Sunday, January 27, 2008

Story time...

So Reid, Troy, and I go to lunch on Friday. Troy is telling us about a new song from Willie Nelson. He says it is a cover of a song from...and he can't remember who. He says "you know, that band Alisa loves and has a name that sounds like it's after a guy, but really is just a made up name or something." Okay, so that isn't a direct quote, but Reid and I had no idea who he was talking about. That was on the way to lunch.

During lunch it hits him.

"The Dave Matthews Band!" he exclaims. Huh? We had both forgotten there was an issue. He repeats it, then says that's who Willie was doing a cover of. We said "but you said the band name was some guy that wasn't really in the band!" He looked sort of blank and said "uh, yeah." We both sort of broke down at that point and had to point out that the lead singer of DMB is, in fact, Dave Matthews. "Oh."

That reminds me of a story from high school...I was at this camp between my junior and senior years with a bunch of geeks. We're talking about music and someone says their favorite band is Pink Floyd. "Ooh, I hate him" some chick exclaims. We got a big laugh out of that one, too.

Not going to Pizza Hut again soon...

Okay, so it seemed like it might not be the best idea in the world, but then I thought "eh, it's a Pizza won't be bad."

Rewind to our usual family dilemma as we head down the driveway to go out for supper. "Where are we going?" Mom threw out Pizza Hut, and the kids jumped on it. That's strange since I don't know if they had ever even been to a Pizza Hut, but we all seemed to be in the mood for something "different" (yeah, I know, pizza is hardly "different", but this choice was for us).

So we head to the one on Estes Drive in Chapel Hill. We find a mostly empty parking lot and then inside a mostly empty restaurant. There were maybe three other tables populated. There seemed to be a lot of action behind the counter, but I (correctly) just assumed that was delivery business.

Took a couple minutes to seat us, which was annoying given how empty they were, but these things happen. Then it took around ten minutes just to get our drink and food orders. After waiting about fifteen minutes for food, I had to take one of the kids to the bathroom. UGH! It was horrible. I won't go into details here, but it was the nastiest bathroom I've seen in a major food chain. We had waited until fairly late for our family to go out to eat (had a previous appointment that ran a little late) and our time investment was large enough at this point that I wasn't going to leave just for that. They did at least have soap.

Sit back down and wait. And wait. And wait. Not once did anyone offer us WATER refills (we had ordered a kids pizza, a medium pizza, and breadsticks with cheese along with four waters). And when the clock said we had been there an HOUR with no food in sight, we got up to leave. Turns out it was just coming out as we were walking by the counter to leave, but I simply exclaimed that I wasn't waiting an hour for a pizza. Out we went to Chic-fil-A at the mall across the street. Clean restrooms, fast friendly service, and tasty food.

Both Pizza Hut and Chic-fil-A got emails from me. Chic-fil-A responded, but so far Pizza Hut hasn't.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Day two in Texas

Scroll down and read day one if you haven't already, then come back here...

My second day went really well. Did some more lead-follow with Jason. Started out with him behind me just telling me things in corners. That was a big help. Then he passed me and I just did the "keep up" thing. Got my best lap of the trip right behind him, and he pulled in and I got an even better one by myself just after. I was consistently running about seven tenths faster than the previous day (and it was colder the second day, so it probably should have been slower, I'd guess) but managed one lap that was even two more tenths quicker at a 1:23.8. The record is 1:22.2 (set the day before).

I'm pretty happy being 1.6s off the track record. The biggest thing was I learned how to trail brake better and the value of coasting in some places. No, you don't do it much and you don't do it for long, but an MX-5 can be fastest in some types of corners with a brake, coast, then roll on the throttle. For the most part, the time I was losing to Jason was because he does threshold braking better than I do and thus could brake a little later than me and get the braking done about the same spot. He did usually carry just a slight amount more speed than me through some corners, but it was small. Then there was what I'll call a "hero move" you have to execute to get into the first corner that would take me more than a couple days to get right...

Anyway, great two days. I'm feeling pretty comfortable and confident in the race car right now. Hope I can transfer that to some other cars in a few weeks...

