Friday, September 30, 2005


I missed watching the short-lived show Firefly when it was on TV. I caught a handful of episodes, but it seemed jumbled - later I found out Fox showed the episodes out of order. Also, they didn't air the pilot episode first, and that was important for the setting and plot.

But, via Netflix, I was able to queue and watch the series. It doesn't take long, since there were only 14 episodes!

The show was really good, a different spin on sci-fi. Some of the crew had fought on the losing side of an independence war, and were making their living at the edge of the control of the authorities (the Alliance), doing whatever work they could find. Not all of it was strictly legal - lots of smuggling and robbery - but you could describe the crew as honorable thieves.

The pilot started with Simon, booking off-planet passage for him and his cargo... and the nature of the cargo required discretion. He could pay, and not many more questions were asked, so captain Malcolm of the ship Serenity took them on, and they departed.

As it turns out, the Simon's cargo was his sister River, whom he just busted out of a fancy Alliance military facility. Since they were wanted fugutives, this compounded the difficulty of finding work for the crew. Throughout the shows, bits and pieces of various characters were revealed, including a little background on Simon and River. She was taken away and enrolled in some Alliance military training/experimentation program, and had some extensive psychological programming that left her a little unbalanced.

Anyway, the movie begins with more background - we see Simon busting River out, and the reason why the Alliance is chasing after them so intently: she is also psychic. While captive, the doctors showed her off to various officials, and she read their minds and learned state secrets. Back on Serenity, the crew leaves for a holdup - they plan to steal the payroll from an Alliance security contractor, because they need money for repairs and food. Midway through the holdup, Reavers attack and then the plot bounces around as they hide from the Alliance and the assassin they send, to seeking answers to River's condition on a mysterious planet.

I think somebody could enjoy this movie without seeing the TV series, but the series would help in understanding some of the characters they reunite with: Inara, Shepherd Book, and the Reavers, who were inadvertently created by Alliance terraformers.

Since this was written by Joss Whedon, there is a Buffy moment or two: River is a carefully programmed killing machine, and in one fight scene where she mows down Reavers (who are basically not human anymore), I was thinking of Buffy the Vampire Slayer versus demons. But hey, that isn't bad. :)

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

The Amazing Race, Family Edition

It's back, a new season of my favorite reality show, The Amazing Race. This time, the teams are 4 people from the same family. Last night, I dozed off midway through the show so I watched the rest this morning.

The show started in Manhattan, proceeded to Pennsylvania and onto a family farm. It seems to me, and I might not be recalling correctly, but every other show whisked the contestants to a foreign country immediately. I'm curious how much foreign travel they'll make the families do this season. Maybe they are going easy since the teams are larger and some have kids along.

One team that really bugs me is the Paolo family - the are always bickering and rude to each other; I hope they are eliminated soon. The Linz family had a few supremely confident men who opted for the physical buggy ride challenge instead of the miniature house building. So it was quite funny to see them humbled by the difficulty and barely make it out of this round. It was a real bummer to see them edge out the Black family.

I'll cheer for the Gaghan family, since they are marathon runners. According to their mom, the 9 year old Carissa can run a 7 minute mile. Well dang, if she can hold that for a 5K she'd smoke me.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Autumn Rock 'n Run 5K

I showed up early to volunteer at registration, so I had plenty of time to get my packet, take it back to my car, and get set.

My goal was to take a few seconds off my previous 5K PR, and if things were to go really well, come in under 23 minutes. Results were already posted by the time I got back from breakfast. I managed to beat my goal on chip time, 22:52 or a 7:21.4 min/mi pace! If I can shave just a few more seconds off I can dream about a 45 minute 10K... next season. My only running goal this year is to do 1:45 at the half marathon coming up in December.

