Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Macro Mode

I finally decided to read the instructions for my camera, and learn how to take close-ups. My Canon S30 has several shooting modes, and the one for focusing on something close is called "macro mode".

It turns out that macro mode is very simple to use. Just hit the macro mode button (the icon is a tulip, which didn't really jump out as the button to hit for close-ups), depress the shutter button halfway and let the camera focus, then take the picture. Next up I'll learn how to use manual focus mode. ;)

As an example of my macro-mode experiments, I present an original painting! When I was 10 or 11, I took an art class, which covered pencil drawings to oil painting. My favorite thing to paint was landscapes, especially trees. Still lifes (the proverbial bowl of fruit) were also fun. I remember doing seascapes, but those were tough to get the crash of the wave looking good. One thing I was not very good at was drawing humans, so portraits of any kind were difficult. Anyway, here is a landscape I painted, shot with normal auto-focus:

KLB Landscape

Here is the painting, shot in macro mode:

KLB Landscape (macro mode)

Another example is a souvenir from Agra, India: a marble coaster with inlaid stones.


Coaster (macro mode)

As you can see, for close subjects, macro mode is much better than auto-focus.

Great timing, because today I received my new digital camera - the Canon SD20. This will be perfect - it is about the size of my cell phone and iPod Mini!

Mini Gizmos

My growing collection of gizmos.

Now what I need is a silver iPod Mini so it matches the other devices... ;)

Pools (Swimming and Ballroom) Night

I met Krisanne, Eric, and Sandy at the Ballroom to play a few games of pool. I was supposed to meet them for dinner, but the scheduling was tight as I had already arranged to meet Francesca and Jen for a swim workout.

The workout wasn't too bad, but did leave me tired. Part of it was probably dehydration - I forgot to bring along a water bottle to sip. The other part was just the workout itself - a typical masters swim workout includes various pool gizmos. Sometimes it is the pull buoy, which helps keep your legs floating higher, and sometimes it is the kickboard, which... is there just to thrash your legs. What you do is usually hold the kickboard in front, keep your head up, and doggie paddle back and forth. I'm not sure what the point of the kickboard is, because that isn't at all the way you swim any stroke except doggie paddle. I think years ago, somebody has success torturing their swim team with a kickboard and somehow it got ingrained as a great way to train. It probably makes sense if you plan to kick like a motorboat when you swim, but I'm positive there are other efficiency gains to be had that don't require kickboard-style leg work.

We did a few hundred yards of kickboard, and towards the end I cheated a little by sculling with my hands. I didn't feel bad because right before the kickboard drill we did 6x75 sets where the middle 25 yards was kick only, which is like the stupid kickboard drill, except without the kickboard. Bah!

The only thing good about masters swim is it is relatively social. My friend Jen was in the same lane, and Francesca and Ronan were one lane over. So you can chat a little bit here and there. Normally lap swimming is fairly isolating for me - I go to the pool alone, I don't wear contact lenses so I can't see too well, I wear earplugs to avoid dizziness so I can't hear too well - so I usually just work on my own drills or crank out the yardage. This time, I wore my contacts so I could see the others at least!

After showering I met up with Francesca, Jen, and Ronan in a little snack bar, where we all slurped up a post-workout smoothie. We chatted a bit and it was later than I thought before I left. I called Krisanne and found they were going to continue playing pool for a while, so I drove over to join them at the Ballroom in Fremont.

Sandy is up visiting from the Bay Area, scoping out possible places to live here in Seattle. Ironic isn't it, a friend is moving up here around the time I'll be moving to Florida. We teamed up to play Krisanne and Eric, and it was just not our night. We lost the first game by scratching on the 8 ball, and lost the third game by sinking the 8 ball. It was fun though!

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

House Survey

This morning a representative of the relocation company came by to survey my house, to determine how much packing material is needed. He walked from room to room and asked few questions, while he tapped furiously on his Palm Pilot. That is kind of cool, he and the moving company must run some custom software that records and estimates the amount needed.

As I looked around, I realized I still have a lot more work to do uncluttering my home. Primarily this means cleanup up my study, and the garage. I'm working on the garage, tackling 8 or 9 boxes stacked against the wall. I'm not sure what is in some of them, and perhaps that is a sign that the contents aren't really that important! It is difficult for me to throw stuff away, but I will try very hard this time around. I have some recreational gear I won't take with me, and instead of having a garage sale I'll look to give stuff to friends first.

The housing surveyor asked about my barbecue grill. I'm certainly not taking it with me - I'd prefer buying a new one, perhaps even a different style grill, when I'm there. I don't use it that much, but it does come in handy once in a while. I think the surveyor would buy it from me, but I'm not selling until I use it to throw myself a going away party. ;)

I also called up a landscaping service recommended by my realtor. I need some work on the front lawn: mowing, edging, but the big thing is re-sodding a portion of it. The back and side yard need to be moved as well - I'd do it, but since I'm having this guy come out for re-sodding, I'll be lazy. He'll come by early this Saturday and give an estimate on the work.

