Saturday, January 16, 2010

In Atlanta


Up in Atlanta this weekend to see my parents and family. Round trip on Delta. Took my new Olympus E-P2 with me, along with three other lenses, in a compact Domke F6 Little Bit Smaller bag. The other three lenses (besides the kit lens) was the ZD 50mm, the ZD 9-18mm, and the Sigma 30mm. I've got the MMF-1 adapter for those lenses. I've also got my charger and an extra battery pack.

I've been quite happy with the E-P2. I want to work with the camera a little while longer before blogging about my experiences. It isn't perfect, but it certainly is fun, and it's far less intrusive than the E-3. And grumbling about the price aside, it's worth what they charge for it. For those on a budget, the E-P1 is now around $600, but it also comes without the EVF. This type of camera is indeed the future of digital photography.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Be Careful of Capital One Mailings

Capitol One ("What's in your wallet?") sent me a bit of deceptive snail mail today. I felt sure it was a credit card offer, and sure enough, it was. I open all credit card offers and shred them before putting them in the trash. Normally I just scan the front to make sure I don't miss anything; the Capital One offer made me stop for a moment and strike a bit of fear into my heart.

The letter's opening sentence read:
Our records as of December 30, 2009 indicate your Capital One Platinum MasterCard offer is currently valid and active.
Not paying close attention during the first reading, I quickly developed this irrational worry that I was actually on the hook for something important, but I wasn't quite sure what. The letter listed "three ways to reply" at the bottom; via phone, the internet, and regular snail mail. I elected to call.

Once I reached the automated phone response system, the first entry offered was '1', to "activate my Capital One offer or to remove my name from their mailing list." That was interesting. So I pressed '1'. I was almost immediately talking to a young woman, who wanted a 16 digit number printed above my name and address on the offer letter. I gave that to her, then quickly explained I wanted to remove my name from any further mailings. She said "all right" and started to verify my name and address.

Then she asked for my phone number. I asked "why?". She replied so that she could enter it into the computer record she was working on so that I would not be called. I asked her if she didn't have it already; I didn't ask her if she could read my number on her phone via caller ID. She said she didn't have it, and asked for it again. When I determined she didn't really have it I declined to give it to her. I then hung up.

There are two problems with asking for my phone number. First, there's the National Do Not Call Registry. Second is the Florida Do Not Call Program (as I live in Florida). And the fact I'm in both. No, I think the reason they were asking for my phone number was to add that little bit of intelligence to whatever database they have, or else to verify what was coming across caller ID. I have no idea.

What got to me hooked into this is I briefly thought I was dealing with an already activated credit card. That's what happens when you're home after work, tired, and just skimming down the page. It didn't fully sort itself out until I started to dial the number, and then I just got angry. Talking to them on the phone made me angrier. If you get something like this in the mail, know it for what it is, and shred it (like I did) before throwing it in the trash. I know what's in my wallet, and it will never be anything from Capital One.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Fairy Linux Progress Report

Back on Christmas Day I proposed the creation of yet another Linux distribution, which I named Fairy Linux. I am pleased to report that I have come up with a release name for the first iteration of this fabulous distribution. Borrowing from the pattern made most famous by Ubuntu Linux, it is (drum roll please)...

Alluvial Alligator

Careful study of the entomology of the release name will illuminate why I chose it.
  • Alluvial - something that is created over a very long time. This should be your first Big Clue as to what is to come. Since I am a group of one, don't expect this product to come flying out in record time. In other words don't hold your breath. And since I want a quality release (where I define quality to include as few bugs as possible), you really shouldn't hold your breath.