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Ah, back at the track...

Well, today was my first day on a road race course since back in November at the VIR 13 Hour. I'm in Fort Worth, TX, right now, but I'm getting some seat time at the Texas Motorsport Ranch in Cresson, TX. Why the heck am I in Texas in January? Good question. Seemed like it might be warmer here than in NC, but that hasn't been the case. I think it was supposed to be partly cloudy and 47F today, but instead it was all cloudy and about 40F. I think tomorrow will be worse.

It's not really bad even in a topless car, though. I only notice it when I first head on to the track, but after that I suppose the "workout" one gets while driving at this level is enough to overcome the effects. Well, that and I'm wearing about 72 layers of Nomex. Okay, it's not really 72 layers. In fact, it really only seems like 72 layers when it's hot outside, which is most of the time I'm racing, I guess.

I'm out here getting some instruction with Team MER, which is the group that fielded the cars for the last two MX-5 Cup champions. I'm happy to call Jason Saini and Juliann Pokorny good friends, and they really are great folks to race with. I did three races in the MX-5 Cup series last year by renting from them. While I don't think MX-5 Cup fits with my plans in 2008, I do feel like they're great cars and great learning platforms. Plus Jason is an excellent coach.

So I started out and did a session on my own, which was really just feeling the place out and finding my way around. Then Jason used a track map to show me a few things I should work on. So I went out again and dropped a chunk of time, but as I planed out I came back in so we could look at some data. Jason had taken this particular car out for some hot laps before my first session in it so we had a baseline for comparison purposes.

After getting some good information from the data, I did another session and was about two seconds back from Jason on a 1:22 (MX-5 record time) course. I was relatively happy with that for the short amount of time we had been out there. Then Jason grabbed another car and headed out with me for some lead-follow work (with us able to talk on radios while driving). Only problem was Jason couldn't seem to slow down enough for me. He decided to take a few hot laps to see what the car could do only to find he could now run a LOT faster than me. Hmmph. His reasoning? The car I was driving had a soft motor. This particular car was a newly built car with a non-sealed (and thus non-competition) motor. So we swapped cars. BINGO. I immediately dropped two seconds and very quickly dropped another second to get to within two seconds of that track record (which Jason set). Jason, myself, and another fellow who was running yet another MER car some all got to racing a good bit in that session, too. Jason was in the soft car, so it seemed to even us all out nicely. We ended up with fast laps within two tenths of one another (with me the fastest!) and about 2.4 seconds off the record time for the track. Of course, Jason set that record earlier in the day in the same car I was driving in this session. *cough*

I feel really good about doing that in just one day of driving on a track (less than two hours of total seat time) considering Jason has days and days of time on that track (their shop is located on the premises). I'm here for another day where I hope to drop another half to full second relative to Jason.

More importantly than the numbers, I'm trying to learn one of the hardest skills for me in road racing. That's the art of braking. I can whoa a car down and make it go through a turn relatively fast. But there's a bit of art to making a car do it as fast as the car can physically do it. You have to brake at the right point with the right amount of force. You have to come off the brake in unison with your turn. In some cars, this is just before you turn. In many you are both turning and releasing the brake at the same time in just the right ratio. Then you have to know when and how to apply the throttle. Too early? You push. Too hard? You push or oversteer (car and position dependent). Every corner is different. Bumps, surface changes, camber, and dirt can all affect how you want to attack a given corner on a given lap. Oh, and that little thing called other cars.

Anyway, my achilles heel last year was braking a little too much and often too early. I never could make myself trail brake the MX-5. I also was almost always too aggressive with the throttle. I seem to have fixed the throttle part here, but I do still over-slow sometimes. I'm getting better, though. And that's the point of being here...

Monday, January 21, 2008

I hate fitted sheets.

I hate fitted sheets. Seriously. It has nothing to do with their "performance in the bedroom", though. It has everything to do with my own inadequacy.