Sunday, March 27, 2005


Today I drove to Olympia with some friends, to check off another item on my to-do list. I thought as an eight year resident, I should visit the Capitol before moving away.

Originally uploaded by klbarrus.
Washington State Capitol

We were surprised to find the building open on Easter Sunday. We took the tour, which covered the House and Senate Galleries, the Rotunda, and the State Room. Well, we also saw the door of the Governor's office, but not the inside.

In the State Room was an interesting flag. (Sorry about the crappy picture but it had a protective sheet over it, plus there were reflections from oddly angled lights).

42 Star Flag

This flag wasn't actually ever an official flag of the United States, but I thought it was interesting anyway. Washington was the 42nd state to enter the Union, so the residents at the time created a 42 star flag to celebrate. It was a busy time for the U.S. as in the span of 9 days, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, and Washington entered the Union (Nov 2 1889, Nov 2 1889, Nov 8 1889, Nov 11 1889, respectively). Idaho and Wyoming joined the next July (July 3 1890 and July 10 1890), so at that time a 44 star flag was adopted. By this time, Colorado (38th to enter the Union) had been a state for nearly 14 years, without a representative star on the federal flag!

Just as an interesting aside, around the turn of the century, it became custom to only add stars to the federal flag on July 4th. When Alaska entered the Union, the official federal flag added its 49th star on July 4th 1959. Hawaii entered later in 1959, so the 50th star was added on July 4th 1960.

We wandered around outside, and saw a few other things: a sunken garden, World War I memorial, Vietnam War Memorial. The Capitol is on a hill overlooking water, so the view is quite nice. By this time my friend's kids had exhausted their attention span, so we piled in and drove back to Seattle.

Originally uploaded by klbarrus.
World War I Memorial

Friday, March 25, 2005

Fence Painting

I took some time at lunch to fix my aforementioned graffiti issue. It didn't take too long at all, but then I just painted the five vertical sections of the fence that were affected. I decided to paint today, because the last few days have been dry, while the weekend forecast calls for rain.

Last weekend, I tried to sand off the graffiti, but that didn't work very well at all. The wood was damp and that might have had something to do with it. So a few days ago I went into Home Depot, and bought some paint, latex gloves, and a brush.

I scored on the paint big time - I went with a friend who suggested I check the "oops" section, where I assume paint that wasn't the right color or otherwise mixed and abandoned, is kept. I found a quart of chocolate/dark brown, which was nearly the correct color, for $1.00 - what an enormous bargain!

I went cheap and just used a paper plate for the paint tray. Other than that, the gloves came in handy as by the time I was finished, I had paint smeared all over the fingers and palms. Cleanup was particularly easy because all I had to do is peel them off and rinse off the brush.

While I was painting, a neighbor came up and said hello, and thanked me for taking care of the graffiti. We chatted a short while before he wandered off. The whole time I was thinking that he might have been the person who complained to the city about the graffiti. ;)

Thursday, March 24, 2005


My local real estate agent talked to her counterpart in Florida and found that I need to make a "non contingent" offer on a house there. This basically means my current house needs to have a sale pending, before I can make an offer on another one.

This pushes out my timeline here, because I'll need to list my house and get an acceptable purchase offer before I move. Since it will take a week or two to get the house ready - I need to have some landscaping done, and unclutter a few rooms - about the earliest I can list it will be week of April 10th. Once listed, I'll wait at least two weeks, and possibly longer, to get purchase offers. Closing will take another two weeks after that, according to my realtor. Add in a week long house hunting trip, and that brings me to the third week of May at the earliest - possibly the last week of May depending on how the offers on my home go.

I contacted my boss and the relo people at work, with the above information, and they were fine with it. The fact is, since I have to sell a house, this is how long it will take.

This is actually good, the more time the better, for many reasons.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

New Camera?

I'm thinking of getting a camera to replace my Canon S30. It has served me well and still works great, but I am interested in either a smaller camera, or one with more features. My only complaint is the original battery is lousy - from a full charge, it takes about 5 pictures before flashing the low battery warning, and then croaks around 10 or 15 pictures. Maybe the battery is defective, because that seems really short. Fortunately, the backup battery I got lasts much longer, about 40 or 50 pictures.

One contender is the Canon A95. This camera is nicer: it has more shooting modes, and a twisty "vari-angle" screen which is useful for odd angle shots. Plus, my friend and shutterbug Gail has this camera (or a previous version of it), and if it is good enough for Gail, it will certainly be good enough for me.

Another contender is the Canon SD400 (or the smaller SD20). This camera is very compact, which is something I think about every single time I take my current camera with me somewhere, because a smaller camera would stuff better into a pocket. The SD20 is available in three other colors besides silver, but I'm not sure I'm willing to pay much extra for that.