  • Alligator - I live in Florida after all. We have a fair number of Alligator mississippiensis roaming about the state, through canals and retention ponds. We also have Gainesville and the University of Florida (however, I am more of the 'Nole persuasion, and thus a certified Gater Hater). It thus seemed only right and proper to name my first release after such a creature. Besides that, the 'gator is known for it's bone crushing bite, and the fact it will bite you if you get near it at all, which just goes to remind me of many of my encounters with Linux distributions in the past.
Of course, it's somewhat humorous to realize that a full grown alligator would consider any number of Fairy penguins as little more than little fluffy appetizers. An alligator is a Manly beast.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Do NOT do business with Cheap Tickets

I don't know how I managed to screw this up, but I've lost the cost of a round trip ticket from Orlando to Atlanta. And that cost is $219.

Three days ago (5 January) I tried to book this trip with Cheap Tickets, and I thought I had booked the flight correctly. In all the years I've flown around the country, first via phone, and later via the web, I've never had the kind of screw-up I ran into with Cheap Tickets. As I've stated already, I wanted to travel, round trip, from Orlando to Atlanta and back. I went to Cheap Tickets, thought I had set up the departing and arriving cities correctly, then clicked through rather hurriedly to finish the transaction. I got, via email, confirmation, and then forwarded that to my mother. My mother sent me a response this evening saying that she was confused, as the flights had me traveling in reverse, from Atlanta to Orlando and back on the correct dates. Sure enough, she was right.

I then tried to contact Cheap Tickets and see if I could reverse the departure and destination cities, which unfortunately, triggered their 'change flight' rules and penalties. Which, by the time they were levied, would have left me with exactly $19.40, that had to be spend with Cheap Tickets on another Delta Airline flight before January 2011. No if, ands or buts. I was already mad to find out how I had royally screwed up the flight, but I was pushed to incandescent anger when I spoke with a Cheap Tickets and discovered there was no recourse, none, nada, zip.

I could have lived with being given a 'credit' towards another flight. The flight was already pretty well booked, and I was traveling coach towards the back of the aircraft. But no go, so I finally just gave up and canceled the flight.

I then called my credit card customer service line, and they seemed pretty helpful. They checked and discovered that the ticket had not yet been charged to my credit card. I explained what had happened, and asked if there was any way to contest it. They said they couldn't do anything about it until the charge had posted, so I was given their billing disputes direct number; all I have to do is check my credit card via their website and wait for the charge to post, then call billing disputes. I have no idea if I will succeed, but I won't give up.

Lessons Learned:
  1. Don't do business with Cheap Tickets. Ever. Again.

  2. Try, try, try to pay better attention. Again, I have no idea how I screwed this up.

  3. In the future use Travelocity, Orbitz, or Delta directly. Maybe even Shatner's pitch, Priceline. But never, ever Cheap Tickets.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Going 6x6 Again

I got a new camera during the Christmas break (essentially a new body to compliment the larger E-3), and I've been shooting with it and the lenses I already had in my kit. The following four photos were all shot with the Olympus ZD 50mm f/2 Macro lens. The body was programmed to shoot a 6x6 aspect ratio.

For those old enough and with memories intact, this is the format of 120/220 format film. Up to this point I had been shooting 4x3 (4:3rds), but I decided to see what it was like to 'go retro' with the aspect ratio.

I had a Mamiya C330 Pro/F in the mid 70's, and shot nothing but 220 black and white with it; primarily Tri-X (ASA 400) with some Plus-X (ASA 125). I'd purchased the body used along with a 50mm (wide angle) and 80mm (normal) lens. I got a lot of good negatives out of that rig. In the end I wound up selling it because I needed the money, a decision I have lamented to this day. With this particular camera I can go back in time as it were and relive those days. What makes it better the second time around is the ability to shoot color or black and white. Right now I'm just enjoying the color side of things.

One important feature of the body is I can lay a cross-hairs on the image as I view it. My C-330 had cross-hairs on its ground glass, so this ability to electronically superimpose them adds to the nostalgia as well as provides a good way for lining up the subject.

