Saturday, December 31, 2005

Stereo Systems

Lisa's all-in-one stereo system broke, and she asked if I would get her one. "It doesn't have to be too expensive," she said, "it's not like either of us are picky about sound systems." "Wait a minute, I'm picky!" Then I realized that for my entire adult life, I had never even owned a pair of speakers.

So the day after Christmas, we took the time to visit Magnolia Audio/Video in Palo Alto (we were on the way home after a lunch with some of Lisa's friends in South San Francisco). My best audio system is a pair of Sennheiser 600s hooked up to a Headroom headphone amp. The combination sounds incredibly good, and I didn't expect to be able to approach the quality in a full size stereo system without a lot of money, but I wanted a calibration against what was possible.

I hate shops that employ sales people, so we first had to wait patiently to find a sales guy who would open up one of their listening rooms so we could hear what a really good system would sound like. Our first listen was to a pair of $1400 speakers mated to a $1400 integrated amp. This was our first experience with a true hi-fi system, and it truly was amazing. The speakers did disappear into the background and we could locate the singer and instruments in appropriate locations inj front of us. We were impressed, but not prepared to fork out $2800, especially since we knew our listening location would not be as ideal as a listening room in a hi-end audio shop.

We walked out to try to find another audio shop, but none of the other audio places were opened on the day after Christmas, so we came back and walked around. In the clearance area of the store, however, I spotted a pair of Boston Acoustics CR95 speakers at 50% off. ($300 a pair) Lisa admired the maple box, which would fit in with the rest of the decor, so we asked to audition it against other speakers.

The sales guy moved the speakers into the room and wired it up, and after some time, we got to compare it against a set of $1200 speakers. These sounded just as good to us as the more expensive pair, so I knew we would buy the speakers. Then it was a matter of finding an amplifier. We auditioned three Denons: the DRA 295, a 50W amp, the 85W version, and the 100W version. The 100W version was clearly bad --- the speakers sounded like they were being overpowered. (All amplifiers sound the same, so there's no point auditioning different brands --- shop by power, price and features) The difference between the 50W and the 85W version was subtle --- Lisa couldn't tell the difference, and I could barely tell the difference (and it could easily have been my imagination). Given that our apartment was so small that even the 50W could drive the speakers louder than our neighbors could stand, we saved the $100 and bought the 50W integrated amplifier ($230), which came with AM/FM and video capability. The Toshiba DVD player I'd bought 4 years ago would play CDs, so we were set except for cables, one set of which would be used to drive the amp from my ipod.

It took an hour to get everything set up once we got home, but the sound was still amazing when we were done. I was impressed by how good everything sounded, and Lisa spent a good part of the day listening to music just because of how good it sounded. In fact, the resolution of the system was so good that I quickly became disappointed by how the ipod sounded compared to the same CD played through the Toshiba DVD player. I'd spent the better part of 3 days turning my CD collection into 320-VBR MP3s for my ipod, and now it looks like I prefer the sound of the CDs to the convenience of the ipod.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Excession, by Iain Banks

A culture novel, Banks' utopia where Minds (AIs) determine the future of a human-like race. This is a reasonably good novel, on par with Consider Phlebas, but not as good as his best culture novel, Use of Weapons. A nit-picky detail: 32-bit identifiers for his minds isn't very realistic, even though they look neat (structured like IP addresses). Nevetheless, this book is complex enough that a second reading showed up gaps in my first reading that I missed, so the book is still recommended. In particular, the conversation between minds (which would never be anything like what's described in this book) is entertaining.

The funniest part of the book comes early:
An Outside Context Problem was the sort of thing most civilizations encountered just once, and which they tended to encounter rather in the same way a sentence encountered a full stop. The usual example given to illustrate an Outside Context Problem was imagining you were a tribe on a largish fertile island; you'd tamed the land, invented the wheel or writing or whatever, the neighbors were cooperative or enslaved but at any rate peaceful and you were busy raising temples to yourself with all the excess productive capacity you had, you were in a position of near aboslute power and control which your halloweed ancestors could hardly have dreamed of and the whole situation was just running along nicely like a canoe on wet grass... when suddenly this bristling lump of iron appears sailless and trailing steam in the bay and these guys carrying long funny-looking sticks come ashore and announce you've just been discovered, you're all subjects of the Emperor now, he's keen on presents called tax and these bright-eyed holy men would like a word with your preists.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Republicans are Evil Part IV



Thanks to Angry Bear for the link and pointer.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Vehicle Hell

First, Lisa bashed the car into a lamp-post after taking my mom to the airport. It's minor damage, but the body shops are quoting $1100 for repair, which is too much for a 7 year old car, so we're just going to spend $8 on touch-up paint and letting it sit as is.

