Tuesday, May 30, 2006


It's been finale time on TV. Here are my thoughts on the finales of a couple of my favorite shows.

Alias -- Not just a season finale, but a series finale. I started watching Alias just last year. I watched all the old episodes by renting the DVDs for them from Netflix. I would then watch one episode per day, while eating my lunch at work. I then caught a break last fall when TNT started showing Alias nightly and played all of last season. I was able to dvr the new episodes from this eason and catch up to current about a month into the new season. Thus my love of Alias has been concentrated and intense. I thought the new season was very good. The finale was a bit of a letdown, but it really had to be. It's a series based on mystery and intrigue, and a finale cannot really use these devices. No matter what the ultime Rambaldi power was, it could not possibly live up to its five year build-up. Nonetheless, I thought that giving immortality to Sloane and then burying him alive was a clever twist. The final showdown between Sydney and her mom was not nearly as good. Her mother had always been such a complex character, but that complexity was discarded in the end for stock evil and selfishness. Still a good finale to a great show.

Lost -- This was the best finale of any show. The hatch was even cooler than expected. Brining Desmond back and then showcasing his life was clever. The end scene of his ex-girlfriend searching for him was a great twist. As was The Others letting Michael and Walt go. Every time you think you understand The Others (or the hostiles as Desmond referred to them) they prove you are wrong. All in all, this was the perfect kind of finale. It gave you some closure on the current season, but made you eagerly anticipate the next.

My Name Is Earl -- Another great finale. It's not surprising that this show can stay funny. After all, the redneck/white-trash zeitgest is such a great source of humor. What's more surprising is that the plot of each episode is usually pretty interesting too, not just funny. It's definitely a show in the Seinfeld mold.

American Idol -- Yeah that's right, American Idol. This season was over for me a couple of weeks ago. The two best singers were Paris and Chris. They should have been in the finale, but instead we got Taylor and Katharine. Taylor was always the fan favorite just because of his personality. So it wasn't surprising for him to win. It's hard to imagine what kind of CD he will release, but of course it will sell. All American Idol CDs sell. My favorite part about the finale was Meatloaf. I was actually eating a meatloaf sandwhich when Sir Loaf was performing. My wife was in Bakersfield seeing our niece play in a high school softball championship. I called her up and happily reported that I was eating meatloaf while watching Meatloaf sing on American Idol.


I started a new job today at Sharefare.  I can't say too much about what Sharefare does and what I'll be doing there, at least not yet. I think my work there will definitely lead to a lot more technical blogs in the future. Recently I had kept most of my techno-babble to a blog I had on my former employer's intranet. I used it to mostly sprun technical discussion among other engineers there. It worked out pretty well, but of course I wasn't going to repeat a topic from that blog on this one. Hence a lot more sports and pop culture, and a lot less programming and politics. Actually with the California elections coming up, there will definitely be some more politics on here, too.

Saturday, May 27, 2006


I got a lot of music for my birthday earlier this month.

Pearl Jam - Pearl Jam ... I was a Pearl Jam fan back in the 90s, of course. I remember when I heard Ten for the first time. I was on a school trip, and a fellow student (David Estes) told me to take a listen. He handed me the CD and I listened to it for the next hour ... and went out and bought it for myself the next day. Like most other fans I really liked the next two albums as well, Vs. and Vitalogy. After that things went down hill. Yield was good, but I haven't bothered to buy their last couple of CDs. I heard the first single, "Worldwide Suicide" off their new self-titled CD, on the radio, and so I was pleased to received Pearl Jam as a gift on my birthday. I won't compare it to their past efforts, as it is tempting to do. It is an excellent CD. It rocks from start to finish. The lyrics are very political, but actually kind of subtle. That makes for an interesting contrast to the music. This is a great CD. If Bruce Springsteen's The Rising was the defining rock response to 9/11, then Pearl Jam may be the defining rock response to the war in Iraq.

We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions - Bruce Springsteen ... Speaking of Bruce Springsteen, I received his latest via an iTunes gift card. It's a fun cd to listen to. I don't have the familiarity with the songs on here, which are all folk songs from the 60's. I think that actually detracts from my experience with this CD. But these are good songs anyways and the performances are energizing. I think Bruce is a great songwriter though, so there's always something a little bittersweet with hearing him sing other peoples' songs. That made me think to myself "if this was by some other, unknown artist, would I like it better?" The answer is probably no, since it's the connection to Bruce that makes these songs seem relevant and modern, even though they are neither.

