Friday, May 31, 2013

another day, another back operation


Today was my wife's fourth back operation she's had to undergo. Her first was nearly 20 years ago. As each operation has been performed hardware has been both added and removed from her lower back. The first major set of hardware was composed of surgical steel, and was removed when the second major set built out of titanium was added. This time the titanium set has came out.

The latest operation used a far smaller incision than any prior and orthoscopic-based tools and techniques to minimize the "trauma" of cutting into the body. The amount of hardware they use now was remarkably small compared to the last time. The surgeon also used stem cells this time in order to stimulate the regrowth of bone in the lower back.

We arrived at 6am, she was prepped and the operation started at 7am. An hour and a half later she was in recovery and stayed there until about 11:30am. She's been in great spirits and has required remarkably little pain medication. That need for minimal pain meds is due in part to her continuing exercise at RDV Sportsplex and part to her attitude; she just accepts it and deals with it by attitude as much as chemically. She's just one tough bird.

She'll spend tomorrow resting and recovering, and then she'll come home on Sunday. In the mean time I'll be cleaning and straightening and running errands to get ready for her arrival on Sunday.

Technical

Panasonic GX1, Olympus M.Zuiko 1.7/45mm, post processed in LR4.4 and Silver Efex Pro 2.

android development on windows 8, step 2

I started the month of May off with a simple post about developing for Android on Windows 8. I'd made a Big Promise to do a lot more than I've actually wound up doing. It's not that I've given up, it's that an awful lot has happened over the last 31 days. I did do some more development, less than I certainly anticipated, but I've not completely stopped. I'm just going at a slower rate than I anticipated.

One of the better ways to dive and and get to know any complex software system is to take code previously written against an older version of an application and port it to the latest release of a compiler, software framework, operating system, or other complex software environment. Every complex system provides code examples to illustrate features and capabilities and to act as a starting point for other developers. And every example is always written against the earliest release, and more often than not, is never revisited and brought up to date against the evolving compiler, software framework, operating system, or other complex environment.

In order to advance and still allow older written software to continue to work, some systems (such as Java) will publicly deprecate a given interface but still allow it to be compiled with older applications so they can continue to work. Ideally as a developer you're supposed to note the deprecation warnings that come from a compiler (command line) or integrated development environment (IDE) and to correct them. In a dynamic and evolving software environment public interfaces can become deprecated because the creators discover better functional and/or faster ways to deliver a service behind the interface. Creators always (mostly) try to add value with an existing interface, but when that's not possible, the older interface is deprecated, a newer better one is created, and documentation is updated to point out how to use the latest interface that replaces the deprecated interface.

Of course, the question is always asked, "When is the deprecated interface dropped completely?" And the answer, unfortunately, is usually "Never." The motivation to use the newer interfaces isn't that older interfaces will be dropped, but that no further work will be done on older interfaces. All the development and bug fixes go towards the latest and greatest. Old and deprecated is allowed to rot. And if you don't update your software, it suffers from that internal bitrot.

In the example above I opened one of the early Android projects, NotesList. This is part of the collection of example applications that are delivered with the Android SDK. I created a new project with NotesList, and started to open the source files and look at the warnings generated within Eclipse. One of the deprecated warnings was against android.app.Activity.managedQuery(...). That deprecation forced me to replace one line of code with four, using the following recommended steps:

CursorLoader cursorLoader = new CursorLoader(this.getApplicationContext());
cursorLoader.setUri(mUri);
cursorLoader.setProjection(PROJECTION);
mCursor = cursorLoader.loadInBackground();

The key being the replacement of managedQuery(...) with essentially CursorLoader.loadInBackground().

