Sunday, October 31, 2004

Halloween Bike Ride

It was a beautiful fall morning, and the sun peeked out long enough for me to IM Jennifer to see if she was planning on a bike ride. She was, so I drove out to Carnation to meet her. She is a friend who is training for an Ironman next year (!) and sends out mail to our tri club looking for people to ride with on the weekends. Since it was such a beautiful day, I took her up on it.

After meeting at a park, we rode out and back along a country road, chatting for a good part of the ride. Our goal was a leisurely ride so we rode out for 45 minutes and then turned around. On the way back, I couldn't resist stopping to take a few pictures near a field full of cows.



These cows were the active members of the group! A few others ones to the side were laying down and eating grass, because I guess all that standing around and eating was too exhausting.

Nestlé has some sort of training center in the area. Here is a view from a small hill of the valley and facility.

Valley View near Nestlé

Afterwards, I treated myself to a grande cafe mocha (no whip) and low fat marionberry muffin. That was still probably 500 calories though. ;)

Saturday, October 30, 2004

Windows Media Center

One of my computer related hobbies is building media center pc's.

When Windows Media Center 2005 came out, I obtained a copy via my MSDN subscription. Later, a friend was able to get me a media center remote control, and tonight I set it all up! This system is currently serving as a ReplayTV archive (thanks to DVArchive), and as a jukebox for my music and pictures.

Unfortunately, I can't get the video working yet, so no recording TV, but the music and picture functionality works great. It's a very polished interface.


Here's something you don't see very often: a 57 page license agreement! Of course, each page is quite short. And no, I didn't read it and just clicked "I Agree".


One nit I have is I can't figure out how Media Center chooses to order songs in a album. This particular song is sorted as last in the album, despite the fact it is track 5 on disc 2 - the song data and filename even reflect this. The songs are sorted properly by other media players...

Friday, October 29, 2004


I finished Angels and Demons by Dan Brown, and needless to say I am now fascinated by ambigrams.

So, I decided to try to make an ambigram of my first name. An ambigram spells a word viewed normally and when rotated 180 degrees.

As it turns out, it took me around 30 minutes of various sketches. I'm lucky that "Karl" ambigrams fairly easily:

karl (ambigram)

I might try to work up an ambigram including my last name - that is certain to be more difficult!

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Next Door Neighbors

My next door neighbors put their house up for sale. I'll be watching this with great interest! Partly because I'll get some new neighbors, and partly because of property value. Two other homes nearby sold recently, for good prices as well.

My neighbors have three kids, all girls, and are looking to get a bigger house in Woodinville. I don't see them very often, but they are friendly enough. Sometimes when I am working in the yard the girls will come over and want to help rake, pick dandelions, or pick up pine cones. Until their mom comes out and tells them to work in their own yard! I have a small fountain and one of the girls likes to "bathe" pine cones - she searched for a rock to block the drain (except the water only flows up and spills over the side) because she was afraid the pine cone would "drown". I pointed out that the pine cone was larger than the rock so it wouldn't be able to "drown" (plus as I mentioned the water doesn't really drain). Last week the kids helped me rake up leaves so much I went over and helped their mom weed dandelions, and we chatted a bit.

Anyway, their house is about 300 square feet larger than mine, and the listing mentions a newer roof and updated kitchen. Still, if they get their asking price that is good news for my house value!

ESR General Meeting

This evening was the Eastside Runners fall general meeting. This was remarkable since I am the ESR Social Chair, which means I'm in charge of planning it!

I left work a bit early, to pick up some last minute things at the grocery store: cookies, grapes, ice. I also managed to borrow an LCD projector from work as our speaker had a Powerpoint presentation to deliver.

Setup went smoothly except for a few moments of panic when I found the electric outlet was too far away, and an extension cord wasn't available. So I literally ran to a nearby drugstore and bought a 25 foot outdoor extension cord, and got everything back on track.

As a side note, our library system doesn't have much equipment. Branch libraries don't repair broken overhead projectors (probably a combination of lack of budget and frequency of needed repairs), and only the regional libraries have LCD projectors. But, those projectors are only available for library programs, not for public meetings. Anyway, I was fortunate enough to be able to use the spare projector from work. The library didn't even have any extension cords! None for a 3 prong plug at least. I feel like donating the one I bought earlier.

The talk was interesting, we invited Geoffrey Lecovin of Evergreen Integrative Medicine to speak on sports nutrition. The talk covered some basic about good nutrition, and included some handy info: 15 food to include in your diet, recipes for homemade sports drinks and smoothies, sample menus for half-marathon and marathon build up, etc.