Anyway, my HRM/footpod absolutely nailed the distance. According to the watch, I covered 3.10 miles. Yes... accurate to the 1/100th of a mile! I know the footpod has accelerometers to account for pacing; I wonder if the accuracy varies by pace, because it wasn't that accurate on a slower training run. Or maybe the GPS was off instead. ;)

I set my HRM to take a split every mile, and the results were:

  • Mile 1 - 7:20.5
  • Mile 2 - 7:09.9
  • Mile 3 - 7:35.9
  • 0.1 mile - 0:49

I forgot about this and didn't hear my watch beep until the 3rd mile, when I passed a volunteer calling out times right as the watch beeped to signal it took a split.

More data for my inner number cruncher. :) The times makes sense - mile 2 was fastest because I spent some time in mile 1 weaving around slower runners, and I was getting tired in mile 3.

After the race, I met some coworkers for breakfast. They have a tradition called "credit card karma", where everybody puts in their credit card, and the waiter chooses a random one who then picks up the bill. There were 5 of us, so good odds, and I wound up having a free breakfast. Right as they were leaving, some people from the Orlando Runner's Club showed up, so I sat with them and chatted a bit. Several members did a marathon in France that sounded more like an extended wine tasting trip - wine was featured at every aid station. I think that would seriously hamper my chances of finishing such an event!


I'm not the biggest baseball fan, but this book intrigued me. Moneyball is the story of how thee 2002 Oakland A's were competitive, despite having a very low payroll.

The answer was through statistical analysis - the team's management found certain traits were valued incorrectly by the market. For example, batters who hit lots of home runs typically command a premium. However, what is more important is the guy who reliably singles or draws walks. Similarly, pitchers were often rated by their earned run average, but what is more important is the ratio of strikes to walks. A statistical analysis showed the ERA is basically utterly random - it is theorized a pitcher doesn't actually control this at all, it is more what the fielders are doing.

Another interesting point was evaluating position players on their number of errors. The error is unique in sports, since it is a play scored by what some else (the official scorer) thinks should have happened. The A's management at the time felt that a guy who had an error at least did one thing right: he was where the ball was. Whereas, the guy who never had any errors might be like that because he reacted too slow or couldn't run fast enough.

Even more interesting were formulas they developed to predict how many runs were needed to win a certain percentage of games, and in turn figure out how to form a team to get the right number of runs.

I'm a so-so baseball fan, but I found this book a very interesting mix of sports, statistics, and economic analysis focused on evaluating talent and picking up bargain players. Now that the A's secret is out, I wonder if the market has changed out from under them? Or, how have they done since 2002?

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Mandarin Class

I'm only fluent in English, and have made various efforts (some half-hearted) at learning Spanish and Japanese. Spanish barely counts since that was in high school at the time and I put no work into it. Japanese came along later when I was an adult and became far more interested in learning a foreign language.

After the second Mandarin class (I missed last week due to the LA trip), I notice that Mandarin feels a lot different. I mean that my jaw, lips, and mouth feel like they are moving in strange ways (compared to English, Spanish, and Japanese) just trying to get the pronounciation correct. But it is very interesting.

The class itself is OK, it is somewhere between just a conversational class (i.e. let's memorize these two dozen phrases) and a full language class (i.e. where study include grammar). Pinyin is still very difficult, because I see the letters and have to fight an ingrained English pronunciation that instantly comes to mind. In that respect the Japanese hiragana and katakana is easier to deal with, but then pronunciation in Japanese is a lot easier than Mandarin anyway, even when romanized.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

My New Bike

Yes, I just can't stop buying bikes. ;) Here it is, my newest one, a Giant TCR Composite 2, with Speedplay X/2 pedals, and FSA Compact Cranks (50/34) with an Ultegra 10 speed 11/23 cassette. I'll ride it around for a while before adding aerobars.

This bike is the reward to myself for IMCdA. :) It upgrades my trusty Trek 2000, which has carried me through lots of events, training, and rides in general.