It took several attempts to find the exact invocation for the creation of a CursorLoader instance. The Android documentation was a bit vague as to correctly obtain the correct argument. My first creation of a CursorLoader was new CursorLoader(this). It compiled just fine and the emulator even started up, but after several moments of testing the emulator core dumped (crashed). I went back and re-read the Android SDK documentation a bit further and on a hunch (or guess, take your pick) created new CursorLoader(this.getApplicationContext()), which is what the documentation was trying to ask for. It was interesting that the bare this reference was accepted as a type of ApplicationContext, or at least the IDE issued no warnings.

In any event it worked and I've been "fixing" other deprecation warnings. The only problem with just blindly fixing deprecation warnings is you miss the bigger design picture. APIs are created and used in a larger architecture and design context. Just because I fix the warnings doesn't mean that their use is now considered best practice at this point in time. Keep in mind that Android first started as an OS purely for handsets. Then, starting with Android 3 (Honeycomb), Google started migrating to tablets. The migration wasn't complete until Android 4 (Ice Cream Sandwich) and beyond. Some best practices for handsets didn't transfer all that well to tablets. That's why Google refused to release the code for Honeycomb; Honeycomb was a right royal hack with bad API juju all over the place to support the initial sale of Android tablets such as the Motorola Xoom. Google wanted a chance to release new and updated public APIs with decent implementations that were worth supporting in the future before they turned the code completely loose.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

panasonic gx1 review on thewsreviews

Panasonic Lumix GX1 with Lumix 1.7/20mm
Monochrome ISO 160 straight-out-of-camera
I published part 1 of my review of the Panasonic GX1 over on thewsreviews:  http://www.thewsreviews.com/2013/05/panasonic-lumix-dmc-gx1-silver-part-1.html

Nothing particularly controversial, especially for a camera that's at its end-of-life, heavily discounted and waiting for the rumored GX2 to be released. Basically, it's a fabulous µ4:3rds camera for just $200.

Monday, May 27, 2013

mellow memorial

Personal favorite BBQ eatery
I took the time off this Memorial Day weekend to not do much of anything when measured against the efforts of others. I didn't go shop at any sales (although I drove my wife over to return some merchandise at a mall), I didn't go to any special holiday activities (although there were plenty), I even stayed away from anything work related (I did not once check my work email). I spent the last three days doing nothing except exercising downtime, which allowed me to clear my mind and find a calmer spot in the universe. And along the way, I ate BBQ not once, but two days in succession, something of a guilty pleasure for me.
Today was probably the most active day of the three-day weekend. My wife had some items to return to a Vera Bradley outlet store at the Premium Outlet Mall. The only reason she shops there is the occasional 60% off sales that crop up. Our plan today was very simple; drive her over, drop her off, and then get out of the mall and wait for her to call me when she's finished. Drive back and pick her up and head on home. I've been to the Premium Outlet Mall just once in my life to shop. The experience that one time was horrific enough that I 've never been back. My wife is made of sterner stuff, but even she limits her exposure to the mall to only when absolutely necessary.

Even though the shops didn't open until late morning, and even though we got there but 45 minutes after official opening, there wasn't an empty parking spot to be found anywhere. So I dropped my wife off and then stopped off at a McDonalds situated conveniently across Vineland from the mall and got out to do some urban photography. I'd go get my wife when she finished and called me.

This mall is very close to Disney Buena Vista, and it picks up a lot of tourist traffic because of its close proximity. So you'll see a lot of touristy type stuff around, such as this helicopter service that also flies out of a small heliport located on I-Drive close to Sandlake Road. When I walked by this particular helicopter (a Robinson R44 Raven; they all appear to be R44s) it was sitting very nicely opened up. There was another nearby pad where other copters were flying in an out at a rather constant rate. I rather like the lines of the Raven.
Next to the helipad there's a lot of construction going on across from the Premium Outlets. About two years ago I'd noted that a small strip mall was pretty much out of business. Apparently some business group purchased all that property, tore everything down, and is now in the process of building even bigger and grander stores on that land. According to the signs on the fences something is supposed to open this October. I guess this is a sign of progress and prosperity; clearing more land to build more outlet stores so we can buy and sell more stuff. One of the signs stated rather presciently that future shoppers were going to need more closet space to hold all the new stuff they'd be buying here.

