Monday, December 31, 2012
Well, there's some of that going on, and the movie seemed loosely edited without the feel of the tight pacing required to keep you from one laugh to another. Ted, however, looks great, and moves realistically, if such is possible for an animated Teddy bear. The plot while cliched, is a lot of fun. It's a pity the dialog doesn't live up to the plot, actors, and characters --- they almost always feel forced.
For $1.99, however, I felt like I enjoyed the movie enough to recommend it. Just don't go in expecting it to be great. But hey, if you ever grew up talking to your stuffed animals, you should watch it.
Wednesday, December 26, 2012
My wife's BMW was starting to need costly repairs (and it certainly wasn't cheap to begin with). The choices were to keep it and keep paying for it, or buy a new car. While XiaoQin didn't want to go car shopping, when I threatened to buy another Honda Fit, she changed her mind and decided that car shopping was less crazy than having 2 of the same car. (Given how happy I've been with my Fit, I have no idea why the objection exists)
We started with the Toyota dealer. We first tried a Prius Station Wagon, but discovered that the latch placement in that car meant that the car seat had to be on one side or another. Since we only had one kid and the safest place in the car is the middle of the back seat, we decided to keep shopping. We tried the Yaris, but discovered that the trunk was so small Bowen's stroller wouldn't fit in it. The salesman had a moment of insight and introduced us to the Scion xB. I had actually tried the xB way back in 2009, but discovered that it wouldn't fit the tandem. Since I already had a Honda Fit, that was no longer a concern. The amount of room in the car was substantial, and while it wasn't the most fuel efficient car around, we would most likely drive it around with at least 3 people inside, so that was less of a concern. The car's driving position felt higher than a regular car, but doesn't feel like an SUV: it's still easy to get in and out of it, and there's relatively little ground clearance. My bicycle will still be the primary vehicle for my solo trips.
We tried the competition. The Nissan Cube was substantially smaller though more fuel efficient. For whatever reason, the rear seat felt cramped with the car seat inside. Honda had discontinued the Element, which was its vehicle in the same class. The Mazda 5 was substantially more expensive, and suffered from the same problem as the Prius Station Wagon.
Negotiating with the dealers was a problem. The Scion brand features True Pricing, which meant that all dealers would only quote me the sticker price over e-mail, rendering my usual trick of soliciting competitive bids from all dealers within 200 miles useless. We did find two dealers who would offer about $1,000 off the sticker price, and after an afternoon of shopping, went with one of them.
Having had the car for about a week, I'm actually quite impressed. The car is stable and drives well, though it feels a bit top heavy and isn't as nimble as the Fit. The built in accessories are impressive: you get blue tooth linkage with your phone, as well as a USB port for an MP3 player. The bluetooth player handles streaming stereo audio as well. Overall, as a baby mover, I think the car has a lot to be said for it: the rear windows are tinted, for instance, so are more comfortable for Bowen when the California sun is shining. The price is also pretty amazing for what you get. The biggest criticism is the fuel efficiency, but as you can imagine, almost anything Japanese beats a BMW on that front. No car is perfect, but if you have a small family I can recommend this one.
Tuesday, December 25, 2012
For the longest time, I ran only Avocet Fasgrip tires. They're grippy, and they were cheap, especially after a dealer online blew them out for $13/pop. About 2 years ago, however, my supply of them finally ran out, which meant I had to switch to a new tire brand.
For several years, I'd steered clear of Continental Tires. Between 2003-2007 in the Western Wheelers Bicycle Club, I personally witnessed more Continental tire blowouts than blowouts of any other tire brand. Granted, Continental tires were very popular but so were Michelin tires, as well as Specialized. While these blowouts were not common, I saw them about once a year, and they usually resulted in hospitalization/air evacuation.
I'd run Michelin tires for many years, especially when they were $12/pop for the excellent Michelin Hi-Lite Comps. Unfortunately, Michelin realized that after market tires were market in which selling tires at a higher price would result in a perception of increased tire quality, so the Michelin Pro tires ran for about $50 each. On top of that, Michelin abandoned the use of carbon black in its tires in order to provide colorful tires so that the urban hipsters could match their tires to their frame color. While this is not of general concern in California, I do tour in rainy places and wanted a tire that provided maximum wet traction.