One minor disappointment was the talk wasn't well attended. We were expecting about 20 people and only 11 showed. But it went well - we had some good questions afterwards and the people who attended were interested.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas

Tonight at 7 pm I visited my local video game store and picked up my copy of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, which I had pre-ordered. I traded in some PS2 games I was tired of, and applied the trade-in credit to a deposit on the game. Thus, I was able to pick the game up a day before the official release date.

GTA isn't my favorite series - that would the snowboarding game SSX Tricky and the sequel SSX3 - but it is a lot of fun. I haven't even finished the first game yet, but what I've played is fun enough for me to buy both sequels (GTA: Vice City and GTA: San Andreas). What can I say, one of my hobbies is gaming... perhaps more accurately game collecting! ;)

The fall and winter here in the Pacific Northwest is a bit gloomy at times, so I'm sure I'll get around to playing. I have a few other games I'd like to finish up first: Burnout 3, Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando, and of course GTA 3 and GTA: Vice City. I also picked up Katamari Damacy and want to try that out as well.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Favorite Season

Recently, some friends have opined that autumn is their favorite season. Breigh's blog entry on this is October 21, 2004. I can't find a way to permalink to it.

It got me to think about what my favorite season is.

Autumn is nice, but not my favorite. For me it is in between winter and summer, two seasons I enjoy much more. I do find it pretty when the leaves change colors, but that is only recently - I haven't always lived somewhere the leaves noticably change colors. It can be spectacular, but it is also something that happens before the leaves die.

Winter, on the other hand, means snow which in turns means snowboarding, snowshoeing, and other fun snow sports! On the other hand summer means long days, nice weather, and plenty of outdoor activities: swimming, biking, running, volleyball, etc.

Spring is also an "in between" season for me, except unlike fall the days get longer and warmer.

So, my favorite season is either winter or summer... I can't quite decide. Here in Seattle the winter days are quite short, so I'd probably lean towards summer as my favorite season. No snowboarding, but it is warm and sunny and that means plenty of activity options. But, snow sports are a lot of fun, and winter training is at a relaxed pace - it is a time to build a better foundation for the future.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Cheap PC

Recently, Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft, said PC's should be cheaper. He thinks PC's can be engineered to cost around $100.

Two things entered my mind reading this: 1) I welcome Microsoft to lead the charge and drop the price of their XBOX to $100, and 2) he can't be serious.

I build my own PC's - I haven't bought an assembled system in over a decade - and there is no way to make a $100 PC using parts that are for sale. That sounds odd, what I mean is, components get cheaper and cheaper, but the bottom of the technology just disappears.

For example, a 100 GB hard drive might cost $200, and then $100, and eventually drop to $50. (These numbers are not exact, just showing a trend). What happens to the smaller hard drive that originally cost $50, say a 20 GB drive? They should drop to $25 and then to $10, right? Well yes... except at a certain point, the hard drive manufacturer will quit making 20 GB drives. Your dollar goes further, but that doesn't mean you can buy the low end for even cheaper over time.

At NewEgg, the cheapest hard drive for sale is a 50 GB drive for $55. The cheapest AMD CPU is $15. If you then buy 128 MB of memory for $25, and a CDROM for $20, that already adds up to $115. Without a case, power supply, or mainboard... so not quite a computer yet.

On the other hand, Microsoft makes a stripped down PC, specially targetted towards playing games. This is the XBOX. I'm thinking, if they can't manufacture that and sell it for a profit at $100, then Mr. Ballmer is seriously deluded that other hardware companies can do it, or want to. The XBOX is a 733 MHz Pentium III with 64 MB of memory, and an 8 GB hard drive. It has specialized hardware for graphics, but otherwise, is very low end compared to what PC's are sold for. By all accounts, Microsoft is taking a major loss on each XBOX. Basically, a company like Dell isn't going to want to make a $100 PC, for many reasons: 1) difficulty acquiring low end parts from other manufacturers, 2) no profit margin on a device that cheap.

Also, it isn't clear anybody would buy such a low end machine. Even if all you want to do is run a web browser and check email, Microsoft doesn't make an OS anymore that would run acceptably on such a machine! I don't see Microsoft re-issuing Win95 or Win98, and they would have to - the min spec for WinXP is a 300 MHz CPU, and it runs like a slug on that. It would be barely acceptable to customers using a 733 MHz Pentium III.

Friday, October 22, 2004

Bike Gearing, part 1

I'm considering changing the gearing on my race bike. What does that mean?

First, a picture (of my training bike):

Chainring and Cassette

No big mystery here.

Chainrings come as doubles or triples, which is just how many there are. Many race bikes have a 53x39 chainring, and another popular chainring is the 52x42x30. The numbers are simply how many teeth are on a chainring. Thus, the 53 has 53 teeth, and is obviously bigger in circumference than a 39 chainring. A 53x39 chainring has one chainring with 53 teeth and one chainring with 39 teeth.