Then, on Christmas day, the front deraileur cable of the tandem broke in the middle of a short ride. Having only the granny to ride home with was kinda fun. Not. This wasn't too bad to fix. After that, we went on a ride on the day after Christmas. There, we discovered that the 30 tooth, the 27 tooth, and the 24t cogs are worn down enough that the (relatively new) chain was skipping, making standing impossible in those gears. A replacement cassette (at a Performance Bikes sale) was $68.

A great way to end 2005!

Monday, December 26, 2005

Philip Pullman in The New Yorker

This week's New Yorker has a great article about Philip Pullman, including his opinion about Tolkein, C.S. Lewis, and the themes behind His Dark Materials. The entire article is worth reading, and Pullman makes great points about Tolkein & Lewis' works.

His books have been likened to those of J. R. R. Tolkien, another alumnus, but he scoffs at the notion of any resemblance. “ ‘The Lord of the Rings’ is fundamentally an infantile work,” he said. “Tolkien is not interested in the way grownup, adult human beings interact with each other. He’s interested in maps and plans and languages and codes.” When it comes to “The Chronicles of Narnia,” by C. S. Lewis, Pullman’s antipathy is even more pronounced. Although he likes Lewis’s criticism and quotes it surprisingly often, he considers the fantasy series “morally loathsome.”

In Pullman’s view, the “Chronicles,” which end with the rest of the family’s ascension to a neo-Platonic version of Narnia after they die in a railway accident, teach that “death is better than life; boys are better than girls . . . and so on. There is no shortage of such nauseating drivel in Narnia, if you can face it.”

Sexual love, regarded with apprehension in Lewis’s fiction and largely ignored in Tolkien’s, saves the world in “His Dark Materials,” when Lyra’s coming of age and falling in love mystically bring about the mending of a perilous cosmological rift. “The idea of keeping childhood alive forever and ever and regretting the passage into adulthood—whether it’s a gentle, rose-tinged regret or a passionate, full-blooded hatred, as it is in Lewis—is simply wrong,” Pullman told me.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Christmas Eve Steep Ravine/Matt Davis

With the forecast for weather in the mid-60s, we had to do a hike what I consider the prettiest hike in the Bay Area: Steep Ravine/Matt Davis. Usually, we do Matt Davis/Steep Ravine from Pantoll Ranger Station, but with heavy fog at the start, we opted for the reverse, descending Steep Ravine and coming up Matt Davis. This was the most beautiful I've ever seen the area. As a passing hiker said, "Nothing but scenery and more scenery. You're going to hate it!" Coming up Matt Davis was a surfacing out of the woods into gorgeous open space.

We shot well over 100 pictures on this hike that day, and you can see the selected shots below.

The start of a beautiful hike

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Larry finishes descending the ladder on Steep Ravine

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Along the Steep Ravine Trail

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Looking down into Stintson Beach

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Stintson Beach on Christmas Eve

Yes, this is why we pay high California State taxes. Posted by Picasa

Stintson Beach

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Along the Matt Davis Trail

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The Dreamy, Misty Light of Christmas Eve

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A shaded view of the Pacific

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Matt Davis & Coast Trail Intersection

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Piaw & Larry

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View of San Francisco

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Courtesy of Larry Hosken

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Lone Tree & Santa Cruz Mountains

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Friday, December 23, 2005

Before Sunrise/Before Sunset

This pair of movies needs to be rented/bought/watched as close to being back to back as you can. (Neither is very long, so watching both won't be a big time sink) Watch Before Sunrise first. This pair of movies come highly recommended.