The advent of the Continental Gatorskin line led many to conclude that Continental's sidewall problems are gone. Bill McCready of Santana even endorsed the 28mm tires for tandem use! I decided to give them a try. The good news is that these tires definitely wear longer than the Avocets I was using. I put them on last year in August after returning from the 2011 Tour of the Alps. (I ran Continental Gatorskin 28mm tires for that tour, but 25mm for this long term review) They recently wore through to the cords in several places. Also, the wear was more even than on the Avocets: rather than wear a penny-sized hole in one place, they wore in slices all over the tire. The tires grip fine, and I never had an issue with wet or dry traction. Furthermore, they don't flat frequently: I don't recall getting more than one flat tire or so in my entire year of riding them. (Somewhere around 3500 miles) The subjective ride quality isn't so hot: I think the Avocets I used to run feel a bit cushier, probably because the sidewall is of a different material.
The bad news? As I was removing the old tire, I noticed that the sidewall looked a little cracked, and I had threads coming off them. Examining the rear hub, I noticed a black thread from the sidewall completely wrapped around my hub axle! The sidewalls did not look like they would last another season. Now this is for just 3500 miles of use under ideal conditions --- unlike in the past, I did not go out of my way to take these tires off road this time. It was also an unusually low mileage year for me.
Last year, I found an international supplier of Michelin Pro 3 tires at a reasonable $30/tire. I stocked up and will switch to those for the foreseeable future, even if the prices for the tires go up. In the mean time, I am sad to be unable to recommend the Continental Gatorskin tires for those who ride aggressively and don't stop riding their bikes when the pavement ends. There's just too much risk of hospitalization when the sidewalls blow. Now for a short tour of 3 weeks or so I'd be willing to run the 28s, but only if you inspect the sidewalls frequently and regularly.
Monday, December 24, 2012
The police in New Zealand have been contacted and have started searching for him from Wanaka, where he last posted. A backpacker there said he mentioned wanting to go to Mt. Aspiring's French Ridge hut.
Frank is a strong and careful hiker, but if there's any time to start worrying it's now. If you've heard from him or talked to him since November 26th, please let me know. Additional information could save his life, not to mention his friends, colleagues, and family a lot of worry.
Sunday, December 23, 2012
My dental hygienist told me that his patients with Oral-B electric brushes seemed to come in with better cleaned teeth (not that my teeth had any problems), and the brush heads seem more robust and are at the very least cheaper. Oral-B claims a more realistic 3 months for their brush head's longevity, but their brush heads are half the price of the Sonicare ones on Amazon, and you can get a Costco family-sized pack for much less than even that.
As far as I can tell, there are no peer-reviewed studies of Oral-B versus Sonicare brush-heads on the internet, so all I can go by are my subjective experiences. Sonicare's teeth brushing experience is light driving an electric car. There's a purr in your mouth, and the brush softly moves up and down on your teeth and along your gums. The noise is there, but it's not annoying. Oral-B is like sticking a machine gun in your mouth: not only do you get a massive grinding noise, you feel the bristles scrubbing against your teeth and gumline. It's definitely a very German approach to teeth brushing --- you can feel the raw brute power in your teeth.
I tried switching back and forth for a few weeks here and there, and the conclusion I can draw is that the Sonicare experience is the deluxe pampered experience (sort of like driving a BMW or Mercedes), but the Oral-B feels cleaner. Whether that's because my gums/teeth have been brutalized or because they're actually cleaner, I'll have to wait for a dental visit to see. The reality though, is that I haven't had any cavities for a decade and a half, and don't expect any change. My conclusion, buy the Sonicare if you have sensitive teeth or don't mind spending the money, the Oral-B if you prefer the "big throaty engine" sound of say, a Harley Davidson in your mouth.
Tuesday, December 18, 2012
Monday, December 10, 2012
Would I recommend this novel? Yes. It's a fun read, even though the ending was a let down. However, if you've never read a Culture novel before, I'd recommend that you read Use of Weapons instead. That's one novel that's great throughout and doesn't feel like a let down at the end.
Tuesday, December 04, 2012
Motorized desks vary greatly in price, but I found the ErgoDepot one to be the cheapest of them all. Most people assume that low price = low quality, but the reviews on Ergo Depot were incredible, so I took a risk and ordered one. The first desk arrived with the box torn open and with parts missing, so I rejected the shipment and made the shipper take it back to Ergo Depot. Ergo Depot kindly sent me another one. This one arrived relatively quickly.