Cassettes are numbered in the same way, except usually there are so many it isn't convenient to list them all. For example, a popular cassette is a 9 speed 12-25. This means there are nine gears, the smallest has 12 teeth, and the largest has 25 teeth. The ones in between are 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 19, 22. Basically, you can look up what the middle gears are in a catalog. Other popular cassettes are the 12-27 or the 11-23.

With this knowledge, you can describe your gear combination as two numbers: the first is the chainring, and the second is the cassette. For example, you may choose to pedal downhill in the 53x12, on the flats in the 53x19, and uphill in the 39x23.

When someone mentions 53x17 or 53x39, how can you tell if they are talking about a chainring-cassette combination (53x17) or talking about two chainrings (53x39)? This is by context, as the largest common cassette gear is 27, and the smallest common chainring (that I've heard of) is a 34. So while is it possible someone talking about a 53x17 means two gears on the chainring and 53x39 to mean a 53 tooth chainring and 39 tooth cassette (and presumably this person own a lot of metal working gear and machines their own parts), it isn't likely.

What is important is the gear ratio which is easy to calculate: it is just the front gear divided by the back gear. Say I'm in the 53 up front, and the 17 in the back. I'd say that I was riding in the 53x17, and my gear ratio would be 53/17 = 3.12. If I were in the 39x25, my gear ratio would be 1.56, and so forth.

Gear ratio matters because from this, plus some other info (wheel diameter and cadence), you can calculate how fast you will go for a given gearing. Wheel diameter is fixed for a particular bike (well, tire thickness can make it vary slightly), so the only thing that normally varies while you are riding, is cadence, which is how many revolutions per minute you pedal.

The lower the gear ratio, the easier it is to pedal. Of course, it will be easier to pedal on a flat surface versus a hill, but in either case, a lower gear ratio is easier to pedal than a higher gear ratio.

Part of gear selection is picking a chainring and cassette so the gear ratios overlap as little as possible, and also provide coverage for the speeds you plan to travel at. I'll go into this in another post.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Suicide Squeeze

This has got to be my favorite baseball play. Runner leaves third for home as the pitcher throws, bunt by the hitter... unfortunately it was the Cardinals that executed it to perfection.

Well, the Cardinals won it. I think I'll cheer for the Boston Red Sox in the World Series - it has been a really long time for them.

Just a note thought, the last time the Houston Astros lost in the NLCS, the team that beat them (New York Mets) went on to beat... you guess it... the Boston Red Sox in the 1986 World Series. So for the baseball superstitious, perhaps the Red Sox are already doomed. ;) But, if they can win they will have buried the notion of a curse or jinx, as they climbed over the Yankees to get there.


I'm a so-so baseball fan, but I can also get into nearly any sport's playoffs.

I'll be rooting for the Houston Astros to earn their first trip to the World Series. To do that they'll need to beat the Cardinals in St. Louis, and various media will quickly point out the home team has won every game in the NL series so far. If the Astros beat the Cardinals, I'll be cheering for the Astros to win the Series.

I lived in Houston for just over a decade, and used to go to Astros games during the summer, and sit in the cheap centerfield bleachers for $2. That's right, $2 tickets, back in the late 80's. Cheap for a few hours of air conditioning in the Astrodome!

In other news, the Boston Red Sox came from being down 0-3 against the New York Yankees to win the AL championship. I hope the Red Sox, despite being overjoyed to humiliate the Yankees, remember there is another series to play... I know there is an intense rivalry between the Red Sox and Yankees, and I wonder if beating the Yankees in the AL Championship is "good enough"? Say they lose the World Series - will everyone say "at least we came from behind and beat the Yankees!!"?

I lived in New York for a few months, but didn't really become a Yankees fan. They've got good players, the best team money can buy. They've had great success over their entire history. However, some part of me chuckles when another team takes them down, since their payroll is so huge. Especially after the Yankees beat the Mariners in 2001. That year, I cheered for the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Baseball is full of superstitious statisticians. Legend has it the Red Sox traded away Babe Ruth and thus picked up a curse that has prevented them from winning the series ever since. The Red Sox won their 5 World Series within 15 years, at the start of the 20th century. Ever since, they've only been back 4 times and lost them all. Last time the Red Sox hoisted a championship banner, World War 1 was winding down. Of course, at the time it was called "The Great War". So, it has been a while for Boston.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004


Tonight my board game friends and I played Keythedral for the third time.

It is a "gather resources and build" game in a similar vein to Settlers of Catan (my gold standard for these sorts of games), with a few differences. Notably, other than the initial board layout, there are no dice used in this game - nothing is random.

In Catan, you shuffle the board tiles and lay them out in a fixed pattern. In Keythedral, each player takes a random tile and chooses where to place it. So board layout, while random, is less so than in Catan. In addition to placing a tile, you place one of your cottages in the map, and each player takes a turn until the board is set.