The first thing that strikes me about the movies is the question, how can movies that are essentially 2 people walking and talking work at all? But when you're done watching the movie, you realize that many of the most intense moments of your life have been just the two of you, walking or talking (or maybe in my case, cycling and talking), so maybe that question should never have come up in the first place.

Before Sunrise deals with the moment of the chance encounter --- the accidental meeting of someone, making a connection, and then taking a risk and getting to know them. Jesse & Celine meet on a train, and Jesse persuades Celine to make an unplanned stop with him in Vienna to keep him company in the afternoon and evening before he has to catch a plane. The two get to know each other, and what starts out as a chance encounter turns into something magical.

What strikes me about both movies is that they are hyper-real. Before Sunset is shot almost entirely in real time, with no skipped moments. There are moments in my life when I've felt every moment in complete intensity (I remember an interview when I was 16 with a board of 6 or 7 people who were to determine whether I would get a scholarship), and the movies reflect those moments fluidly. I remember the arm wrapping move as Julie Depry puts her arms around Ethan Hawke vividly in Before Sunrise, and there's a moment in the van when she reaches out to touch him but draws back as he turns to look at her --- those moments in the film are so real that they remind me of certain moments in my life, no doubt as the principals intended.

Before Sunset is about the "what if". What if you had made choices differently? What if when you were young and stupid you would have been just a little less stupid? By aging the actors naturally (9 years pass between the first and second movies) there is no contrivance at all in the changes over the years. I especially enjoyed the expression one of the characters made in saying, essentially, "When I was young I had so many choices I threw them away without realizing the preciousness of what I had thrown away." Yet the movies aren't full of regrets, and each movie ends with a question mark.

OK, I've worked very hard not to spoil the movies for you. Go watch it, and don't read any other reviews before watching them. Watch the movies with your significant other, if you have one. It will provide good conversation.

Best books of 2005

It's the end of the year, and it doesn't look like I'm going to get much reading done in the last few days (plus, my queue is strangely empty) , so I'm going to name the best books I read this year:

Best Book Overall

I think the book I learnt the most from was Climate Crash, which discusses abrupt climate change as the major theory for how Earth's climate behaves. The theory is non-intuitive, backed up by pretty solid evidence, and the book itself is well written. This book narrowly edged out Collapse, which is an important book as well, but not as surprising as Climate Crash for a cynic like me. Yeah, so societies of humans have always been short-sighted and ego and selfishness have brought down entire civilizations. Tell me something I didn't know about humans.

Best Fiction

I really have to say this was not a good year for fiction. I find that the best fiction I read was A Fire Upon The Deep, which unfortunately was a book I'd already read before and was revisiting. Is there not a lot of great new fiction out there, or am I missing something? For fiction I hadn't read before this year, I definitely enjoyed The John Varley Reader, which I found just packed full of great short stories. Salon nominated Never Let Me Go, but Ishiguro's style is so distant that I found myself distanced from the work as well. Even his best work, The Remains of the Day has that quality in it.

Best Graphic Novel

I didn't get in an Alan Moore graphic novel this year, so the best graphic novel goes to Flight Vol 1, but seriously, any Alan Moore graphic novel beats anything I read this year, so once again, I must be missing something. Maybe it's got to do with my refusing to buy any new books and M'Oak not publishing another volume of Thieves & Kings.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Brad de Long on why the last decade has been so good to investors

Why was Shiller wrong? In an arithmetic sense, we can point to three factors, each of which can take roughly one-third the credit for real American stock returns of 6% per year over the past decade rather than zero:

  • 2% per year because the acceleration of productivity growth produced by the high-tech revolutions behind the very real "new economy" has made American companies much more productive.
  • 2% per year because of shifts in the distribution of income away from labor and toward capital that have boosted corporate profits as a share of production.
  • 2% per year because the argument of Glasman and Hassett in Dow 36000 turned out to be only nineteen-twentieths wrong: they argued that increasing risk tolerance on the part of stock market investors would raise long-run price-earnings ratios by 400%; it actually appears that increasing risk tolerance has raised long-run price-earnings ratios by 20% or so.
The safest thing to do is what the long run investors have always advocated --- stay fully invested, diversify your holdings to protect yourself, and stick to your plan. If you have done so for the last decade, congratulations, you have now beat out famous economists like Robert Shiller. I will note that Shiller is now running around talking about how overpriced housing is (and it is indeed extremely overpriced compared to historical norms). It is very likely that Robert is correct for a number of reasons, but again, it's a risky bet to sell your house and rent, so I'd have a hard time doing that as well.

