Wednesday, August 31, 2005


I am being sent to the Professional Developers Conference (a.k.a PDC) by my company. It is in Los Angeles from Sept. 13 to Sept. 16, so that's when I'll be there.

I'm filling in for another coworker who can't make it. The last minute shuffling has led to a minor flurry of issues, from hotel registration to air travel. But that is winding down and I think I'm all set to go as far as getting there and staying there. I'm not sure if I'll be properly registered for the various talks I am supposed to attend - I'll find out more about that soon.

I thought of staying an extra day and driving out to Yosemite, but after looking at the map and seeing it is a bit farther than I thought, I decided to take the red-eye home Friday evening.

Best of all, I will still be able to do the triathlons I've registered for on Sept. 11th and Sept. 18th!

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Devil's Millhopper

This afternoon I roadtripped north to Gainesville, to visit Devil's Millhopper Geological State Park, which is basically a very large sinkhole.

After an uneventful trip to the park, I was shocked to find the park immediately next to a housing development (!). I'm no geologist, and I'm sure various experts came in to do all kinds of rock studies, but it seems to me that building a housing development right next to a large sinkhole isn't perhaps the wisest thing to do. Check out this map - the streets that border the park are lined with homes!!

Anyway, I walked in and found my way to the millhopper, which was quite large as far as sinkholes go: 500 feet across, and 120 feet deep. I walked down the stairs to the observation deck and looked around. It sounded like it was pouring rain, from all the little waterfalls that led to the basin.

Devil's Millhopper
Originally uploaded by klbarrus.
A large sinkhole that became a state geological park.

I was about to leave but decided to walk around the nature trail. After all, time to work on my fear of getting attacked by snakes and alligators. ;) The trail was only a half-mile long, so soon I was back at the ranger station. I jokingly asked the ranger if that was the lowest point in the state, and he replied in all seriousness that it definitely wasn't. See, we were on the "Sumter Ridge" which apparently soars 175 feet above sea level, leaving the bottom of the Millhopper at an elevation of 50 feet. Well, that's good to know.

Sky View
Originally uploaded by klbarrus.
Looking up to the sky from the bottom of Devil's Millhopper.

Inside the sinkhole were various plants, such as this one, a Needle Palm. The sign said these plants only grow in ravines or sinkholes in the northern part of the state, where they are protected from freezing temperatures. Um... freezing temperatures... Florida... I can't quite wrap my mind around that.

Needle Palm
Originally uploaded by klbarrus.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Big Tree Park

Big Tree Park
Originally uploaded by klbarrus.
Time to get out and explore some of the local attractions. I found this small park in nearby Longwood, Florida, home to a very old and tall bald cypress tree. In 1929, president Coolidge visited and dedicated a plaque, which was stolen by vandals in the 1950s and never recovered.

The Senator
Originally uploaded by klbarrus.
Here is the main attraction, a large bald cypress tree nicknamed "the Senator". This tree is about 3500 years old, 83 feet tall (it was 118 feet tall in 2001 but lost some height due to hurricanes and lightning strikes since then) and 35 feet in circumference (at the base). Nearby the Senator is a companion tree nicknamed "Lady Liberty", which is 2000 years old and 89 feet tall. Lady Liberty is considerably slimmer than the Senator, with a svelte 10 foot circumference.

I have a list of various area sites, some a little quirky and unique, and am planning to visit them in the upcoming weeks!


This movie recently bubbled to the top of my Netflix queue. It gets good reviews at IMDB and Amazon, and you can read them, but I'm here to spoil the plot. ;)

The movie is mostly told through flashbacks, which we revisit to clarify certain events, or see alternate explanations of what happened. Other movies that use this technique are the classic Rashomon and Courage Under Fire. The movie has plenty of gravity defying fight sequences as well, which I really like, even though they sometimes look goofy.