The desk assembly was fairly straightforward: screw the base together, and then use a power drill to screw the base permanently to the table surface. It is essential to use a full power drill here. A cheapo drill won't cut it. Then wire together the power adapter to the controller, plug into a power socket, and away you go! There's one minor quirk in the control system, which is that you have to hold down both rocker switches to get the table to go up or down. I have no idea why it's not just one rocker switch instead of two. The desk is fairly sturdy: it is rated for 154 pounds, which means that any monitor (or two) you buy nowadays will fit in the weight range. However, the desk does come with all sorts of warnings saying that if you move it you must lift it by the base, not by the table surface.
There are two entry ports so you can run wires for power, etc to the connectors. They work quite well. The surface itself is pretty great, but the test is in the usability. Xiaoqin loves the desk. She uses it nearly every day, and has come home from work early because her sit-down desk at work made her uncomfortable and she longed for her stand-up desk at home. You can't get a better testimonial than that. I've used it as well and the easy adjust-ability makes it very nice when we switch between users.
What are the flaws? First of all, it seems designed for laptops, not desktops. There's no space under the desk for a desktop tower to reside. Of course, if you don't plan to move the desk, that doesn't matter, just place the desktop on the floor. But given that the desk has wheels, it just seemed like an oversight not to have some provisioning for desktop towers.
If the above sounds like a minor nit-pik, it is. This is a great desk at a great price. Recommended.
Sunday, December 02, 2012
Changing the batteries turned out to be fairly straightforward. You unscrew the back, and the cover pops off. The battery is located in a bracket, and is a standard 9V battery which are fairly cheap to get from Amazon. When removing the cover, make a note of the orientation and make sure that you have the handle in the correct orientation when replacing. Otherwise it just won't go back in. Obviously, I use the front door of the house a lot more than the back door, so the battery for the back door is still going strong.
As for the product, I like it so much that I replaced the rental unit's lock with a Schlage unit, my parent's house also now sports one, and my wife's house also has them. I cannot recommend them highly enough, especially if you own rental property --- no more re-keying your unit between tenants, and even better, your tenant will never call you up in the middle of the night after they've locked themselves out, because they can't. It's also great if you're in the habit of exchanging your home with someone else on HomeExchange, or renting out your home on AirBnB. You set up a code, give them to your exchangees or renters, and delete the code when you get back. You can also set up specific codes for house-cleaners, etc and other trusted personnel and delete those if you ever switch providers.
Home ownership is in general a pain, but being able to replace the standard keyed locks with one of these is definitely a bright spot. Highly recommended.
Thursday, November 29, 2012
- No Easy Day
- The Best American Science & Nature Writing 2012
- How Children Succeed
- Teach Your Children Well
- The Signal and The Noise
- Your Child's Growing Mind
- The Fine Print
- The Best American Essays 2011
- Happy Money
- Lance Armstrong's War
- The First 20 Minutes
- Modernist Cuisine at Home
- Naked Statistics
- The Sports Gene
- Deep Risk
- Cure Your Child With Food
- Skating to Where the Puck Was
- The Story of the Human Body
- Wheat Belly
- The Ages of The Investor
- The Hydrogen Sonata
- The Perfect Woman
- Odd and the Frost Giants
- Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Mainteneance
- The Corpse Reader
- Every Day
- Storm Front
- Fool Moon
- Grave Peril
- Don't Turn Around
- Summer Knight
- Death Masks
- Blood Rites
- Ghost Spin
- Nickel Plated
- Dead Beat
- Proven Guilty
- White Night
- Neptune's Brood
- Small Favor
- Turn Coat
- Ender's Game
- Ghost Story
- Cold Days
- Six Earlier Days
- The Temple of Gold
- The School For Good And Evil
What's most impressive about the book is the picture of the American military. They were under incredible constrains: for instance they had to take photos and provide documentary evidence of the combat site after the combat in order to satisfy lawyers and provide the government evidence that they did engage combatants rather than civilians. I know the Israeli army is under similar constraints, but I didn't expect the commando types to not only have to take out a target, but also document all the circumstances they did. In the book, Owen describes a colleague who quit when the documentary requirements for doing the job became too much as the locals learned the rules the US military operated under. For instance, insurgents would make sure that their weapons were stowed in a different place from where they slept, assured that if the Seals came to make an assault they would be considered non combatants and therefore spared to fight another day.
Wednesday, November 28, 2012
- Cycling The Alps. Well, this isn't theoretical. I've repeated this trip no less than 4 times, and each time, I come back wondering why I do anything else on vacation. On my recent trip to Hawaii, I found myself dreaming about touring the Alps. Nothing beats this.
- Hiking the Bernese Oberland. I've done this three times. Each time it's been magical, and I find something new. If you enjoy hiking even a little bit, do this trip.