I am leaning towards the Elph models (the SD400 or the SD20). I'm not a sophisticated camera user, so the fancier features of the A95 would likely go unused. Plus, I would definitely appreciate the smaller size. The SD20 is the smaller of the two Elphs, but would require purchasing new storage media, since it takes secure digital cards instead of compact flash.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Whistler... Almost

On Friday, my friends Tom and Mary IM'ed about another snowboarding plan - similar to an earlier trip, but a bit more ambitious: a day trip to Whistler!

Whistler is about a four to five hour drive, one-way, under good conditions, so this would be quite a road trip. I was undecided and told them I'd think about it. On Saturday I found out my Sunday volleyball match was cancelled (leaky gym), and my thoughts returned to the Whistler... I decided it was a crazy enough idea to do.

So we left Duvall, WA (where Tom and Mary live) at 4:30 am, made it to the border at 6:00 am, and got to the Horseshoe Bay Ferry turnoff a little before 7:00 am... only to find out there was a mudslide and the road was washed out (8 km north on the highway)! I joked that I thought that only happened in California. ;)

Horseshoe Bay Ferry Turnoff

We sat in traffic for about an hour before officals came around to tell us it would take at least two or three hours to clear the road. We decided to get some breakfast in North Vancouver, and then see if the status was different. Not many cafes were open, so we asked for recommendations at a gas station. The clerk directed us to a local place called the Tomohawk, which had a great breakfast menu.

Tomohawk Decoration

Outside the Tomohawk

After filling up, we hit a Starbucks in a nearby plaza, and then decided to check one more time on the road conditions. We were hopeful we could at least get a few hours in, so we drove back to Horseshoe Bay. This time, the road was blocked by a highway truck and cones, and the cheerful lady told us it would be 1 pm at the earliest before the road was cleared... so we turned around and headed home, a little disappointed.

Squamish/Whistler Sign

We got just a bit further than this sign.

Basically, this wound as a road trip to have breakfast at the Tomohawk. ;)

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Wing Luke Museum

Alyssa wanted to go to the Wing Luke Asian Museum, to see the special exhibit on adopted asian children. This wasn't all that interesting to me, but I went along anyway because I knew there would be something else to see. The adoption exhibit was OK, and while I was looking around I suddenly realized why she was so interested: she is an adopted asian child!

I found the museum section on Camp Harmony to be more interesting. This camp was one of the sites setup by the U.S. during WWII to hold Seattle area Japanese-Americans. The display had pictures and written notes from people who lived there. The saddest picture was one of two children standing in a dirt road, in the middle of the camp, surrounded by barracks. It looked so desolate, and they looked so miserable.

The museum also had a more cheerful display on New Year's festivities, including video and a dragon hung from the ceiling. Overall there was quite a bit to see for such a small museum.

Sky City Restaurant

One thing on my TODO list was to have dinner at Sky City Restaurant, which is a revolving restaurant on top of the Space Needle. I heard it was expensive for the food quality, but hey, it seemed like one of those things to check out. My friend Alyssa came up to visit (she is on her way to Italy for a week) and since her birthday was a few days ago, I took her to dinner.

Space Needle

I hadn't been into the Space Needle since moving here in 1997. In 1994, I traveled to Seattle to attend a friend's wedding, and that was the last time I had gone into the Space Needle... until tonight. As it turns out, dinner at Sky City includes free access to the observation deck.

Seattle at Night

I did a quick loop as it was a bit chilly, snapping pictures. This is one of those times I need to be more handy with my camera, as the autofocus wasn't always doing a good job. Anyway, the night was clear and cool, so the view was great.


I thought dinner was delicious - I had seared ahi tuna, and she had several appetizers: mixed green salad, au gratin potatoes, and a smaller version of the seared ahi tuna. A waiter came around with a bread basket and I chose some organic wheat while she chose the Italian ciabatta. As we ate, the seating area rotated slowly clockwise, so we got the full 360 degree view twice. While all the views were scenic, the view south towards downtown is definitely prettier, at least at night. I'm almost up for returning during daylight hours, ideally on a clear day for views that include the surrounding mountain ranges.

My dessert was strawberry ice cream and chocolate sauce, served with dry ice. Right before setting it down, the waiter poured in some hot water, so fog rolled out for about a minute. That was fun to watch!

Dinner included a complimentary pen (it isn't that fancy) and later at the gift shop I found a Seattle skyline poster that I liked. I'll frame it and hang it in my study to remind me of the Emerald City.

Friday, March 18, 2005


Here is a home maintenance item I didn't expect to deal with: graffiti.

It seems some miscreants spray painted a small section of my fence. This particular section is along a sidewalk, and is easily reached.


I'm not up on my graffiti art, and can't make sense of the little horizontal white section. But the larger green number is apparently "31". I don't know what it means.