Hero is loosely based on history. It is set when China didn't exist and was instead seven warring regions. The emperor of one region, Qin, survived an assassination attempt and put a bounty out for three assassins: Sky, Broken Sword, and Flying Snow. These assassins are legendary for their skill, and two of them are always together - Broken Sword and Flying Snow (a woman).

Years later, a unknown warrior ("Nameless", since he was orphaned before he was given a name) shows up to collect the reward. He brings the weapons of the defeated assassins and gains entry into the emperor's palace to tell his tale. He explains he just flat out beat Sky one-on-one, and took Sky's weapon to Broken Sword and Flying Snow to prove it. The emporer asks how Nameless defeated the team of Broken Sword and Flying Snow. Nameless replies he turned them against each other by telling them Sky had feelings for Flying Snow, and this lead to a fight where Flying Snow killed Broken Sword. Then, Nameless could defeat Flying Snow by herself.

However, the emporer doesn't quite believe this tale, since he met Broken Sword and Flying Snow, and doesn't believe they would react that way. He accuses Nameless of allying with the assassins in order to get close enough to him for another attempt.

Nameless confesses that is indeed the truth. Nameless is from a rival state and was orphaned by the Qin Emporer's army, and has been plotting for the last decade on how to exact revenge. He explains he met with Sky and enlisted his help - basically to let Nameless win with witnesses, in order to convince Broken Sword and Flying Snow to join in, which would result in the best chance for an assassination. Sky agrees and is killed, and Nameless goes to see Broken Sword and Flying Snow.

He finds they aren't getting along that well, Flying Snow is mad at Broken Sword. It seems that the only reason the Qin Emperor survived the first assassination attempt was because Broken Sword had a change of heart - after they gained entry to the palace and had the emperor at his mercy, Broken Sword let him live. Broken Sword tries to convince Nameless to do the same, give up the assassination attempt. His reasons are essentially: China's greatest chance for peace is to unite under the Qin Emperor. Broken Sword thinks despite being a brutal military dictator out to crush his enemies, the Qin Emperor is basically a good leader and a united China would be prosperous and peaceful.

At the end, Nameless says that is his dilemma. He's close enough to deliver an unavoidable fatal strike, but is having second thoughts. He decides to let the emperor live, and is caught and executed. So much for being a compassionate assassin! The Qin Emperor goes on to unite the country so his sacrifice (and Sky's, and Broken Sword's, and Flying Snow's) is not in vain.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Thinking About Another IM

I read Jen's IM Lake Placid race report and noticed she plans to sign up for IM Canada! Well congrats, she is the first of our 2005 IronNewbies group (i.e. Francesca, Jen, me) to commit to another one. ;)

This made me think about my future IM plans. I had a lot of fun at IMCdA, and I want to do another one. What also helps is the memories of how tricky it was to schedule the training have faded, hehe. However, I would like to improve and take some time off, especially on the bike. I'd like to spend the last hour or two on the bike not so worried about making the cutoff - in that situation something minor like a flat tire might have ended my day, which would have been EXTREMELY disappointing.

My immediate plan is to sign up for another IM after I turn in a solid 6:30 half ironman. For now, I signed up for the 2006 Florida Half Ironman and am considering this year's Florida Challenge (also a half ironman).

But, my mind wanders to other considerations, such as, which IM would I sign up for, if and when I feel ready?

Jen is picking IM Canada, which is great timing in the Pacific Northwest for several reasons: better training weather, several training events, lots of others to work out with. A late season IM is easier to train for while living in Seattle. I'm sure Francesca will agree that getting out in December and January required a lot of willpower. Now that I live in central Florida, a late season IM means training through the summer, which is the brutal time here. Now, perhaps an early season IM is a better choice. But which one - Arizona? Coeur D'Alene? That's it as far as early season domestic, otherwise it is an exotic foreign location!

Proximity counts too, so IM Florida might be a good choice. Except that is late season (early November) and the swim is salt water. If I were to wait that late in the season, maybe I should consider the "iron distance" (i.e. not run by WTC) Great Floridian in nearby Clermont.

