Friday, July 31, 2009

7-31-09: A Pleasant First Bike Ride (of the summer)

A few minutes ago I arrived home from my first morning bike ride since adolescence. I've been meaning to get back into biking for a while now, and, this month, finally decided to get my lazy ass in gear, fix my old bike, and get on the road.

This morning was the final step, and it was wonderful. Now, I won't say I will rival any Tour de France (or the Giro d'Italia for that matter) any time in the near future. I decided beforehand to take it easy, and keep the terrain as flat as possible. I don't know exactly how far I went this morning, but I think the total miles was well within the single digits. I was on my bike for under an hour, and stopped a few times to take in the sights.

The best part of the ride was definitely the Derby-Shelton Greenway, which was towards the end. It's a pleasant little path, just about 1.8 miles in total one way, that runs from Shelton to Derby. This morning I saw probably a dozen or so people walking the path, but only myself on a bike. The path is 99% flat, which was very nice, and it runs right along the river, which was a welcome companion in the morning hours. I did a little loop at the end, and headed back.

It was a very pleasant first ride. I am very much looking forward to the next time out. Time to shower up and head in to work.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

7-30-09: "Business Time"; Shatner Recites Palin's Tweets

In preparation for the release of the second season DVD of Flight of the Conchords' HBO show next Tuesday (August 4th), I've been watching a lot of their Youtube videos. Here is my favorite of their songs, as I first heard it:





And a little funny I saw today by William Shatner, who has made a small career (besides all of his other ventures) in rhythmic recitation:

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

7-29-09: More on Bokode

I was having a conversation today with a friend about Bokode. He saw my post on it from yesterday, and was wondering what value can be added with this new technology. For example, why would they want to put a Bokode mark on a store front? Can't you tell what store it is from the big neon signs?

Well, of course you could. But that's just the tip of the technological iceberg. The whole idea of using tags to find out more information on something is nothing brand new. Just look at all the apps out there for devices like Google Android phones that let you take pictures of barcodes and find better deals for a product online. Those have been around for a bit now, and are very useful. They even have apps that let you take a picture of a product and find it online, no barcode required.

Bokode is simply a new tagging system that enables devices that can be made more cheaply (the video shows people using normal digital cameras probably as a means to convey universal capability). Let's say you're looking around at different stores in a mall, and want to know which one has the best deal on a certain product that you need right away (let's say you can't really wait for an online purchase). You could just pull out your camera-equipped device, which has Bokode tag reading software, and point it at the store front. A minute later (hopefully sooner as technology improves), you'll know be searching that specific store's inventory. It should, if it works, save you time from searching around in the store. At the same time, you could find the store hours, download special coupons to use that day, or maybe buy the product outside the store and pick it up later. All of it could start by scanning the Bokode of the store.

Now, a lot has to happen for such a system to work. My example is very much an ideal scenario. I'd imagine the following things would need to happen or be in place:

- The store would need to be "Bokode enabled" and have tags on the store front. They'd be indistinguishable to the human eye, which is a big selling point. No ugly bar codes, but it's a cost to the business nonetheless.

- The device needs to have an application that reads the Bokode tag (there'd need to be an interface that controls the camera that causes it to go out of focus and pick up the tag). I'm not sure if such a robust application is available quite yet, but I'm sure it's not too much to ask for an iPhone app to be created to do this if the market is there.

- The store's inventory would need to be updated and available on the web. This isn't much of a stretch. Many major stores' websites enable this feature already. It'd be a disadvantage to smaller stores, though, who might not have the capital to enable such a feature.

- I don't know exactly how Bokode works, but it'd be nice if you could scan the code from various distances. Maybe they'd have different layers of tags that can be read at different distances. Not sure.

Other than that, a couple more things might be helpful for the user:

- The application might want to have a feature that saves data, like prices at certain stores, so the user can compare while shopping. Maybe they'd just need to create a new session and save maybe 5-10 items or stores. It's a "nice to have" feature, and would need to be simple.

- Once a user finds an item, it'd be nice if the application searched other stores nearby to save them time. This would need to tie in with their physical location (again, not a stretch with today's technology).

The capabilities are not all brand new, but Bokode-enabled devices could work. The big selling points are:

- Bokode tags are indistinguishable to the human eye. No ugly eyesores. 
- You can put many, many tags to make it easier to pick up. Typical bar codes can get ripped and deformed. 
- You can read Bokode tags (you actually have to) from a distance 
- It allows for cheap hardware to be used (no expensive scanners)

I don't know if this will catch on. It's not completely ground breaking, but it's still pretty neat. Take a look at the MIT site for some more application ideas.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

MIT TV: Bokode: Imperceptible Visual Tags for Camera Based Interaction from a Distance

Thanks go to grinding.be for the link.