But not inadequacy in the bedroom, my inadequacy in the laundry room. I've always been a pretty decent performer in the laundry room, I thought. Being raised mostly by a single father will do that, though. You want clean stuff? You pretty much gotta do it yourself. While I think I had clean sheets, I can't remember ever learning how to fold a fitted sheet. Maybe I always washed and replaced the same day, so folding didn't matter. That was probably it.

Even now, I do almost all of my own laundry. Well, my own clothes, anyway. And I really do try to help around the house, which means doing some other general laundry from time to time. Okay, let's face it, I don't go looking for other laundry to do, but sometimes it is in the way of me doing my laundry. I pretty much wait until I gotta do laundry or I'll have nothing to wear, though, so that means when something is in the way you gotta get it out of the way.

Now, while that's a bit slob-like, I'm not a complete slob. A complete slob would take whatever was in the way and maybe throw it in a basket. Or worse, on the floor. No, I at least fold it and put it neatly in a basket (here, I think maybe actually putting things away since they are clean would be best, but since I rarely even know where they go, I'll do the smart thing and just fold). But I've noticed my wife has this cute way of folding a fitted sheet so it comes out looking like a folded sheet. I've watched this method closely. I've had her talk me through it. I've done it in her presence. But I swear, the next time I have to do it alone, I get a wadded up mess.

Okay, so the fact that this bothers me, well, bothers me. I'm not a neat freak. Mostly, I'm a slob. But somehow, with some things, I am a neat freak. But apparently not quite enough to learn how to fold one of those stupid sheets.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Video Game Companies Don't 'Get it'

Or maybe they are trying to ease people in to it? What the heck is the "it" I'm talking about? It's simple really...changing the world.

Doc Searls got me thinking in his latest EOF column in The Linux Journal. Well, he references some other sources in the article that got me to thinking, too, but I digress. The point here is that TV is fifty some odd years old. The keyboard is around a hundred. In a way, the computer is little more than a TV with a keyboard. What made it special was that one little wire connecting it to all the other computers around the world.

Now we've taken that wire and used it to put vast amounts of information at people's fingertips. Social networking is predicted as the next "big thing" (since in theory we've tapped our ability to advertise to people simply searching for information) to make companies money on the internet. Facebook, for example, has an incredibly high market cap. Why? They plan to find some way to advertise to people while they network with each other. Hmmmkay.

But look at the Xbox, PS3, Wii, etc. There are games now that let people "network" socially, too. There are entire economic systems in some of these games, in fact. Add in the fact that not only do these systems not have (or really need, though you can add) keyboards, but in the case of the Wii you have serious technical innovation in how you send your commands to the game system. The feedback side still needs a bit of work (it's still just a TV, sound, and your controller can "buzz" in your hand), but anyone who has played any games with a Wiimote can see there's something a bit on the special side there. More innovation like that combined with deeper games that mimic more in the way of reality TV contests and complete virtual economic systems could lead to an online experience we've not even really dreamed possible yet.

The possibilities for making money off something like this abound...subscriptions, hardware, product placement, advertising breaks, and even product tie-ins (buy product XYZ and in the box you get a code that unlocks a cool feature in your game, etc). The TV folks had better get their sports contracts signed very exclusively, because it won't be too terribly much longer before TV and all your internet content will be able to come through your internet wire, instead of your internet coming over your TV wire.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Consumer Electronic Devices that LIGHT UP

DOES ALL CAPS BOTHER YOU? It should. Just like electronic devices with overly bright lights (or, more likely, LEDs) probably bother you. Well, okay, they bother me. A LOT. Well, some don't bother me, because the manufacturer of the devices allows you to turn them off while the device still works (like one of the coolest gadgets of all time does, the Kaleidescape). But devices that don't do that, like the newest HD DVR DirecTV receivers DRIVE ME CRAZY.

Those LEDs are software controlled. I know this because the power actually never turns off on your DVR or it wouldn't be able to record all those great TV shows while you had it off. That means the software could let you turn them off all the time. Or at night. Or dim them (yes, LEDs can be dimmed, contrary to popular belief). But no, we have to endure these crazy bright blue LEDs on top of the TV.