My New Bike

I decided to go with the compact cranks because the 50/34 matched with an 11/23 gives better high and low gear ratios than the traditional 53/39 and 12/25. Read all about it here. Basically, the 53/39 is wildly overgeared for me, yet a triple chainring seems like overkill here in Florida. I do like the triple but one thing that bugs me is the shifting is always a bit off - the chain rubs on the front derailleur more often - just due to the how far the derailleur has to travel.

Now that I have four bikes, I plan to switch a few things around in the upcoming months. Long term, I want to trade in my Cervelo towards a Litespeed - a Tuscany or perhaps a Saber, I'm not sure. It depends on if I want a specific tri-geometry bike, and if I do, perhaps I'd go crazy and get something like a Guru Chrono, since those can be custom tweaked as far as my specific measurements. In the meantime, it is still a good bike and I'll make use of it, but the lure of titanium might be hard to resist. ;) I find myself riding more and more in road groups and thus a road bike is more useful and safe, so I'm moving towards having road bikes, possibly with clip-on aerobars. Even at a tri I don't spend a huge amount of time in the aerobars.

As for the Trek 2000 and Trek 1000 I have - I'll keep one as a power crank bike, and send the other to my parents, so I have something to do when I visit. Who knows, someday I might sign up for a Dallas-area tri and not feel like shipping a bike. I haven't decided whether to make the Trek 2000 the new power crank bike (and thus ship the Trek 1000), or keep the Trek 1000 as the power crank bike (and thus ship off the Trek 2000). The Trek 2000 has nicer components (I had it upgraded to Ultegra) so it might be a waste to put power cranks on it. On the other hand, it might be a waste to be in semi-retirement at my parents. But, the Giant is replacing the Trek 2000, so it won't get much riding from here on out anyway. What might be the deciding factor is that I bought the Trek 1000 locally, and the store I bought it from offers some kind of discount on service.

Or I could keep all of them here. I think of Francesca and her "rain" bike, which also serves as a trainer bike. The thing is here, the concept of "rain" bike is lost, because when it rains, it rains heavily, often with lightning. As a cyclist in the pacific northwest, you had to be willing to ride in a bit of rain. If you could tolerate a minor drizzle, that would greatly increase the number of days you were riding. Here, there isn't really a point to a specific bike for lousy conditions, since when it is lousy, you don't want to be riding anyway.

I'm leaning towards shipping off the Trek 2000... maybe I'll throw it a party and clean it really well before sending it to a new life. ;)

Friday, September 16, 2005

PDC Wrap Up

The best sessions I attended were on the last two days of the conference: a talk on Win32 programming, Under the Hood of Vista/Longhorn, future plans for C#, future plans for C++, and garbage collection in .NET. So, maybe in the future if I go I'll arrange to just hit the last half. ;)

Right Half of Walt Disney Hall
Originally uploaded by klbarrus.
I had a few hours free on Friday, so I walked from the hotel to Walt Disney Hall. This is probably the one thing in the area that has the name Disney on it, that wouldn't appearl to kids - it is the new symphony hall. It is pretty cool looking, all brushed-metallic and curvy, similar to the EMP in Seattle except not as garish and well, better looking.

Left Half of Disney Hall
Originally uploaded by klbarrus.

Originally uploaded by klbarrus.
On one side of the hall is a small park, raised above the sidewalk, with a nice view of the city. The centerpiece of the park is a flower petal fountain, made from crushed marble. There were shady spots and tables and chairs, so I took the opportunity to read a few pages of The Botany of Desire, which I've been making slow but steady progress in. I was in the tulip chapter, reading about the beauty of flowers, so I decided to take a few macro closeups of ones right next to me.

Disney Flower
Originally uploaded by klbarrus.

After a while I got up and followed a hidden exterior path which wound up near the roof of the building. At one point the roof structure was exposed and you could see the support beams and how the metal sheets were hung on them. Plus of course, more views of downtown. Unfortunately it was too late to take a tour of the interior, so I left and went to the Westin Bonaventure for dinner.