- The Canadian Rockies. This includes Glacier National Park. I've also done this trip 3 times. It's not Switzerland, but it's the closest you can get in North America. And it offers great camping. For hot springs though, visit Yellowstone National Park instead.
- Sailing, Snorkeling, and Diving the Caribbean. I've done this 3 times, once with a skipper who was a total ass. I like it so much I want to do it again. I could do this every year, and not get tired of it.
- Cycling the Pacific Coast. I've done the entire coast on my bike. The parts I've repeated are the California coast. Not to say that Washington and Oregon aren't pretty, but California has the best weather, the highest roads, and the best scenery. I'd ride it again.
- Coast to Coast in England. I've only done this once. But it's easily the best long hike I've ever done. I could be easily persuaded to do this hike again. Or visit any of the famous long walks in England. It's a pity that England is so expensive, but I'll be taking Bowen on at least one of these classic walks once he's old enough.
- Japan. I've only been in Japan once during the 2009 Tour of Hokkaido. The cycling is pretty crappy compared to Bay Area riding, so I wouldn't go there for cycling again. But I would happily go back to Japan again for the hot springs, the food, and the people and adventures. The hiking is pretty solid, but you have to be into volcano hiking. I've had enough of volcanoes for a while.
- New Zealand. It's pretty, it's infuriatingly tough to get to, and the cycling sucks. But the mountain biking and hiking is great, and I'd be happy to go back.
Tuesday, November 27, 2012
Also, in about the same time frame, I got more active in a social media scene, after Google+ launched publicly. Posting about a completed run or ride, including the exact track, has been a reasonably nice use of the platform. And for the morbidly curious, here’s my Strava profile. I typically log all runs there -- I can’t get good metrics on them otherwise -- but I only log notable or unusual bike rides.
Over time, though, I noticed a couple of problems with using my phone to lay down a GPS track:
- Recording adversely affects battery life. I’d get maybe 8-9 hours tops before the phone was nearly out of juice.
- On the phones I’ve recently owned , GPS accuracy is fairly poor. In fact, even staying stationary in the open, the GPS position will jitter.
Both of these factors conspire towards making one adopt a behavioral tic: when stopped for a considerable length of time, hit the “Pause” button on the GPS-track recording app . When the ride or run resumes, unpause and resuming recording. Which brings us to another pair of problems:
- Pausing the phone for every traffic light, 2-minute drinking break at a water fountain, etc., is a prohibitive pain-in-the-butt, so you’ll just have to accept the jitter sometimes.
- At the long stops, where you do take the trouble to pause: will you remember to unpause the GPS app when underway again? It’s easy to forget!
It seems most people deal with these problem by buying a Garmin GPS-enabled cyclecomputer or GPS training watch. The latter would be a better choice if running is in the mix. I didn’t give this option too much consideration, though. I like the idea of having a smartphone with a reasonable amount of computing and interactive power recording my ride. I also like uploading activities to the web directly from the device. Tethering  my recording device to a full-sized computer at the end of my rides to do anything at all interesting with the data appears to be the usual option with Garmin, and it seems... less appealing. Maybe I’m just impatient, but I like to have the basic thing that I do with a ride taken care of on its completion, not as part of some post-completion task. Sometimes a post-completion task that I’d be hours away from being able to complete -- many of my runs and rides do not end at home.
Then I heard (from an office e-mail list) some prerelease buzz about the Garmin GLO. Part of the context of this discussion was “hey, the Garmin Connect software ecosystem is kinda poor; this would be a way to get good Garmin data without having to butt heads with the software.” This is perhaps hearsay, though; I’d love to hear some more definitive opinions on that in the comments.
The GLO is a small external GPS receiver which connects to a client device via bluetooth. Speaking more accurately, the device locates and tracks GPS and GLONASS satellites; the latter is a parallel system to GPS, largely workalike, with roots in the old USSR aerospace sector. It is also the namesake acronym for the device. An Android or iOS device can be configured to use the GLO as its GPS data source rather than the built-in GPS hardware . The GLO gets its initial GPS fix relatively quickly -- though more on this later -- and once fixed, updates its position at 10 Hz. (With a phone, you’d probably be lucky to get a 1-Hz refresh.) Advertised battery life is 12 hours between charges.
What does it look like? Here: next to a deck of cards, for scale. The GLO is slightly slimmer than the deck.