Actually, the Great Floridian has a lot to offer. It is close by so I can avoid air travel or a long drive, and jacked-up hotel rates. It doesn't require sign-up a year in advance. I could even train on the actual course occasionally. It is slightly cheaper, a minor bonus. Hmm...

Another question is, will I use Francesca's pioneering StealthySignup™ technique? :)

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Land Line

It looks like I have to get a land line. After more than two years of only having a cell phone, I haven't missed a land line at all, except now.

I originally got a cell phone because it was difficult meeting friends to do stuff. We rarely met at work or home - near the usual phone numbers. The cell phone also came in handy when I traveled, since I could be reached in transit. After a while, I noticed the only people using my land line were telemarketers, leaving messages I would ignore. When I moved to Kirkland and the phone company there gave me a giant hassle setting up the land line, I decided to skip it altogether - after all, why should I spend hundreds of dollars a year so telemarketers could reach me? And despite the arrogance of the local phone company, they were the one utility that is easily 100% replaceable.

Unfortunately, cell phones don't seem to work with the gated community I now live in. I drove up to the callbox and did a quick test, and found if somebody dials me, all that shows up on the cell phone is "1 missed message". This isn't good enough if I want to let somebody in!

Another use for a land line will be for the alarm system I am considering connecting up. The alarm company says it is needed for the monitoring to work, although I spoke to another company and they said there is a way for the alarm to work with cell phones. That might not be as reliable, so since I have to get a land line for the community gate, I might as well use that for the alarm system as well.

Oh well, I'll get the cheapest land line I can get, with the fewest options. I won't give out the number, since I don't plan to actually use the number. I'll just answer if I am expecting somebody at the gate.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Celebration of Running 5K

This morning was the first event in the Track Shack's Grand Prix series. I've never participated in a grand prix - in fact, I'm not sure there were any in the Seattle area. I joined the fancy level and now have my own ChampionChip. To score points in the series, I'll need to finish in the top ten overall, or the top ten in my age division... neither of which I expect will happen.

A few other observations about events in this area versus the Pacific Northwest:

  • Huge police presence. Most intersections were controlled by police, in cars or on motorcycles. These people shut down the streets for an event! I'm used to coned lanes and sharing the road.
  • Results up quick. Once again, the results for the event were up by 11 am the same day. Also, I received an email with my results at the same time. Wow.
  • Stuffed goodie bags. The packet contained flyers for eight other events, and half a dozen product samples (bullfrog sunscreen, oreo sticks, pepto bismol, body wash, Advil liqui-gels and capsules, and Kellog's Toasted Honey Crunch). Plus Amino Vital was there handing out sample boxes. The Track Shack included eight 15% off coupons, good one a month until March 2006. The sponsors here put a lot more money into supporting an event.
  • Humidity. Let's just say the only time I remember finishing a race soaked was at last year's 12K's of Christmas run in Kirkland - it rained the entire time.

Anyway, since I have a base from my early season training, I decided to give this event my best effort. My heart rate climbed steadily during the run, but I was able to throttle back and not get a side stitch. Chip time was 23:37 for the 5K, a 7:37 mile. This is also my 5K PR!

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Get Well Limerick

My friend Dave was diagnosed with lung cancer, and is currently in the hospital undergoing tests and chemo. Gail flew out to be with him, which I'm sure is a great morale boost.

Dave is a great limerick writer, and I thought perhaps sending one would cheer him up or bring a smile. So after a few hours I came up with:

David I'm sure you will thwart
The cancer's attempt to contort
Your life's design
I'm sure you'll be fine
With your friend's and family's love and support.

I got stuck on lines 3 and 4 but overall I think it came out OK. I emailed it to him, and after a few hours got this response:

I'm impressed by your clever phraseology
concerning my bout with oncology
I'll beat it, I'm sure
and resume once more
my war with abnormal psychology!

