a bright white outfit and sunglasses watching the show. Shortly before the end of each set, he would disappear backstage and then return during the first song of the following band. During the second band, I introduced myself and thanked him for putting on the show. During the next set, Kate and Sandra both got autographs but it wasn't until he stepped out on stage to thank the audience that people walking by started to recognize him and ask for pictures and even then, only a dozen or so people stopped by. At their peak, X Japan was filling huge stadiums in Japan and he is part of the upcoming "supergroup" Skin which includes Gackt and Miyavi. Yet, here he sits in a mid sized theater in LA, able to sit with the rest of the crowd to enjoy the show.

Somehow I think Sting or Bono would not be able to do the same thing.

JRock Revolution Recap

Well, it was certainly an interesting weekend. Kate, Sandra and I made it down to Los Angeles in time for the first night of JRock Revolution. As we arrived, the line stretched around the block, largely filled with late-teen, early 20s folks dressed for the show in styles vaguely reminiscent of Sakuracon, though without the key blades. Our mezzanine seats gave us a fine view of the stage and as we sat down the video screen in front of the stage was showing footage from the last concert of X Japan, a band that the show's organizer Yoshiki (who live's in LA, thus the venue).

At 7:00, the video screen went away, the lights went down, the curtain went up and the screams from the crowd went even higher. It was like a Beatles show in the early 60s high pitched and loud! The bands were good, generally ranging between pop rock and speed metal and pretty much uniformly avoiding ballads. I thought it was interesting that with only one exception, the bands were very similar in instrumentation - Bass, drums, vocalist and either one or two guitarists and the guitarists generally shunned guitar solos.

The exception was the most interesting act of the whole show. Miyavi played third on the first night and it was pretty clear that it was going to be different when the band consisted of drums, bass, a DJ, a beatboxer, a tap dancer, a visual artist and Miyavi on acoustic guitar and vocals. Miyavi's guitar style is much closer to funk bass playing, a combination of thumping and slapping the guitar to get a very percussive sound that meshed well with the rest of the band's funk/percussive bent. Check out the first part of this video to get a sense of his playing style. While the rest of the bands were like watching bands play through their top hits, the Miyavi segment was a SHOW. Kind of like watching Prince in the early days, lots of energy and the band was tight and kickin'!

Kate and Sandra were even more impressed with the Alice Nine show which finished the first night though I suspect that you would really need to know the band's songs and backgrounds to differentiate. To me, they were all very similar with the exception of Miyavi. It was fun watching which instruments they were playing and letting Kate know which guitars and basses I have that they were using. Les Paul's are still very popular as are Fender Jazz Basses and Paul Reed Smith guitars. Interestingly, the only Stratocaster that showed up was for the last song of the last band on the second night. If you know the difference between a Strat and a Les Paul then that probably gives you an idea of the type of music that was played.

The second night was a little different from the first. The bands were darker and leaned more towards metal than pop rock and the crowd was also more punk looking than the pop Lolitas of the night before. The bands were still good and our location behind the sound board (always the best place to listen) limited the screaming so it was much easier to hear the bands. I ended up liking both shows much more than I thought I would though I think the peak was 1/2 way through the first night.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

What a weekend it will be!

This weekend, Kate and I are going to JRock Revolution in LA. Not necessarily my idea of a good time but she is very excited about it and if I had had a chance to go see 8 of my favorite bands all at once when I was 15, well, that would have rocked so off we go!

It wasn't until a cryptic email from my mother, though, that I started to realize that something else big is going on in Los Angeles this weekend... Star Wars Celebration IV will be at the LA Convention Center, celebrating the 30th anniversary of the release of the original Star Wars movie. Since I was at that original showing of Star Wars (albeit in Dayton, Ohio) and I'm a bit of a Star Wars geek (did you ever hear about the time we played "Sing Along With Star Wars" on the way to Whistler?) this weekend is looking up!

Of course, it helps that Kate is also a big Star Wars nerd too, so it looks like Saturday is now booked.

May the force be with you.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Flying Man!

Check this guy out!

This is the kind of thing that when you hear about it, there is no way it would end well... yet it does!

Amazing stuff.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

MIX07 - Silverlight Shines

This week was the MIX07 conference for web developers and designers. This is the second time Microsoft has sponsored this event in Las Vegas but my first time attending. Like most developer conferences, there was one main technology or topic that dominated the event and this time around it was Microsoft's introduction of Silverlight.

