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 :)