Of course not everything is sunshine and unicorns down here in Tourist Land. Not very far north from here on I-Drive is another nearly-dead micro-mall, this one once known as Piazza Roma.
The biggest former business in this micro-mall appears to be this former Shell gas station. The whole group of structures appear to be thrown up with inexpensive materials, including cheap looking stucco and fiberglass Roman-style statuary. While I was there a van with a family of four pulled up to the Shell station. One of the children proceeded to get out and throw up on the asphalt. The parents didn't allow the child back in until the child was no longer heaving. After about 10 minutes then piled back into their van and left.
On the way back home I spotted this second gas station, a Chevron, in the process of closing its doors. I suspect it's going out of business because it can't compete with the new Wawa station that opened up earlier this year less than a block east from it.
Lingering evening light grows later and later as we head towards the summer equinox. The lone magnolia growing in the back yard is now full of buds and blooms. I love to go back as the sun is setting and look at the big magnificent blooms. We've got riots of color all through the yard and the neighborhood as many annuals, bushes and trees are in full bloom.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

odious oligarchs

  1. o·di·ous  

    /ˈōdēəs/
    Adjective
    Extremely unpleasant; repulsive.
    Synonyms
    hateful - obnoxious - detestable - loathsome - abominable
  1. ol·i·garch  

    /ˈäliˌgärk/
    Noun
    1. A ruler in an oligarchy.
    2. (esp. in Russia) A very rich businessman with a great deal of political influence.
  1. ol·i·gar·chy  

    /ˈäliˌgärkē/
    Noun
    1. A small group of people having control of a country, organization, or institution.
    2. A state governed by such a group.
The last few weeks have been bitter-sweet for me. In spite of finding and starting a great new job I've had to deal with the decisions of corporations from which I purchased goods and services, specifically Adobe and Yahoo.

First I had to deal with the fact that the oligarchs who rule Adobe decided the only way to purchase the use of Photoshop going forward is via a monthly fee through their Creative Cloud. I have been a purchaser and user of boxed Photoshop since the mid-1990s starting with Photoshop 4. Over the years I upgraded to Photoshop 7, then to Photoshop CS2, and then to Photoshop CS5 where I'm currently at. I'm trying now to upgrade to CS6 in the (vain?) hope that I can stave off for as long as possible an eventual migration away from Photoshop. To what, I honestly have no idea at this point in time.

I have been an honest, if infrequent, buyer of Adobe Photoshop. They set the pricing, especially the upgrade prices, which I found affordable. I upgraded when I felt it would provide true value to do so. This new change has felt something like a slap in the face; either not spending enough to suite the suits and/or being lumped in with the ne'er-do-wells who pirate Photoshop and thus Must Be Stopped. While I'm certainly no Photoshop expert, I know that when I need Photoshop I really need it, and I've used it enough since 1996 to have (for me) a sizable collection of Photoshop files. I have become, as they say, heavily invested.

As an individual user, I have absolutely no desire to pay constant sums of money to Adobe or anyone else for software that I can loose access to by whatever whim the powers that be decide, and in the process loose control and access to the work I've produced with that tool. I have innumerable PSD files stretching back over the years that I can still open and access precisely because I can install a local legal copy of Photoshop on my computer and open it at any time. I've already paid for the privilege once, and for me once is more than enough.

I know what some of you will say. Think of CC as a utility. And I find that model stinks. I pay for power, water, and cable every month. Depending on the month and the amount I use, the monthly payments fluctuate rather spectacularly, especially during the summer months when it gets hotter than hell down here in Florida. And I know how miserable my life can be when a hurricane hits and I spend weeks at a time without power and any kind of connectivity. I already know what it's like to loose connectivity to on-line services (I'm looking at you, Google), and while I can certainly live without them, having an application make a sudden transition from local computer-based to network (cloud) based is going in the opposite direction that I've been traveling all my life. I used to work for companies that worshiped at the mainframe and then the minicomputer, and then went to the PC server with Netware and Lotus, and every single time there's been instances were I was glad to be able to work locally and continue to be productive. This infatuation with cloud services is the latest iteration on the centralized computing paradigm stretching back to my days dealing with IBM 360 mainframes and the culture it produced. It's all about power and money and where it'll reside, either in my hands or someone elses.