Silverlight is a cross-platform, cross-browser plug-in that lets developers and designers create much more compelling web experiences than are possible with straight HTML or even AJAX. It includes a smaller version of the .net framework and some of the nice layout, animation and rendering capabilities of the Windows Presentation Framework that shipped with Windows Vista. The fact that Silverlight fits into a download of about 4 megs means that it will be at least as easy for users to install it as it is to install Flash, which is on more than 90% of all client machines these days.

The versions of Silverlight released at MIX07 included a beta of version 1 that is limited to using Javascript to control the runtime and an alpha of the much more interesting 1.1 release that lets developers use any of the .net languages to build and control their Silverlight controls. These languages currently include C#, Visual Basic, Javascript and Iron Python. Microsoft also announced and frequently demoed an upcoming implementation of Ruby running on the .net CLR called Iron Ruby. Very slick!

The thing that struck me most about the event was the message of inclusivity. Silverlight is supported on Firefox, Safari and Internet Explorer on MacOS X as well as Windows and it really does work well on each of those platforms. Microsoft also made it clear that Silverlight works just fine when served from Apache or other web servers. I am psyched to see Microsoft not only getting, but actively delivering products that target all users, not just ones on the latest version of Windows!

I spend some time playing around with Silverlight and while there is a bit of a learning curve, particularly for how XAML works and how the classes are layed out, once you start to get the hang of it, there is a lot of great stuff there. I took one of the samples and tweaked it a bunch to turn into a photo viewer that is similar to a desktop photo viewer I created a while ago. You can take a look at it by clicking the button below. If you don't have Silverlight 1.1 alpha yet, the page will come up and show you an image that you can click on to go get it. The install has a few more steps right now than it will have once this version is complete. Apparently that is so people realize that are running an alpha version of the software. Just accept the alpha agreement and it will download and start installing on your Mac or PC. Once that finishes, you can just refresh the window and you'll start seeing some pictures from my recent trip to New York. Click on any of the pictures to show the next one.

Cool stuff!

If the button doesn't work, click this link.

Monday, April 30, 2007

AlexAir Flight 001 PSP-LAS

No security lines, no boarding passes, door to door service and you can figure out for yourself how to put your seatbelt on. Welcome to Alex Air!

Alex flew me from Palm Springs to Las Vegas in his sweet little plane that I like to call N2545K. We walked in to the air terminal at Palm Springs, out on to the tarmac loaded in my golf clubs and bags and off we went. Well, first Alex needed to clean the bugs off the windshield but then we were on our way.

Our first stop was a quick fly over of the the Coachella music festival where Alex and Kat have spent the last few days. It was pretty quiet early in the morning but by mid afternoon, the fields should be full of spectators.

After a quick circle around the festival, we headed north for Las Vegas. As we approached, Alex called the air traffic controllers and asked if we could do a flyby on the strip. They said we could fly over the east end of the McCarren runway which was about as good as you could expect. Big airliners taking off and landing just below us with the strip just out of our left window. Really great views! Then we headed a bit more north and turned to land at the North Las Vegas air terminal. We taxied to the refueling station (Alex was headed back to PSP to catch more of the show), I hopped out and grabbed my bags, we walked in to the terminal and then out the front door where the shuttle was waiting to take my to the hotel. 8 minutes from wheels down to sitting in the shuttle with my luggage.

Kick ass!

Thanks for the ride Alex!

The ground crew removes unwanted passengers from the windshield.

The Coachella music festival from the air

The strip from over McCarren

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Golf: PGA West - Nicklaus Tournament Course

After my fitting at Callaway, I headed over to PGA West in La Quinta to play at the Jack Nicklaus Tournament course. I got there just in time and headed down to the first tee where the starter told me that I was going to play alone and there was no one behind me for another 30 minutes. The bad news was that I was playing behind a bunch of foursomes and it was going to be S-L-O-W. Perhaps I should play two balls, he suggested.

Great idea! Instead of an incredibly slow 5.5 hour round of golf, it will be an incredibly fast 36 hole day!

Today's round turned into a concurrent 36 hole day of golf comparing the Callaway HX-Tour with the Nike PowerDistance PowerLong ball. On each hole, I played two balls from tee to the hole, alternating tee shots between the different balls and then kept each ball's score. I figured that the golfer and the clubs are the same, so perhaps over 18 holes something will really pop to show which one works better for me.

