Favorite Posts of 2009

These are ten of my favorites posts from 2009. They were fun to write. They aren't necessarily my highest traffic posts, or the posts that drew the most comments. If I compiled the list on a different day, the final selection might be different, but for now I'm satisfied.

This list does not include book reviews, movie reviews, or posts that are part of a different series. They are listed separately in the sidebar.

Do they know what "subscribe" means?

Complicated Relationship

Where there's smoke, there's...Nothing

The power of limits


New times

A short trip


Late coffee

Late Night Visitor


The "Juice" says, "Show them your heels."

I've been going through roughly 1400 comic books I have at my mother's house.  It's time to bag and organize them properly after 25 years.

I ran across this issue of Wonder Woman from 1980.

The interesting thing is not the cover art, the story, or the fact that I read Wonder Woman.  It's the ad on the back cover.

None of his endorsements seem quite the same anymore, do they?

I do remain kind of curious about the 9 other unnamed pros that recommend Spot-bilt, and why they chose anonymity. Any guesses as to who they might be? 


A Penguin Puzzle

The GF and I decided to work on a puzzle last year.  Somehow or other I ended up taking over the project.  I'm not sure whose idea that was.  Regardless, by the time it was finished, we had nowhere to hang it and it was taking up space on the table.  Sadly, it was time to disassemble it, which is something I don't think I've ever done with a puzzle that had more than 25 pieces.

It was a painful prospect.

But as with with any project, if it's worth doing, it's worth overdoing.  Or in this case, if it's worth undoing, it's worth over-undoing.  Or is that under-undoing?

So all those hours assembling the 1000 piece puzzle, meant one thing to keep it all worthwhile -- hours spent applying a technological experience to the dis-assembly.  Which is how the self-assembling puzzle came about.

Now maybe I'll make it take itself apart again.


My Keurig coffee maker

Yesterday wasn’t the only Christmas I had. Before the GF headed to California for the Holidays, we had our own Christmas around a very cute Christmas tree.

Among the things I got was a Keurig coffee maker. The Keurig uses prepackaged pods of coffee, and a reservoir you fill with water. When you want a cup of coffee, you drop in a pod, put your cup under the spout, and press the “brew” button. In less than a minute you have a cup of coffee.

The great thing is that it requires virtually no maintenance. Unlike a regular coffee maker, you don’t have to clean it each day. The pods don’t make a mess. Each pod is good for one cup, then you throw it away and put in a new pod. I don’t have to deal with a separate grinder, the kitchen sink, the stove, the 15 parts of my other coffee maker, or any of those things.

It’s perfect for those times and days when I just want to drink my coffee and don’t want to think about it or strategically plan my consumption.

This is important, because as we all know, the most difficult part of making that first cup of coffee can be making that first cup of coffee before drinking the first cup of coffee. The Keurig makes the process as simple as pressing a button, which even the most caffeine deprived can manage.

It’s clean. It’s fast. It’s easy. It’s simple. But how does the Keurig coffee taste?

Not bad. It’s a little weak or watery compared to my French Press or my Cuisinart coffee maker. Overall, I’d rate the coffee quality as “adequate.”

The pods come in a variety of flavors, and I’ve tried a bunch. These are pretty good:

  • Tully’s French Roast
  • Timothy’s Colombian Blend
  • Caribou Blend

These are not so good:

  • Green Mountain Nantucket Blend
  • Coffee People Organic

And this is just awful:

  • Van Houtte CafĂ© French Vanilla

For my day-to-day coffee needs, the Keurig is just right. For lazy Sunday afternoons with the newspaper, when I want really good coffee, I’ll still break out the French Press. It’s still the best way to make coffee when you are willing to take a little time and care, and you are willing to do a few dishes.

The Cuisinart still has the most pieces and is the biggest hassle to clean. But it does have an automatic grinder and timer. And a 10-cup thermal carafe. When I want to make a larger quantity of coffee at once, the Cuisinart is that way to go.

But for when I realize I have a conference call in 5 minutes, the Keurig can’t be beat.


Presents to keep me busy

It was a swell Christmas this year.  We had great food and the cats didn't object too strongly to being randomly pelted with wrapping paper.  I think they were too stoned from their catnip mice to even notice.