Stadium Arcadium - The Red Hot Chili Peppers ... I've been a Peppers fans since the 80s. My friend Kevin Stanley got me listening to The Uplift Mofo Party Plan, and it was mind blowing, especially for a 14 year old. I've loved their last two CDs, Californication and By The Way. This CD is clearly an extension of those two, and in many ways is even better. It's a double-CD, with 28 songs altogether. It's kind of overwhelming because every song is really good. It's hard to have the energy to enjoy that much music in one listen. It would almost be better if there were some mediocre songs that you could listen to while doing something else. Instead every song demands your attention and is rewarding. The rennaisance of the Peppers must be attributed to guitarist John Frusciante. His work on here is unbelievable. The bass work by Flea is also the best he's ever done.  Is this the Peppers' best CD of their long, storied career? That's a big statement, but it may be true.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Office 2007

I'm a sucker for beta software, especially for betas of software I use a lot. I gave the first betas for Windows Vista and IE7 a try, and have used the newer betas for IE7. I'm actually not real impressed with the progress on IE7. It still seems too slow and seems to have more rendering issues than the earlier beta. Anyways, I decided to give the Office 2007 beta a try. Here's my impressions so far.

I really like the UI. A lot of people have criticized MS for breaking their own UI standards, but who cares? And if anybody should be able to break the standards, it should be the party that set the standards. I've given Outlook, Word, and Excel pretty good workouts, especially Word. I had a long design document I needed to finish and a shorter one I needed to write yesterday, and did them both with Word. It is true that because the UI was drastically changed, you will find yourself looking for things that you used to know where they were. However, the UI makes it a lot easier to find those things. And that's really a power user problem. The most common stuff is even easier to get to than ever before. Power users will adjust to the new menu layout. If you were able to find the "Update TOC" for the first time on Word 200x, then you will certainly be able to find it on Word 2007.

For Outlook, I like the To-Do bar, especially showing the next several events on the calendar. It's UI is otherwise less changed than Word or Excel. Excel's UI is similar to Word. It make nice use of contextual menus, so when you select a row on the sheet you get a menu with formatting options, as well as the normal contextual menu you get wheny ou right-click. This is true on Word as well, but seemed even more useful on Excel. Or maybe it was that I had gotten used to on Word already before I used Excel. Either way, this is good feature. I also liked the new tab button, similar to IE7, at the bottom of the window.

I haven't tried Power Point. I installed Visio, which I use a lot. It has a lot less changes, and seemed more like a modest improvement over the earlier version. Like all versions of Visio, the file format is different. This is true with all the Office apps, but is particularly annoying to me when it comes to Visio. I also tried OneNote, a program I use a lot at times. It's UI is very nice and its integration with Outlook is great. I am going to try its online mode for sharing notebooks. I've been using Google's Notebook for clipping ads for houses (I'm moving at the end of June) and sharing them with my wife, and it's very useful.

Now for the negatives! These programs are very slow. Very slow. I don't know if that's because they are beta, or if they are just going to require more CPU power in general. I've been running them on my laptop, which is 1.8 GHz Pentium M with 1 GB of RAM. That would seem like a lot of CPU for Office, so I'm hoping it's just because they are beta. They also require Microsoft Desktop Search to enable some of the features. That's an interesting turn of events. I've played with Microsoft's search in the past and liked it, but always used Google's instead. I could certainly see this Office 2007 feature causing MS Desktop Search to gain traction. Of course it's going to be included with Vista anyways.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Number 714

Yesterday I was eating lunch at The Cheesesteak Shop near my house. They have a TV for the patrons to watch while stuffing their faces, and it's usually got some kind of sports on. Today was no different, and the Giants-A's game had just come on. I watched the end of the previous night's game, with Barry Bonds striking out against Huston Street to end the game. I was hoping to see Bonds hit in the first inning, but it went 1-2-3. Bonds was left on deck. Giants pitcher Jason Schmidt had a shaky first inning, but managed to get out of it only giving up one run. At that point, my family and I were all done with out cheesesteaks, so we left. We were in my wife's minivan, so there was some soft rock station on the radio. They soon announced that Barry had hit home run #714, tying Babe Ruth. I had just barely missed it! If only Jason Schmidt had been quicker, or Michael, Jr. had taken longer eating, I would have seen it as it happened. Oh well.