Lab on a ClockCrashing Flamingo
Magnetic StructureRed Thunderbird


Notes on the Photos
Clockwise from upper left:
  1. A shot of a clock my oldest daughter gave me a few Christmases back. The yellow lab is in remembrance of our first yellow Lab, Rhett.

  2. A shot of some of the widgets that populate my office. In this case, the ubiquitous Florida flamingo is leaning dangerously as if ready to fall.

  3. On the way home today I had to pick up something at the drug store. I parked right behind a red 2002-2005 Ford Thunderbird. I grabbed a shot of the trunk emblem on the way in. They must have thought I was nuts.

  4. I got a small Magnetix set back when I was working for SAIC on WARSIM. I've carried that set around with me ever since then. It was a great way to relax when I needed to stop and take a break. In this image I played with the tone curve in post processing using Olympus Master in order to get the pop-art bright colors.

Everything was shot with available light, and all images came out of the camera as Large Super-Fine (1:2.7 compression) JPEGs. I've gone back to shooting JPEGs exclusively with this body.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Christmas 2009

Christmas Ornaments 1I had a great three weeks with the whole family back in town. It was a shame to have to see everyone scatter back to school, but that's life. The tree this year was all "grown up"; white lights with red and white ornaments supplied by IKEA. In the past the tree would have been lit up with multi-colored lights and equally multi-colored ornaments.

While Megs was home, I went to the local Apple store and purchased Snow Leopard. What was so nice about the Apple store staff person we talked to was his laid-back honesty. I was ready to buy the 'family' version (five licenses) when he told me that I could upgrade our two Macs with the single license version. The key reason being that Mac OS-X doesn't ask for a license key like Windows does. We'd already purchase an iMac and Macbook from them over the past few years, so they didn't see us as shifty-eyed pirates bent on ripping off Apple. While it only saved us $20 ($30 vs $50), it was the really decent way we were treated.

I also upgraded Lauran's Toshiba with Windows 7 and Office 2007. I'd spend $30 on the Win7 upgrade because she was a college student. The problem is that the activation number given to us doesn't work, so I've got to get back in touch with the seller (through Microsoft) and get an activation number that does work. The crazy thing is that the activation number given to us for Office 2007 does work.

And finally, I reinstalled openSUSE 11.1 on europa along with all the patches, and then found a link on the openSUSE website where I could install the official openSUSE ATI binary drivers for 11.1. Everything re-installed without drama or the need to perform any special actions, and the system is now fully operational. I had purchased the openSUSE boxed set back in December 2008, and then corrupted it during an official kernel patch right after I had installed the ATI-supplied binary drivers. Apparently things were cleaned up over the last 10 months, with Novell/openSUSE supplying a 'proper' set of ATI binary RPMs. Now europa boots into openSUSE's graphic desktop and I can do what little work I still need to do. I haven't gone to the trouble to install the codecs so I can play back my ripped content, but I don't think I will. I think I'll attach a USB external drive and back them up, then move them over to my Windows notebook or Jude's Macbook - or both. And finally, I double I will upgrade to the latest version of openSUSE. It works, so I'll just keep my hands off of it.

What has finally hit me is europa's age; the machine is over six years old now. And that's some ancient hardware in this business. The mother-board manufacturer has long since gone out of business, and it's running an old 32-bit Athlon processor. I seldom turn the machine on any more; rhea, the other Linux box I had in my office, is permanently off and stored in the closet, on the off chance I might need to pull some files off its drive. I had entertained the thought of buying new hardware (a motherboard, processor, video card, memory, SATA drives... you know the drill) and just rebuilding europa's guts while keeping the case. But that particular thrill is gone. The cost for such hardware is such that I could throw in a little more cash and just buy another notebook. And a notebook would be a heck of a lot more portable.

