Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Phone Impressions

I've had the Blackberry for a few days now, and here are some thoughts on it.

I really like that Blackberry includes a headset with the Pearl. Also, the battery charger and I/O device is simply a powered USB mini-B cable. No special adapters, cradles, any of that stuff - this phone can charge from a computer or through the included powered cable.

The Pearl is slimmer than the other Blackberries, and is comfy to hold in either hand. Instead of a scroll wheel mounted on the side, the Pearl has a small rollerball in the middle. This makes it as easy to use right handed or left handed, another plus. Screen and sound quality are fine.

Unlike the other Blackberries, the Pearl doesn't have a separate key for each letter. Instead, the QWERTY style keyboard is distributed across the number pad and an extra column on either side. The text entry is predictive (RIM calls this SureType) or tap (hit a key to cycle through the letters), where the default for text entry is predictive but it toggles to tap for passwords. If you prefer tap all the time, you can set that.

I found the predictive entry works well to figure out what you are trying to type. As you enter text, various alternatives show up which you can select with the rollerball (i.e. you help steer towards the correct choice).

I configured mine to check my yahoo and gmail accounts, but not hotmail. That's because hotmail turned into my catch-all address over the years, and now I get so much junk there, even through the spam filter, it is too noisy to check regulary.

When mail arrives, it is copied to the Pearl. After I'm done, I can save the mail, delete it on the handheld, or delete on both the handheld and online. So this is handy in that I can treat the mail that shows up on the phone separately.

How do I like getting email on the phone? So far I really like it. Obviously it is difficult to compose lengthy responses on the device, and emails with elaborate formats don't display properly, but it is very convenient to have access without a computer.

I can also surf the web, but so far I've stuck with reading news off Google using their mobile app. I need to search for a good game because sometimes I want to kill some time!

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Cuban Dinner

I took my parents to Oasis, a Cuban restaurant in Longwood. It is across the street from Thai Delight, which I was excited to find out re-opens on February 6th, not the 9th like I originally thought. This is great because I'll have a chance to take my folks there!

Anyway, at the Cuban restaurant Dad and I had ropa vieja, a beef, tomato, and pepper dish, along with rice and plantains. Mom had fajitas, in a portion so large we took half home. I also had tres leches for dessert, which was delicious and probably some humungous number of calories... oh well. ;)

Oasis has live entertainment on the weekends - maybe only on Saturday since that is the only time I've been on the weekend. The previous time it was a xylophone player, and this time it was two guys on a variety of acoustic guitars. One of them switched around from a 10 or 12 stringed guitar (5 or 6 double strings) to a tiny guitar he said he bought in Machu Pichu, Peru. They played flamenco-style music and it was great entertainment.

Friday, January 26, 2007

New Phone

I'm a bit of a gadget freak and had a comparatively primitive phone for the last four years. For the past few weeks some friends in the biking club expressed utter shock in learning that the guy with the GPS heart rate monitor and so forth didn't even have a phone with a camera. The horror! ;)

Three of them happened to own the same model - the Blackberry 8700. This phone always looked a bit awkward to me, because it is so wide. But it includes a mini keyboard which is great for typing messages. Two of them (both named Jennifer) own their own business and the third (Greg) is a traveling consultant, so having such a phone makes sense. Diana, a friend in the running club, frequently sends text messages instead of calls so typing a response with the tap method takes a long time.

Through their relentless efforts I started to shop around for an upgrade. I looked at websites, read reviews, and finally decided to get the Blackberry Pearl, which is thinner than the 8700, but includes a camera.

So I have a new toy and will be fiddling around with it all weekend.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Parents Arrival

My parents arrived earlier this morning, for a visit. The weather is certainly much nicer for a late January visit than it ever was when I lived in the Seattle area!

They are easy to entertain especially since I recorded a few shows off HD Discovery for them, mostly travel shows about different cities or countries. HD Discovery also runs a lot of animal shows, and while my parents do love animals (they have pet birds and dogs) they aren't so much into snakes and spiders.

Despite that, Mom seems to enjoy watching shows about snakes and spiders. She'll cringe while watching four men search a swamp for an anaconda, and then heave the 20 foot long snake up for measurement. Or wince when a spider expert digs around a nest and pulls up a huge tarantula. I offer to change the channel but she wants to keep watching anyway. ;)

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Rice Alumni Group

There is a small Rice Alumni group in Central Florida, and I get an occasional email about a gathering. Last time it was to attend a football game vs. the University of Central Florida Golden Knights, but I couldn't make it since I was out of town. Tonight's meeting was at Houlihan's before a basketball game.

