Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Review: Heat Moisture Exchanger

If you travel with a full-size CPAP machine (which I do when I travel with family), then you might consider bringing the humidifier as well. However, the humidifier adds a huge amount of weight, not just because the humidifier itself is bulky and includes a heating unit and water chamber, but also because the power supply need to drive it also needs to size up!

This winter, on our travels, I looked at the HME attached to my Z1 CPAP and realized that it could also serve as a replacement humidifier for the Resmed S9!

The HME is supposedly disposable and needs to be replaced every week or so. (In practice, every 10 days is sufficient) For the last 3 days of the trip I decided to do without just to see. It was horrible. I went from being able to use the CPAP all night to taking off the machine after 4-5 hours of therapy. (This might have contributed to my catching a nasty virus on the flight back!)

Suffice to say, next time I buy a batch of HMEs, I'll be buying far more than for use with just the Z1! This is essential equipment and it doesn't go bad and I can easily buy enough to qualify for a discount!

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Disney Magic Kingdom and Universal Islands of Adventure

On paper, it looked like a good idea to return the rental car in the Orlando area, and visit the theme parks there before returning to California. My idea was to visit the Kennedy Space Center on the transition. A deluge of storms and a wrong turn on the highway made that plan worthless.

My memories of Magic Kingdom were colored by the 2014 visit. At that time, the crowds were minor, and we could do every ride Bowen could do in 2 days.

This time, the clouds were extensive,and our fast passes of limited use as all the good rides were already taken. The waits were long and the food expensive. The fireworks was something to see, but it disrupted the kids bedtime enough that they were cranky. I feel no desire to ever repeat the Magic Kingdom visits except under some very ideal conditions.

With that, our expectations for Islands of Adventure was muted. The customer service was horrible, with long lines just to wait for the tickets an app that refused to issue tickets! But once into the park it was actually a better experience than the Magic Kingdom. The lines were short except for one ride (the King Kong experience), and more importantly, Bowen loved the Spiderman ride.

The Spiderman ride is a 4D ride, with water, heat, and 3D glasses. The roller coaster experience along with the other sensory inputs were so much fun that Bowen went on the ride 5 times! We tried some of the other rides, like the Jurassic jungle experience, and I tried the Hulk roller coaster, but none of them were as complete as the Spiderman one. We didn't stay too late, but one nice thing about the park was that if you did stay late, the park's lines become even more diminished and it's a much more pleasant experience.

If I had this trip to do over I'd visit the Islands of Adventure first and stay late to that one, and not do Magic Kingdom again. One interesting feature is that while Disney now owns Marvel, Orlando Universl has an exclusive license to use those characters in a theme park, which is why Disney's theme parks don't actually have Marvel characters! Just buy your tickets ahead of time at your hotel or online and you won't have the massive wait we had to get into the park.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Florida Keys 2016

This winter break, we took the family over to the Florida's Keys area for a warm weather visit. There are a few reasons the Keys is attractive: first, it's in the continental US, so the flights are fairly easy, and the areas are familiar. Even stores like Costco and Target are available, which makes shopping for supplies much easier than some of the more exotic trips. Secondarily, it's almost at the Caribbean, which makes the water warm enough for swimming and snorkeling, as well as providing ideal location for a refresh dive. Added to the attractiveness is the idea that much of the Keys will be gone in a few decades as sea levels rise, so we should see it while we can! Houses in the area, for instance, are already built on stilts, with the idea that when floods and storms happen you would escape by car and abandon your garage/parking area to nature.

Neither Google nor Facebook no longer allow embedded slide shows of albums to blogger, so you now have to put up with a crummy web-link if you want to see the photo album.

Because it was our first time in the area, we screwed up a lot. First of all, we booked our rental house in Marathon, instead of Key West or Key Largo. When I looked at the map, I naively thought that Marathon being between Largo and West would make an ideal base from which to commute to both sides. What I didn't know was that traffic in the Keys is terrible, and Florida drivers are much worse than California drivers by several orders of magnitude. Commuting from Marathon to Key Largo was an ordeal during traffic hours, and there was one day when we abandoned a trip to Key West because there was a 4 hour traffic jam!