This tells me Dave is in great spirits. ;)

Today, they got some good news!

ORC and Prediction Run

The Orlando Running Club held a prediction run followed be a general meeting. The East Side Runners held prediction runs, but I never attended any. I thought I'd try this one out since it also coincided with a general meeting. The format of a prediction run is to estimate your time for the specified distance, then run the course WITHOUT a watch. Whoever is closest to their predicted time would win. In this case, we had a men's competition and a women's competition.

I arrived and found out the distance was estimated to be 3 miles, plus or minus 1/10th of a mile, which I assume was a way to add some uncertainty into the competition. The course also crossed a major street where we would have to wait for a light, so we had to factor that in as well. I guessed I would run a 9 minute mile, so I entered 27 minutes exactly. I wasn't sure how to account for the light or the 1/10th of a mile, so I just didn't consider it!

Another woman wrote down 27:30, and since we were predicting about the same pace we wound up running together. Her name was Amy and we chatted, paced each other, and helped remind each other what streets to turn on.

We came to one traffic circle and ran the wrong way, but corrected after a quarter of a block. At the next light, she zipped out into a break in traffic and I kept up, but would have preferred waiting for the cross signal. We made the final turn into the parking lot and I slowed for a car at a stop sign, while she rolled right on through. I think maybe she grew up in Manhattan to be so fearless of traffic!

I turned out perfect for me - she finished at 26:55 and I finished at 26:59... missing my target time, by one second! I'm not sure I could have planned that with a watch (well, other than getting there early and walking to the finish). That was the closest time among men, so I won a free drink.

The meeting convened at a restaurant and the president spoke non-stop, covering membership and event ideas and plans. Only about a dozen of us were there, but the people were very friendly and talkative.

ORC plans all sorts of friendly competitions among members, the core of which is a 12 run series, involving runs (existing events runs by others) from 5K's to a marathon. You don't have to attend every one, and the general idea is the lowest cumulative time across the events is the winner. There is also talk of group travel to various Florida events, cross membership events with other local running clubs (Space Coast Runners and Boca Raton Runners were mentioned), and the exchange program we have with a sister club in Japan (!).

I left contact info for a few committees. Like most clubs, about 10% of the membership is active and helps run things behind the scenes. I enjoyed doing that with the East Side Runners, so I want to do that here too.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

PowerCrank Ride

One coworker stopped by yesterday and said the plan for today was to take it easy and "mosey" during the lunch ride. This was mostly because we really rode hard yesterday, and also that today was forecast to be hot. The weather forecast was correct - the temperature on my bike computer varied between 98 and 102 degress during the ride.

Since the plan was to ride slower, I brought the powercrank bike. Everybody looked on in amazement as I rode in circles and did various tricks, such as pedal with both feet together, pedal one leg at a time, and so forth. Nobody wanted to try them out. ;)

I told them to not worry about dropping me, but they were insistent that this would be an easy ride. As it turned out, they were correct - we did 14.5 miles in 1:08 for an average of 12.8 mph. Nice and easy, and I was able to keep up.

Various people rode next to me and asked about the cranks. I told them toughest thing is cadence - the hip flexor workout you get by lifting your legs is what is tiring. So I push a slightly bigger gear than normal while riding.

The next thing is pedal timing - I don't always keep my feet 180 degrees apart. My left creeps in slightly and I have to think about firing opposite to my right foot.

I think we'll keep the Wednesday rides a truly easier effort, at least through August and September or however long this brutal heat stays with us. That's good because I think I'd beat myself into the ground doing four hard rides every week.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

CFTS Triathlon

I looked forward to this morning's sprint triathlon, since I was ready to get back into it after a nice long break. This sprint was the third one in the Central Florida Triathlon Series, put on by Sommer Sports, a local event management company.

Sommer Sports has some interesting innovations, such as selling a membership that gives various benefits: a reserved parking lot that is very close to the transition zone, a reserved food area, and probably other stuff. I didn't have the special membership and wound up parking a long way away, so I didn't have much time to setup beforehand.