I've got a few things to keep me busy this year, including:

  • Books (1,918 pages total):
    • The Mote in God's Eye (Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle)
    • Lucifer's Hammer (Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle)
    • Little Brother (Cory Doctrow)
    • The Graveyard Book (Neil Gaiman)
    • New York Then and Now (Marcia Reiss)
  • A lovely marble trivet (with an Irish blessing)
  • A luggage scale (great for minimizing fees)
  • Rosetta Stone Japanese Level 1 (in case I can make that trip to Japan work this year)
  • Pentax DA Fish-eye 10-17mm F3.5-4.5 ED (IF) lens (great for wide angle views and cool fisheye effects)
I did not receive the cat for Christmas (though sometimes I think my mother wouldn't mind shipping her off to Seattle).  And I didn't even pose her.  But Crash just can't seem to miss an opportunity to show off.

Here she is demonstrating the effects of my new lens.

I used the built-in flash on the Pentax K10d for this picture.  Your supposed to use external flash due to the extremely wide field of view with this lens.  At 10mm the built in flash turns into more of a spot light, but I like how it looks.

Looks like I'm going to be busy learning stuff, practicing stuff, reading stuff, weighing stuff, and putting down hot stuff.  It's going to be a fun year.

How was your holiday?


Christmas commercial

While the Lexus commercials do remind me that the Christmas season is here, they are not my favorite Christmas time commercials.  No, that title is reserved for this gem from Corona that's been running for years.:


Have a wonderful Christmas.


Last minute Christmas Shopping

Back when I was in college, I'd come home for the holidays and do my last minute Christmas shopping on the 24th.  I'd borrow the car and head out to the Green Acres mall for a few hours.  Yeah, I was that guy.

The mall always provided ample shopping opportunities, and I could generally find everything I wanted/needed for the folks on my list.  It usually took a few hours, and contending with hordes of people was never fun, but it just seemed like the best way for me to accomplish my goals.

The real adventure came when it was time to leave.  The parking lot was, of course, a mess.  But I would slowly pull out of my space and into the lane of cars creeping slug-like to the exit. And the hour+ wait to get out of the parking lot never bothered me.  I played Christmas music from WHTZ on the car radio and relaxed in slow ooze of traffic.

I took some perverse delight in the aggravation other drivers seemed to experience.  Their frustration and shock at the pace of the cars made no sense. Seriously, what did they expect?  A quick in and out of the mall on Christmas Eve in the pre-internet shopping days?  That's just craziness.  Traffic was a nightmare and obscenely slow, but you know what? How else could it be? 

I guess experiences like those shopping expeditions were where I began forming some of my key beliefs about dealing with life.  Among them was the simple idea that when things go as I expect them to, then they are much easier to deal with, especially when I already expected them to go badly.

But really the key things is this:

There are only two types of things to stress about in this world -- thing I can change, and things I can't change.  If I can change them, there's no point in stressing about them when I can simply change them.  If I can't change them, then what's the point in stressing about it? 

I may not always live up to that, but it's a helpful frame of reference when I find myself getting anxious about the latest windmill I'm tilting at.

As for the Christmas Eve shopping expeditions, well, they've been supplanted Amazon.com.  And I no long spend Christmas Eve staring at the sullen faces of annoyed drivers.  Now that's a holiday upgrade.


Shaner-Palooza: Max Headroom

I had a strange dream the other night.  I dreamed that William Shatner was interviewed by Max Headroom.  How awesome, twisted, wrong, and bizarre would that be?  Sort of like Space Ghost Coast to Coast.  Of course they would never do anything like that, right?

It turns out they did.  Here it is in all its 80s fashion splendor.

The first four minutes are intro material, and it is funny, but the pace is a little too slow.  You can jump to about 4:06 when Shatner appears.  Shatner can't really decide if he wants to be the straight man or if he wants to play William Shatner.  He comes out opposing Reagan defense policies, and he defends Dobermans to Max.


Light Rail and SeaTac

Finally.  We now have rail to the airport in Seattle.

Early holiday arrival: light rail to airport

With duffel bags, wheeled luggage and children in tow, a steady stream of travelers tried Sound Transit's new SeaTac/Airport Station on its opening day Saturday.

The trains, coming about 10 minutes apart, typically carried some 75 riders each into the towering station with the spine-like truss roof, located between the airport parking garage and Highway 99.

It opened two weeks early, just in time for the airport's busy Christmas travel period.