The middle LED monitors the Bluetooth connection between the device and its counterparty. The lower LED is a GPS signal and battery status indicator. It is mounted on a push button that turns the device on and off.
GPS accuracy with this device was hyped as being quite good. Great! The promise of that was enough to justify the $99 asking price alone. The next potential benefit: a bluetooth GPS unit could be good for phone battery life by offloading power-hungry GPS calls to an external unit (and battery) and substituting lightweight bluetooth calls in their stead.
I hoped that if the battery-life improvements were good enough, maybe I could generally keep the unit recording continuously rather than worrying about pausing at long stops and forgetting to unpause later on.
Setup GuideGiven that there’s no good guide for setting up this device with Android elsewhere on the web, and it wasn’t entirely trivial to figure out, here’s a quick how-to:
- Turn both devices on.
- Pair your phone and the GLO via the standard approach for bluetooth devices.
- Install the Bluetooth GPS app onto the android device.
- Launch the app
- Go into the settings, and allow the phone to “Use Insecure Connection” (which isn’t checked-off/allowed by default).
- Back in the Main App screen, check the box to “Enable Mock GPS Provider”. This will take you to a developer option in the phone settings.
- Back in the Main App screen, touch the dropdown to select the source GPS device. It’ll be “Garmin GLO #6eadb” or something similar.
All of this is one-time setup. That done, connecting to the GLO is then just a question of launching the app and pressing the big “Connect” button.
I can’t directly comment on the setup process on iOS, though copy associated with the product makes me suspect it is less involved, as the device is specifically certified as compatible with Apple devices.
GLO accuracy is much better than base phone GPS accuracy. Here’s how a segment of my typical run to work looks if recorded with the base phone GPS (image taken from http://app.strava.com/runs/18462316):
Much smoother, even scaled down a bit so as not to be unwieldy on this page, and generally much truer to my actual path. The GLO will still be off by a bit sometimes -- there are still lots of tall buildings in Manhattan, certainly -- but typically the egregiousness of this error is much reduced.
In fact, the built-in phone hardware was typically overstating the length of my runs by about 10%.
I haven’t yet completely run down the GLO battery in a single go, but the advertised life of 12 hours seems to be about right.
On the phone side of things, though, I wasn’t realizing the gains in battery life I was hoping for. Using the GLO was draining my battery more rapidly! Seemingly relatedly, my phone was warm to the touch after prolonged GLO-linked use.
Debugging battery life issues, and the solution
The first thing I checked was whether explicitly disabling the onboard GPS hardware made a difference when using the “Mock” source instead. This didn’t matter, though.
“Google Maps” was listed as the culprit application or process in the battery usage log, with the Strava App coming in distant second. Hmmm.
Then I noticed that for trips of 3+ hours, the Strava app would have trouble successfully uploading to Strava’s cloud servers at all. Digging into the underlying storage on the phone, I realized that the underlying .gpx files the app was creating were unusually large when using the GLO compared to without.
A-ha! The refresh rate on the GLO is 10 Hz, compared with maybe one update per second with the built-in hardware. How frequently does the Strava App poll for updates? Best as I can tell, it does so continuously, as fast as the device will allow for it. My conclusion is that the app was not engineered for the GLO’s speedy turnaround time, and was running itself (and my phone) ragged trying to keep up with all the updates.
Alas, the Strava app does not allow manually tuning the GPS refresh rate; it only offers ASAP behavior. MyTracks allows for tuning, though. I was able to reproduce the same battery drain & warmth effects with MyTracks at its default settings, but dropping the refresh rate down takes care of it immediately. Battery life was obviously improved with a 1-second polling interval, marginally improved further from there with a 2-second polling interval, and debatably improved again with a 5-second interval. Lately I’ve been using a 5-second interval.
With this tweak in place, battery performance seems to improve slightly over the non-GLO alternative, but not remarkably so. It’s still advisable to pause recording at a long stop .
Also, MyTracks’ introduction means that my workflow on the phone does not include automatic upload to Strava when the ride is done. Instead, I save the file to the device in GPX format, and then “share” the track file by email, To: firstname.lastname@example.org . It’s unfortunate. If I know a workout will be short, especially if I have means to charge my phone on the other end, I’ll often opt for the Strava app instead, heedless of the battery implications.
I’d also note that even if battery life weren’t at issue, pausing at long stops would still be good idea, if the stop involves a trip indoors. Movement indoors can cause apparent jitter in position even if there is none in actuality, as the GLO gets partial or reflected readings even inside the building.