That hotel has been the shooting location for at least two movies, because of its dramatic exterior elevators: In the Line of Fire, and True Lies. Near the elevator shafts are plaques which point this fact out! I wandered around the open air six story atrium, full of shops and restaurants, and settled in on an expensive sushi dinner (good thing I can expense it!).

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Universal Studios

I couldn't pass up a free ticket to Universal Studios. There is one in Orlando as well, but this one was free to me as a PDC attendee.

I had a huge sushi dinner with two coworkers, and barely made the last bus to the park. Once there, I went straight to the Terminator 2 ride. After all, I have to compare the experience between Orlando and Los Angeles, there might be subtle differences! There weren't and I enjoyed it again - the only difference is the star of the attraction is currently the governor of CA. ;)

After that I went to check out the "Revenge of the Mummy" ride, based on the Mummy movies starring Brandon Fraser. The ride started out kinda slow, with all sorts of animatronic skeletons reaching from the walls, but suddenly the lights dimmed and we were shot forward, accelerating to roller coaster speed, whatever that was. It felt fast enough. The coaster swooped and dove, and in the darkness it was quite effective. We came to a halt where a short sequence played on a screen - bugs attacking and the coaster car puffed air at our feet to simulate that - and suddenly we shot off backwards along the track. While I like real rollercoasters better (the ones with a huge first climb) this one was really good.

I decided to get a little bit of exercise by climbing the stairs back from the lower lot where the Mummy ride was. I lost count, but it was at least 200 steps.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

PDC Day Two

During the WinFS talk, there was a demo of an PIM app for a fictitious real estate agent. Real estate agents make good candidates for demos because they have a lot of appointments, contacts, emails, and of course, offer a great excuse to integrate a map into a program.

The first cool thing I noticed was this real estate agent's exercise log, one of the examples of integrating a schedule and pictures. She had participated in STP, RAMROD, and KCC every year for quite some time. Plus, she did Deathride this year as well. Nice! This is something only a cyclist from the pacific northwest would notice. Except for the Deathride part which Sandy would be extra proud of.

Second, the demo often involved pulling up a list of contacts. I lazily glanced over the list, and the top name caught my eye: "A. Leonetti". Hey, I think I know who that is. So congrats Alexandra, you are immortalized in the WinFS real estate demo app! Also in the list was Andy Carothers, someone I know as well. Unfortuately the list only stretched down to the Davids, so I couldn't check to see if there was an "F. Leonetti" as well. ;)

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

PDC Day One

It was a long day of presentations: first the keynote, which was interesting due to demos, to three sessions I attended.

The first was a hardcore geek session: "Building a Dynamic Language Compiler in One Hour". This has almost nothing to do with my job, but did touch on compilers, which was the subject area I found most interesting as a grad student. So I liked it, hehe.

The next two were on concurrent programming. Session one was pretty basic, and the next one was better, but afterwards when talking with my coworkers we agreed that too much info was wrapped up in managed code and .NET.

This is what Microsoft is pushing for the future, C#/managed code/Common Language Runtime, and it is pretty cool, but I've become a bit of a cynic. They are beating the drum pretty hard for this stuff, while plain old C/C++ programming is getting a lot less attention. Of course in this industry you always have to learn the new technologies, but the reality is our exisiting application is one million plus lines of code and converting it en masse is not feasible. We'll be in the interop scenario for a long time (i.e. coexisting plain and managed code) as would most companies with a large code base. Not everybody has the luxury of a rewrite - basically only the ones that start from scratch.

It would help if Microsoft were to lead the way and release a managed code version of any of their major apps: IE, Sql Server, Exchange, IIS, Office, heck just Outlook, etc. Maybe they haven't read their own literature on all the massive benefits from the CLR and .NET runtime: cool tools integrated into Visual Studio, buffer overrun protection, garbage collection, better security, powerful new features and libraries, runs on other architectures, etc. If they can't pull off a full port (rewrite) to their own platform, then who else can?