After setting up the board, players send out workers to harvest resources from the various tiles, and then use the resources to purchase blocks of the Keythedral (i.e. purchase victory points).

We've played three times, and while the game is fun, something is lacking. Part of the problem is the game is won or lost on initial tile placement. This in turn is because placing a tile/cottage after another player gives you an advantage over them as you can react to their placement for your own advantage. Of the three games we've played, the last player to go has won each time. During the game, moving before someone is an advantage, but that is constrained by initial tile placement, making the board setup so crucial for the rest of the game.

Resource management is also weakly implemented. In this game, the basic resources (stone, wood, grass, water, wine) are essentially all equal, once past the very early game. You can freely trade any two resources for one of your choice. Crafted resources (iron, stained glass, gold) which can only be bought, are also easily obtained: two, three, or four of a basic resource will purchase a crafted resource. In Catan, you can trade three resources for one of your choice, and if you compete and own a port, you can trade two of the port's resources for one of your choise. In Keythedral, resources are too easy to switch between and shortages never arise.

One game dynamic we haven't really tried is blocking another player's cottage from harvesting resources. This is difficult to do without teaming up, and while some players are quite competitive, each person mostly plays for themselves and doesn't try to team up and take down someone else.

Anyway, everybody is a bit neutral on this game so we might play Power Grid again next time.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Volleyball Sub

I had a chance to sub on a friend's team, so I took it, as I really enjoy playing volleyball. Plus this particular group is a lot of fun to play with.

I'm not that good or strong on offense, so I just try not to make errors and place the ball carefully. I was just mentally asleep during the first game - I made a couple of stupid errors, basically letting the ball drop and not even trying to play it. We lost the first game, which provided motivation to us because we went on to win the next three games and the series.

Monday, October 18, 2004

Snow at Stevens Pass

It has been rainy lately, and I saw on the news that the overnight snow level will be around 4000 feet, which means Stevens Pass will get a layer of slush. It probably won't stick, but it is a sign the snow season is near...

Earlier today, I bought a Stevens Advantage Card, which is a loyalty card program that gives a $12 discount on weekday tickets, and a $7 discount on weekend tickets. The Advantage Card costs $49 (purchased this early) and includes a lift ticket, which means it will pay for itself very quickly, if not instantly.

Last season, I went to Stevens on Friday evening a half dozen times or so. With the discount, the evening lift ticket will cost about $20!

Friday, October 15, 2004

Angels and Demons

I've been trying to work my way through Master and Commander for quite some time. I really enjoyed the movie, so I thought I'd give the book a try. I've done this with a few movies/novels, such as Jurassic Park and The Hunt For Red October.

But, I just can't seem to get into it. The movie was based on the first book in the series, Master and Commander, and the tenth, The Far Side of the World, with a few plot changes. The plots sound great - in addition to the naval adventures of the captain (Jack Aubrey), the ship's surgeon (Stephen Maturin) is also a British Intelligence agent with a side mission to perform.

I'm a few chapters in and it isn't grabbing me yet. However, I don't think I'll abandon the novel, I'll just put it aside and read something else in the meantime. I decided to try Dan Brown's Angels and Demons since everybody I know who has read The Da Vinci Code raves about it. Why am I not reading that one instead? Well, I'm cheap and Angels and Demons is out in paperback now, and there are just a handful of authors I'm willing to buy in hardback. Since I haven't read anything by Dan Brown yet I'm not willing to buy it in hardback. However, if Angels and Demons is so amazing I can't wait for The Da Vinci Code to come out in paperback, I might try hitting Half Priced Books to look for the hardback.

Or, I might try the eBook version, in Microsoft Reader format. I have around 40 novels in this format, although I've only bought 3 of them - most of the others were given away in a weekly promotion, and I grabbed every one available. The eBook version is about $10, which is OK considering the paperback version will probably be $8. I could of course grumble about how the eBook format should be even cheaper than the paperback...

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Mt. Rainier

We here in the Pacific Northwest are enjoying an absolutely beautiful fall. Clear skies, plenty of sun, cool weather... it is stunning. Today as I drove to work I could just make out Mt. Rainier, partly obscured by a few clouds. In the afternoon the clouds lifted so I took this picture from the main road by work.

Mt. Rainier

I zoomed in as far as I could and then cropped the pic to cut out traffic on the road. Anyway, this weather and the view are a treat. When the rain comes I won't mind, because that means snowboarding season is near!

Burnout3 - PS2 game

There are all sorts of small household chores I need to do, from mowing the lawn to cleaning out my cupboards. But, in the spirit of lazing around I decided to put it all off until the weekend and instead indulge another hobby of mine: gaming. Specifically, I'm playing Burnout3 which is extremely fun.