Anyway, I got a letter in the mail from the city, that said: graffiti has been reported on your property. Please act quickly to remove it, as this sends a message that graffiti isn't tolerated, and so forth. There was also mention of a $5000 dollar fine, if nothing is done! Wow.

So I'm going to Home Depot and explore the various options. I might be able to sand off the paint, or perhaps find some solvent. Worst case, I can paint over that section of the fence. If I choose the right color, I hope to avoid leaving an obvious newly painted fence section, because otherwise the rest of the fence will look like it needs paint as well. ;)

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Relocation Letter

I finally got the relocation letter back from my company! Actually, I could have received on Tuesday - I came home to find a FedEx notice on my door. I couldn't think of what it could be, since I almost always have things shipped to work - it is just easier for me to receive packages there. On Wednesday I came back to another notice, and thought about whether or not Iwould have time to drive over to the distribution point in Issaquah to pick this up.

I decided to sign the form and leave it, so the FedEx delivery guy could just leave whatever this item was. I hate doing that, as it seems to me that a package sitting on the doorstep is too easy to steal. Since I couldn't think of what this was and wasn't expecting anything I ordered, I decided to do it. Over lunch I zipped by home and found my updated relocation letter, the one that specifies packing is included (not just shipping), and that the retention bonus is independent of relocation.

Anyway, it is a minor point, but now I feel like I can start making concrete plans to move. Things like: get some minor landscaping done, schedule a house hunting trip, work with the relo people to schedule movers, etc. I'll try to move as late as possible in April, or even the first week of May if I can stretch it that far.

As for Amazon... well it is just a slow process. I can understand that, but I've delayed as much as possible and am running out of time - after a phone screen and a programming problem, I still have yet to do an in-person interview. Best case scenario is that occurs next week and I possibly get a job offer in early April. Talk about a squeeze-play!

St. Patrick's Day Limerick

Steve told me the limerick tied for first place, and his friend won $35! Well that's pretty cool... and it makes me curious what the other winning limerick was.

Day Before St. Patrick's Day

My friend Steve IM'ed and said he had a friend Jen who worked somewhere that was running a limerick contest. The rules were: clean ;) and the limerick had to mention "Irish" or "March 17" or "green" or "clover" or "leprechaun".

Now, seventeen and green rhyme, so I tried something like:

Tomorrow is March 17
So be sure to wear something that's green

But, I couldn't think of the last three lines. "Or you'll get pinched somewhere obscene" was a promising finish, but then I was stuck on the middle lines.

So after I while, I came up with:

St. Patrick's Day is tomorrow
Drink green beer to drown your sorrow
Just take a few swigs
And then dance a jig
For the luck of the Irish will follow!

This seemed more cheerful.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Amazon Shipping Dilemma

On February 23rd, I ordered some books from Amazon. I had it shipped to work, using the Super Saver free shipping - something I always do.

On the 28th, half the order came in. Not too unusual, sometimes books are in stock in various locations around the country. I just waited for the other part... until March 9th. Normally a shipment arrives promptly, but this was taking a while, so I checked the status - and found the tracking info said the order was delivered on February 26th!

I checked the calendar, and February 26th was a Saturday. One thing about shipping things to work is that I can't receive them on the weekend. So when the tracking info said it was delivered on Saturday, and I in fact never received the package, I thought that for the first time, a shipment was lost.

I wrote up email to Amazon and explained what happened - half my order arrived, and the other half didn't, but the tracking info said it was delivered on a Saturday, which really isn't possible. Amazon was very quick to respond, apologizing, and sent me a replacement, which arrived on Friday March 11th. I was quite impressed with the turnaround on the resolution of my complaint. I looked at the included bill and I was charged $0.00 for the book since it was a replacement for a lost one.

Anyway, just now, the original long lost package arrived. I know it was my original order because the receipt inside says I was charged for the book. Basically, now I have two copies of this book (Frek and the Elixir, by one of my favorite sci-fi authors Rudy Rucker) and am stuck deciding if I should try to return it. After all, I did eventually get the copy I bought, so I didn't need the free replacement.

On the other hand, I waited plenty of time - my original order arrived after the replacement order from Amazon! Plus, the tracking info said the order was delivered to my work address on the weekend.

So, the dilemma is: keep the book or try to send it back? I will probably mail Amazon and tell them it finally arrived, and see what they want me to do.

Second Amazon Interview

At the appointed time of 6:30 pm, the Amazon recruiter called and went over the plan again - she would mail me the programming problem, and I would need to mail back my solution within 90 minutes. The problem had two parts; the first part was specific, and the second part asked for a more general solution. Only the first part was required.

When I got the mail, I read through carefully, noting the original and extension problems. Then... I smiled as I knew how to solve the general case. It took me about half the alloted time for me to write a program to solve the problem including the general case, document, and test. So I mailed back early and included more explanation, and felt pretty good about it.