I will note that Brad gave great investment advice that has since returned better than 40% at the beginning of this year, and I wish I'd put more money in that asset. Some macro-economic trends are both obvious, and easy to place bets on.

2006 prediction generator...

Make your own predictions! And do it just like the pundits.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The Dover Court Decision

Some very nice selected quotes:

Those who disagree with our holding will likely mark it as the product of an activist judge. If so, they will have erred as this is manifestly not an activist Court. Rather, this case came to us as the result of the activism of an ill-informed faction on a school board, aided by a national public interest law firm eager to find a constitutional test case on ID, who in combination drove the Board to adopt an imprudent and ultimately unconstitutional policy. The breathtaking inanity of the Board’s decision is evident when considered against the factual backdrop which has now been fully revealed through this trial. The students, parents, and teachers of the Dover Area School District deserved better than to be dragged into this legal maelstrom, with its resulting utter waste of monetary and personal resources.
(Page 137)


It is notable that not one defense expert was able to explain how the supernatural action suggested by ID could be anything other than an inherently religious proposition.(Page 31)

... the administrators made the remarkable and awkward statement, as part of the disclaimer, that "there will be no other discussion of the issue and your teachers will not answer questions on this issue."...a reasonable student observer would conclude that ID is a kind of "secret science that students apparently can't discuss with their science teacher" (Pg. 45-46)

In summary, the disclaimer singles out the theory of evolution for special treatment, misrepresents its status in the scientific community, causes students to doubt its validity without scientific justification, presents students with a religious alternative masquerading as a scientific theory, directs them to consult a creationist text as though it were a science resource, and instructs students to forego scientific inquiry in the public school classroom and instead to seek out religious instruction elsewhere.(Pg. 49)

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

An eloquent essay on fantasy and childhood

A theory not only explains the world we see, it lets us imagine other worlds, and, even more significantly, lets us act to create those worlds. Developing everyday theories, like scientific theories, has allowed human beings to change the world. From the perspective of my hunter-gatherer forebears in the Pleistocene Era, everything in the room I write in—the ceramic cup and the carpentered chair no less than the electric light and the computer—was as imaginary, as unreal, as fantastic as Narnia or Hogwarts. The uniquely human evolutionary gift is to combine imagination and logic to articulate possible worlds and then make them real.

Suppose we combine the idea that children are devoted intuitive scientists and the idea that play allows children to learn freely without the practical constraints of adulthood. We can start to see why there should be such a strong link between childhood and fantasy. It's not that children turn to the imaginary instead of the real—it's that a human being who learns about the real world is also simultaneously learning about all the possible worlds that stem from that world.

The link between the scientific and the fantastic also explains why children's fantasy demands the strictest logic, consistency, and attention to detail. A fantasy without that logic is just a mess. The effectiveness of the great children's books comes from the combination of wildly imaginative premises and strictly consistent and logical conclusions from those premises. It is no wonder that the greatest children's fantasists—Carroll, Lewis, Tolkien—had day jobs in the driest reaches of logic and philology.


Which begs the question: what about adults who engage in fantasy, either as readers, movie-goers, or gamers? What are they exploring? Is it personal identity? Fiction has long been used by readers and college professors as ways to explore personality and relationships without engaging in possible harmful behavior. Science Fiction has often been called "the literature of ideas", both by its proponents and detractors. Yet the mainstream has often derided Science Fiction and Fantasy as trite and not worthy of exploration, though that has been changing in recent years.