Perhaps they fear reverse engineering, since the intermediate language is a lot easier to decompile. Hence the appearance of obfuscation techniques. Who knows.

Tomorrow's sessions should be interesting as well.

I have to be careful - there is an untold amount of food put out all over the place! Lots of fruit and water, but also lots of soft drinks, chips, ice cream, and other assorted munchies. I've been working on losing a little weight (more on that when I hit my goal) and I think I will reverse the past few months this week. ;)

Los Angeles

Just a quick note... I arrived in LA this afternoon, after an uneventful flight. The flight attendant said 42 people from San Juan weren't going to show - I guess the plane from Puerto Rico was delayed - so I got a row to myself. Oh yeah!

Two coworkers were on the flight with me. We joked about the purported Al Qaeda threat against Los Angeles, but didn't find it so funny when we landed and discovered major parts of the city were blacked out. It turns out that was caused by a repairman error, but it still made for a tedious cab ride from the airport because half the traffic lights weren't working.

The hotel is pretty nice (Hilton Checkers) but a bit chincy as they charge $10 per day for internet access. With the rooms going for $300 a night, I think they could just offer internet for free. ;)

Well it is early to bed for me, I'm still on east coast time.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Lake Mary Ride

I checked out a bike ride that departs from the Lake Mary YMCA, instead of the Lakemont Elementary ride. The Y is much closer to my house, a key advantage which translates into more sleep. I can even ride over from my house, but today I just drove.

At 7:00 am I found a group of about 30 others, and we left shortly after a few announcements, the most important being future rides will depart at 7:15 am since the sun is rising later and later. There was also an announcement about club jerseys, so I added my name to an order.

We left the parking lot and I found out there were two basic routes - a 30 mile ride, and a 40 mile ride that includes an extra loop. The pace was quite reasonable, and I decided to speed up to the front group, which had opened a small gap. This too wasn't any problem... until I ran right over some debris in the road - a small rock or something. I was trailing the person in front on me in the paceline and didn't have any warning or time to react. I was able to maintain control, but wound up with a rear flat just 15 minutes into the ride.

Two guys stopped with me (Chris and Rich), to make sure I had gear (which I did), and then they helped change the tire. It took about 10 minutes and afterwards, we rode at a considerably faster pace. With the deficit I was pretty sure we wouldn't catch up, unless a few people waited or perhaps the 40 mile group waited at the split.

They pushed the pace to 21 to 23 mph, and I clung on, leading for a short bit. I was quite relieved when Chris took over again. After all, I didn't know the route. ;) We got to the turnoff for the longer ride, where Rich and I decided to take it easy and do the short loop while Chris turned off.

On the way back, Rich and I rode side by side and chatted along at 18-19 mph. I noticed he was on a 2006 Litespeed Tuscany (NICE!) and I asked him all about that.

Total time was 1:27 (not including the flat) for 27.5 miles, averaging 19 mph. Not quite 30 miles after all. This ride was great - road condition was good and very light traffic. Now I need to look at the map to figure out where we went.

Thursday, September 08, 2005


Jen posted her goals, which made me think of mine.

I have only two, for the rest of this season and 2006:

  • 1:45 half marathon
  • 6:30 half iron

Another goal I'm on the fence about is another standalone marathon - this will partly depend on what the weather is like during the fall, winter, and spring. I see people starting their long runs at 5 am to beat the heat, and I know - despite the fact I've been getting up quite early several times a week - that I don't have the motivation to do that right now. ;) So, I'm just keeping it simple.

A 1:45 half mary is an 8 minute mile, and I'm not terribly far off that mark, based on a recent 15K. So perhaps I am not setting my goal high enough.

That's OK, because the 6:30 half will require plenty of work. That will break down as a 45 minute swim, 3:15 bike, and 2:30 run. Plus, I'll need to shave a few minutes from somewhere to account for transition times.