I can't explain the exact question (the mail said it was to be kept confidential), but I think it is OK to mention the problem was an instance of "circuit satisfiability", a well known problem in computer science.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Ides of March Geocaching

Last week my friends at work planned to geocache on the Ides of March. So we wrapped up our meetings, ate quick lunches at our desks, and slipped out for an hour or so. Caesar found this date to be evil, so we selected some nearby "evil" themed geocaches.

Rusty Sculpture

The first one was Motel 9 3/4, a travel bug motel themed lightly after Harry Potter. My GPS didn't get any reception at all - I think it is broken - but that didn't stop me from spotting the cache first. It had actually moved from its original location, so the others were searching in that area while I had no idea and just looked for obvious locations (e.g. odd piles of leaves).

Motel 9 3/4 Cache

Cache closeup - basically an ammo box painted red

After that we drove to a nearby trail and started to look for On The Road to Evil. I found this one very quickly as well, hidden in some grass.

That cache was hidden on a hillside just off the Tolt Pipeline trail. The next cache, The Evil Overlook, was just a tenth of a mile further along, so we walked down and started searching in a clearing next to the trail. This one was more challenging, and we spent several minutes searching before Christina found it.

These three finds bring me up to a total of 88 geocaches. If I want to find more, I'll need to repair my GPS or buy a new one!

Caching Friends

Davis, Rich, Christina

Investment Club

Our main order of business tonight was planning how to cash out five members. For various reasons, all the founders decided to leave (some moved away, some are starting families), so the club is shrinking from twelve members to five. Those five members account for over 60% of the club's holdings, so cashing them out requires selling off holdings.

The net result was that the club will sell off ten stocks, and partially sell three other stocks, to cash out the departing members and rebalance the remaining members and portfolio. In one sense, this is good for the club. Until this, we were settling into maintenance mode, which isn't as interesting. Now the club is back to looking for stocks.

I also brought up the possibility that I will move and leave the club. Since I've only been in for eight months, my holdings are far easier to cash out.

On the way to the meeting, the recruiter from Amazon called back, and schedule round two of the interview process - evidently they will mail a programming problem to me, and request the solution back in 90 minutes. Sounds interesting...

Anyway, two members of the investment club previously worked at Amazon, so I asked them what they thought of it. Their responses sounded similar and were generally positive, but I could also sense some hesitation short of a hearty recommendation. Joanna kept telling me to make sure I ask about the time commitment, because some groups have a rotating pager for service calls. Eric emphasized the craziness, but also said he was there in the boom "get big quick" days. Both sounded like me describing my time at Microsoft: busy, exciting, but with a dark side - unstructured, chaotic, grueling. And of course, better in the past tense: sure I liked it, but not enough to stay there. So, maybe this isn't something I'd really want to pursue.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Seattle Underground

One thing on my TODO list is to take the Seattle Underground Tour, which I knocked out this afternoon. I showed up with a few minutes to spare and got in along with 49 others on a sold-out tour.

It was quite interesting. Basically, a downtown fire in the late 1800's gave the city a chance to rebuild and fix a persistent drainage problem. Through what must have been seen as (at the time) some crazy civil engineering, retaining walls were built along various streets. The spaces between the walls were filled with dirt, paved over, and then arch-supported sidewalks were attached to buildings. The net result: street level was raised by 12 feet. Today, 3 blocks of the underground are available for tours. Of the original 30 blocks, 20 remain - I'm not sure if those 20 blocks are in too poor shape for tours.

Seattle Underground

Underground Wall

Some representative photos of the underground area. The tour moved along boardwalks, and on the other side was debris and either the retaining wall or the building facade. A few old signs lay about, along with abandoned machinery.

The tour was quite interesting, covering the colorful early history of Seattle, and of course included walking around sections of the original downtown. Some sidewalks have glass set into them, which I thought was just decorative. It turns out those are skylights to the space below! The lower areas haven't been used commercially since the early 1900's, and after that it was used as a dumping ground for earthquake rubble and junk until fairly recently.

Sidewalk Skylight

The early history of Seattle was of tension between two men: Maynard and Denny. Denny was conservative and zoned his land grant for housing, while Maynard wanted to attract business so he sold pieces of his land and allowed saloons, gambling halls, and other stores to build. The two men didn't agree on how to connect the streets of their respective sections, so that explains the odd angles of some intersections. Looking back, Maynard's willingness to let anything go was key in building the early economy of Seattle.

Pioneer Square Totem Pole

Friday, March 11, 2005

End of Snowboarding Season

Stevens Pass sent out mail that announced the inevitable: they are closing for the season. I was hoping for one more weekend, especially since I was up there last week and the conditions were OK. But, it probably costs a lot to run the resort and they likely decided they wouldn't get enough people there to make it worthwhile.

I've gone anywhere from 12 to 15 times or more in a season, but over the past few years I went about half that often. Still, I do enjoy snowboarding and generally try for a trip every other week during the season. I occasionally even take a side trip to Lake Tahoe for more snowboarding or skiing - to just have a change of scenery!