My personal theory as to why fantasy (and stories of magic and spells and wizards) seem to appeal to a significant fraction of computer scientists is that in many ways our craft is extremely similar to wizardry as portrayed by fantastic literature. The code we type into our computers do seem little more than incantations by non-programmers (or, if the code is enigmatic enough, even by practitioners of the art). And the results do seem in many ways magical. What could be more magical than a photo of a loved one appearing thousands of miles away in a split second? Or having all the music you've ever heard in your lifetime in the palm of your hand? Perhaps that fantasy is a allegory for the very real or unreal world of bits and bytes that we find ourselves immersed in, day after day.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Cheryl & Steve Prothero at the Western Wheelers Holiday Party


Cheryl won the polka dot jersey for doing the most climbing this year in the Western Wheelers Bicycle Club. The prize is (appropriately enough), a jersey of her choice amongst the various selections available with the club imprint. Congratulations, Cheryl! Posted by Picasa

Ex-Googlers Blog

I find this blog entirely fascinating. Lots of stuff I didn't know (obviously --- these were all old-timers before I even joined Google), and it's entertaining reading, much more so than the recent spate of books about Google. It's nice to know, though, that incredible wealth hasn't changed most of the current Googlers mentioned in the blog, many of whom are still amongst the nicest people I've ever met.

Google blamed for jump in high tech pay

"It's driven up software engineering wages by 50 percent in the past couple years," Reed Hastings, chief executive of Netflix, the online DVD rental firm in Los Gatos, said recently at a conference for the technology industry's lobbying group.

The irony, of course is that Reed Hastings himself was a top notch software engineer when he started his first company, Pure Software. He took the proverbial second mortgage, and contracted as a consultant while writing Purify in his basement. When Pure went public, Reed deserved every bit of the success he got, including wealth and the other opportunities which he took advantage of. However, not that many of his employees became fabulously wealthy (especially given Pure's later history).

I started working for Pure Software as my first job out of college (and later returned to Pure after a short and none-to-memorable stay in graduate school). Reed managed to get me to stay at Pure for a year (when I had pending admittance to several graduate schools) by giving me (what seemed to me) a huge sign-up bonus, so he knows exactly what it's like to dangle money in front of someone who would be a starving graduate student.

In any case, I returned to Pure after graduate school, and at one point shifted desks. I accidentally left my paystub in my desk, and a senior engineer (hint to fresh grads: make friends with senior engineers who are honest and will give you some mentoring) inherited the desk. He took a look at my paystub, and then came to me privately and said, "You're not getting paid enough." I then went and explored how much the market was willing to pay for an engineer of my caliber in 1995, and discovered to my surprise that I could get a raise of over 45%, along with more stock options from an internet startup (the startup went on to a lucrative IPO before the 2001 bust). I took the job and never looked back. Software companies that under-value their engineers don't last long, and sure enough, Pure Software started bleeding talent soon after, and was eventually acquired by Rational and then IBM.

So as far as I'm concerned, the problem with the software industry isn't that of overpaying engineers as much as corporations systematically under-valuing engineering talent. Less than 1% of the population is capable of becoming good software engineers, and most of those people don't become software engineers for various reasons.

If you're a software engineer, it is to your advantage to network with good friends and occasionally compare salaries and total compensation. As my experience above illustrates, once in awhile you need a reality check or you might find that you've been systematically under-valuing yourself, an easily corrected situation in today's market. The secrecy around salaries only works to hurt talented employees who might not know what they are really worth. If you find yourself underpaid by more than 10 or 15 percent, it might be time to see what kind of a raise the market will give you.

Coast to Coast Trip Planning

1. St. Bees Head to Ennerdale Bridge (14 miles)
2. Ennerdale Bridge to Barrowdale (14.5 miles)
3. Barrowdale to Grasmere (9 miles, 2 night stay)
4. Grasmere to Patterdale (9 miles, 2 night stay)
5. Patterdale to Shap (16 miles)
6. Shap to Orton (8 miles)
7. Orton to Kirby Stephen (13 miles)
8. Kirby Stephen to Keld (13 miles)
9. Keld to Reeth (11 miles)
10. Reeth to Richmond (10.5 miles)
11. Richmond To Danby Wiske (14 miles)
12. Danby Wiske to Ingleby Cross (9 miles)
13. Ingleby Cross to Blakeley Ridge (21 miles)
14. Blakeley Ridge to Grosmont (13. 5 miles)
15. Grosmont to Robin Hood's Bay (15.5 miles)

Longest day is 21 miles, which I think is quite doable considering how flat it would be.

A full rainbow...