The front 9 was pretty much all Callaway. It had 3 GIRs while the Nike only had 1 (and that one was followed by a 3 putt!) and after 9, Callaway was leading 42-48. The Back 9 started pretty much the same with a bogey for the Calaway and a triple for the Nike (flying into the next neighborhood on the tee shot didn't help). Then the Nike started to really catch fire (perhaps it was the 103° heat -- or perhaps it just got sick of sucking). and went par - bogie - bogie - birdie - bogie - birdie. The first birdie was particularly impressive. After a crappy 100 yard 3 wood tee shot (one of only two fat shots in the day) the second 3 wood did a low cut, staying out of the desert breezes, flying 210 yards and rolling to a stop about 2 feet from the cup. It just goes to show that even a crappy tee shot can lead to a birdie if you stick with it.

At the same time the Nike was heating up, the Callaway went into a slump, finding the water on the par 3 12th and a lot of sand leading to a couple of double bogies while the Nike was doing it birdie thing. On 17, though, the Callaway came back with a par 3 tee shot to about 20 feed and a perfect roll to the cup for it's first birdie -- and my third for the day!

The score on the back 9 was nearly a mirror image of the front 9 - Callaway 47, Nike 42 but that last birdie put the Callaway on top 89-90. Effectively a tie with the Nike up one GIR and the Callaway with two fewer putts. The Callaway feels much better on the clubface, yet the Nike costs about 1/2 as much.

The real winner, though, was me. The little competition made what would have been an incredibly slow round into a much more interesting and fun game.

In other news on the round, while the Nike Ignite was still pretty unreliable, the Cleveland Launcher 3 and 5 woods were great both from the tee and the fairway. My irons, with the help of the tip from the fitting session, were also very nice, though still a bunch shorter than I would have liked, most of the iron shots flew high and straight with a slight tendency towards the right. They were not hooking like they had recently and I only had one fat iron shot.

Wedges need some work. I thinned 5 or so wedge shots close to the green which would have been at least 5 strokes off the day had I hit them well. There is a lot of sand on this course and I was in the bunker probably 15 times (a LOT of sand...) but most of the outs were very clean.

Seeing the ball roll was awesome. Maybe soon we'll see some of that up near Seattle.

All in all, not too bad on the scoring front considering how early it is in the season and how long I had to wait on the tees. There are lots of places where things can get better, I just need to get out and practice more. I'm looking forward to it!

Callaway Fitting at Indian Wells

I'm down in Palm Springs for the weekend before I head to the MIX 07 conference in Las Vegas. This morning, I had the chance to visit the Callaway Golf Fitting Center at Indian Wells. Unlike the cheesy launch monitor at Puetz in Seattle, the Callaway fitting center has a great setup. Several high speed cameras capturing launch angle, spin rate, head speed, ball speed, etc as well as capturing high speed video of my swing so we can look at it and try to figure out what causes that occasional duck-hook.

The setup is much like in this picture (except I'm not left handed). You're hitting shots from the tee box on the 18th at Pebble Beach and the plasma TVs right in front of you are showing you all of the details of your shot including an animated ball trajectory, layered over your previous shots with the same club. Once we established some baseline data with my own 6 iron, we then tried different Callaway 6 irons with a variety of shafts, then compared their data with the information from my club. All in all we tried maybe 8 different 6 irons with occasional returns to my 6 iron to see make sure the differences weren't just because I was getting warmed up. The club that ended up getting the best results (most on line shots and best distance mainly) was the Callaway fusion irons with a stiff graphite shaft and +1 inch length. The big change from my current Cleveland TA-5 clubs is the updated Fusion design and the graphite shafts instead of steel. I had noticed when I was trying the Taylor Made Burner a few weeks ago that a lighter shaft makes a noticeable difference in clubhead speed. This stayed true in this case.
6 iron stats w/ Fusion:
Head Speed: 76
Ball Speed: 106
Back Spin: 4480
Launch Angle: 21
Side Spin: 47
Side Angle: 0.50
Swing Path: 2.0
Angle of Attack: -3.0
Efficiency: 1.39 (93%) This is how close to the middle of
the clubface I hit it