Not just for run- and ride-tracking
I’ve also paired my phone with the GLO when getting ordinary turn-by-turn directions from the navigation feature of the Maps app. This has been helpful in gauging my position and upcoming turns more accurately. (With built-in GPS, sometimes my phone would lose track of me when driving, e.g., on the elevated Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and decide that I was on one of the parallel frontage roads or on an underlying avenue instead. Eep.)
The first time the device is turned on in a rampantly new geography -- out of doors, with a good view of much of the sky -- it takes maybe 20-30 seconds to get an initial fix on its position. I noticed this when the device was new, and again immediately after air travel. There have been a few instances of the latter. Shorter positional gaps during which the device was off -- between work and home, say, or the 35 miles between my own apartment and my parents’ house -- have delayed initial fix slightly, but less dramatically.
If I start to record an activity before I get initial GPS fix -- something I’d really like to be able to do freely, since I live in an apartment building -- the recording app seems to receive a few stray points from the last place the GLO had a fix on its position, which get inserted as junk data at the beginning of my overall track. If I don’t want to wait before getting underway, I can repair this after the fact by manually editing the .gpx file before loading it. It’s human-readable XML, so this is fairly trivial. Alternately, I may use the “Crop Ride” feature in Strava after upload, though this seems to be slightly too blunt an instrument.
The unit will flash a different pattern on the charging/fix LED if it is running low on power. IME, it will shut itself off soon after that. There’s no way to otherwise gauge the runtime remaining, except to charge it fully. I tend to do this even if I don’t think I need the full runtime, just to make sure the device is in a known state.
If the connection between the GLO and my phone goes sour mid-activity, I’ve found that I have to power-cycle the GLO before it starts serving data properly again. I’ve only seen this happen if I physically separate the GLO and the phone, though. For example, let’s say I lock up my bike and take my pannier, with GLO inside, into a cafe. I put the phone in my pocket. Then I leave the pannier with my family while going to the bathroom 20 yards & a door distant. Oops.
The power button requires a press (for a short count) to turn on, or a press and hold (for a long count) to turn off. This makes it too easy for the GLO to “turn itself on” if put in a pouch or a pocket, and silently drain away its battery out-of-sight. I’ve taken to wedging a small piece of paper between the battery’s contacts and the pickups in the battery slot to keep the GLO off when I really want it off. At other times, I stow the paper harmlessly under the battery cover.
I also worry about the converse problem -- the device “turning itself off” -- but this hasn’t happened yet. In any case, a sliding on-off switch may have been a better design choice.
Despite the quirks, the drawbacks of the polling-frequency workaround, and the fact that phone battery-life improvements are marginal, I do like this device. Seeing smoothly-drawn track lines at the end of a ride or run is much more satisfying than seeing squigglies, and the improved distance accuracy for running trips is very valuable in its own right. It’s enough trouble that I don’t bother with it for ordinary rides to work, but I never bothered with tracking these rides before anyway.
I would probably enjoy using a GPS watch as well, if I had one. Prices are slightly less gentle than the $100 GLO -- figure $170 MSRP for a decent wired-data-transfer GPS watch, or $250 MSRP for one that syncs wirelessly, via ANT+ -- but that wasn’t really the blocking consideration. Mainly, I consider the necessary intervention of a computer to get the data off such a device to be a serious drawback, and I can usually get away without doing this with the GLO. I’d like the GLO even more if I didn’t have to be so careful not to trip over its many quirks, alas. And if these quirks weren’t sometimes easiest to remedy with, in fact, computer intervention.
If you think you might be of a similar mindset, give the Garmin GLO some consideration.
Sunday, November 25, 2012
- Fredriksted Pier Dive. A fun, easy dive, that's got lots to see, despite being a pier dive. A great "post-certification" dive.
- The Wreck Of the Rhone. A classic, gorgeous wreck, which is so old it's basically an artificial reef. Enjoyable with clear water and lots of history and things to do. Recommend that you do this the first time as a guided dive.
- Steve's Bommie. Easily my favorite dive in the Great Barrier Reef. Schools and schools of fish. Just unbeatable.
- Exmouth Navy Pier. Like diving in an aquarium. I never saw so many sharks in such a small place.
- Cathedral in Bequia. Easily the best drift dive I've ever done. Stunning wildlife.
- Felipe Xiotencatl. A still largely intact ship with lots of swim throughs. You get to even sit on a still working commode.
- Chac Mool Scuba diving in a cavern. Stalactites, stalagmites. Floating through thermoclines. Spelunking without getting dirty. A heck of a lot of fun. People die doing these things, so go with a guide who knows what they're doing.