We had a full rainbow this morning from the apartment window. It was one of those days that made you feel like sleeping in, but the rainbow made getting up early worthwhile. Posted by Picasa

Saturday, December 17, 2005

7 Hills of Saratoga

Greg & Yajie on Stevens Canyon Road Posted by Picasa

7 Hills of Saratoga Ride

Greg Merritt, Yajie Ying, Jeff Orum, David Falconer, Bonney Ellestad Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

A little about you

I turned on Google Analytics on this blog a few weeks ago when it became a publicly available service, and now that it's been running abit, I can share a few titbits with you, my readers, about you, my readers.

Over the course of a week, I get about 341 visitors, totalling about 486 page views. About 95% of you are first time visitors, and 5% of you are prior visitors (which really surprised me --- I would think that most of the visitors would be friends of mine, but maybe friends of mine only read my blog through RSS feeds).

Of the 341 visitors, 183 come from a search (google or otherwise), 133 come from a referral, and 25 directly typed http://piaw.blogspot.com or through an e-mail reader click.

The current top keyword for that hits this blog is "memoirs of a geisha controversy", which surprised the heck out of me! For a while, it was "buffy the chosen collection". This blog has posts that are ranked fairly highly by Google for those queries so I shouldn't be surprised.

9 visitors also found this site by typing "christian" into google. This is really wierd, since I'm not even in the top 100 entries returned by Google. What this suggests to me is that a lot of people search for "christian", and some small percentage of those guys are pretty darn persistent!

7 visitors found this blog via "fuji team sl". I'm one of the top results ranked on Google for this, so it's not too surprising, but for those of you who come here for that, let me assure you that my Fuji Team SL is still serving me fine, and I still love that bike and look forward to many more miles.

Most visitors to this blog (186) come from the U.S. The next category (38 visitors) don't have their geo-location set. Canada and the UK form the next big blocks of users (25 and 16 respectively), and after that we're into the noise with mostly non-English speaking countries.

Not unsurprisingly, 52% of you use Internet Explorer, but a full 36% of visitors use Firefox. I suspect that these numbers don't reflect the overall internet, and users that find my blog tend to be more sophisticated than the average internet user. 84% of you use Windows, 9% Macintosh, and 7% Linux. I wonder how many of that 7% came from internal to Google.

I'm very pleased to see that 32-bit color users comprise a full 80% of my visitors. That means effort put into scanning high resolution photos won't be wasted!

In any case, I'm very happy with the numbers I'm getting from Google analytics, and it'll be interesting to revisit this next year and see how the composition of my visitors have changed. I'm not really interested in this blog as a commercial outlet, but clearly, it seems like my audience will be mostly cyclists, not a bad thing at all!

One slightly disappointing item to me is that my book reviews see almost no traffic. But then again, I know that Larry and Scarlet both read my book reviews, so I will keep writing them.

Billionaire Investors start paying attention to peak oil

For the past few months he's been holed up in hard-core research mode—reading books, academic studies, and, yes, blogs. Every morning he rises before dawn at one of his houses in Texas or South Carolina or California (he actually owns a piece of Pebble Beach Resorts) and spends four or five hours reading sites like LifeAftertheOilCrash.net or DieOff.org, obsessively following links and sifting through data. How worried is he? He has some $500 million of his $2.5 billion fortune in cash, more than ever before.

It does seem strange that if you believe an oil-induced crash is coming you wouldn't be invested heavily in oil stocks. Then again, if I was heavily invested in oil stocks, I wouldn't tell Fortune magazine, either, unless I was looking for a quick cash out.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Yajie at Windy Hill Summit

Yajie asked me why I turn on the flash when shooting during the day, and ironically, this photograph provides an excellent example. The sun was shining from the right, which would have created dark shadows along the left side of her face in this picture. The fill flash from the camera lit up the side of her face enough to provide definition (without over-powering it), while also giving us a little bit of fill-light in her eye to liven it up a bit. This technique works well on both people and animals.Posted by Picasa

Artist's Light

Looking South from Windy Hill OSP, you can see ridge after ridge. The little bit of haze today gave it a dreamy feeling. Posted by Picasa

View of the Pacific from Windy Hill OSP

Windy Hill Open Space Preserve is one of several spots along the coast where you can see the Ocean and the Bay at the same time. (The others being Russian Ridge and Black Mountain summit)

It wasn't as clear today as it was yesterday, but it was still beautiful. Posted by Picasa

Saturday, December 10, 2005

The Beautiful South

I've been listening a lot to Carry on Up the Charts recently. The lyrics are cynical, and not the typical love song pop that you hear, but it's coupled with very listenable, peppy music which sounds really good. They are very much worth a listen for those of you who actually pay attention to the lyrics of a song: the duet, "A little time", is worth the price of the entire album.