There were a dozen of us, although a few were parents of students. They count as far as an alumni group. ;) I won a raffle and came away with a Rice Baseball t-shirt!

As far as the game... well I didn't actually make it. Earlier in the week, I called over to the UCF athletic department, but they said they didn't sell tickets and I should check the website or buy general admission tickets at the arena. It didn't make sense but now that I think about it, what they probably meant was they weren't setup to sell tickets over the phone - I'm sure they sell tickets in person. Anyway, I checked the website but the only options were to purchase a season pass. Hm... I didn't want to buy a season pass just for one basketball game, so I decided to get general admission, as did everyone else at the alumni group (except one lady who is a Rice Alum and also on the faculty at UCF).

After we finished dinner, we split up and drove over to UCF, where I found a nightmare line. Large construction in front of the current UCF arena closed the normal entrance, so only the sides were open. The normal ticket counter was also closed and temporarily housed in a tiny two-person booth, and the line was literally 500 people or more. I waited there until the game started, glanced at the line and calculated at the current pace, I wouldn't get in until after halftime.

So I decided to laze out and skip the game. I'm not sure if the others made it. That was fine, at least I made it to the alumni dinner/happy hour beforehand!

Friday, January 19, 2007

Four Things About Me

I received this questionnaire in email:

Four place I have lived:
1. Houston, TX
2. Seattle, WA
3. Silver Spring, MD
4. Frankfurt, Germany

Four TV shows I love to watch:
1. 24
2. Battlestar Galactica
3. Medium
4. CSI

Four websites I visit when I'm online:
3. - this one counts for about 40 other sites
4. BBC News

Four favorite foods:
1. any Thai curry dish (panang, red/green/yellow, massaman, etc.)
2. Kung Pao chicken
3. Chicken Vindaloo
4. Lasagna

Four favorite places I have been:
1. New Zealand
2. Lake Tahoe
3. Angel Falls
4. hm... gotta think about this more

Four places I'd rather be right now:
1. taking it easy at home
2. indoor skydiving at SkyVenture
3. ski trip with friends
4. visiting friends

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Tri Club

The Lake Mary YMCA is starting a triathlon training club. Actually there are two: one for women training for Danskin (this started last year and is continuing), and one for others (men and non-Danskin women). The organizational meeting was tonight and I attended.

The club is planning to charge $150 for the year, which I initially balked at. But, they are planning to have coached swim workouts (and maybe bike and run as well, I'm not sure) and after thinking about it, that is a good deal!

So I signed up and I guess they'll get back to me sometime before the group starts up in February.

Monday, January 15, 2007


My favorite TV show is back on for a 6th season: 24. The last two or three seasons have started with two 2-hour shows on back to back days, and then the other 20 one week at a time without any interruption.

Last season ended with Jack Bauer (Keifer Sutherland) getting abducted by the Chinese as payback for the death of a diplomat during a daring raid to break a hostage out (the diplomat died from friendly fire). So the first thing I wondered about as the show started, was how they were going to get Jack out of a Chinese prison.

It turns out some terrorists were willing to exchange information for Jack, so a swap was arranged... and from there the plot unvieled a suitcase nuke plot.

I'm hooked and am glued to the TV during the show!

Things I find funny are: everybody has a cellphone, and they always have great reception. CTU apparently has built their own 3G Wireless network capable of sending large amounts of data to cellphones and PDAs. Most cabinet official are slimy scheming jerks. Jack kills a whole lot of people everyday he's on the job. Terrorists have a direct line to the President, but his sister has to go through a secretary.

So far over the past seasons, 2 nukes have exploded in the U.S. Also, the nation has had two black presidents: David Palmer and now his brother Wayne Palmer. I just think that is interesting.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Chocolate Fountain

Nicole from the Y running club held a post-marathon dessert party for the group, and the center of attention was... her new chocolate fountain. Coincidentally, attendance at the party was much higher than usual!

She sliced up strawberries, pound cake, bananas, pineapples, had chocolate chip cookies and marshmallows on hand, along with a bunch of wooden skewers so we could all take advantage. It was delicious... and let me say that chocolate covered chocolate chip cookies taste pretty good!