- The Indians. A beautiful shallow dive that's gorgeous in the morning. Swim throughs and all sorts of delights. Worth repeating.
- Manta Ray Night Dive. Worth a trip to Kona for. Enough said.
Of the lot, I'd say that Ningaloo Reef is easily the most over-looked dive area. The snorkeling there is also fantastic, with drift snorkeling being one possibility. Watch out for sun burn though!
Having said all this, if I never dove again I wouldn't mind that much. For me, it's mostly something I do opportunistically (i.e., if I happen to be in the tropics with good diving). I wouldn't go out of my way to plan another dive-oriented trip again.
|Hawaii Big Island|
Flying into Kona airport, we picked up a rental Altima and drove it over to Hilo, unfortunately acquiring a speeding ticket on saddle road. The roads in Hawaii are designated with deliberately low speed limits in order to attract more tourist revenue. I drove like a local (very slowly) for the rest of the trip.
We spent a couple of days snorkeling and diving. I went with Nautilus Dive Center because it was the only dive shop near Hilo which was the only dive shop around. I was determined to get an advanced dive certification on this trip, so signed up for it. Unfortunately, I was to learn that the Hilo area is possibly the least satisfying diving you can find in the tropics. The highest visibility I ever got was 30 feet, and while the area had great amounts and variety of wildlife, the entry and exits were always in cold water --- the entry points usually had a freshwater well which gave you fresh water from Mauna Kea, so after just one dive I was cold and on the second dive I was freezing.
|From Hawaii Big Island|
Arturo and his sister was visiting Hawaii as well, so we took a day and joined them to explore the Volcano National Park. There, we got to see the crater rim, hike inside the rim itself, and go look at the old lava flows. I was sad about not bringing Bowen along until I read at the visitor center that the air was full of poisonous sulfur-derived gasses. Don't bring your baby on this trip!
|From Hawaii Big Island|
Unfortunately, I caught a cold right after the second set of dives. So we spent the next few days just swimming, and me watching people swim from the shore. We did take day trips to see the Lava State Park (which was all of half an hour), and Kaimu Beach Park, which was a black sand beach with a lot of views of the Lava. XiaoQin took a great photo of Bowen and I on that beach, which I love.
|From Hawaii Big Island|
|From Hawaii Big Island|
|From Hawaii Big Island|
I finished up my advanced certificate in Hilo and swore never to dive there again. I would classify the diving as "not insanely bad", but I don't consider it worth anybody's time. At least, not anyone who's done any amount of decent diving.
|From Hawaii Big Island|
We drove over to Kona where we stayed at the Wyndham Kona Hawaiian Resort. The resort was an incredible deal on Expedia, and we realized why when we arrived. It turned out that the same parent company owned Expedia and the Time Share resort. Time shares are such incredibly bad deals that they are frequently resold on eBay for $1, because the maintenance fees are so exorbitant that you couldn't possibly re-coop it unless you really only ever went to one place on vacation every year.
Arturo had highly recommended Jack Diving Locker's Manta Ray Night Dive, so I went for it.
The next dive I did was with Jack's as well, their Pelagic Magic dive. You drive out in the middle of the ocean, are tethered to the dive boat, and then spend the dive staring at your flashlight's beam lighting up all sorts of little critters. It's fun, but it's not that interesting in that you're in some sense sitting in a closet looking at the dust particles your flashlight is shining at. Of course, those particles are a live, and move, but you're also slowly getting dis-oriented. It's definitely a dive worth doing, but if you do do it, just go down tot he bottom of the tether and stay there for the entire dive. The reason is if you try to move up even 20', what happens is that the bouncing waves bounce you right to the surface, and then going down again is risky.
|From Hawaii Big Island|
- Spend all your time in Kona. Don't waste your time on the East side of the island.
- Volcano National Park and Mauna Kea are each worth a day
- Cook monument snorkeling is great. Do it.
- Manta Ray Night Dive is a must do. It's worth getting certified to do this.
I once worked for a company that tried to reward employees who did something special with trips to Las Vegas. My response was that I'd pay not to have to go to Las Vegas (which I've had to do on business too many times). While I wouldn't consider a trip to Hawaii a punishment the way a trip to Las Vegas would be, I can think of far better things to do with my limited time and money. I came back from my last trip to Hawaii needing to plan a BVI trip. I'm feeling the same way right now.