Of course this has been the biggest news in sports this weekend. It's humorous that some people are trying to downplay it. Some (including MLB) say, who cares about 714, when the record is 755? It's funny to hear people saying that, and yet #714 was a headline all over the country last night and this morning. They say it was anti-climactic because it took Barry a long time to go from #713 to #714 (or from #700 to #714 for that matter.) Yet almost every baseball player interviewed yesterday was asked about #714. Even those that say #714 is a big deal, say that it's not as important because of the steroid allegations hanging over Bonds. Maybe so, but now people are eagerly awaiting #715.

The truth is that #714 is a really big deal. It's an even bigger deal because it was hit by Barry Bonds. Nobody (outside of his home market) liked Barry before the steroid scandals, and now he's probably the most despised player in all of sports. Forget Terrell Owens or Ron Artest, they're fan-favorites compared to Bonds now. And that's why it's an even bigger deal that Bonds hit #714 than if it was some well-liked and apparently clean-living slugger (not sure if there's one like that out there, but let's be theoretical.)

Bonds has re-defined the game. Steroids may not always be part of baseball, but you better bet that some type of "performance enhancement" will. Bonds wasn't the first to go this route, not even close. But he showed that it's a necessity now. That's right. You have to juice, in one way or another, if you're going to be the best. The bar has been set higher, some would say artificially high. Bonds will finish his career with the most home runs. He will provide ample statistical evidence to claim that he is the greatest of all time. He has set the bar even higher, and don't think for a minute that people won't shoot for his marks. And to hit his marks, they will juice. I thought it was particularly ironic that Albert Pujols was defending Bonds earlier this week. I just want somebody to ask Albert what his neck size is...

It doesn't even matter how tough MLB tries to get. The IOC are incredibly tough on juicers, but it hasn't done them much good. In fact at some point, I would be surprised if the IOC doesn't recognize that there are negative financial consequences to the tough policies and they will relent. The games (not just basball) have changed. We, the fans, require a level performance that cannot be consistently achieved "naturally." Otherwise, we're not going to watch.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

My Second Race

Yesterday I ran my second race. Like the first one, it was a 5K. I ran a 31:58 in my first race, and my goal for this one was to run under 30 minutes. I wasn't sure if I would pull it off during the race, as the course was a lot hillier than I expected. However, I finished with an unofficial time of 29:24. I was very pleased with improving my time by two minutes.

This race was in Mountain View, near the Shoreline Amphitheater and Google's campus. Actually the end of the race was through Google's campus, which is really quite nice. For my next race, I'm thinking of running the Vibha Run/Walk on July 9. It's another 5K/10K, but I think I'm going to go for the 10K this time. Not that I've mastered 5K or anything, I'd just like to give the longer distance a try. I think I will set a modest goal of 1:10. My morning runs are 5.6 miles these days, and my best time is 1:09, but that includes several stops for traffic lights. This race is also near Shoreline in Mountain View, but at least now I know to expect a few hills.

Update: My official time was 29:38. Also, here's a picture of me running in the race:

Thursday, May 04, 2006

New Car

Last Friday, I bought a new car. I traded in my 2003 VW Jetta for a 2006 VW Passat. Volkswagen was having a promotion to try to get existing Jetta/Passat owners to buy the new style Jetta/Passats. So I was able to get a great deal on a car I really liked as soon as I test drove it. It's my third VW in the last six years, so obviously I'm a big fan of Volkswagens. Here's a picture of the car:

Some interesting things about the new car... It included XM Radio. My wife bought me an XM Radio receiver for my old car a couple of years ago, back when I had a 60 mile commute (each way.) I tried on three occasions to get it professionally installed, and every time it did not work out for one reason or another. So after several months, I wound up returning it unused. So now I finally have XM Radio, and I am very pleased with it. I'm a big baseball fan, so I love being able to hear all the games on it. There is also a very nice music selection. I have not even tuned in my old favorite local radio station since I got the car, just because there was always so many good choices on XM. My only complaint is the sound quality. It is definitely better than FM radio, but it claims to be CD quality and that is definitely not the case! They are obviously using some kind of compression (MP3?, maybe not because of piracy concerns?) My car also has a in-dash six-disc CD changer that plays MP3 CDs. I made a couple of MP3 CDs, using my iTunes collection. I rip my CDs using EAC and LAME at a very high setting (--alt-preset-standard or --alt-preset-extreme depending on the type of music.) The sound quality on the MP3 CDs is really good. I can't tell any difference between it and a normal CD in the car, thus it is also much better than XM's quality. XM's quality is particularly bad on the MLB broadcasts, where some weird reverb seems to creep in. Maybe that's because it is typically re-broadcasting local AM broadcasts of the games.

Finally, when finishing the purchase of the car Friday night, the finance person had to print a very complex bill-of-sale document for me sign. This was a huge form that had several blanks spaces on it, so it could be used for the sale of any car. Their method for inserting the car-specific information (like what kind of car, the price, etc.) was to fill in the information in a similar looking desktop application, then print the information on to the form with an old dot-matrix printer. Obviously the desktop application knew about the layout of this giant form, so it could print the values in the right blanks on the form. I kept thinking that surely there must be a more efficient way to do this. The form had two carbon-copies attached also, thus the need for the dot matrix printer so that the information was replicated via the carbon paper.

Anyways, I wasn't able to come up with a better solution in the few minutes I waited for this thing to print out. However, my experience with this technology was not over Friday night. On Tuesday, I got a phone call from the dealership. They said that the printer had misaligned some of the elements on the form, so that some of the information was unreadable. This had caused their bank to not accept the form. So they had printed out a new one, but needed me to come by and re-sign the papers. I did and it was a quick, easy process. It still made me think that this kind of thing must happen a lot, especially with such a seemingly archaic technology. Nonetheless, I still couldn't come up with a better way to print this form that would be as quick, uses as little printer ink, and would allow for triplicate copies so easily.

Monday, May 01, 2006

The Price of Gas

"The Price of Gas" is actually a great song by Bloc Party, but that's not what I'm writing about. Nope, this is about what everybody else in America is talking about, $3.00+ per gallon gas. People are upset about paying that much. They see oil companies announce record profits and they think something is going on. Maybe price fixing is why the price of gas is so high.

It's amazing to me that people even say that. To understand the price of gas, just look at the price of oil. It's also at a record high. If oil costs more, then gas will cost more. As for the oil companies, of course they are making more money. They are not spending more money to produce oil. So if the price of oil goes up, but their costs stay the same, then of course their profits go up. Way up.

So the question people should really be asking, is why is the price of oil so high? That's a complex question, but clearly a big part of it is that their perceived instability in the area that producues a huge amount of the world's oil: the middle east. In case you didn't notice, one of the biggest producers of oil (Iraq) was recently invaded. The same country that invaded Iraq is now threatening action against Iraq's immediate neighbor and fellow oil-producer, Iran. Maybe, just maybe, that has something to do with the price of oil and thus the price of gas.

It's also funny that Democrats want to attack Republicans on this issue. Now this would make sense if they did it from "we need to stop making war" perspective. Instead they are entertaining the oil company/price gouging angle, mostly because of The President's close ties to the oil industry. That's just sad. You would think that a supposedly "green" party would see things differently. They would point out that the price of gas is not really that high. It was artificially low for a long time, on an inflation adjusted scale. That low price spurred the auto industry into producing gas guzzling SUVs and Americans bought them up. Higher gas prices could mean less gas being bought and thus less pollution.

Of course that's theoretical, and there's been very little real evidence for this. I must admit that it has made me re-consider public transportation. We have light rail in Silicon Valley. There's a station very close to my house. To get work, I could take it through San Jose and make one transfer to one of the other light rail lines. It would cost me $1.75 each way, or $3.50 for the round trip. It's 15 miles to my office, or 30 miles roundtrip. My car gets 31 miles/gallon highway and 22 city. For my commute, it averages around 25 miles/gallon. Thus I use 1.24 gallons of gas. Gas needs to cost $2.83 for it to be cheaper for me to take the train, and clearly it's way over that these days. Actually, you can get monthly passes for the train, for $61.25. If you figure 20 commute days per month and do the above math, you get the break even point is $2.47.