As I grow older I notice a lot of my strongly-held beliefs and opinions are not nearly as important as I originally thought them to be; computing platforms and operating systems being two such areas. And it's truly liberating.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Day 3, 2010

I Want to BelieveThere's something wonderful about waking up to the second decade of the 21st century. I can't quite put my finger on it, but I suppose it comes from finally realizing that yes, I am indeed living in the future. Not quite the future I was led to believe we'd all find ourselves in back in the 1960s and '70s, but it is the future, right now.

What got me thinking about the year 2010 was an old science fiction movie, "2010: The Year We Make Contact", the sequel to 2001. "2010" was released in 1984, another year laden with significant literary meaning. Of course, 1984 was the year when we discovered that "1984 won't be like 1984", but that's a different story. But what makes 1984 truly significant for me is that was the year I married Jude, a significant step on my path to the future. But once again I digress...

I remember "2010" because of its stars, Roy "We're Gonna Need A Bigger Boat" Scheider, John "It's Not My Planet, Monkey Boy" Lithgow, and Helen Mirren, the future Queen of England. It was a pleasant little movie, definitely different from the original "2001", because it had a fast paced plot and a lot more dialog. Of course, back in this reality, we have yet to send any manned expeditions to Jupiter, let alone build colonies on the moon (I'll be generous and accept the IIS as a substitute for the wheel in "2001").

In spite of the fact we haven't seen Jupiter converted into a small star in the Sol neighborhood, nor communed with black monoliths, all is not entirely lost. We have, for the most part, been making contact with the rest of the universe in bits and pieces, to the point where we have a rather respectable body of knowledge. We have now discovered at least 400 exoplanets, with a handful of them labeled as "super Earths." We might not have humaniform robots spouting the Three Laws, but we've sent some fairly sophisticated and autonomous spacecraft and landers to Mars, Saturn, Titan, Jupiter, and Pluto. We've discovered water on the Moon and Mars, a critically important resource. You have to haul everything into space, including air and water, and not having to bring along such a vital resources is an important motivation for going there for extended periods (i.e. a "base").

This year (and the following decade) is going to be highly interesting, as the private companies known collectively as Space Inc begin to execute on all their research and technological investment during the aughts. Those companies include Virgin Galactic (SpaceShipTwo), SpaceX (Falcon 1 (the first private rocket to orbit) and Falcon 9, $1.6 billion Nasa contract to resupply the ISS), Orbital Sciences ($1.9 billion Nasa contract to resupply the ISS), Scale Composites (Burt Rutan's company, builder of SpaceShipOne and Two), Masten Space Systems (won the Lunar Lander Challenge), Armadillo Aerospace (John Carmack's baby, second place in the Lunar Lander Challenge), and Bigelow Aerospace (already launched two model inflatable orbiting habitats). And the list goes on.

I believe the twenty-teens are going to give us a ring-side seat to the real opening of space and human exploration, as well as irrefutable evidence of exoplanets that are supporting Earth-type life. And I can't wait.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Day 2, 2010

New Year Moon: 1/1/2010It is 'tradition' that everyone who keeps some sort of weblog publishes their predictions and/or resolutions for the coming year. So, keeping with tradition, I will now publish both predictions and resolutions for 2010.

Predictions
  1. Apple will produce some interesting new hardware for 2010 (a tablet), and will update most of its existing line, while ending just a very few of its products that no longer excite the masses. And in the process it will make insane amounts of money.

  2. Microsoft, to spite its legion of critics, will continue to rake in vast sums of money on Windows and Office. Bing will be marginally successful, just enough to annoy Google's legion of supporters. Microsoft will kill the Zune when they announce the integration of Zune's capabilities with Windows Mobile 7. And XBox 360 will get another platform refresh.

  3. Google will discover with Android what Microsoft discovered with Windows Mobile; that letting the handset makers and the wireless providers they sell to dictate the user experience will result in the balkanization of Android. This results in Android becoming as successful as Windows Mobile, while Apple's iPhone continues to widen it's lead in the smartphone market. The Chrome OS will fare no better. Google Wave will fade away. But Google will continue to make mountains of money (at least, for a little while more).