We did a dive trip from John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. All those months spent teaching Bowen how to snorkel finally paid off as he enjoyed the water and loved looking at fishes. His limit was basically his ability to keep warm in the water. His favorite movie quickly became Finding Dory!

On New Year's Day, we went to Key West for the Yankee Freedom to ferry us to Dry Tortugas National Park. This place was touted as having the best snorkeling in the Keys and lived up to its reputation. While most tourists stayed near the beach, if you make it over to the coal pilings, it's like swimming in an aquarium!

We paid a visit to Bahia Honda State Park. Unfortunately, the wind and waves made it impossible to do any snorkeling, and the swimming was mediocre. Both kids enjoyed the sand and sun though.

One interesting feature of Marathon was that we could easily visit the Turtle Hospital. You need to make reservations for this, but it was all Bowen could talk about for a few days. The facilities were indeed impressive and it's interesting to see what sort of ailments are solutions the hospital developed. It's well worth visiting, and yes, some of the turtles were named after the mutant ninjas.

On our second visit to Key West, we visited the Hemingway House. At most museums you would avoid the dry, boring tour. Not here! The tours are led by funny guides who did a good job of making the writer's life interesting (not that any life which involved 4 marriages, several wars, and affairs needed a lot of help!).

We got to watch the sunset, but boy, the crowds were something as well. The house we were in had a dock, so we rented a tandem kayak to explore the area, and did some final snorkeling before leaving for the Orlando area.

If I had to do this trip all over again, I would either stay at Key Largo or Key West, preferably with a base in each area rather than trying to split the difference. The rest of it you're dependent very much on the weather anyway as to how good the snorkeling is. One thing worth trying is to rent a boat in Miami and sail/motor down to the Keys. It's not as pleasant as the BVIs, but there are enough anchorages that it would be prettier than trying to see the place by land.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Review: Panasonic Ergo Fit Earbuds

The Playstation Vita supports bluetooth, but in a funky way that disconnects every time it goes to sleep, and occasionally finds it difficult to pair. I wasn't willing to spend a lot of money on dedicated headphones for it, so got the Panosonic Ergo Fit  Earbuds, which had great reviews on Amazon.

The ear buds are surprisingly comfortable and do a reasonable job of sealing out outside noise. What's really nice about traditional headphones using the traditional headphone port is that the power requirements are minimal and the devices last forever, whether they're smartphones or PS Vitas.

For $8 + tax, these are a great deal. In fact, I wish I'd sprung for the version with the inline mic so it can serve as a backup for my regular bluetooth headsets.


Monday, January 09, 2017

First Impressions: Nikon AW130

The Nikon AW130 isn't nearly as good a camera as a high end smart phone. While it will start up pretty fast and take pictures, and the optical zoom is obviously better than any smart phone's, the camera is missing features like Auto HDR, and the sensor in the camera isn't any bigger than your smart phone's.

The lens features awful distortion and the wide end (see the curved horizon line above), which even Lightroom is unable to correct (I'd have to pull up Photoshop). At the wide end, it probably any better.

Of course, it's 30% of the price of current high end smart phones (at $199), and it shoots pictures under water even down to a depth of 100 feet. The camera also features shock-proofing for a drop from 7'. The zoom is internal, so there are no moving parts underwater to break, and it features wireless connectivity to your phone so pictures can be exported without a 3rd party app. It does all this without a case, but unlike say, the Olympus TG-4 ($379), does not feature RAW mode.

In practice, the pictures from the camera are better than the Moto G 2015. I picked the camera because there was a sale during Black Friday for ($199), which made it too attractive given a snorkeling and diving trip that we had in December. The price difference between it and more expensive cameras is such that I'd rather have this one with the better depth rating like the above-mentioned TG-4. I opted not to go with an underwater case for one of the better cameras because I've flooded way too many cases in the past, and the extra bulk didn't seem worth it.

In practice, the lack of RAW is by far the most punishing problem with the camera. Let's face it, under water, I'm not going to be adjusting white balance, zooming, or setting aperture and shutter speed. I would rely on RAW post-processing for all that. Because the camera only shoots in JPG, I can't do that and have to  live with limited adjust-ability. In ideal conditions that's not a big deal but in challenging lighting conditions or murky water your keeper ratio is just going to drop like a rock.