And then there's the changes going on at Yahoo in general and Flickr in particular. For a long time now I've been a Flickr user, having gone 'Pro' for a rather reasonable $25/year. For that small amount of money I got an ad-free experience and plenty of elbow room to upload stuff, not that I've uploaded all that much over the last five years, but still. What's up there is something of an eclectic mess and certainly won't win any awards, but it was convenient for stashing my stuff online, and if the interface wasn't perfect, so what? It all worked just fine for me, flaws and all. Now, in Mayer's New World Order, the ad-free privilege is doubled to $50, and your unlimited uploads are capped at a terabyte. Want two terabytes? That jumps to the ridiculous price of $500. Welcome to Mayer's World.

Then, under Marissa Mayer's current stewardship Flickr has been undergoing some considerable change (some would even say upheavals), one of those changes being a drastic redesign of Flicker itself. A lot of people have complained that Flickr, an independent property purchased by Yahoo in 2005, has been allowed to languish and fall on hard times. They point to Instagram and Hipstamatic as two examples of what on-line photography sites should be. What they're really talking about is money. Remember that Facebook purchased Instagram for a rather tidy $1 Billion Dollars. Nothing gets an oligarch's blood flowing quite like lots of money coupled with lots of power over lots of people. They haven't seen that with Flickr. And so "everybody" has complained about how the "value" of Flickr has fallen over the years. I liked Flickr the way it was precisely because it was out of the limelight and a good place to simply hold my photos.

But now we've got a new interface that looks like a poor mashup between Google and Facebook. And frankly, I hate the way it looks. And then there was the icing on that particular ugly cake, Marissa Mayer's comment that "There’s no such thing as Flickr Pro today because [with so many people taking photographs] there’s really no such thing as professional photographers anymore." This, of course, fits in with a number of other Mayer goofs and gaffs she's made and spoken since taking over at Yahoo (I can see why she was ushered out of Google). And this comment, aimed as someone like me (who is not a pro photographer but does know the difference), has decided that after all these years it's time to look elsewhere. I am a GeoCities refuge, from when Yahoo purchased GeoCities, let it languish, and then just shut it down. I've been a Yahoo member since 2000 (my first email has a date of 27 September 2000). That's an eternity on the web. In all that time I've put up with a lot. But Marissa Mayer is probably the change catalyst that will drive me out of Yahoo and fully over to Google and Google+.

Why the oligarch commentary?

It comes from an article on the Daily Ticker titled "Tech Titans Are the New Masters of the Universe, Be Afraid: Kotkin" by Nicole Goodkind. The article, which I'm going to quote in full here, is pretty significant in summarizing what's been happening to us over the past fifteen or so years, since the great Internet Bubble burst.
When Steve Jobs died, Occupy Wall Street was in full effect. Yet those who were fighting for wealth equality and the end of the banking oligarchy held a moment of silence in honor of the Apple co-founder, who had a net worth of $7 billion.

Jobs "didn’t believe in charity," writes Joel Kotkin in The Daily Beast. Apple was a company that "had more cash in hand than the U.S. Treasury while doing everything in its power to avoid paying taxes...Jobs was being celebrated by those who should have been fighting against him."

Kotkin believes that tech gurus are America’s newest set of oligarchs. They hurt competition and hold great influence with government officials. They don’t create many U.S. jobs, they don’t pay much in taxes, and yet 72% of Americans express positive feelings for their industry.