They performed admirably. On Volcano National Park, they handled a 6 mile hike over volcanic rocks and other terrain with no problems. Whether on the beach, in the rain forest, driving a car, or hiking tough terrain, these sandals did anything that I could throw at them, and kept going. They got wet, they dried quickly, and they gripped well on any surface, wet or dry. I've worn them to the point that the imprints on the sole are already partially worn away, so I feel qualified to give these a double thumbs up.
In fact, I'm going to consider buy another pair sized a bit larger to wear with thicker socks for winter use. Needless to say these are highly recommended!
Friday, November 23, 2012
- Skype. This is by far the best use of a tablet. Skype on the tablet is far more useful than on a laptop or desktop. The tablet is far more portable, and has more processing power than a phone so the video quality is acceptable. It has seen nearly daily use while we were on vacation. In places where we had no cell coverage but had wifi (yes, it happens), Skype has turned the tablet into a very useful phone. In fact, I'm tempted to get the mobile data version of the N7 for general use.
- Meridian Player. If you side-load videos to your tablet, you need a video player as the default one won't accept sideloaded videos. Of the lot, Meridian Player is the best. The gestures for fast-forwarding, etc., are very well done. The processing of formats are great, and I like the UI.
- Sudoku. This is my go-to game for passing the time when I have just a few minutes. The auto-save feature works well, and it's easy to play for just a minute or two.
- Google Reader The big negative about reading on the tablet is that the sharing is quite a disaster. Sharing to Google+ works well, as you might expect, but sharing to delicious depends on a third party app such as Andricious. Andricious is flakey, frequently resulting in "Loading Page Title" as the the anchor text when shared rather than the actual anchor text. Unfortunately, Delicious has chosen to focus on the iOS app instead of Android apps. What this says to me is that I need to curtail reading on the tablet and keep reading on the Windows PCs as much as possible.
- New York Times is the best of the news reading apps. What makes it great is something really simple: it works even when disconnected from the internet! None of the other news reading apps work when disconnected from the internet, which defeats the purpose of having an app on the tablet which reads the news since the web browser is just as good. The New York Times app is so good that I'd be tempted to pay for a subscription to the New York Times so I can keep using it when my trial is over. The New York Times app is what Google Reader wants to be when it grows up.
- Amazon App Store The free app of the day has typically turned out to be excellent, and sometimes, the price is lower on the Amazon store than on the Google store. Some Googlers I know hate the fact that the store's been fragmented, but if you're a consumer, competition is good!
Monday, November 19, 2012
There were quite a number of re-reads this year, and I think I'd have to separate them out from the rest of the new books. Otherwise, nobody would be able to stand up against Dune, for instance.
The best new novel I read this year is Jo Walton's Among Others. At once autobiographical, allegorical, and fantastical, it is written well and should make every science fiction and fantasy reader quiver with delight. It very much deserves the sweep it's made of this year's Hugo and Nebula awards.
Close runner ups include The Magician King and The Kingdom of Gods. It does seem like a great year for fantasy novels. Also close and dear to me are Ready Player One and The Spy Who Came In From The Cold.
On the non-fiction side, what a great selection of choices. The one that comes to the forefront, however, is Thinking Fast and Slow. It's a great book, and you get to skip all the Dan Ariely books if you read this one. Another surprisingly useful book is Which Comes First, Cardio or Weights?. I find myself coming back to this book (and am currently re-reading it again) over and over again. For instance, one of the points made in this book is that exercise actually keeps the telomeres in your DNA from shortening. This literally means reducing your physical age and extending your life. I think about how often I run into people (frequently women) who obsess about wrinkles and white hair but wouldn't even consider an hour a week in the gym. This book is for them (and unfortunately, most of them will never read it).
The reader's choice this year, judging from the number of books sold on Amazon.com from this blog, is The Last Lecture. The price of that book was artificially low though, so I would call Career Warfare the winner based on books sold at full price. Given the shortage of good books on politics in the office, I think there's a market out there for a software engineer-specific political guide. Unfortunately, being an incompetent office politician, I'm the last person who should write that book. If you're a good software engineer office politician and need a ghost writer, however, send me e-mail and let's talk. I guarantee that this is one book that will sell. And sell.
Unfortunately, none of the graphic novels I read this year blew me away, so I'm offering no recommendation in that category. If you can name a really good graphic novel, please let me know. I'll read it and review it for next year.
And yes, the book of the year? Among Others. It's unusual for a fiction piece to beat all the non-fiction pieces, so pick it up if you haven't already!