I like racing games, and this falls into the genre. However, unlike other games that have a more realistic physics model, this one encourages risk. As in: side swiping cars, driving on the wrong side of the road, bumping your opponents - all of these lead to points for you and a speed boost. Making your opponents crash is what this is all about, and so far it is super fun.

Crashing even scores points, from the kind of impact to how far your wreck skids. You can even steer your wreck, and if you manage to take out more opponents while steering your wreck, you score even higher. I haven't done that yet!

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Bank Migration

I've decided to switch banks.

I have no major issue with my current bank, 1st Security Bank of Washington (formerly Washington's Credit Union), except it isn't very convenient. The nearest branch is 8 to 10 miles away, doesn't have an ATM, isn't open on Saturday, and closes at 5 on weekdays (6 on Fridays). No Saturday hours is really annoying, especially when there isn't an ATM I could use to deposit a check (not that I like doing that). I've been using another credit union's ATM, which is closer and doesn't charge a fee, but I can't very well deposit a check there.

So I started looking around a few weeks ago. I wanted to find a national bank, rather than another regional bank, because sometimes I travel and want to be able to go to a branch and have someone help me. Several friends are with another regional credit union, First Tech Credit Union, but I ruled it out as I really want a national bank.

I decided on Wells Fargo. My mortgage is already there, which helps me qualify for the "super cool" checking account, the one with no fees for anything. There is a branch less than two miles away that has Saturday hours, a drive-through AND an ATM! I'll also join the 21st century and give electronic banking a try.

I only have a few electronic fund transfers to switch over - my electricity bill and car insurance. I'm sure Wells Fargo will switch the mortgage to my new account very easily! Changing my direct deposit should be simple as well, just a fax to the payroll group.

One thing I won't be using is the Wells Fargo Rewards program for their credit card and check card. This program basically winds up giving you 0.25% cash back. I get 1% back on my REI Visa and I can always find something to buy there!


Today was my birthday and also Columbus Day. I'd get this day off if I were a bank employee or a government employee. Since my friend Gail came down from Vancouver I took the day off and we did a bunch of random things.

First, we went for a short hike in Discovery Park.

Puget Sound View

Gail on the Horizon

There are many hikes with great views in the area, but Discovery Park is the closest one with the best view for the hiking effort.

After that, we decided to take it easy and search for a geocache. I looked up one close to my house and after a short drive and walk, we found Steel Mill II.

Steel Mill II Geocache

Since it was late in the afternoon and we didn't want to fight rush hour traffic to go back to Seattle, I drove us to downtown Kirkland and we wandered around for a while before settling in at a coffee shop.

Kirkland Marina

Mother's Day Tile Mural

We found a staircase/planter in downtown that was covered with colorful tiles. It looks like children from an elementary school made their own tiles for Mother's Day 2000 and the city used them to decorate.

Triple J Cafe Mocha

The Triple J Cafe was around the corner and we stopped in for a treat. The picture is out of focus because I'm not too skilled with my digital camera. ;) After the coffee shop, Gail treated me to a great dinner at a Thai restaurant.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Birthday Party

My friends organized a small get-together to celebrate my birthday. We met at Eric's apartment in Capital Hill, and then walked over to have dinner at Coastal Kitchen, a restaurant that changes its menu every few weeks. The current theme was Moroccan food, and it was delicious.

Birthday Cake

Afterwards, we returned to Eric's and had some cake.

Ben, Jenny, Gail


Francesca organized everything!

Mike and Alexandra

I received some great presents - triathlon swim training gear, Scrabble books, and new music - Drive By Truckers and Franz Ferdinand. It was an absolutely wonderful party!!

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Back Online

After spending a week planning out various home network topologies, I finally just picked up another wireless ethernet bridge, the Netgear WGE101. Configuration was a breeze and now my upstairs room is back online!

In the middle of the week I thought I would be fancy and buy a wireless access point (the Netgear WG602) and set it up in bridge or repeater mode. After failing to configure it for hours, I found some documentation that noted that bridge or repeater mode only works with the same model. Thus, I was doomed to fail as I was not trying to bridge to another WG602. Argh!

Next I plan to move up one of my downstairs computers, the Gentoo linux box. I will probably fiddle around with this system and may do away with Gentoo and try out Fedora Core 2. Both are linux distributions and it is mostly for me to play around with firewalls, web servers, database servers, email servers, and networking.

I got talked into buying the extended warranty for the wireless bridge. I usually don't buy those types of offers, but my previous wireless bridge died and that swayed my opinion.

Walking Tall

In contrast to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the movie Walking Tall is very simple. Army hero returns home, finds a former acquaintance has turned evil by running a casino and dealing drugs; all problems that are solved by a cedar plank and a shotgun. Not too much else to elaborate on, except I think it is good to take in a few movies like this, because it makes me appreciate better movies even more.