Another issue is that the camera is not neutrally buoyant, so you're going to have to find a way to secure it or it'll sink like a stone if you let go. During this trip it wasn't a big deal. Every time I needed to use both hands for other uses I'd just stuff the camera down my wet suit and recover it later. But the camera does not come with any kind of strap suitable for underwater use, so I'll have to find another solution for the long term.

Waterproofing is done via a lock on the chamber that provides access to micro-USB charging and the SD card. There are no rubber grommets to break and lose, and the inside of the chamber is colored bright yellow so you know that the camera hasn't been waterproof'd. The closure is a bit finicky and I'm fearful that the locking mechanism will break some day, so I would avoid opening and closing the chamber frequently. The wireless transfer via smartphone would be one way to avoid doing that, but Nikon's solution/app is even worse than Canon's, which surprised the heck out of me. The result is that I'd process photos every other day rather than  every day.

Overall, I do like the camera enough to recommend it at $199.00 (which Amazon  still supplies). Hopefully, competition will drive one of the major manufacturers to provide a better camera in the future for a similar price, but for the moment this is the best compromise for the money.

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Review: Daredevil Season 1

One of the challenges of a superhero series is the expectation built up over the years from having some really great stories. For Daredevil, there's Miller & Mazzucchelli's Born Again. That story, however, stood in context of a long series, while the TV show (for whatever reason) feels obliged to tell the origin story, recasting it in a different fashion.

TV shows get much more room to deal with their subject matter: tension can be added to scenes, and longer stories get a chance to play out. With series on streaming video like Netflix, shows don't even need to have a 3 act structure to give room for commercial breaks. Towards the end of the season, the producers and directors take advantage of this to deliver 55 minute episodes instead of 45 minute episodes, which allow them to derail expectations in certain sequences while heightening the climaxes.

The chief villain in this season is Wilson Fisk (known in the comics as The Kingpin, but never gets that label here). The actor does an amazing job, portraying Fisk as a man with genuine goals and ideals and viewing himself as a good guy.  The show spends about as much time on him as it does on Matt Murdock. Daredevil himself never gets a name until right at the end, nor does he wear a costume for most of the series.

The storyline is reasonable, and the action sequences are justifiably praised by critics. The entire thing was done on a budget, but done well. The show even takes advantage of its ability to depart from the comics by killing off characters that were long standing actors in the books, adding more shock value to those who read the comics.

Is this the best superhero show on TV? I haven't watched enough shows in recent years to be able to tell you. But it's pretty good, and with the holiday discounts, enough to justify the microSD card storage space I had devoted to it while I watched in 15 minute chunks during the holidays. Recommended.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Review: Caliban's War

Caliban's War is the sequel to Leviathan Wakes, and the second book in the Expanse series. It has much of the fun and flaws of the first novel: the characters don't really develop much, and the storyline while full of plotholes, is still compellingly readable.

The novel does a good job of summarizing the previous novel for those who skipped it, so you can jump right in. There will be several references that won't be understood, but by and large the plot doesn't need much of the back story as the characters are kept in ignorance of the grand plot anyway (which is being set up in this novel).

The crew of the Rociante are the central characters of the novel, though UN under secretary Avasarala also plays a major role in the story, explaining the politics of the situation.

Most of the story takes place on Ganymede, a station that supplies food for the rest of the outer solar system. We get some insight into what it takes to keep a sustainable ecosystem, and why such systems are prone to failure and fragile while being complex enough to be unpredictable. All that exposition falls away, however, as soon as the shooting starts, and once it starts, it pretty much never stops.

In many places, I wonder why humans bother with exploring space in manned vessels. I'm pretty sure that this novel, like many space operas, will seem quaint and out of date by the time the AI revolution is over. Manned weapons cannot keep up with AI-driven machines, any more than a human player will ever succeed against DeepMind at Go or any computer at Chess. Add to that the need for human-piloted machines (acknowledged in the novel) to stay below around 8gs and the first super-power to deploy AI machines will simply wipe the floor with all the others.

If you enjoyed Leviathan Wakes, you'll enjoy Caliban's War. In a world where sequels often disappoint, this is unusual and worthy of note, though not sufficient for me to rate this better than mildly recommended.