7-28-09: Kornheiser Returns to Airwaves

I was very pleased when I read yesterday that Tony Kornheiser will return to the airwaves on September 8th (the day after Labor Day). His show, The Tony Kornheiser Show, is one of my absolute favorites, and I can't wait for a new podcast of his show to pop up in my Google Reader feed. Tony had taken some time off, as he normally does, for his Monday Night Football gig. He normally would come back in the offseason to do his show, but this time around, back in February, Tony said he wouldn't continue his show until his days with MNF were done. Well, after being replaced by Jon Gruden, Tony has free time again.

If you're a working stiff like me, and want some entertainment in your day, do yourself, not Mr. Tony; he's all set, and subscribe to the podcast. You shall not regret it.

Here's a small sample:


Monday, July 27, 2009

7-27-09: Interesting Dining Experience; Harry Potter

I went to see the new Harry Potter film with the lady yesterday evening in New Haven. It had been a stressful and busy week for her (she worked the maximum amount of overtime allowed) and definitely needed a break.

Beforehand we ate at a new restaurant directly across the street from the theatre (Criterion on Temple Street) called MarketPlace. Decent place, though I have very mixed feelings about it after eating there last night. It has an enormous menu, mostly Italian and Indian (interesting combination, but they pull it off alright), and the food was pretty good. I had the Lamb Vindaloo, which was nice and spicy (had leftovers for lunch today; reheated quite well). The only bad parts of the experience were: 1) The hostess told us we couldn't order beer because their liquor license was being renewed. Seems a bit odd, since it's a pretty new place (they still had the Grand Opening banner outside). 2) Their website advertises half-price movie tickets to Criterion, which was a significant factor in our decision to eat there. However, when we went to pay the bill, I asked about the tickets, and was told "We are still ordering them." That's false advertisement, which I really don't appreciate, and may cause us to not return. The hostess may have been getting trained, because she seemed extremely new to the profession (she brought over a single plate of rice and had trouble finding a place to put it on the table). The manager, who was very nice, had to step out for a few minutes to move a delivery guy's illegally parked car (the delivery guy didn't appear to have a license when the cop came to give him a ticket - scary), and the hostess, for whatever reason, turned away a family of four when they came in to eat because they were doing "maintenance". There were maybe five people eating there at the time, in a pretty big place. Odd. I don't want to accuse her of shirking responsibility, but I didn't get the best impression. She seemed rather clueless.

Now, to the movie. I thought it was entertaining. I read the book about three or four years ago (I think it came out in 2005), so I didn't remember a lot of the plot details. The lady did, and would remark during parts of the film that "That didn't happen in the book" and at the end she went through some parts that were skipped over. For a film as long as it was, I guess I can't blame them for skipping some details, just to make it bearable. There were a couple scenes, however, that could have been removed. One in particular, I thought, didn't add a whole lot, and wasn't in the book at all.

But, overall, it's quite good. It has to be the most strikingly "the book is better" situation throughout the line of Harry Potter films thus far. It will be interesting to see what they do for the final book. I do know they are splitting it into two parts, which is good. The books just got longer and longer. Hopefully they can weave in some parts that they left out of Half-Blood Prince to make it all fit together. I'd rate it a solid 7 out of 10. If they got rid of that scene and did an additional Dumbledore scene, maybe I'd have rated it higher. Still, it was entertaining.





NYTimes.com: Bits: Netflix Challenge Ends, but Winner Is In Doubt

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TECHNOLOGY   | July 27, 2009
Bits: Netflix Challenge Ends, but Winner Is In Doubt
By Steve Lohr
The $1 million contest to improve Netflix's movie recommendation software ended with two teams in something of a photo finish, but the outcome remains in doubt.

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5. Scientists Worry Machines May Outsmart Man

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Sunday, July 26, 2009

7-26-09: Tottenham vs. Barcelona (Wembley Cup)

These are my two favorite teams in Europe (Spurs being #1 of course). The game looked pretty good from the highlights.