I'm picking on DirecTV here, but there are plenty of other devices that do that, too. Sure, you can make creative use of electrical tape and other means to squelch them yourself, but should you have to? It's probably about ten minutes of some software engineer's time to add the feature I want. JUST DO IT.

Eee PC upgrades...

Thanks to the folks on the forums at eeeuser, I modded my eee PC. The easy one was to put a 2G DIMM in it instead of the dinky 512M that it came with. The fun stuff was adding a four port USB hub, 16G FLASH memory stick, and bluetooth dongle all INSIDE the case. I stripped a four port hub of it's casing, LED, computer side plug, and the four USB side plugs. Then I stripped the casing and plug off of the bluetooth dongle and USB memory key. Then things got fun.

I used 30 gauge wire wrap wire to wire the devices directly to the hub (via soldering, not wire wrap) and the hub directly to the spare USB port on the motherboard. I routed the wires (which were encased in heat shrink tubing) for the bluetooth dongle into the lid and put that dongle up high inside the lid for best reception. I left the hub and the memory key in the expansion hole in the bottom of the machine. All worked great the first time, no hassles.

I even got to use my whiz-bang vacuum forming rig I got from to make a plastic "holder" for both the hub and the memory key that would separate it from the eee's motherboard so nothing would short. Worked great.

So now my device has four times the RAM (2G instead of 512M), five times the local storage (20G instead of 4G), and bluetooth. Next up, I install eeeDora and after that likely Windows XP (in dual boot mode, of course).

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Tow Truck Rant

Seems that the popularity of LED lights and better strobes has caused a revolution in light bars on emergency vehicles. It seems that law enforcement officers (LEOs) do a great job of only running their light bars when they need them on. But I've noticed more and more tow truck drivers just leave them on whenever they have a vehicle in tow. Why? They really only need them on while on the side of the road, IMHO. Past that, there is no emergency nor safety issue. They all seem to be able to keep up with traffic fine (in many cases they are passing traffic). I can think of no good reason for the lights to be on. In the dark they are so bright they can be incredibly obnoxious.

Write you state government. We need controls in place. It's light pollution, dangit! Okay, so it's not that big of a deal. But it does bug me.

Story time...

So, Alisa reminded me of a story, and I figured it was the perfect kind of thing to post to break up the techie stuff.

One day she and I were going somewhere and I was driving. I used to drink a lot of sodas and had a bad habit of leaving partial soda cans in the cupholders of my vehicles. This particular vehicle was a truck that I hadn't driven much in the previous three weeks or so. Alisa apparently had a headache or some similar malady that required the use of medication, if memory serves. She planned to take the pill dry, but something went horribly wrong and she ended up with it lodged in the wrong pipe. She was able to clear it, but in her haste to try to soothe her throat, she decided to grab a swig of a Mountain Dew that was in my cupholder.

Noooooooooooo! I tried to stop her, but it was too late. She took a big gulp. She then was like "what's the big deal?" I had to reply with the unfortunate truth that I was quite certain the particular can she had just drank from had been in there for over TWO WEEKS. That's right, partially spent, open, and sitting there for two weeks. And what's worse? There was nothing any more fresh than that for her to rinse her mouth with.

It was one of the more grotesque things I've witnessed. But she survived, so it couldn't have been all that bad, now could it?

New gadgets

Okay, so I've been accused of being "too techie" on my blog. I thought about that for a while and even tried to come up with some non techie stuff. Guess what? It didn't much work.

So, my new gadget to try is the Eye-Fi card. Appears to be an SD card that will automatically publish your digital camera pictures to the web as you shoot them. Claims to work with all major photo publishing sites (including the open source package called Gallery that I use). I'll try to remember to report back on how it works.

My most recent gadget I've purchased that I like is the Cradlepoint PHS300. It's a router that lets you share your cell data connection via wifi. It's battery operated and rechargeable. When connected via USB to a Blackberry 8830 it will not only share the data connection but charge the Blackberry to boot. It also supports USB data dongles (I have a Sprint dongle for coverage where my Verizon Blackberry either has no service or doesn't have EVDO).