I rushed through registration and picked up my packet. In the transition zone, I dug out the stuff and discovered a race number without any holes punched in it. This matters to me because I use a race belt, and didn't happen to pack a hole puncher in my transition bag. The paper stock was thicker and more plastic than other race numbers I'm used to, and I couldn't force it onto the race belt. So I improvised and punched a hole with my keychain, and ripped the number. I mention all this because sadly, I lost my race number somewhere on the course - it probably worked free because of the tear. I had a streak of collecting all my race numbers for every event I've done since my inaugural Fremont 5K in 1998. I guess I'll have to cut out the sticker on the manila registration folder.

Anyway, I hadn't been training the swim or run very much, so my whole plan was to just bike as hard as I could and see how I stacked up overall and in my division. I wouldn't mind blowing up on the run, since after all, I'm not really acclimated to the heat.

The swim was in Lake Minneola, and it was too warm for a wetsuit. This sprint was only a 1/4 mile swim so I wouldn't have worn one anyway. They held each wave on the shore (ankle deep in the water at most) until it was our turn to start, when we waded out and started swimming. I had a typical swim, with the usual minor collisions, and some difficulty sighting due to the very bright sun. The water was black but at least it didn't taste bad. Swim time was 9:44, 49/60 in my division.

I hopped on my bike and started out at high cadence and eventually geared up and went as fast as I could. The bike course was reasonably scenic, circling the lake. It wound through the Clermont area, which has several rolling hills. I gave myself a side stitch climbing one so I had to back off a bit, and picked it up again when I felt better. My time was 38:17, good enough for 32/60 in my division, which is by far the best bike result I've ever had at a triathlon.

I didn't feel hot while riding the bike, but I certainly did in transition. Still, I felt good starting the run and shuffled along for a bit until I hit a small hill and started to pass a few people. This energized me ;) I was able to pick it up a little... comparatively, because I was feeling pretty warm and not all that great. My legs felt fine but my aerobic/digestive system just wasn't in the same neighborhood. I drank a little gatorade and water, as much as I could tolerate, and cruised in. Run time was 26:06 and 29/60 in my division. I think this could be my first split in the top half of my division!

Overall I finished 1:19:01, 38/60 in my division, and 184/344 among men. In the overall (among men) picture, I did 256/344 on the swim (yeah yeah, I'm slow), 161/344 on the bike, which moved me up to 185/344, and then 150/344 on the run, for an overall 184/344. Yes, I'm a stats junkie, I love it.

I am very pleased with the result. I think my work on the bike is starting to pay off, and I didn't gimp myself too much on the swim and run by blowing these off. Or course, this was a sprint distance tri - I'm not sure how my bike or run pace would have suffered on a longer course. The event was well run and extra kudos to Sommer Sports for having the results up so quickly!

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Furniture Shopping

In the afternoon I went to look for some end tables. I meant to buy two after I moved into my house in Kirkland, but never did.

So I went to a large store, and spent an hour prowling the floor. I wish I had my camera with me, because I could have taken pictures of some of the most spectacularly ugly table lamps I've ever seen. Metallic bulbous bases, romanesque naked baby lamps (er... I mean "angelic sculptures"), it was all there.

My furniture tastes run towards the simple and plain. Rectangular. Wood. Straight. Minimal carvings, inlays, or clever patterns. Basically, I like the selection at IKEA! :) Most of the furniture at this store was elaborate - nearly every coffee table and end table had inlaid stone, glass, metal, or elaborately carved legs. After searching the inventory twice, I settled on a set that looked nice to me, which only had a small wood groove pattern. I also found two lamps that were thin and silvery-metallic in color, which would go with the other stuff in my living room. These lamps were $200 a piece!