Living in this area makes it easy - resorts are a day trip away, so I could go fairly often. When I lived in Texas, my ski trips were binge-style: all day for three or four days solid. This made sense since ski trips then involved airfare and lodging. Now I look back and I am amazed I didn't injure myself skiing/snowboarding to exhaustion day after day. That is something I'll have to get used to again, living in Florida! Next winter I'll be looking for a trip to Lake Tahoe or Colorado to get my fix in. Or perhaps this area, but the main draw of returning to Western Washington to ski/snowboard would be to visit friends, since the skiing here is OK, but not worth a cross-country trip for.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

ESR Board Meeting

Tonight was a board meeting of my running club. I was dreading telling everybody about my relocation situation, but in the end everybody was supportive. Some even offered to help pick up the slack if I ran out of time to do things before the next event. Others joked that they would set me up to get married if that would make me stay. ;)

I'll be around for the next board meeting, in April. Later in April are two more club events: one is the Mt. Si Relay on April 17th, and the other is the club general meeting on April 25th. The general meeting falls under my responsibility, as social chair. We decided to have a general "get to know each other" type of meeting, rather than bring in a speaker. Attendance is variable at the speaker meetings, and we think that is because people see what the topic is, decide they aren't interested, and then don't attend. This time, we'll just have some food and snacks, and let people mingle. The Boston Marathon is the previous Monday, so that will be an easy topic of conversation, especially since we have several members participating. We are also thinking of showing slides or pictures from other races and events, in the background.

I'll try to stay for the relay. My friend Jen would like to form a team, so if that comes together, I'll participate. Otherwise, I'll volunteer at it. What isn't so certain is if I can delay long enough for the general meeting. I'd like to, as a way to wind down my involvement in the club, but it depends on the timeline I work out for relocation. I'll know more about that soon.

I've really enjoyed being on the board of this club. Everyone is fun to work with, and there are enough people involved that nobody is overwhelmed. Participation in other clubs I'm in is sometimes lacking, which eventually wears down the enjoyment of helping out, but that isn't a problem here. It is enjoyable even handling the minutae of running a club: checking on the status of various payments, club membership, altering the annual membership fees, club clothing purchases, other events, and just general topics on marketing the club and putting together activities... I've had a great time with it all.

Before I was on the board, I was involved in the triathlete subgroup of the club. Most everybody there was very new - for example, I was one of the more experienced triathletes! - and through that I met a bunch of others and wound up helping to form the ESR Tri Yahoo! Group. This is the sort of thing I'll have to be on the lookout for after I move to Florida - getting involved in activites I like, meeting others, etc.

Karen, the President, had some good news about real estate. She said that inventory is very low right now, so it is a seller's market. Many homes wind up in bidding wars - this of course doesn't mean mine will, but on average this is a good time to sell. The theory on this is that interest rates are so low, everybody refinanced and locked in a low rate. Thus, people are sitting tight, not wanting to sell their home. This is slowing down the usual turnover and as a result, not many homes are on the market. She said most of her recent business has been with pre-sales (new home sales), some of which won't be ready for occupancy for 9 or more months!

Monday, March 07, 2005


My cherry trees are blossoming! They flower quickly - just a week or two ago there was nothing.

Front Yard

Back Yard

My house

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Ride Around the Lakes

I met Francesca and Rod this morning, for another great-weather bike ride. Today's goal was to ride around Lake Washington. However, the plan changed partway through, and we also encompassed Lake Sammamish! Total distance was 74.8 miles, in 4 hours 56 minutes.

(Click to see a larger version of the route; file is 1.5 MB)

NOTE: the first 5 miles really aren't that hilly (if you look at the elevation profile). On the TOPO map, it is hard to see where the Burke-Gilman trail runs, so I guesstimated... and crossed some hills by accident.

Everything started off well. I felt good climbing the hill around mile 16, but by the time we took a break at Marymoor Park, around mile 25, I started to wear down. From that point on, I had a tough time keeping up with Francesca and Rod... however we did regroup often. I was pretty beat by the time we got to Seward Park, around mile 45. I suspect I wasn't eating enough while on the bike, which would partly explain why I was dragging along.

We got separated along Lake Washington Boulevard near I-90, and at the top of a small hill climb I had a choice between going straight, or taking a left and climbing more to the top of I-90. I wasn't sure which way they went, because I didn't see them in either direction. I decided to go straight, and right after passing under I-90 my phone started to ring. I thought it might be them calling to tell me I went the wrong way ;) but instead it was my Mom. I listened to the message and then continued on to Leschi, where I stopped at the Starbucks for a mocha.

By this time, I was pretty ragged, so taking a break felt really good. I hadn't seen Francesca and Rod for 10 or 15 minutes, and figured they had indeed taken the other route. That was OK, because I needed a short break and something to drink. So while I was staring off into space, thinking about whether I felt more like an anchor or a "stone of woe", they came cycling back. I felt kinda bad - they were looking for me to make sure I wasn't passed out on the side of the street, or having mechanical problems, and here I was sipping my cafe mocha and munching on a clif bar!