The system is far from finished and should have been built years ago.  but bickering over infrastructure has delayed it since the 1960s.

The question remains of how useful the system will be. 

The biggest airport users will likely be airport/airline employees.  Travellers will use it, too, but I'm curious about the volume.

It costs $2.50 to ride to the airport.  If I were to drive, that would mean 15 miles of travel.  Plus I pay $12-14 a day fro parking.  If I use the airport garage that price jumps to about $26/day.  If I take a cab, it's about $45 each way.

So it's definitely cheaper to take the train.  The problem?  Luggage.

The nearest station is 8-12 blocks from my building.  And that's down hill.  Leaving in the morning with my computers and suitcase wouldn't be too much hassle, but I'm not sure I want to deal with hauling all my stuff back 8-10 blocks, uphill, at night, after a day of activity and flying. It just sounds tremendously unpleasant. 

For short trips, maybe it makes sense to use as a traveler.  For longer ones, I'm a bit skeptical.

Now if they actually build the streetcar in my neighborhood, we may be on to something.  Here's to hoping for the Boren route.


Super Mario Bros. Wii thoughts

A few weeks back I wrote about the awesome Super Mario Galaxy game for Nintendo Wii.  That was a great game.

So I was looking forward to Super Mario Bros. Wii.  It's a good game, but not quite as much fun.  It's also more frustrating.  It's still a valuable use for my time, though.

I never played Mario Bros on the original Nintendo systems.  I was an Atari 2600 / Commodore 64 guy.  I'm just a couple years too old to have lost my childhood to that particular console, so the game doesn't quite have the same nostalgic grip on me that it does on others.

The game is a tribute to that earlier era.  It's a side-scrolling game that takes advantage of the Wii's better sound and graphics, but is by no means a graphics power house.  Game play is mostly like the traditional game, but there are new features and power-ups. 

It's also challenging.  I'm in World 2 now, and it's taking a while to advance. And that brings my to my main criticism of the game -- the dearth of save points.

In the old day of video game consoles, saving your game wasn't really an option.  The old consoles lacked memory cards; the games were typically on ROM cartridges.  If you died, you often had to start over from scratch.  Early games with save options might give you a certain code when you accomplished something, and you could enter that code the next time you played.  But mainly hardware limited you Save opportunities, and we accepted it becase we didn't know another way (and wore onions on our belts, as was the fashion at the time).

But this is not that era. And the design decision to limit save points is a mistake.

In Super Mario Bros. Wii, you can only save your game once you defeat a boss.  You typically have to complete 3 levels before you get to a boss.  If you spend several hours completing those levels, and then fail to defeat the boss, or have to stop playing because it's time to go to work, or have dinner, or whatever, all those hours you spent on the preliminary levels get you nothing.

It's not a game you can advance in if you have a half hour here, and an hour there.  You need to dedicate a significant block of time, and then be successful in that block of time or you have to start over again.

Were I in junior high, on summer vacation, with days to wile away,  this wouldn't bother me as much.  But it's not longer 1984. And there's no technical reason to limit Saving your game so much. Storage is cheap.  I probably have as more memory in my phone today than was in all the Atari 2600s sold in NY.  Ever.

I'm okay with hard levels, but once I beat it, don't make me beat it again. And again. And again. And again, just so I can get to the next, slightly harder level

More specifically, let me create a penalty-free save point each time I complete a level.  C'mon Nintendo. You can issue it through the online updates on the Wii.

I'll be waiting.


Mileage Run

Because of the way my trips fell this year, I found myself making my first ever mileage run.

A mileage run is a trip you take for the sole purpose of accumulating Frequent Flyer miles.  They may be really cheap, long flights.  They might involve several days of creative routing.  Or they might just be that short hop that puts you over a threshold.

Here's where my Alaska Airlines milage account was sitting this afternoon.

I locked in my Gold level earlier this summer, but I somehow I ended up 25 miles short of 75K.  This is important because once a traveler hits 75K in a year, Alaska will just give them 50K in bonus miles. 

50K is a lot of miles.  That's the equivalent of two round trip domestic coach tickets in the US, or one first class ticket, or roughly one coach ticket to Europe, or half a business class ticket to Asia.

And with all my business travel done for the year, I was just 25 miles short.

And that's how I found myself at SeaTac (SEA) tonight, waiting for a flight to Bellingham (BLI). 