Auto executives flying in private jets set the American public into a rage in 2008 and yet no one complains about Google’s fleet of private jets in San Jose or the tech giant's proposal to build a private $85 million flight center, Kotkin argues. Tech oligarchs are also taking jobs away from Americans, he says.

"Perversely, the small number of jobs -- mostly clustered in Silicon Valley and created by tech companies -- has helped its moguls avoid public scrutiny." Kotkin compares the domestic workforce of major Silicon Valley companies to other Fortune 500 U.S. corporations: 50,000 Google employees versus 200,000 U.S. workers at General Motors. Facebook's 4,600 workers to Ford's 164,000. Exxon's 100,000+ staff to Twitter's 1,000. Google, with a market cap of $215 billion, is about five times larger than GM yet has just one fourth as many workers.

"This is an equation that defines inequality: more and more wealth concentrated in fewer hands and benefiting fewer workers," Kotkin says. “If you look at the wealthiest people in the country, particularly the wealthiest people under the age of 40, they’re heavily tilted towards the Silicon Valley."

The youngest billionaire in the U.S. is Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook whose net worth totals $12.4 billion. He's followed by Sergey Brin of Google, the 21st richest person in America, with $25.5 billion.

"Ten of the world’s 29 billionaires under 40 come from the tech sector, with four from Facebook and two from Google. The rest of the list is mostly inheritors and Russian oligarchs," writes Kotkin.

Facebook paid no taxes last year, despite making a profit of more than $1 billion. Apple’s Tim Cook testified in front of Congress this week about how his company manages to pay so little in taxes.

These companies are also trying to use their influence to sway politics. Facebook’s lobbying budget grew from $351,000 in 2010 to $2.45 million in the first quarter of 2013. Google spent $18 million on lobbying in 2012.

So why do these companies get a free pass when it comes to public opinion? "In our era we have grown up to love our toys," Kotkin tells The Daily Ticker. "I think it has a kind of halo effect. People don’t realize that this is not as clean and carefree as we tend to think." "These are industrialists, these are capitalists and we should celebrate their successes but we should be very careful," he adds.
Apple led the way. What they did (with our complete cooperation) was learn how to link our vanity with out laziness and monetize it so that constant money flows out of our pockets and into theirs. Nobody bats an eye anymore when Apple or Google are sited for the hundreds of billions of dollars they have in the bank, money made from all of us over the last ten or more years.

How do they link vanity with laziness? One prime example is Instagram. Instagram (an iPhone app) allows us to use the convenience of our cell phone camera (the iPhone) to make any photograph anywhere and then push it up to the cloud (via cellular or WiFi) for the whole world to see and comment on. There's no friction whatsoever in producing the photo, absolutely none on posting it, and we all love to get our egos stroked over the vapid comments about these photos that come flowing in from similar users. All we do is pay connectivity charges to the cellular providers and, of course, all that money to Apple (or whomever makes the cell phone in use). And of course, all along the way, we get ads that generate more money for the providers and tracking and the loss of our privacy.

Sometimes, as a solution, I wish I really could take one of those one-way trips to Mars. We've let things go too far for too long on this planet, and I now believe we need to head out and start over building more humane societies, starting with what technologies we use and how we use them. The incredible potential once represented by Apple and Google and even Yahoo have been grossly perverted by the very few, very rich technological oligarchs. It's going to take a powerful revolution to shake these particular ticks off of us. I just don't know quite what that means at this point in time, but I'm certainly willing to find out.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

the staycation, part 2 (our little trip to titusville and the space coast)

Space Coast Next Generation Solar Energy Center
We spent Thursday going to the doctor for my wife and filling in the time doing other tasks. Friday we decided to make a quick trip over to the Kennedy Space Center and spend a few hours just touring the latest. I'd hoped to see something of the Atlantis exhibit, but it's still under construction with a tentative opening date of 29 June. We were also somewhat shocked at the cost of admission. The last time we were over there was in the mid-1990s with our two girls, who were still in elementary school at the time, but old enough to appreciate what they were seeing. Ticket prices at that time were pretty low. I don't remember what we paid as adults, but the kids cost $5 each. When we stopped in to check on prices we were shocked to see prices were $50/person and up, depending on what type of tour you wanted. Since the Atlantis exhibit wasn't ready we decided to pass and to just drive around Merritt Island and the general area from Rockledge to Titusville, including Cocoa Beach, and see what we could see. The day was sunny, the weather great.