  4. Linux... Linux... What can I say? It will still cling to 1% of the desktop space, while the real contenders, Apple, Microsoft and Google, continue to duke it out. Redhat will continue to make a comfortable living, throwing the crumbs of the business side to Novell and Mandriva and the rest of the dreamers. Mark Shuttleworth will finish his complete withdrawal from Ubuntu, declare victory, and kick to the curb spin off Ubuntu to keep from hemorrhaging any more of his fortune.

Resolutions
  1. Give up Twitter and Facebook. I've wallowed around in both long enough to know they are complete time wasters. I've achieved 50% of this goal already; I no longer tweet, and I seldom go on Twitter to follow any other tweets. As for Facebook, I deleted the iPhone/iPod Touch Facebook app back in November.

  2. Write more in the blog. Because I wasted so much time twitting and facebooking, I had neither time nor motivation to write here. And it showed. Sparse entries, and when they came, poorly written. Which leads to...

  3. Learn to write better, and write about subjects that people want to read. Use Kirk Tuck's weblog as a motivational example. Which leads to the next resolution...

  4. Shoot more, forum less. This is already partially done; the posters on DPReview's Olympus SLR forum have seen to that. The only forum I post to too often now is the Flickr forum Olympus E-System Community. I won't cut it off completely, but the threshold objective here is no more than one post/month. And absolutely no lurking.

  5. Sell the house and move. Even in this Orlando market. Seriously.

  6. Travel to England/Scotland with Judy. She's been waiting for this opportunity for nearly 40 years. And I've been promising we'd go "sometime in the future" ever since we got married over 25 years ago. This one is long past due.

  7. Take a more balanced attitude towards life. Events over the past six years have pushed me to be more negative, too negative. I don't need to walk around with a relentlessly faux Jokeresque smile on my face, but a more centrist attitude would be appreciated all around.

  8. Save more money. Again, this started last year because of the economy. It will continue this year with 'discretionary' spending cut even further.

  9. More involvement with the community. I drifted out of that particular area over the years, but last year I got kicked back in with Relay for Life and Science Olympiad. That will continue this year, and I will add one more major volunteer group involvement.
The overall goal is greater involvement and less personal narcissism. That, and the fact that it's hit home that I really am somewhere between 50 and death. Every moment grows more precious. They need to be spent as wisely as possible.

Friday, January 01, 2010

A New Year: 2010

Happy new year. Same as the last year. I open the new year with a post about a subject that's been obsessed over since 2006; the poor state of the economy. This time I'll be looking at International Drive.

Top left: Old Harcourt Brace Jovanovich building with "For Lease" sign visible from the south end or International Drive.
Top right: Out-of-business Steak & Ale, with an old mattress up in the entrance awning for someone to sleep on. It sits right next to a out-of-business Bennigan's.

Second row, both pictures. What's left of the old Mercado shopping complex. There's but one entrance that still shows its name; the rest of complex was torn down and the wreckage removed, turning this section of I-Drive into a vacant field. According to several locals, Mercado died after they built Pointe Orlando a block further south.

HBJ Back and For Lease SignSteak & Ale Bedding
Former Mercado MarketplaceLast Entrance Standing
Little foot trafficSeattle's Best Coffee no more
Dead Wendy'sAnother Dead Bennigan's


Third row left: A shot down one section of International Drive, between Sand Lake and Kirkman. On the day I was walking about, there were few tourists to be seen. Whether this was due to the economy or poor timing I can't say.
Third row right: A closed cafe with a former Seattle's Best Coffee.

Bottom row left: A small group of tourists crosses in front of a closed Wendy's. This is only the second I've seen; the first was earlier this year across the street from F.S.U. in Tallahassee.
Bottom row right: Yet another dead Bennigan's. This is the second on I-Drive, separate from the closed Bennigan's next to the former Steak & Ale at the south end of I-Drive.