My lower back was aching and Francesca pulled out some aspirin from her bag. I made a mental note to carry stuff like that with me next time. After a few more minutes or stretching, we got back on our bikes and pedaled the remaining miles back to Francesca's house.

Once there, I ate a banana, drank my recover drink, and felt a lot better. This was my longest and toughest bike ride so far, and it felt good to finish!

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Chainsaw Sculptures

On the way out to Stevens Pass, I saw what might make a lovely, unique wedding gift for Gail and David. ;)

Welcome sign

The "open" looks really permanent. I wonder if they are ever "closed"?


A Welcome Bear


Smiling Monkeys?

I didn't see any chainsaw cats, which would be perfect. However, I bet this place takes custom requests and will make what you want. A more appropriate gift from the Pacific Northwest would be a totem pole. Shipping might be tough to arrange, but if I buy one now, I can have my company move it to Florida. That's about 2000 miles closer! ;)

Friday, March 04, 2005


I talked to my boss this morning, and he again affirmed that several people up the chain of command agree to pay the bonus. This actually makes me feel better; I just didn't want this to be the situation where the lady from HR was the only person who thought that, and later find out she had misinterpreted the letter or whatever. Anyway, my boss said he would ask on the Florida side what the hold up is. The deadline is in fact flexible, as is my final move date. Cool!

At this point, I have crossed the mental threshhold of relocation - I will do it.

My boss also reminded me to use my flex holidays, as they may disappear with the upcoming merger. I mentioned some friends wanted to snowboard and he said "have fun". Hey, this is my one hobby that won't move to Florida easily.

I drove out to Stevens Pass where I met two friends, already enjoying the slopes. It has been a dry winter, so the local resorts haven't had much snow. There were bare patches, but overall I thought the conditions were normal for this time of year - on the runs that were open. I certainly had enough fun to make it worthwhile!

Stevens Pass

Elevation: 4061 feet. That would impress Floridians, but probably not Coloradoans. :)

Fellow Ski Bums

Mary and Tom, season pass holders.

Taking a break

Enjoying the view, with my shadow.

Mary is funny - she demonstrated her technique of scooping snow with her skis at the bottom of the lift. Then, she would form snowballs and throw them at snowboarders who crossed under the lift. As a snowboarder, I had to protest such treatment!

She also posed a thought question to Tom and me: in a marriage, who has it more difficult, the man or the woman? We hesitated a bit before answering, and she started teasing us about not wanting to get into trouble. Of course, I am not so easily baited, so near the top of the lift, I responded: clearly the woman has it tougher. That's why a man should be allowed to marry two women, so help spread the workload out fairly. We all laughed at that. I reasoned: recognize the truth, and then proactively suggest a fix! Of course, on the way down I was careful to stay outside the reach of her ski poles. ;)

Later at the gift shop, I bought two Stevens Pass T-shirts. What the heck - I've been here dozens of times over the years, and have had many fun times. So these shirts will remind me of that, plus it'll be fun to wear them in Florida. One shirts says "Extreme Terrain Winter Resort" (well, maybe that isn't so accurate) and the other says "Never Let Fear Become the Boundaries of Your Dreams". What an uplifting message.

Thursday, March 03, 2005


Well, the deadline for accepting the relocation offer is here... and I'm still waiting to hear back from HR. Again, I'm not asking for the Alex Rodriguez treatment, I just want what various people have said to be placed in writing. Actually, it is more than that - the letter actually specifically says the only circumstance I get the retention bonus is if I don't move. The way I see it, if I don't get it reworded, I have zero grounds to complain if they suddenly decide not to pay.

I've mailed off to my boss and HR and everybody knows that's the only issue I have. HR said they'll get back to me ASAP, and to not worry about the deadline. This is reasonable - after all, they wrote the letter and set the deadline, so I think they can extend one to alter the other. I expect this will occur and I'll then agree to the relocation.

In other news, my phone interview went OK. I think I did well, but maybe not so spectacularly well that they'll consider me sooner than normal channels. I am supposed to hear in a week or two, which is pushing the envelope. That's OK really, I still flip-flop occasionally, but I am almost looking forward to going. It is as if I've been given a glimpse of a possible different life, and am curious enough to try my hand at the adventure.

DVR Comparison

Ed Bott posts a review of various DVR's, and I thought I'd throw in my two cents.

I've owned a series 1 TiVo, owned a series 2 TiVo, currently own a ReplayTV 5580, currently own a Windows Media Center Edition (MCE) 2005 system that I built, and am also building a MythTV system. The MythTV system is not yet up and running, so I can't really comment on it. But, I do consider myself an advanced hobbyist, if you will. I hang out on AVS Forum HTPC groups and pay attention to a lot of the posts.