As far as major events, I have the Florida Challenge half iron coming up in October, which I'll just be doing for fun, as a tri season ending event. Later in December is the Orlando half marathon, and then next May, the Florida Half Ironman. I should have plenty of time to shoot for 6:30 at that event. What will be tough is the heat. If I fall short, I can always sign up for the Florida Challenge in 2006 and try again! ;)

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Mandarin Class

I previously mentioned taking a language class for fun... well I did sign up for Mandarin, and class began tonight.

We started up... studying pinyin. That is probably the correct thing to do, since we will need to be able to read/write words (in order to learn/remember vocabulary) without the burden of learning many characters. After all, this is a six week class and that would be way too much to cover.

However, pinyin is difficult in that it uses roman letters, and attaches pronunciations that are vastly different than expected. Japanese has two advantages here: 1) there are two non-roman phonetic alphabets that Japanese uses (hiragana and katakana), and 2) even if romanized (romaji), the pronunciations are close to what you would expect. After my experience with Japanese, I think just coming up with an arbitrary phonetic alphabet to use instead of pinyin would be easier than grafting new sounds onto the roman alphabet. But, pinyin is the official romanization system... so we did some practice.

About half of the people in the class travel to China for business. One guy is taking it along with his girlfriend, who is Chinese but only speaks English. Another lady is from Taiwan and speaks Taiwanese but not Mandarin. She was irritating in that she kept stopping the instructor to ask "could you write that in traditional characters? I can't read the new simplified ones!", so I had plenty of dark thoughts about her shutting up instead of complaining about something we (the rest of the class) weren't even there to study. Grrrrr.

Class was OK. The instructor was a bit disorganized, and kept on getting off track about the characters. I find this interesting, from the little bit of Japanese I learned (example: 火 means fire, 山 means mountain, 火山 is volcano) but I think it is just a huge distraction for a six week class. It would be one thing if we were learning some useful characters like the numbers (fortunately I know them, again from Japanese), but we spent too much time covering the radicals in less important words.

Still, having a native speaker teaching does help, since she is able to answer many vocabulary questions and also help with pronunciation. I hope the class gets better.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Miracle Miles 15K

This morning was the Miracle Miles 15K, hosted by the Track Shack. It isn't part of the grand prix series, but is part of the Orlando Running Club's challenge series. I've never run a 15K before, in fact I don't remember any runs of that distance in Washington. It is nice to see something in between the 10K and half marathon distance.

I had a goal of 1:15, which is a 25 minute 5K, three times. ;) However, I missed it by a few minutes - I timed myself at 1:17:11, a pace of 8:17 min/mile, which I am pleased with. I finished 26/56 in my division, 125/349 of the men, and 160/627 overall, which was a great day for me - I am not used to finishing in the top half at an event, much less my division!

I kept my heart rate steady between 80% and 85%, rising slightly the entire time. The dip at 20 minutes and 45 minutes (the latter is more noticable) are me walking the aid stations.

miracle miles heart rate

Mile markers were prominent, and for my next running event I'll try to remember to take my split times, to see if my heart rate running strategy results in a consistent pace.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Toll Frustrations

This area of Central Florida has several toll roads. For convenience, I signed up for SunPass, which lets me use reserved lanes and automatically pay the toll.

However, it isn't that smooth. A few weeks ago an article ran in the paper about various billing errors, many of which are due to equipment glitches. I read the article with interest, because I know the transponder doesn't always register when I drive through.

Yesterday, I got a notice that a vehicle registered to me was found to have more than three violations in the past thirty days. Great, now I'm in this situation! I called up SunPass and after speaking to a rep, he said the violation would be dismissed. And also, I should send my transponder into a service center for replacement.

I however, have no more faith in the service. The discount and convenience of using the SunPass are completely outweighed by the hassle of calling around to clear up the threat of tickets and fines. Besides, I only drive on a toll road once or twice a week - I'm just not using it that much. So I plan to cancel my account and get a refund of my prepaid account.