This isn't to say I'm some film snob - I enjoyed The Rundown, SWAT, and other action flicks. But this movie was a bit flat and had an absolutely trivial plot.

What eventually interested me was the scenery. The movie was set in the Pacific Northwest, and mentioned a few area cities such as Seattle and Aberdeen. But I know that many movies which feature beautiful American scenery are actually filmed in Canada.

I skipped through the credits and found the producers thanked Vancouver, Surrey, and British Columbia, thus it is certain that some of this movie was in fact filmed in our friendly neighbor to the north!

Thursday, October 07, 2004

New Zealand friend

My friend Allen, who left work to move to New Zealand, is back for a few weeks. Several of us from work went to meet him for lunch. He joked that he had lost some weight, but is gaining it all back by simply visiting restaurants he and his wife miss.

They are here for a two more weeks before returning, so I'll probably get to see them again. We talked briefly about my upcoming visit - I should be able to visit them for a day or two in Wellington.

He highly recommended the full day tour at Waitomo Caves, and also said there is a bus line called the "Kiwi Experience" which is handy for traveling around. On a more practical matter he said debit cards typically don't work, because New Zealand has its own network called EFPOS (electronic fund point-of-sale), but credit cards should be fine. Of course, cash works too. New Zealand believes strongly in taking the weekends off, so some businesses (typically restaurants) add a 10% or 15% surcharge to their prices, which I suppose offsets overtime wages. As for sports, rubgy is a national religion. I mentioned the men's gold and silver medalists in the 2004 Olympics are both New Zealanders, something nobody else at lunch seemed to know.

He talked about Wellington, describing it as beautiful but very windy. Apparently the south island's mountains focus winds from Antartica, so the weather is clear and beautiful but cold and windy. He said very few apartments or homes in New Zealand have central heating or double paned windows, so there isn't much difference between the outside temperature and the inside temperature. Hm... He and his wife moved in the beginning of the fall (in the southern hemisphere), and I'll be there in late spring, so I should have some good weather.

He compared Wellington to downtown Bellevue, ripped out and transported to Bellingham's location. If you aren't familiar with Washington state that might not mean too much to you! Bellevue is a Seattle suburb with a small downtown core and several skyscrapers, while Bellingham is a city near Canada surrounded by hills. Wellington has minimal sprawl - just 15 minutes outside the city and you are in farming and sheep country.

Hearing all this got me excited about the upcoming trip, I'll probably flip through my books on New Zealand again tonight!

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Home Network

On Monday, my main computer lost its internet connection. I'm a cable modem customer, and the cable enters in the den on the bottom floor. My main computer is in a spare bedroom upstairs, and it isn't very convenient to connect it via wiring, so I setup a wireless network which has worked fine most of the time. Every once in a while the signal will drop and I'll lose access for a bit, but it usually comes back quickly.

This time was different. On Tuesday, still nothing. Fortunately I have a few other computers and wasn't completely cut off. I decided to troubleshoot a bit and got out my long ethernet cable, ran it from my router up the stairs as far as it would reach, to a switch that was also as far as it would reach, which connected another cable to my computer. Presto, back online, so this told my everything was fine with the computer and network interface.

I took my notebook upstairs and noted the wireless signal wasn't very good. Both the link quality and signal strength were "poor". So I bought a higher gain antenna and set that up. It helped, as my notebook read the link quality and signal strength as "fair" to "good", but my office system was still offline. Thus, I suspect my wireless bridge died. Later, I checked it on another computer, and it does seem to be dead.

While looking for a replacement wireless bridge, I decided to check out some of the newer 802.11g equipment, since they support longer ranges. I found the Netgear WGT634U wireless storage router, which looked great. Actually, even better as this router can accept a USB disk and make it available on the network. This is extremely convenient, as I just bought a 200 GB USB/FireWire drive!

Using that new router, I can put all my pictures, music, and files on the network drive and get to it from any computer. Well, that can already happen but is a bit more work to setup, hanging a drive off a computer instead of the router.

Anyway, this router has a bigger range than my current one, but that is moot, as I also decided to go ahead and wire the upstairs rooms. Two of the bedrooms share a wall with my garage, so by simply drilling through the wall, I can run a cable from those room into the garage, which gets me at least 80% of the way to the router. The last few feet from the garage to the den will be done by more punching through, or perhaps using the door to the house. I have a friend at work who is experienced in cabling and minor work like this, so he'll help me do it.

After this change, all my systems will be wired, and wireless will be only for computers that actually move around - primarily notebooks/laptops.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Over the weekend I saw this movie with my friend Bev. She wandered off halfway, and her husband and kids joined in for part of it... basically I couldn't pay full attention to the movie and missed some of the dialogue, which is a shame, because it had a twisty plot. It was up there with Memento and Miller's Crossing as far as complicated stories. I may need to rent and watch it again!