It's about a 25 minute flight.  I got on the plane, we took off, we flew north, we bounced all around the air in Whatcom county, and landed at BLI. 

I got off the plane, walked into the terminal, turned right around and sat down in the departures areas.  No more than 10 minutes later, I walked back on to the same aircraft, with the same crew, for the flight back to SEA.  Roughly 30 minutes later, we bounded down the runway at SEA and shortly there after, I was back in my familiar C-concourse, looking for my Mission Accomplished banner.

Yes, I am aware of how silly this whole process really is.  But like any good junkie, I got my miles.

Now I just have 617,380 miles to go until I get gold for life. That's a lot of Bellingham trips.


Lexus December to Remember Sales Event

I'm excited.  It's finally starting to feel like Christmas.  You know why? Because I just saw the first Lexus December to Remember Sales Event commercial of the season.

I love the Lexus December to Remember Sales Event! It's awesome.  Someone leads their significant other out the house with hands over their eyes, then they remove their hands so they can see a brand new Lexus with a giant red bow on the roof.  And everyone is all thrilled and pleased and happy.

No one thinks someone just committed a crime.

No one freaks out about the huge amount of money their SO just spent on them.

No one who gets a Lexus panics about how that water filer they got for their SO can never live up to a luxury automobile.

There's just pure joy about receiving a luxury automobile with a giant red bow on the roof.

I don't know why these commercials make me feel so holiday-ey. 

It's not like they were on when I was growing up.  Heck, Lexus didn't even exist then. 

It's not like I ever got a Lexus for Christmas.

It's not like they call to mind a simpler era.

Maybe it's because of the silly, quasi-rythmic name: "Lexus December to Remember Sales Event."  It's just more fun than "Toyota-thon."

Or it could be simple, happy tune.

Maybe it's because Lexus gifts are so wildly, unapologetically, inappropriate for the Holiday season.  There is a level of conspicuous wealth consumption in those commercials that just blows away all the $3000 frying pans from William-Sonoma.  They're like Internet companies from 1998.  They're just so awsomely over the top I can't help but love them.

And the gaint, obnoxious bows look like something out of a Saturday Night Live sketch.  Yet they're still fantastic.

I don't own a Lexus.  And I don't have any financial relationship with Lexus (though if they want to give me one, I certainly won't object).  And I thought about doing a sarcastic rant about the Lexus December to Remember Sales event, but I can't.

Because for some odd reason, the commercials for the Lexus December to Remember Sales event just make me happy.

While the older, more traditional commercial may not be online, below is one of the ones from this year. There's also a video that shows where those big bows come from.


Victoria Part 07: Butchart Gardens

It's under 30 F outside now.  There is talk of snow.  What better time to look at pictures from the summer?

One of the main reason The GF and I went to Victoria was to visit the Butchart Gardens and take a lot of pictures. And that's exactly what we did.  I nearly filled my 8GB memory card. 

Butchart Gardens is an amazing place that started as someone's private estate.  Gradually, they grew they gardens to the magical place they are today.

When we were there in late August, it was hot and brilliantly sunny. It was exactly what you might expect from a wonderful summer day.

Here are just a few of the pictures I took.  Enjoy and think warm thoughts.

You can see more of my pictures here.

You can read more about my Victoria trip here.

Victoria Trip Index

Heading north

Victoria Part 01: Is Tim Horton's really that great?

Victoria Part 02: Ferry Rides

Victoria Part 03: An Aquarium to make fish rights activists cringe

Victoria Part 04: Inner Harbour

Victoria Part 05: Reasons to go back

Victoria Part 06: Royal Wax Museum

Victoria Part 07: Butchart Gardens


Leaked climate change email analysis

Recently, 1000+ documents leaked from one of the climate change research organizations have been getting a lot of attention.  Some have called it proof that global climate change is a sham.  It's not.  In this article, Time offers a good analysis of the situation, including the basics of how it came about, what's in the emails in questions, and what it all means.

The truth is that the e-mails, while unseemly, do little to change the overwhelming scientific consensus on the reality of man-made climate change. But they do hand a powerful political card to skeptics at the start of perhaps the most important environmental summit in history. Still don't know what to make of it? If you're struggling to untangle the details of the e-mail controversy, here are five key things you need to know:


Copywriting the right way?