After the 6 iron, we moved on to my driver. While my Nike Ignite was once godly, it has become wildly inconsistent over the past year or so. Way right, then way left, then way too low... Now, of course, much of this can be blamed on the guy swinging it, but as my swing has evolved over the past couple of years, the club has not kept up with the changes. The first 8 shots on the monitor were all over the place. Good to see the computer sees the same thing I do. We tried a number of Callaway drivers and soon settled on the FT-i. It looks kind of like a book stuck on the end of a stick (as opposed to my Ignite that looks like a Volkswagen stuck on the end of a stick). The unusual square shape is supposed to provide more consistent results even on shots that are not in the middle of the clubface, though I also think that the shape helps make it easier to line up and hit the middle of the club face. Either way, the results were impressive. The first three shots were nearly on top of each other - a slight draw starting out just right and working its way back to dead center. Sweet! I had a couple of bad shots but they were still not too far off from the middle - no nasty slice or duck hook like other drivers, including my Ignite, exhibited. We played around with different lofts and shafts and settled on the 11° stiff shaft with a neutral bias.
Driver stats with FT-i
Head Speed: 92
Ball Speed: 135
Back Spin: 2600
Launch Angle: 13
Side Spin: 57
Side Angle: 3.0
Swing Path: 2.0
Angle of Attack: 0.20
Efficiency: 1.47 (98%)

As we talked a bit more about customizing the clubs, we also decided a couple of extra wraps under the grips would make them fit my hands a bit better which would let me not grip so hard.

Finally, we looked at the video of my swing and he pointed out that I tend to slide too far to the right on the backswing, putting my weight on the outside of my right foot and then I slide back to the left on the downswing which puts me too far ahead of the ball and requires some pretty severe arm action to hit it. Trying to stay more centered with more weight on the inside of my right foot will allow more of a hip turn and will keep me in better position coming down on the swing. Seeing the video of this and this one tip really helped. This one little thing was simple enough that I could pay attention to it during my round that followed and helped a lot with making better contact and hitting fewer (almost none, actually) fat shots.

Interestingly, there was not huge pressure to order the clubs on the spot. Instead, he gave me the printouts of some of the info (I forgot to get some of the other ones because I was running late for my tee time) and gave me his card and said they could order them, or I could order them online. The tricky thing about club fitting is that you can't just go in to a store (or on ebay) and pick them up but once you get them, you know it is right.

The most pressing need is for the driver. I'll probably order that pretty soon since my Ignite is so unreliable at this point. I'll probably wait a week or so on the irons, perhaps go hit them again before placing an order but it will be nice to have something that I know is tailored to my swing. The only other thing I want to ponder is if another brand of clubs would work as well given a similar setup.

Stay tuned!

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

It's like DVD all over again...

Remember the first time you saw a DVD player? It looked SOOO much better than a VHS tape or broadcast TV. Now, though, DVD is sooo 1990s. After years of increasing resolution in digital cameras and video recorders, the imperfections in DVD have become very obvious to even regular viewers.

Tonight, we had that same WOW! moment as when I first saw a DVD back in the 90s when we hooked up our HD-DVD player for our XBox 360 and watched the first episode of Planet Earth. Absolutely stunning!

Each new technology needs an example of how cool it can be, and while I haven't tried any of the unique HD-DVD features like watching a scene from multiple angles simultaneously, I can tell you that Planet Earth is so much more amazing in this format than on regular television. They have numerous time-lapse video shots of seasons changing, flowers blooming (and while panning, no less) and each of these are amazing to watch on this disk. We've only seen one episode so far, but the shots of thousands of migrating caribou are so clear you can see detail in the animals' legs even though it was shot from the air, and there is a shark vs. seal scene that will keep you out of the ocean for good once you've watched it on HD-DVD.

I was skeptical of yet another new disk format but after watching this, I'm a fan. If you have an XBox 360, you should definitely grab one of these players and hook it up. In minutes, you too can hear the crystal clear sound of your jaw hitting the floor.

Friday, April 06, 2007

TextMate - Putting the Fun back in Typing

I've been looking for the right programmer's text editor for a while. I have had high expectations of text editors, ever since I wrote my own IDE back in the olden days. I want lots of flexibility and a simple, elegant interface. Fast syntax coloring and massive configurability without the arcane knowledge required for things like emacs and vi.

I've looked at lots of things on Windows but never found one I liked. Source Insight is nice for indexing but it feels cluttered and non-intuitive. The UI looks grungy too and only part of that is the fact that it tries to use Windows common controls. Visual Studio has a nice editor if (and only if) you're building in their environment. Much of its cool functionality is possible because they also compile the code and can do cool intellisense completion based on the knowledge they get from their compiler. If you are using a different build environment(like I need to) it doesn't do much more than syntax highlighting and there is lots of UI around it that just doesn't apply. I tried BBEdit and TextWrangler on the Mac and, while they are nice, they feel more focused on web development than multi-language programming.