On the way south from the Kennedy ticket center we passed the Space Coast Next Generation Solar Energy Center, a low-key solar power generation station built back in 2010. It's output is roughly 10MW, enough for about 1,100 homes at the time it came online.
Field of Solar
After we got back home I looked at FPL's on-line page for the center and played back the short video. At one point one of the video's speakers hoped that more solar centers such as this could be built. Considering that the way we build these is to cover a lot of ground, I'm very conflicted as to whether that's a good idea or not. On the one hand it's pure solar, emissions free while it's operating (but not emissions free to manufacture it). On the other you have to cover over more land to build it, which is an issue for me, especially on or near sensitive areas such as Merritt Island's conservation areas.

I am reminded of Robert Heinlein's stories I read while in high school, especially his "The Past Through Tomorrow" series. One story that I still remember from that collection, his 1940 short story "The Roads Must Roll," described an alternate future transportation system in which the roads themselves moved, carrying passengers and cargo. Key to powering these roads were the "Douglas-Martin Solar Reception Screens." Solar cells. While our roadway systems are just the opposite of this (static roadways with moving vehicles), the one key idea that would work for out roads is the same for Heinlein's and that is to put the solar cells over the roads. We've already cleared thousands of square miles in this country just for the privilege of driving. Let's make the roads dual-use by building a second level over them and covering that second layer with solar panels.
Daylight to Nitelight
Even the little things are powered by solar. This outside light has its own solar charging panel and what looks to be a battery to store power for use in the evening. Considering that Florida's nickname is "The Sunshine State," it's about time we really started to find ways to become far more solar powered than we currently are.
Dixie Crossroads
On the way back we stopped at Dixie Crossroads in Titusville where we both ate a dozen and a half rock shrimp for lunch before driving back to Orlando. Great food, fun atmosphere, and superb service. We just don't go there often enough.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

the staycation (of a sort, where we stayed in florida)

Key West May 2013
Everybody wants a photo here
Staycations came into vogue starting around 2007, when the Great Recession really began to exert itself late 2006/early 2007. Folks just didn't have the cash/credit to go gallivanting across the country, let alone around the world. And so they went back to doing what their parents and their prior generations used to do; they started to go to local spots close to home, spending as little as possible. And they've been doing it pretty much ever since.

Economic times since the start of the Great Recession have barely improved. Massive job losses, especially towards the beginning, were the norm. I managed to hang onto my job through the worst of it, only to finally loose my job back on 17 April of this year, when, without any warning it was coming, I went from gainful employment to out on the street unemployment in less than 30 minutes. And yet, in spite of the odds that were supposedly stacked against me (in particular my age), I managed to land my next job exactly three weeks after loosing my last job, with better benefits. Not too shabby.

With about a week and a half of time left before the start of my new job, my wife decided I should take a few days of the time left and have a mini-vacation here in Florida to decompress. Florida is, after all, a vacation destination for just about everybody else; Universal Studios, Disney, both coasts, and the Florida Keys are just some of the destinations for hundreds of millions of vacation travelers. Over the last three decades of my life spent living in Florida I've traveled just about everywhere within Florida (many spots more than once) except for the Keys. I've gone as far south as Miami and the Everglades, but I never traveled across the Overseas Highway to Key West. And so we got us a housesitter for the cats and the Labs, made some very hasty plans, filled up the Prius, and took off.