I saw this product at Macy's in downtown Seattle the other day.  It's a "Dual Event Timer" from the "Martha Stewart Collection."  I guess it's a neat idea.  It let's you have more than one timer in your kitchen, which is great when you want to time both the bagel bites in the oven, and the coffee steeping in the french press.  But I wasn't too keen on the name.  This is how my though process went:

"Dual event timer? That's stupid.  How pretenscious.  Is that because it's from the Martha Stewart collection?  They have to make it fancy?  That's just obnoxious.

It doens't need to be that fancy, people.  It's a simple product.  Just give it a simple name. Just call it the...


Hmm.  What should the call it?

It's a kitchen timer.  Well, I guess you can use it outside the kitchen, too, so maybe there's no need for that word.  And 'dual kitchen' doesn't make sense anyway because most people only have one kitchen. But I guess it should mention that it support two different 'activities.'  Or maybe 'events' which may be simpler.

It's two timers in one, so the number two should be in the name.  Or the word 'Bi.' (Maybe not bi -- too controversial).  Or 'duo.'  That might work.  Or how about 'dual?'

So that's it.  Why didn't those stuck up writers just call it something simple like 'dual event timer' instead of 'dual eve...'


I guess they did a good job afterall."

So after I managed to swallow my populist outrage, I had to admit to myself that the name they came up with was pretty good, and that copy writing is hard.

And that maybe, just maybe, thinking to myself in parenthetical expressions is over doing it just a little bit.


Long Beach by night

I spent the past 2 nights at the Hyatt next to the Long Beach, CA, convention center.  It's in the heart of the Long Beach entertainment disctirct, surrouned by restaurants, bars, an aquarium, and the Queen Mary.
And the heart is in desperate need of a bypass.

There are few thing sadder than the restaurants desperately in need of customers.  I walked into an Irish Pub and there were just a few tables quietly occupied, yet the room was filled with a desperate vibe and gloom.  I walked back out (which probably didn't help with the desperation and darkness).  Many restaurants were like that.

The piano bar had the biggest crowd, but that's not saying much.  The sing along pianist desperately tried to get the crowd excited about Wham!  He enthusiastically belted out a chipper, "Wake me up"  and pointed to the crowd for their response.

"before you go go"

It sounded like a group of 8th graders forced into saying "Good Morning," by the teach before starting a math test.

I felt bad for the guy.

I went across the street to find a restaurant that wasn't creepily uncrowded.  There was a growing crowd of youths dressed in black and bursting out in dance at vasious intervals.  There was no music.

My whole walk seemed like some sort of dream.  I kept expecting to find a spatula in my hand and a flower telling me to save the day by turning over the purple.

Instead I sought refuge in the familiar.  And that's why I like having chain restaurants around.  When the sad/bizarre needle is gliding into the red, there's nothing like the fake Australian ambiance and average steaks of Outback.


New Math Symbols

Somehow I managed to do well in Calculus many years ago, even though towards the end of the Reagan administration I was submitting answers of "Christopher Columbus + C" and getting partial credit.By that point I'd had enough of math class, though. 

I learned something today. Apparently there are no longer enough mathematical symbols.  Their like oil.  Apparently this is the era of "Peak Math Notation."  So someone created new ones.

According to Wired:

For 70 years, mathematicians have been stuck on the Halting Problem: Computers occasionally hang on one line of code and fail to move on to the next, and no one can reliably predict when that will happen. (The result is the unending hourglass or pinwheel of death.) But a few years ago, Microsoft researcher Byron Cook and his colleagues did the unthinkable — they hacked a fix. When Cook tried to describe the workaround, however, he found it impossible to explain with existing mathematical symbols.
His only option, he decided, was to invent new ones.

... More

I think I understand the problem they are addressing.  It's something hyperthreading, multi-tasking, predictive branch execution, and dual core CPUs (among other technologies) tried to solve through brute force multi-tasking.

But then they start talking about the math.  And I have no idea what their talking about.  But it sure sounds cool.


In the air finally?

Great news from Boeing today.  The 787 passed a Static Wing Test, which means they bent it and it didn't break.  That's always encouraging.

It look like it will actually get off the ground later this month.  I'm looking forward to riding on this thing in the coming years.

From the Seattle PI:

Boeing has moved up the target date for its first 787 Dreamliner flight eight days, to Dec. 14, and now plans to fly its second flight-test 787 before the end of the month, FlightBlogger reported Tuesday.