Enter TextMate. It is also a Mac-only text editor but it has a great combination of customizability and programmability. You can create ruby, perl, shell or applescript commands that pretty much let you do anything on the text. It relies on regular expressions for a lot of the text features which, while very powerful, is very tricky and seems to involve occasional animal sacrifices but when it works, it is cool. The UI for the applications is very clean - not a pile of toolbars and UI widgets all over the place, they have maximized the space for the text but it is still possible to get to all of the funcionality very quickly and most functionality can be browsed through menus or config windows so you don't need to remember every keyboard equivalent to get going.

A lot of my programming is on Windows these days but I can now even use TextMate while doing my builds on Windows thanks to the combination of a simple little daemon app I wrote on Windows and TextMate's scriptability.

One of my favorite features is snippets. You type in a brief keyword, then hit the tab key and it will expand that text into a larger text block and it provides placeholders for text that you can then tab between and fill them in. One great example of this is the head snippet for html. All you do is type head, then hit tab and it replaces the word head with this:
<meta http-equiv="Content-type" content="text/html; ">
<title>Page Title</title>

The cursor has selected the words Page Title so you can start typing the title of the web page. Hit tab again and the cursor is below the title tag, ready for more header content. In fact, I had to use TextMate just then to convert all of the tags into entities so that blogger wouldn't think they were actual HTML. One command - W00T!

They recently released a book called TextMate: Power Editing the Mac which is a great way to get started with all of the features. My only complaint is that, while they try to explain regexp in a simple way, I think it needs more examples and samples of how to build up the expressions. Otherwise, it is a great starting point.

Apparently, the next version of TextMate will only work on Leopard, the upcoming release of MacOS X. While that's a little bit of a bummer, I am really looking forward to the new functionality that requires the updated OS.

If you're writing a bunch of code, and you can use a Mac for that coding, I highly recommend you check out TextMate!

Yay! I can still hit a golf ball!

A couple of months ago, I went to Whistler with the kids and we went snowboarding. I'm not very good but it is a lot of fun when there is lots of powder. This weekend, there wasn't but I went up anyway. On the first run, about 50 feet into the run I fell backward on my left outstretched arm and heard a little in my elbow. Feh - no biggie, I'll keep going. 3 more turns and I did it again - same arm - same sound. That was it. I was done for the day and the season.

For the next few weeks, I couldn't fully straighten or bend that arm. According to my doctor, I may have chipped a bone in my elbow but I think the damage was more to the soft tissue in there. A few weeks ago, I wanted to try out one of the new Nike drivers at the local golf store and I realized that the elbow was not ready for golf. Even on a slow take away, it was very uncomfortable to swing a club. Dang!

I started doing some weights to work on that area and this morning I went to Bellevue to hit some balls on the range. I'm glad to say that I can now hit a ball again. Maybe not as far as I could a couple of summers ago, but I hit about 80 balls and they all went pretty much where I wanted them to. Phew!

So now I'm ready for summer - and ready to try out one of those new drivers again :)

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Line Rider - some people have too much free time

Line Rider is an addictive little game - draw some lines and curves, hit play, and a little guy starts sledding down the curves. Once you start, you can't stop until you've made a cooler track for him to go down - then a more creative way for him to crash.

Some people, though, have spent way too much time coming up with paths for him to ride down. Check out the movies link on their page. Ding is particularly fun...

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Kiva - Loans That Change Lives

As part of a birthday present last August, I signed up for Kiva, a service that provides loans to the working poor in countries around the world. People are trying to (among many other things) raise money for a cow so they can make and sell cheese in Azerbaijan, for supplies for a beauty salon in Uganda, or to open a photography studio in Togo.

Our job is simple. We choose which businesses we want to support and provide some money to help fund that business. Not a lot, perhaps just $25.00. Those small loans are combined with other Kiva members and once all of the funds are raised, the business owner gets that money and soon after starts paying it back over some agreed-upon period of time usually in the 6-12 month range. Over the past 6 months or so, I've loaned money to 15 businesses. Some are just starting but two of them have already paid back the loans.

Kiva's website does a good job of explaining microfinance and it is actually very interesting to understand why the working poor have such a hard time getting even small amounts of money to start or grow their businesses. For me, though, it is much more satisfying to look at the loans in my "portfolio" and know that somewhere around the world, someone is working to make their business better and that in my own little way, I'm helping them.

That's cool.

The banner below will show a different Kiva business each time you refresh this page.