A salesman had come by twice while I was looking, so after I decided what I wanted, I found him and pointed out the lamps and tables I wanted. He wandered off and got distracted by a couple. I watched him type on the computer and talk to them for at least 15 minutes, and then they all walked off somewhere. At this point, I decided to leave - evidently he was too busy to finish my order. That is a good thing, I didn't need to spend $400 on two lamps anyway!

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Ongoing Pool Maintenance

An update about maintaining the pool.

Every other week I take in a water sample, and the pool store tests it and tells me what to do. So far, this has amounted to:

  1. Add one cup of acid, to neutralize the pH.
  2. Shock the pool. No electricity needed ;) just a handy bag of oxidizers. Each bag costs about $3.00. After shocking, it isn't good to swim in the pool for about 12 hours. What I do is shock the pool Thursday evenings, so it is ready for use Friday afternoon.

Chlorine and calcium levels are fine so nothing to add there.

On a weekly basis, I do the following:

  1. Skim the pool once a week, with a skimmer net. You've seen these things: long pole with a net on the end. Basically this is to fish out little bugs and other debris that aren't caught by the automatic skimmer.
  2. Scrub the sides of the pool. This is what the pool robot helps with. I can control the suction of the robot which determines how far up the walls it climbs. Right now the robot doesn't climb up very far, and I will ratchet up the suction just a bit to make it climb more. It is trade off, the more suction the faster it will wear out, but then the less work for me. ;)

So far, pool maintenance has been easy and inexpensive. I hope it stays that way!

My floating thermometer shows the water is a balmy 86 degrees. I wonder how cool it will get during the winter.

Pool Robot

Here is Clank! He normally stays on the floor of the pool. The suction hose draws water through the filtration system and also moves his feet. He takes little steps and moves slowly around.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Lake Monroe Ride

I met up with a Florida Freewheelers group for a morning ride at nearby Lake Monroe. I bailed on yesterday mornings ride, because it was about a 70 mile round trip for a 20 mile ride - I decided I would scope out the group at nearby rides first before driving that far!

It turned out fine. There were 20 or so of us, and soon after heading out I found myself near the front. This ride was supposed to be 12 to 18 mph so the bulk of the people hung back. Maybe next time I'll do that too. ;) The group of four I caught up to whittled down to three (counting myself), but we combined with another group at a convenience store stop and soon were back on the road.

Total ride: 25.9 miles in 1:29 for a 17.5 mph average.

Afterwards, I walked around the marina area a bit. It just so happens that Lake Monroe was the site of the first Central Florida Expressway. By this they must mean steamboat lines along the St. Johns River to Jacksonville, FL.

Lake Monroe Marina


Doesn't this looked like it is parked on the grass?

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Language Class?

Seminole Community College sent me their course bulletin, and I checked out the language selections. While English and Spanish are the only degree offerings, they do have a continuing education program and have two intro courses in each of Japanese, Spanish... and Chinese. They also have Arabic, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, and Russian. For a local community college, that is quite a selection!

I think I'm past the intro courses in Japanese, not that review wouldn't help, but I'm sure I wouldn't learn anything new.

I originally picked Japanese to learn partly because I had some friends to take it with. It was fun to take the class with Bev and Matt, former coworkers, and Patty. Later in Washington, I found another class and friend Stephane to take it with. We had no pretensions on becoming fluent, it was just something to do. Japanese offered a chance to learn kanji without dealing with Mandarin's difficulties: no alphabet/syllabary, difficult pronunciation (up to four "tones" to distinguish), very different grammar, etc.

Spanish would be useful here in Florida. I took two years in high school, but back then, I wasn't very interested in languages at all. I did as little work as possible - it was my goof-off class. I pretty much got out of exactly what I put into the class. Which is to say, nothing. Class progressed slightly beyond learning "the girl is fat" or "the pencil is yellow".

Back to Chinese - that might be an interesting alternative now. The description says "particularly useful for people engaged in personal travel". Well, that could be me next year!

A trip I'd like to take is offered through REI Adventures, the Treasures of China trip, a cycling/hiking trip through Xi'an and Beijing. Another one that looks really good is Prague to Budapest.