I'm not going to compare everything he said point-by-point, but just have these overall comments:

  • The TiVo UI is by far the best. That being said, my experience with their hardware extremely poor. My series 1 TiVo died after eight months of usage, and my series 2 TiVo died after only four months of usage. Both were harddrive failures and yes, I know that sometimes happens. But I've built my own computers for years, and have never had a drive fail until normal usage (and normal usage was all the TiVo's were subjected to). Getting only a combined one year out of two TiVo's tells me either I had extremely bad luck, or TiVo is using some seriously crappy hardware. My ReplayTV has been going for 2.5 years with no problems.

  • ReplayTV has by far the easiest way of accesing what you've recorded. Plug it in, run DVArchive on another computer, and copy the shows to it. They come over in mpeg format, with no DRM restrictions. Edit the commercials, save them on another storage device, burn them to DVD, whatever you want.

I do like MCE, but the review's summary that it is the best kinda glosses over some details. Such as cost: you are buying or building an entire computer, and the cost of the system is something the review doesn't mention. He also talks about certain features (playing recorded shows on a different system) that TiVo and ReplayTV in fact support! I'm not sure he really looked into the various capabilities of every offering.

As for the MCE cost - I built my own system, and obtained the OS through my Universal Subscription, so I got away cheap:

  • Biostar SFF system ~$200
  • Memory (512 MB) ~$100
  • Harddrive (80 GB) ~$80
  • Video Card ~$120
  • Athlon XP 2400 ~$75
  • DVD/CDRW ~$50
  • Hauppauge WinTV 250 ~$150

These were the approximate prices at the time I built the system. Throw it another $20 for a DVD Decoder (I bought NVidia's), something a vendor will bundle for you. That adds up to about ~$800, going with onboard sound and networking, getting the OS basically for free, and having a friend obtain the Media Center remote control for me. Plus, using a mouse and keyboard you already own. Yes you can probably find cheaper, but you'll be paying more than the cost of a TiVo or ReplayTV plus the lifetime subscription. Yes, this system does more since it is a full computer, but you are paying for that.

MCE does have some nice features, but there are some drawbacks. First, and obviously, MCE is built on Windows XP. No, I'm not here to rag on Windows XP, just point out some nuances that users of commercial electronic appliances probably don't deal with:

  • I had a power outage at my place. ReplayTV (and I'm sure TiVo would also) came back up and recorded my shows, no problem. Media Center came back up... to the Windows login screen. Not very useful. Sure, I can hack my registry to auto-login, and then configure the media center app to auto-start, but we're getting away from ease of use at this point. Not to mention the "chkdsk" that Windows will want to run to fix any problems with a dirty shutdown.
  • I'm one of the 0.01% of people in the world that don't run everything as Administrator under Windows. Surprise surprise, as a non-admin user, you can't change things like the recording quality of a show. I'd like to see your average TiVo user react to a "you must be administrator to change this setting" dialog popup on them.
  • Windows means applying security fixes, and these generally require reboots. I suppose you could do "automatic updates", but then what if Windows decides to reboot in the middle of recording a show? Would it wait until no activity?

Again, I like all my various DVR's, I just think Ed Bott's review doesn't really do justice to the TiVo/ReplayTV solutions, and ignores some issues with MCE.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Seattle Freeze

I ran with a friend, and we chatted about my relocation situation, which led to a bunch of other topics. I'll try to organize it all, as several interesting points were made.

Anyway, my friend had been through two unstable jobs (par for the course in biotechnology) so she had already developed a system for evaluating job risk - basically how to live with the fear of your company closing down in the next three months. I'm not sure I'm up for that kind of stress! She was actually very excited for me, being in the situation of not knowing what the immediate future would bring, but having a "safe" (i.e. take the relocation) out.

I asked her what she thought of this area, since she is a recent transplant. She said she was fairly neutral, and echoed various complaints I've heard about how difficult it is to meet people here - long time fellow residents can back me up on this! She also mentioned a news magazine article on this very subject, something she has been mailing out to her friends and family when they ask. I tracked down the article, which I missed the first time around. I've noticed this phenomena, but couldn't quite explain it as well as this article. Perhaps this is a sign to move...

As for the relocation, I read the letter closely and discovered some ambiguous wording, particularly about under what circumstances a retention bonus would be paid. Basically it says the bonus would be paid if I don't relocate, as an incentive to stay for a few months and hand my job off in an orderly fashion. However, my boss, another manager, the HR rep - basically everybody - claims the bonus is also paid if I were to relocate. Not to sound distrustful, but I'd like that in writing, because I may lose money selling the house. So I mailed off to HR last week to ask about rewording the letter, and I haven't heard back yet.

In the meantime, I have a phone interview tomorrow, so I hope that goes well. I've also been searching on the web for Orlando real estate, so I'm still in between two cities, so to speak.