Monday, January 7, 2008

Well, it appears my race season travel begins soon. In a couple weeks I'll fly to Texas for a couple days of driving instruction, and then fly from there to Daytona to take in the Rolex 24. I'm going with Jason Saini and plan to talk to some folks and attempt to find a competitive GT car to drive in the 2009 Rolex 24. It's only a couple weeks after that trip that I have to go to San Antonio for the SCCA Convention (and my associated SEB meetings). Then I'm hoping to get some seat time in the Cayman for the One Lap of America race. I already have a couple coaching days lined up in the Cayman at VIR in early March, and am currently working to get some time in the schedule at CMP (hopefully with Brian Smith as my instructor...he's a former One Lap winner and all around great race car driver).

Friday, January 4, 2008

One Lap of America

Well, it looks like I will be racing in the One Lap of America this year. I can't announce my partner yet, but it will be a championship winning pro driver. Looks likely I'll have a fairly big name in the road racing world as a sponsor, too. Yes, this is a major teaser, I know. I'll be racing in my Farnbacher prepared Cayman GTR.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

More Bluetooth

Just remembered another big possible use of bluetooth that's ignored, and that's digital cameras. I think there are a couple around now, but I really think we should be to the point that most digital cameras have it. The main reason is obviously an ability to easily share photos. No, not just with your desktop for publishing, but for people traveling together and such. We have two kids and occasionally travel with other families. It's fairly often the other folks have a picture or two we'd really like to have a copy of, but you have to remember to find a way to get it later. It would be really nice to just beam that special one over from their camera to your camera or bluetooth enabled phone (sure, for this you probably require a phone with bigger storage, such as a Blackberry or other "smartphone").

Aside from the endless possibilities there, the other reason I'd love to see more bluetooth used is for GPS location. The JPEG standard (the file format most digital cameras use) has metadata stored in each file. Cameras will often store information like what lens settings and light source was used when a given picture was taken. They will also store the time the image was taken in the file (which is a much better method than the timestamp of the file save itself, since that can get lost by many software packages as you move the file from place to place). Another data field pictures have is GPS coordinates. Very few cameras do anything with this, though a few have GPS input options (hardwire) or even have their own GPS receivers built in. But almost all cellphones have a built in GPS, and many have bluetooth already. If cameras had bluetooth, it wouldn't be very hard for them to get GPS info as pictures were taken and store that in the picture.

Now, this kind of thing will happen over time. When it does, be ready. Huh? Ready for what? Ready to decide if you want people to know where your pictures are taken. I definitely do not want the GPS coordinates of every picture I might post to the web to be available to everyone else. That can be solved in your publishing method or by whether you have the camera store that information at all.

Another good use for bluetooth in a digital camera is to keep the time set on the camera accurately. A lot of people post their pictures, and a quick scan of the EXIF data (this is the metadata stored in a JPEG) to see the time will often reveal a time that's obviously wrong because the camera was never set properly or never reset after suffering a dead battery. The time and date a picture was taken is an important piece of data, but it isn't often realized to be very important until you are researching something much later, and it's only then you find that your time and date stamps are wrong and there's nothing you can do about it.

These are all things that bluetooth can do as a technology, but it won't until we start beating on the consumer electronics companies to provide us with it. Use suggestion email forms and cards on your devices and let them know. Once bluetooth is standard in devices, it's a simple matter of software from there to open up a whole world of possibilites. Imagine being able to email that really neat shot of your kids at Disney to grandma with ONE TOUCH right from your digital camera (assuming you have a bluetooth enabled camera and cellphone). It's possible, we just need to ask for it.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Why Linux will never make it big on the desktop...

I can't believe I've been using Linux for over 15 years now. I simply can't believe it. Time has flown by so fast. If you had told me 14 years ago that I'd still be using Linux as my main desktop operating system, I would have assumed it was because something big had happened, and would have probably even gone so far as to say Linux must have grown into a force in that time.