Saturday, July 25, 2009

7-25-09: UPDATE: Catching the Cycling Fever

A couple weeks ago, I began my journey back into bicycling after years of laziness off the road. It still has a bit to go before it's finished, but today I took a pretty big step. I brought my bike over to my buddy Scott's place this morning to let him give it a once over to see what needed to be done for it to be road-ready. Scott is a very experienced amateur cyclist, with many races under his belt in both the mountain biking and Cyclo-cross circuits. I trust his expertise in anything related to bicycling.

Well, lucky for me, the bike was in better shape than anticipated. Nothing needed replacing except for the two tires, which I wanted to swap out for new, road tires anyway. The chain just needed a little lubrication, and the spokes needed tightening in some places. Other than that: it's just dusty. One trip to the bike shop to get myself a new Giro helmet, and I was good to go. We even got to see the end of today's stage of the Tour de France.

Good stuff. Can't wait to take it on the road, probably this afternoon after I pound out some homework. I'm really looking forward to it.

Thanks, Scotty.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

7-23-09: The Soda Machine Puzzle

Good puzzle.

 
 

Sent to you by Pat via Google Reader:

 
 

via Marginal Revolution by Alex Tabarrok on 7/23/09

Here is a favorite puzzle that I learned from my father many years ago:

There are 10 machines that fill bottles of soda.  One of the machines is either putting one ounce (of mass) too much or one ounce too little in the bottles that it produces.  You have a digital scale.  In one weighing figure out which of the 10 machines is off.

The puzzle does not involve any tricks. The bottles are opaque etc. Note you can assume that you know what the correct weight is, say 10 oz.  I will post an answer in the extension to this post tomorrow for those of you who want to sleep on this.  You can also find the answer in the comments but no peeking. 


 
 

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Sunday, July 19, 2009

7-19-09: Cutting Cable

Now that I'm in my first month since my Comcast starter 6-month package is over, and I'm paying quite a bit more, I've begun to think more seriously about whether or not I'll eventually cut my ties with cable. My friends Sam and Chris, who recently moved into a new house that Chris bought, are now going without cable, sticking primarily with Netflix and online TV shows. So far, so good.

The catch is, for me, sports. I watch the Red Sox and Bruins, and I'd have to be convinced to switch to the online video. My buddy Tom has MLB.TV, which is nice. I just need to find a good site for the Bruins, which would probably end up being through NHL.com. I'll have to look into pricing.

The other minor catch is that I'd still like to use my TV. This shouldn't present too much of an issue, though. All I need to do is buy an HDMI cable and put together a media center PC (or just buy one). My co-worker Rob is offering to sell me one that I should easily be able to use for $100, so I'll probably jump on that.

There are bonuses, on top of possible savings per month, to going with online video and Netflix.

The first is a recent development, which is that Comcast has reached a deal with ESPN to provide ESPN360 to cable and internet subscribers. This won't really come around 'til the Fall, though, so I have time until I can enjoy that. This will allow me to see a good number of European soccer matches, which is a bonus. I'm excited for that.

The other is Spurs TV, which would allow me to watch my favorite English Premier League club Tottenham Hotspur. Right now the annual pass for that is 39.99 British pounds, or about $65. That's a decent deal that I'm strongly considering doing. I don't watch many of their matches. I used to be able to watch some back in the days that I lived with my folks and they had Fox Soccer Channel. But that's too expensive now, and I'd rather just watch Spurs games. The only problem is that, if I don't get the annual pass, I'm not sure if I'm eligible for the 3.99 pound per month subscription because it's debit only (and they're an English club). I'll have to see. Their season starts in less than a month.

Plus there are all the free sites. Websites like Hulu are great for free TV content, and Netflix has all the movies I'll ever want to watch. I don't have the movie package with Comcast cable right now, anyway. I do have Netflix already, so all I'd really need to figure out is how much I'd want to pay, monthly, to watch my three teams. I'm not a huge Patriots fan (don't get me wrong, I like seeing them play), but they aren't on every week down here anyway. I can still probably catch some of their games online.

If I do decide to ditch cable, at least temporarily, it will probably be in time for the Bruins season, which starts October 1st. The tough part is, I'm having issues finding an online service for them. I'll keep looking.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

7-16-09: A Fixed Toilet

The last week or so has seen some troubling times for the toilet in my apartment's bathroom.

It had been running, ever so slightly. For a while it was roughly every 10 minutes between fill cycles. Then, after a quick flap replacement by my landlord Mark, the problem seemed to go away.

One flush later, it was back. That was Monday night.

On Tuesday night, my landlords Mark and John came over (they live right next door) and sought to fix the problem. They replaced the overflow pipe, which was the next logical thing to replace, and put some sealant around the gasket. After some trial and error (and two hours' time), the problem went away. The issue was simply that a slow trickle of water was flowing into the bowl, which lowered the tank level until it refilled.