So I should take the train, right? Maybe, but maybe not. There are two problems. The biggest problem is that while there is a station close to my house, the nearest station to my office is 1.9 miles from it. That's a long walk. There is a bus I could transfer to that would get me a little closer, and of course I could take my bike. That all leads to the other problem, the time. It takes 1 hour and 16 minutes for the route described above. That's just train time, assuming everything is running on schedule. That doesn't include the time for that last 1.9 miles. By car, it takes me about 25 minutes to get to work. If traffic is horrible, it takes 45 minutes. It's tough to justify losing 1-2 hours of my day just to save $1 on gas.

So I'll probably keep generating green house gasses and sending my money to big oil companies. Maybe that's why the green-er parties aren't celebrating $3/gallon gas. It takes more than high gas prices to save the environment.

NFL Draft

I was pretty busy Friday night (more on that in a future post,) so I was stunned to get home and see the headline that the Houston Texans were taking Mario Williams over Reggie Bush with the top pick in this year's draft. Sure I had heard that the Texans were negotiating with both players. I knew there were pundits saying that new Texan head coach Gary Kubiak did not view running back as a make-or-break position (if Olandis Gary can run for 1100+ yards in Kubiak's system, etc.) but I didn't take any of it very seriously. Apparently the only people who thought that it could even make sense to pick somebody over Reggie Bush were the Texans' front office.

Now don't get me wrong. Mario Williams will probably be a good defensive end. Eventually. Even if he wound up being a great defensive end, this was a big mistake. There is no position in football where a team must have the best player in order to win. Teams can win Super Bowls with average quarterbacks and they can certainly win with average running backs. It proves nothing. A player like Reggie Bush only comes along maybe every 10-15 years. He could have turned the Texans into an elite offense. He would have turned David Carr into a pro-bowl quarterback, thus validating him as the top pick from a couple of years ago. He would not have brought them a Super Bowl on his own. That cannot be done in football. But he would have improved their team dramatically, and given them the center piece to build around for years and years to come.

Not convinced that Bush could have had such effects? Enter Exhibit A, Scott Mitchell. In 1995, Mitchell threw for 4338 yards and 32 touchdowns. He ranked second in passing yards and third in touchdowns. From 1994-1997, he averaged 3547 yards and 23 tds per 16 games played. All this depite having poor leadership abilities and decision making, being big and slow, and not even having a great arm (especially given his size.) But he had Barry Sanders. Every team that faced Detroit planned for Barry Sanders. That's what it would have been like for David Carr with Reggie Bush. Carr is already a better quarterback than Scott Mitchell, but Carr has averaged 2833 yds and 13 tds per 16 games played in his career. The Texans actually had a pretty good run offense last year, but they did not have Reggie Bush. And they won't next year either. So don't be looking for 4388 yards and especially not 32 touchdowns from Carr.

Of course Carr's biggest problem has been sacks. Want to slow down a pass rush? Just run a draw to Bush. You only have to do it once. You could probably get away with just faking it once actually. Or throw a screen pass to Bush. That will do the trick, too. It's not going to make up for a completely porous O-line, but it will slow down the pass rush.

So what now for Bush? He gets to lead New Orleans back into New Orleans. The Saints could become the ultimate feel-good story next year. Bush can "call his shot" like Babe Ruth, promising to score a touchdown for some homeless kid whose parents lost everything in Hurricane Katrina. People in New Orleans might even forget about FEMA finally.

As for Houston... Something happens to teams who do really dumb things. It took Boston 80+ years to overcome trading Babe Ruth. The Portland Trailblazers are not even close to overcoming passing up Michael Jordan for Sam Bowie. Meanwhile, Houston's old team picked up Houston-native, national champion/hero Vince Young and Lendale White on Saturday. Coincidence? Hard to say. All I can suggest for Houston is that they make a list of all the bad things they have done and start trying to come clean. It may be the only way to appease karma.