Both are correct, but neither has anything to do with the desktop. Linux is big. I would even say Linux is now a force in the computing marketplace. Unfortunately, it's still only on the server side. Linux continues to grow some on the desktop, but my anecdotal evidence seems to say that it is really only growing significantly in embedded type desktops. I'm talking about corporate controlled environments where applications are limited and control is being kept in the IT department. Or on college campuses where Linux installs are available to integrate with the campus Unix environment. Or even on specialized products like Asus Eee PC, which was intended to be absolutely as cheap as possible yet still powerful enough to be an enjoyable machine to surf the web and do email (and it is, BTW, though I still can't believe Asus didn't put Bluetooth in it...wait, I already did a bluetooth rant today).

Linux will continue great success on the server side, and I believe this is mostly due to the open source model. Server applications are vertical in nature, and by that I mean you typically install one server to do one thing (ie. be a web server). Even when you have it do multiple things on the same server (ie. web, email, file sharing, etc), those things aren't generally highly connected. They also need the same general resource set...disk, RAM, and network. When you combine that with the open source model, you find you have so many people with exactly the same set of needs that invariably enough of them will have the skills to make those applications work so well that we find ourselves where we are today...Linux is a really good server platform.

You might think "well, if that's the case on the server side, just imagine how good it can be on the desktop since there are a lot more people using desktops than hacking on servers!" Wrong. I used to think that way, but have since come to realize this will never happen. Sure, Linux will achieve some success on the desktop, but the fact of the matter is that the Linux desktop community will always remain far too fragmented. There are too many people with too many divergent needs on the desktop. When you combine that with the fact that desktop applications need a LOT more in the way of resources (you need the same stuff a server needs plus things like high end graphics, many more input devices, layers of communications, etc) and you end up with a much larger matrix of things to support. Combine that with the ever changing PC hardware landscape, and you end up with an unsupportable nightmare of building blocks for an end application vendor.

Sure, some application vendors have done it. Sure, some application vendors never will and in many cases the open source world has stepped up with an amazing application of their own (we have very good office suites, email, web browsing, etc). But in far too many cases we see people with applications that they could likely never support on Linux. There remain far too many different distributions that it becomes impossible to even figure out which one(s) to target. The resources that an application need to rely on are constantly being improved, but that means constant change. That change scares many vendors because of the support issue.

Basically, to me, what it boils down to is that the best thing about open source, the ability to rapidly improve it, is the thing that will keep Linux on the fringe of desktop acceptance. I thought that about ten years ago but honestly thought things would eventually come together in many ways, become more stable, and allow Linux to see application vendors support it more. Over the last couple years I've come to realize that I may always need a Windows or Mac on my desk for some things (or at least an emulator running some other OS), and I am no longer confident there's an end to that in sight.

To the folks who continue to work on the Linux desktop, please take this as a challenge. I implore you.

Bluetooth still not there?

Okay, for those who have been using bluetooth headsets and other bluetooth cellphone connectivity kits for a few years now, you probably think it's great. Folks using the Nintendo Wii may not even know they are using bluetooth for the Wiimote to talk to the Wii. Bluetooth is low power and relatively fast these days. So how could it still not be "there"?

Many folks may not realize this, but the bluetooth standard has been around for well over ten years now. The original whitepaper referenced several "cool" things you could do with it. One of these perfect applications was opening your garage door. Yet, in all this time, we still can't open our garage doors with bluetooth! Sure, some googling results in some talk of garage door bluetooth projects, and the fact is the adventurous among us can use bluetooth to open our garage doors. But the fact of the matter is there's no off the shelf product to do it. You won't find any add-on kits at Home Depot or Lowes, nor will you find a new garage door opener mechanism that works with bluetooth.

To me, this is a perfect application of bluetooth. In fact, you should be able to control a bluetooth garage door opener not just with a cellphone, but with that bluetooth enabled car stereo you may have. What else is missing? I would love to be able to remotely turn on or off my home alarm system with a bluetooth device. If automotive key fobs were bluetooth, we could get some amount of control to have ONE keyfob that could let you start any of the cars you own. Remotely, in fact.

I'm constantly amazed at just how little acceptance we've seen with bluetooth given just how long it's been out there in the wild. (And yes, I do also find it strange myself that my third blog post here has two of the three heavily about garages.)