After the (sadly temporary) fix, John lamented in frustration: "Well, that's all we can do. If this doesn't work, we'll need to buy a new toilet." They're good guys.

On my way to the gym this morning (before work), I hesitated before flushing the toilet. I had a bad, sinking feeling that it wouldn't work. And, sure enough, my premonition came true, and the leak returned. Frustrated, and running a little late, I ran out the door.

When I got home from work, I was dead set on finding the problem. I told my landlord John about the problem, and he was simply at a loss. He Googled common toilet problems, and it came down to one of two common problems: a bad flap (unlikely since Mark put in a new one on Monday) or that the tank water level came too high and went into the overlow pipe (not at all the case). So, we were, once again, stumped. And, on top of that, the frequency of refills had dropped down to once every three minutes. It was officially annoying.

After hearing it go off about an hour ago, I decide to try to find the problem with the help of the trusted Google search engine. After about three minutes of searching, I came across AskTheBuilder.com's help article on common toilet problems.

Here was one of the common problems - and solution - this absolute genius (no sarcasm!) described:

Dripping and Tank Filling

After the tank has filled, you hear dripping. Then several minutes later, the tank partially fills with water and the dripping starts again. Then the tank fills and so on and so forth. This problem can be a syphon problem caused by someone who installed a new tank fill valve. There is a small flexible tube that runs from the bottom of the valve to the top of the toilet overflow tube. As the tank fills, water is also sent through this tube. It is used to refill the toilet bowl since it lost its water during the flush. If this tube drops down inside the overflow tube, it can, in some instances, syphon water from the tank. New toilet fill valves often have a clip that attaches to the top of the overflow tube and points the water flow down into the tube without actually having the tube enter the tube. Pretty slick? It works too! Use the clip!


My exact problem. I then walked over to the toilet, took off the tank lid, and lifted the fill tube up. PROBLEM SOLVED.

Thank you, AskTheBuilder.com.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

7-15-09: Jaco Pastorius and John Scofield - "The Chicken"

I was talking with my co-worker Todd the other day about Jaco Pastorius. Todd is a gifted, veteran bass player, who toured for years with various groups before becoming an engineer over 20 years ago. I've known about the late Jaco Pastorius (he died back in 1987) since I was a kid when my dad listened to a lot of Weather Report. He was one talented man.


Sunday, July 12, 2009

7-12-09: Catching the Cycling Fever

So instead of working on my boring (read: disastrously dull) microwave engineering homework, I watched TV for about an hour this afternoon. It turns out that Versus has some really great Tour de France coverage.

Which reminded me: I haven't taken my bike out of the basement since the snow melted.

My bike is a yellow 1998 Kona Kilauea, and looks pretty much like the bike you see below on the right (picture found online), except it has different handle bars that look more like horns (the guy told me they were for racing). I got the bike as a birthday present in...1998. I rode it pretty frequently for a few years, then stopped pretty abruptly.

It hasn't had a tune-up since about 1999, but it's doing surprisingly well. I had to do a ton of cleaning, took off the ugly Kryptonite bike lock for which I lost the key years and years ago, and tried pumping the tires up. The back one seems to be fine, but the front is dead. Both tires are extremely old, and I'll probably just replace them.

It's a mountain bike, but I don't really want to do mountain biking anymore. I live in a small city (the smallest in Connecticut in fact), and would like to use the bike for a few things:

  1. Biking around the area on weekends.
  2. Morning exercise.
  3. The very occasional 11.0 mile commute to work. They have a bike rack in the executive garage that I would like to start using. I plan on doing this at least once this summer and hopefully a few times by the year's end.

So, I really don't need the mountain bike tires anyway. My good friends Scotty and Taylor, avid bicyclists, have graciously offered their help in the matter, and have pointed me in a couple good directions. The thing is I have to stop being so damn lazy and actually get this bike road-ready and get on the road.

Let's see how this goes.

The Onion: Praise is Sarcastic 70% of the Time


Report: 70 Percent Of All Praise Sarcastic

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Friday, July 10, 2009

7-10-09: Digital Eyes Will Chart Baseball’s Unseen Skills

Finally, a real measure for how bad Johnny Damon's arm really is.

 
 

Sent to you by Pat via Google Reader:

 
 

via NYT > Home Page by By ALAN SCHWARZ on 7/10/09

Defense and base running, long the realm of arguments with no definitive answer, may soon become quantifiable.