The movie begins with Joel (Jim Carrey) waking up in a daze, finding his car door dented, and standing in a crowd at a train station. He becomes bored and decides to skip work and travel out to Montauk on Long Island. Once there, he meets Clementine (Kate Winslet), they hit it off, and begin to date. We see a few flashbacks and arguments, and on Valentine's Day he takes her a gift, and she doesn't even recognize who he is.

At this point, the movie enters the memory erasure plot. He stumbles on a clinic which offers to erase the memories of a bad relationship, so he signs up to do it. (As a side note, there is a website for Lacuna, the clinic which performs the memory erasing procedure in the movie).

During the procedure, he realizes he really loves Clementine and decides to keep her memory alive. Before, when he agreed to undergo the memory loss, he had to bring in all the tokens of their relationship - cards, pictures, etc. These items were used to form a map in his brain of areas that were active when he thought of her. Knowing this, he realizes that in order to keep her memory alive he has to will her into existence in previously unrelated areas - through concentration she comes into being as a childhood friend, a family friend, an observer at other events, and so forth.

The scenes are fantastic - he relives an early memory of their relationship, and as the memory is discovered and erased, the house they are walking in crumbles and disappears. Near the end of the movie, they are in a bookstore, and as the memory is erased, the books lose their dust jackets, eventually becoming all white with blank pages.

During the erasure, Clementine is aware that it is happening and becomes willing to help keep her memory alive. So they jump from memory to memory, redo certain events in their past and have a "live" discussion of the good times and bad times.

While Joel undergoes the memory erasure, a real world subplot is revealed - the receptionist Mary (Kirsten Dunst) had an affair with the doctor, and he had erased this memory from her. Mary winds up quitting the clinic, and out of spite, takes all the patient records and mails them out!

Clementine receives her file, along with a tape recording of why she wanted to erase the memory of Joel, and they listen to it in the car together. He gets mad and drives off, and she comes to plead with him, only to find out he is at home listening to his tape of why he wants to erase her. They part angrily, but later during the memory erasure realize they love each other, despite a few flaws. So, she tells him to come meet her Montauk before she disappears for good.

This ties in with the start of the movie, explaining why he gets this sudden urge to skip work and take the train to Montauk.

As I mentioned, the timeline is fluid. The movie was told partly through flashbacks, which weren't always obviously separate from current events. Plus, a large chunk of the movie was essentially his memories of events, seen from a lucid dream viewpoint where he could change how things played out.

I found two things really interesting: 1) how memories are related - and especially how remembering one thing sparks a recollection of another unrelated event, and 2) unconscious behavior - among many examples: Joel decides to go to Montauk for reasons he can't remember, and Clementine wants to spontaneously visit Boston and the Charles River.

The only thing I'm not sure of is the unexplained psychic connection between Joel's memory of Clementine and the real Clementine, as the agreement to work together to keep her memory alive and ultimately meet in Montauk, was all in the dream/memory sequences. Other than that, I think I managed to follow the whole plot even with various distractions. I'll probably queue it up in Netflix just to double check. :)

Overall I really liked this movie. It is a mind-bender but is also one of the more intelligent movies I've seen a quite a while.

Monday, October 04, 2004

Mount St. Helens

I've seen some pretty cool natural phenomena from an airplane. Twice, I've witnessed active thunderstorms, which are quite beautiful. Once or twice per second, the dark cloud mass would flash. After repeating this cycle for a few seconds, there would be a pause... and then a bright bolt of lightning would strike the ground.

No thunderstorm today, but instead I was something more unique. On the flight back from Sacramento, I got to see Mount St. Helens blowing steam. My flight passed just to the west of Mount St. Helens around 10:45 am, after the active period. I was also on the wrong side of the plane or I would have tried taking some pictures, but still, everyone aboard saw a huge trail of steam leading from the crater to the southeast. It looked like the smoke trail of a giant firecracker.

Sacramento Half-Marathon

Ah, the season's last event. I arbitrarily end the season in early October, which is convenient as it is before my birthday. My next event is the Dawg Dash on the 24th, and I plan to take a few weeks off until then.

Bev and I arrived at the Sacramento half-marathon with just a few minutes to spare, and we were soon running. It was clear, sunny, and cool for this area. This event is flat and a double out-and-back: the half-marathon does one out-and-back, and the marathon does two. Before the race, Bev hoped for 1:55 or better. However, she hadn't been able to train much lately, so I kept pace with her and checked my Forerunner. We did pretty well for the first mile, but then Bev slowed a bit and I made the tactical decision to run with her instead of on my own. After all, I can do that almost every other event I participate in. ;)

This wound up being an "easy" run for me, as my heart rate was 60% or lower for most of it. We walked every aid station and passed the midpoint of our race at 1:07. She kept plugging away even though she looked like she was in a little pain from right-leg stiffness. The last mile was especially tough for her, but we stuck together and finished around 2:23. Right at the end, I surged ahead to finish one or two seconds ahead. ;)

After this we stuffed ourselves at her favorite Chinese restaurant. Then, I treated Jamba Juice smoothies and we came back ready to nap.