Nicole is very attached to her four year old son, and said something to the effect that she never wants him to do anything dangerous. Of course I spent 15+ minutes suggesting possible future careers: test pilot, mountain climber, astronaut, snake milker (extract the venom), smoke jumper, bomb squad tech, Alaskan deep sea fisherman, skyscraper construction worker, deep water oil pipeline repairman, fireman, policman, armed forces, etc. She really was appreciative of that. ;)

I remember watching a Discovery channel show on dangerous jobs, and the Alaska deep sea fisherman was the most dangerous of all. The fishing season only lasts two or three weeks, and the death rate is very high - rougue waves, cold water, very long hours, etc. The reward is essentially a full year's pay for those two weeks: $50K or even more depending on the haul. It is the highest paying blue collar job in the world. But something shocking like 20% of the workforce dies every season. Yikes!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Mission Impossible III

I really like this genre of movie, so I looked forward to watching this once it arrived from Netflix. Overall it was entertaining, although I think they've used a similar plot for all three Mission Impossible movies, with a rogue agent or traitor at the agency.

The quick plot summary is Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his team need to capture Davian Owen (Philip Seymour Hoffman) because he has some bioweapon called the "rabbit's foot". After capturing him, Hunt's team is betrayed and Owen is freed. This sets up the obvious last action segment where Hunt faces down Owen, with the added twist that Owen kidnapped Hunt's wife and threatens to kill her. Of course I've gotten used to another Mission Impossible standard trick of the "face mask" and had a large suspicion about the dramatic shooting that turned out to be correct.

The cool thing is a portion of this movie was filmed in Shanghai, so the skyline and especially the portion in narrow alleys and markets looked familiar!

The movie sets up for a sequel. In a similar fashion to True Lies, Hunt's wife Julia has to take over defending their position, and it just so happens that despite never holding a gun or firing a weapon, she has no problem with aiming and killing enemy agents. Husband and wife secret agents... also sounds like the recent Mr. and Mrs. Smith!

Saturday, January 06, 2007


A friend Kelley had a small party for the Y runners, which was a fun time. A few had participated in the half marathon, so we heard their tales as we munched snacks, had a few drinks, and chatted.

Kelley has a pet dog, a Nikita named Kuma ("bear" or "little bear" in Japanese) who was easily the largest dog I've seen in years. Kuma comes up to my waist just standing, and weighs 105 pounds. He got pretty excited with so many people around he would bump into everybody and lick your hand. Kelley told him to sit or lie down and got a little mad, and poor Kuma went to hide by placing his face under the coffee table. It was hilarious seeing this enormous dog with his paws over his face, head under the table, trying to be invisible, while his massive body still took up half the room. ;)

I wish I had my camera with me at the time! Doh.

A few of us kept an eye on the Seahawks-Dallas game on TV in the background. From what I saw the Hawks played like crap (allowing a kickoff return for a touchdown, failing to score in four downs from inside the 10 yard line) and basically made it in on a total gift: a Dallas error. Now I don't feel all that bad for sports teams since they are well paid for what they do, but I do feel a bit bad for Romo, the Dallas QB who bobbled the snap and lost the game for them. When it comes down to a single play by a single guy, it will just follow them around no matter what they do. Like the Bill's field goal kicker Norwood who missed and let the Giant's win a SuperBowl... it has got to be tough to work through that. Romo was almost a hero anyway, had he been able to get just 2 more yards for a 2 point conversion.

Anyway, the Seahawks advance and that's pretty cool, even if they utterly coasted in.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Run and Marathon Decision

Many people in the Y running group are in the half or full marathon this weekend, so we took it easy and just did 4 miles.

My foot feels OK for runs of this length, but the real issue is the next day: right foot feels just while the left one is a bit sore, which tells me it is still healing.

As a result, I've decided to skip the marathon. Besides missing all of my long training runs (the longest I did was 18 miles), I think pounding my foot for 26+ miles would be an extremely bad idea and would only aggravate it.

I looked into volunteering but they are all full! Technically what they mean is Disney will not give out parking passes, shirts, jackets, food, or an entry ticket to a park, for doing it. People can volunteer but won't get any perks. I could drive out to pick up my race packet and probably get some of this stuff but it is an 80 mile round trip I'd have to do twice (once to get the packet and then once to show up) and frankly I'm just too lazy to climb that hurdle.

On the one hand I can understand Disney wanting to limit those kinds of perks but their setup makes it highly inconvenient for people other than friends/family members already showing up anyway, or people who knew far in advance they wanted to volunteer, to help. However they have enough so they can do that.

I think this year I will look into doing events that don't fill up so early - smaller, lower key ones. Because last minute injuries and/or last minute travel plans really add up when there is no refund policy.