The Start (Sunday, 12 May)

I had to work like crazy the weekend we left, which included a quick half-day round trip to check on my oldest daughter living up in Gainesville. And then I had to spend the rest of the day Saturday, leading into Sunday morning, cleaning the house, the yard, and the Prius. I wasn't leaving the house in a mess I wanted to come back to, and I didn't want the house sitter thinking we were slobs. So I worked like a man possessed to get the place looking half-way decent, piled into the Prius on Sunday around 3 in the afternoon, and drove down to the first staging point, a Motel 6 on Caribbean Blvd, about six miles north of Homestead on 821/The Turnpike. I staged there because it was well south of Miami and I had absolutely no desire to get caught up in Monday morning rush hour traffic around Miami. Motel 6 actually turned out to be a pretty good place to stay (more about that later in the trip).

It was good we stopped near Homestead. Atlantic squalls had blown onto shore starting around Jupiter, and getting more intense the further south I drove. Since I was driving the Turnpike I drove further west, pulling away from the Atlantic coast. The rain was pretty bad until I was able to finally head due west on the Sawgrass Expressway near Pompano. With the black skies in my rearview, I started to make pretty good time again. But it was pretty late, dark, and I was too tired to try and find someplace to stay on the Keys themselves that night.

First Day In The Keys - Marathon (Monday, 13 May)

From where we stayed Sunday night it was less than 200 miles to Key West. You'd think I would have made good time down to Key West. If you think that then you've obviously never been to Key West. There is no such thing as "good travel time" on the Overseas Highway. It would take us three hours just to get from the Motel 6 to our first stop.

Our first major stop was Marathon for lunch. The morning through the keys was absolutely gorgeous. I should have taken a more leisurely drive, stopping at all the turnouts, state parks, and refuges, but we were intent on getting to Key West, and then having enough time to get back home by Thursday. My dear beloved wife had, right before deciding to head to Key West, scheduled a doctor's appointment for 8:30am Thursday. So we definitely had to be back by late Wednesday to make the next morning. Thus, the clock was ticking and I had to make travel time.
Marathon Key 2013
Marathon Key 2013
Marathon Key 2013
Major sun dog right over Porky's Pub in Marathon
Marathon Key 2013

We stopped at Porky's Pub for lunch, eating yellow tail snapper and key lime pie. The food was great, the service was great, and the wide-open pub let the wonderfully cool breezes blow through. It was the first time on the trip I could stretch out and relax. There may be better places in Marathon, but for that moment in time Porky's was "practically perfect in ever way." We lingered as long as we could, but the day was growing longer, and we starting traveling again round 1 pm. It would take another hour and a half to reach Key West.

First Day In The Keys - Key West (Monday, 13 May)