Despite being a low heart rate run, I'm just as sore as I usually am after a half-marathon. I need to stretch out my right achilles tendon, but other than that I'm fine.

Originally uploaded by klbarrus.
Me and Bev after the Sacramento half mary 2004

After getting back, I had to send to mail to a friend in New York, John Lee. He also ran a half-marathon today: Grete's Gallop, named for Grete Waitz, a NYC marathon legend. John had an amazing run to finish in just under 1:42. Now THAT is an outstanding race! So congrats John!! :)

Sunday, October 03, 2004


I flew down to Sacramento this morning, to visit my friends Bev and Ben, and their two kids, Dylan and Sammy. The kids are getting bigger: Dylan is five and Sammy is three. Amazingly, they recognize me, although perhaps Bev gave them advance notice they were picking up "uncle Karl" from the airport.

I've visited once or twice a year for the past several years, usually timing my visits around ski season (Lake Tahoe) or the Sacramento half-marathon (first weekend in October). That is one purpose of this visit, Bev and I are participating in the half-marathon tomorrow morning. After leaving the airport, we headed to the expo to pick up our race numbers and goodie bags. Dylan and Sammy are under the impression Bev and I are going to win the event, so we'll have to break it to them that it just isn't going to happen. ;)

Bev has been biking since July, and wanted to show me the trail she rides a few times a week. First, I made a very minor adjustment to her bike's gears, so they wouldn't skip as much (basically a tweak on the rear derailleur limit screws). This is an easy fix, but now Bev thinks I'm sort of expert bike mechanic!

She borrowed a bike for me, and we rode out along Folsom Lake. We started out towards Sacramento, which is a flat section of the trail, and then turned around after a few miles to head the other way, back past our starting point to a park a few miles further. On the way to that park are three or four short sections of 10%-15% grade hills (according to the warning signs posted), so we got in a pretty good hill workout in our time riding around.

Originally uploaded by klbarrus.
Sammy and Dylan in their car seats.

Originally uploaded by klbarrus.
View of Folsom Lake

Friday, October 01, 2004

Super Scrabble

Scrabble is one of my favorite board games, so when I saw Super Scrabble at the bookstore, I had to check it out.

The board is 21x21 instead of 15x15, for a total of 441 spaces instead of 225. Instead of 100 letter tiles, there are now 200, with different proportions (i.e. not just twice as many of each letter). Scoring is higher, as the corners are now quadruple word spaces instead of triple word spaces. Also, there are quadruple letter spaces.

It didn't take me long before I decided to buy it. What the heck. Besides, the standard game gets a bit crowded if there are more than two players so this should help alleviate that.

Gardening Market Research

Every once in a while a company named Delve calls me up, looking to see if I qualify for a market research study. I've only qualified for one study, and it paid $125 for what boiled down to 90 minutes of my time. So, pretty good!

The study I qualified for was one on sports drinks. They brought us in, had us try out various prototype drinks, rate them on taste and so forth, and fill out a bunch of forms. I've also been called for studies on radio stations (didn't qualify), games (this study required bringing a friend and I couldn't find anyone available), and gardening.

Yes, gardening. I just got off the phone from answering a few questions about my gardening habits, and apparently the key question was whether or not I had purchased pansies. The last time I did any major gardening or planting, I bought a bunch of stuff so I wasn't sure. A quick check on Google images for pansies showed me that I did indeed buy some, because I recognize the purple and black flowers as some that are growing in my front flowerbed.

Oh well, maybe I'll qualify for the next survey...

New Jukebox

I put together my new computer, which will replace the aquarium jukebox pc. That system is still plugged in so the fish swim around, but isn't doing anything at the moment.

The new jukebox is less disk space but with a more powerful CPU, which will let me do a few media-related things on the side, such as convert DVD's to SVCD's. Disk space isn't a problem, as I wasn't using much on the original system. Besides, I ordered a 200 GB Firewire drive to act as my all-around backup and transfer disk.

New Jukebox

On the left is a hard drive sitting on top of a DVD/CDRW, to the right is memory and a cpu, and behind that is the Biostar SFF system with the side panels off.

Unfortunately, the CD I burned for install is a dud - it won't boot. I tried a different bootable CD and that started up just fine. So tomorrow I'll burn another and set this new system up.