Strangely enough, when searching for information about the band, the Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy provided the best data.

View from Kings Mountain Road

I neglected to shoot a picture of this last week. The haze is probably smog from the windless days we've had recently. The Bay Area has great air quality only because the ocean wind usually blows it inland to Fresno and Sacramento valleys. With an off-shore flow the last couple of days that hasn't been happening. Posted by Picasa

Friday, December 09, 2005

Christian Overtones in Narnia

When in the first volume he sacrifices himself in order to redeem Edmund, and in the last leads the talking animals to a beautiful afterworld, it's so easy to see Lewis ringing his Christian themes that you marvel at how you utterly missed them as a child. But miss them you most likely did, and for good reason.

Meghan O'Rourke might have missed them as a child, but I absolutely did not, steeped as I was in a mission school, The Anglo Chinese School, with its weekly preachings and daily devotionals. In fact, even as a child, the Christian allegories were so distracting that I found myself much preferring the Chronicles of Prydain by Llyold Alexander, with its Celtic myths and its sad sad stories of growing up, facing your responsibilities, and being true to yourself. The place in the books where Taran gives up magical wisdom, and later where he has to give up his true love strike a cord in me, even years later as an adult, while Narnia's Christian allegories are a pale shadow of the bible itself, which has far more interesting stories.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

View of the beach from Highway 1 along the San Gregorio Coast

It was so unusually clear today. The views were gorgeous, and well worth the effort. Every so often we get these off-shore flows that sweep all traces of fog away from the coast, and when that happens, you need to take advantage of it! Posted by Picasa

Tanya makes it to the coast.

Today, Tanya made it to the coast and back on a bicycle for the first time (and couldn't have picked a better day to do it!). Congratulations, Tanya! Posted by Picasa

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Free WiFi coming in Sunnyvale!

It's about time! Mountain View is getting it from Google, but Sunnyvale should definitely be right up there in terms of tech savvy Silicon Valley residents as well. The ads are a small price to pay for free access everywhere. I'm excited.

Cultural Controversy in "Memoirs of a Geisha"

Looks like the Japanese are mad that Chinese women play the lead characters (who are supposed to be Japanese) in the movie, and the Chinese are mad because the lead Chinese actress (Zhang Ziyi) is depicted as having sex with a Japanese man. It sounds funny to me too.

Of course, it does remind me that me and a few of my Chinese colleagues have been mistaken for each other by our non-Chinese colleagues/friends. I try not to be offended on the occasions when it happens (and some of the ones who make the mistakes do eventually become genuinely good friends), but it's still a little annoying.

In any case, when I was in Berkeley in the late 80s/early 90s more than one Japanese tourist came up to me and tried to speak Japanese to me. It was those encounters (as well as my general enjoyment of Japanese cartoons) that led me to eventually take Japanese classes and then get good enough at Japanese to get into lots of trouble.

British Walking Series: Coast to Coast Path

I bought this after perusing the original Wainwright book. It's fairly recent (2004), has color photos that made Lisa want to do the trip, and has lodging information, which was missing from Wainwright's book (and which wouldn't have been useful either, since his was written in 1974). The first 50 pages of this book pay for the cost of the book just by itself. There's a short biography of Alfred Wainright, which seems to prove Malcolm Gladwell's point that it takes an extremely unhappy person to do great works. There's multiple pre-laid-out itineraries set out by lodging type, pace, and recommendations for places where we might want to stay for more than a day.

While the original Wainwright book is worth getting because it's such an awesome book, this one is worth only getting if you're actually planning to do the trip soon. However, I suspect that this is the one that will prove more useful on the trail itself.

View from the top of the PG&E trail

It was such a clear day today that we easily saw all the way to San Francisco. Posted by Picasa