Anyway, about the Treasures of China trip, I certainly wouldn't learn enough Chinese to be able to get around by myself, but after the traveling I've done, I know every little bit can help. Last time I was in Germany I couldn't remember how to say airport - I asked for the flugplatz and the lady smiled and directed me to the flughafen.

And, there is always the newly announced Ironman China. I'm planning on St. Anthony's tri in 2006 so Ironman China will have to wait until 2007. ;)

Friday, August 05, 2005

PowerCrank Bike

And the new bike is... a Trek 1000. Yes... the lowest end Trek road bike.

Why did I get this? Well, it is to use training gear I have: PowerCranks. These are a pair of independent cranks - you have to lift the pedal up and not merely let the opposite crank push it up. Sound easy? They aren't, when I first got them two years ago it was difficult for me to do two minutes on the trainer.

The training theory is that they force you to pedal circles. If you believe pedaling circles, independent leg drills, increased hip flexor strength, and improved pedal timing are all important, then you will find powercranks beneficial as they absolutely force all of the above on you 100% of the time you use them.

I didn't use them last season, because my volume would have suffered and I couldn't have that while building up for long rides. Besides, it was always a hassle to swap the cranks, because it involved changing bottom brackets and adjusting the gears. I decided to get a cheap bike and make it the permanent powercrank bike.

Trek 1000

I rode to work, which due to the pedestrian bridge, is a mere 1.5 miles from home. I felt good and added a little extra mileage, so the total ride was 4.5 miles in 28 minutes. Not exactly hammering - I took it easy since I hadn't been on these cranks in well over a year. I was pleasantly surprised to find that my biking base has paid off - it wasn't too much trouble at all. Granted, I wasn't out long. When I got off at home, I could feel that my hip flexors were a little tight, but I was expecting to feel even worse.

Don't worry, I'm still planning on a carbon fiber bike. :D

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

High Definition TV

In Seattle, I was cheap and took the lowest form of cable TV offered: basic cable, which was just under $13 a month. For that I got the broadcast stations, Discovery Channel, and a few other channels like CBC and Weather.

That option doesn't exist here, and after wrapping my head around spending an extra $30 a month for cable, but one that includes the typical extra channels, I decided to go crazy and spend an extra $10 on top of that to get a "digital cable with high definition" subscription.

What the heck, I definitely wanted to get the Sci-Fi Channel, Learning Channel, History, Comedy Channel, Outdoor Life, and a few others. Now I can watch Battlestar Galactica, The Daily Show, triathlon coverage, and so forth. From there it was a small leap to HD, after all I had planned to build my own OTA HD receiver using the HD-3000 card. And, my TV is 1920i ready. I can still build my own HD receiver, but it is far easier just to sign up and use the HD receiver the cable company provides. Besides, I can only get the Discovery HD channel through cable.

I like doing my hobby video stuff this way: have some off-the-shelf component that works (ReplayTV, HD cable receiver) and then go off and fiddle around with extra computers, without the pressure and anxiety of making all that stuff work. ;)

I've been trying it out for the past few days, and I'll have to say HD looks really darn good. Part of this is the fact standard definition doesn't look as good on a large screen TV.

The HD package I get includes the HD version of the major channels plus Discovery HD, which runs programming that specifically shows off HD: a show about hot air ballooning in Vermont (which was largely just panoramic views); a show about animal predators; a show that was simply stunning Grand Canyon landscapes; a show that visited national parks along railroad lines. There isn't much HD content yet, although most stations have a few hours during the weekdays.

As far as shows go, a higher resolution does not make the show better - a crappy show in HD is still a crappy show. But for the shows I like, I will definitely watch the HD versions, since they look much better. The only drawback is I don't have a way to timeshift HD shows. Yet...

Anyway, I'll try not to become an HD snob and complain about watching shows in "standard" NTSC resolution. ;)