 
 

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Wednesday, July 8, 2009

7-8-09: APOD: The Dark River to Antares

Astronomy Picture of the Day is my favorite RSS feed on Google Reader.


http://www.google.com/ig/add?feedurl=http%3A%2F%2Fantwrp.gsfc.nasa.gov%2Fapod.rss

 
 

Sent to you by Pat via Google Reader:

 
 


The Dark River to Antares Connecting the Pipe Nebula to the colorful regon near bright star Antares is a dark cloud dubbed the Dark River, flowing from the picture's left edge. Murky looking, the Dark River's appearance is caused by dust obscuring background starlight, although the dark nebula contains mostly hydrogen and molecular gas. Surrounded by dust, Antares, a red supergiant star, creates an unusual bright yellowish reflection nebula. Above it, bright blue double star Rho Ophiuchi is embedded in one of the more typical bluish reflection nebulae, while red emission nebulae are also scattered around the region. Globular star cluster M4 is just seen above and right of Antares, though it lies far behind the colorful clouds, at a distance of some 7,000 light-years. The Dark River itself is about 500 light years away. The colorful skyscape is a mosaic of telescopic images spanning nearly 10 degrees (20 Full Moons) across the sky in the constellation Scorpius.

 
 

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Monday, July 6, 2009

7-6-09: A Patriotic Weekend in Boston

I had quite the patriotic weekend with the lady in Boston.

It started on Friday the 3rd. We left New Haven at about 7:30AM and headed up to my grandparents' house in Carver, MA. After a quick lunch, we headed up Route 3 and took the Red Line in from Quincy Adams (which I strongly recommend to any one who wants to head in from the South Shore). We ended up getting to the Esplanade at about 2:30PM and waited to get in to the free dress rehearsal of the Boston Pops concert. The doors opened at 4:00PM, and we got in quite easily and got a good spot on the lawn.

The concert began at 8:30PM, and was fantastic. It was interesting, because beforehand, they were doing various mic checks and camera work, and Craig Ferguson was funny while going through his lines. The people next to us were seasoned pros at attending the concert, and were great. They made sure we had plenty of room. Next time, we need to bring plastic and lawn chairs. Still, the concert was amazing. There weren't any fireworks, but we did get to see Neil Diamond perform "America" twice after he jumped from "Sweet Caroline" prematurely. That was fun. Neil put on a good show, but the Pops were the starts. I got chills when they hit the big powerful chords in the 1812 Overture.

We spent Saturday in the city as well. We went on a great tour of the Freedom Trail put on by Boston By Foot called "Footloose on the Freedom Trail." It went from the State House to the Navy Yard in Charlestown. Three miles in three hours, but it was very, very informative. Great tour. We then hung around the Navy Yard to see the USS Constitution. We checked out the museum nearby, which was nice, and had a great lunch at a Friendly's in Charlestown. After taking the ferry over to Long Wharf, we hung out for a bit in the very green Rose Kennedy Park, which was a marked improvement over the Central Artery. Man does that look good. They have fountains and lawn and everything. The Big Dig sure did good.

We then went around and hung out in the Boston Common and in front of the Public Library, which was quite relaxing. We got a free beach ball from some guy promoting the new "10 Things I Hate About You" show on ABC (there's my plug; thanks for the ball), which I used as a pillow.

We ended up eating at Whiskey's on Boylston Street, which was surprisingly big, and cheap! Good food at a reasonable price. I had a pulled pork sandwich, which was OK. They have a decent selection of beer, and a big menu. I'd probably eat there again.

After dinner we met up with the lady's friend Adam, and ended up hanging out at his friend's place for a little bit before the fireworks. They live right near B.U., which was convenient. The fireworks were fantastic. We watched them right by the Charles River (literally feet from the water) and just had a great time.

Overall, it was a wonderful, patriotic weekend. Here are the two songs that I'd say reflect my weekend best:








Wednesday, July 1, 2009

NYTimes.com: In Skittish Hollywood, Stars Can't Save 'Moneyball'

The New York Times E-mail This
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BUSINESS / MEDIA & ADVERTISING   | July 02, 2009
In Skittish Hollywood, Stars Can't Save 'Moneyball'
By MICHAEL CIEPLY
In a sign of growing caution in the industry, production has been halted on a high-profile film starring Brad Pitt.

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500 Days of Summer, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel. This is not a love story. This is a story about love.
Watch the new trailer!
Click here to view trailer