The night before near Homestead I'd called down to a couple of hotels on Key West, looking for a reasonable rate (for Key West). We eventually settled on staying at the Sheraton Suites right next to the Key West International Airport, on the south side of the key facing Smathers Beach. We checked into the Sheraton the next afternoon around 2:30, spent an hour resting and looking for island landmarks via Google Maps, then went back out for the rest of the day, following a circuitous route that included Flagler, Truman, Whitehead, Eaton, Duval, and other tight and slow moving streets.
Key West May 2013
Strictly by accident we bumbled into Key West Cemetery. I ducked in real fast to take a look around, and found a small cemetery that has become so crowded they now stack the deceased in concrete condos for the dead.
Key West May 2013
Key West May 2013
Key West May 2013
After leaving the cemetery and driving further it became very evident that the preferred mode of transportation was anything other than a car. The streets were filled with people riding bikes, mopeds, little carts, while regular cars were parked off to the side as much as possible. Key West is small to begin with, and its streets, especially the back streets, are barely big enough to allow one lane of parked cars and another clear lane for traffic. I found a number of one-way streets that made navigating beyond the main thoroughfares pretty tough.
Key West May 2013
We soon found a spot on Eaton, not far from Duval, and parked the Prius not far from Tropic Cinema. Parking was with one of those machines that issues you a ticket to place on your dash with the expiration time. I didn't have any small change, so I tried to use my credit card. That didn't work. I was ready to try to get some change at a local coffee shop, when on a whim I stuck my fingers into the change return. I was amazed to find a lot of change. I counted out nearly $5 in quarters, which gave me more than enough time to stay there until the sun went down.
Key West May 2013
Fiberglass Norma Jeane in front of the Tropic Cinema
Tropic Cinema bills itself as "South Florida's only independent non-profit multiplex." If we'd had a few more days to spend in the Keys I might have gone in just to see "A Place at the Table" staring Jeff "The Dude" Bridges.
Key West May 2013
We weren't too terribly hungry, so we stopped by the Sippin' Coffee House for coffee and key lime pie. Yes, everywhere I went my wife and I sampled whatever key lime pie was on offer. It was all different, and it was all good. I liked Sippin' because it was a small funky place to sit and enjoy something to eat and drink. And if you were of a mind, you could surf the web. The place we stopped even had PCs connected to the internet for folks who didn't have a computer but needed internet access. I instantly fell in love with the place.
Key West May 2013
Late afternoon in the artwork corner at the sippin' coffee house
It was a good place for us to stay parked. It was about two blocks away from Mallory Square and Sunset Pier. We were headed there to watch the sun go down and see if they still applauded when it did.
Key West May 2013
Sights on the way to Mallory Square
Key West May 2013 - Sundown Mallory Square

When we got down to the pier we both discovered that that part of Key West has become heavily gentrified and re-re-redeveloped, all in the name of tourism. My desire to photograph pretty much shut down except for the documenting the egregious conspicuous consumption. What summed it all up for me was this biplane flying across the sunset advertising biplane rides. This was topped by the arrival of a rather large (three story) yacht that literally berthed right in front of us, in line with several other equally ostentatious yachts. We left before the yacht finished berthing and had a nice supper at Kelly's Caribbean Bar.

Second Day in the Keys - Key West (Tuesday, 14 May)

Key West May 2013
Morning has broken
Key West May 2013
Jewels on the beach

We got up early the next day to try to capture as much as of the morning as we could. It was glorious. While we weren't around to see the day truly break, the clouds and early sunrise gave us a special showing. Unlike the night before the morning had very few observers besides ourselves. The pleasant temperatures, the breeze off the ocean and the morning light combined to produce the best moments we'd experienced so far on our trip. For the first time in a long time I felt at piece, one of those rare moments to be cherished.
Key West May 2013 - The Baristas
We went back to the sippin' coffee shop and had a great breakfast. On the way out we photographed the barista and her boss. They were lovely people who didn't mind me taking a quick photo.
Key West May 2013

Key West May 2013

Key West May 2013

Second Day in the Keys - Bahia Honda (Tuesday, 14 May)

We deliberately stopped at the Bahia Honda State Park for a look around and a chance for me to try and capture the definitive beauty and color of the sunlight playing on the Gulf waters. I failed. But it will give me an excuse to go back down next Mother's Day and try again and maybe get it right.
Key West May 2013 - Bahia Honda
Our own "Bridge to Nowhere," an early twentieth century train bridge that was converted to an automobile highway across the top before it was completely replaced.
Key West May 2013 - Bahia Honda
A view of the Gulf from a section of that bridge
Key West May 2013 - Bahia Honda
Key West May 2013 - Bahia Honda

And The Rest

We drove on north back towards the mainland, eating lunch at Porky's on Marathon Key, before heading up to Cooper City and spending the night with a mutual friend. On the way to our friend's house we stopped back at the Motel 6 where I picked up not one, but two Olympus battery chargers I'd accidentally left behind two nights before, one for the E-PL2 and the other for the E-M5. I'd left them because I made sure to charge all my batteries that night before heading out that next morning, but forgot to pack the chargers.

On Wednesday we got up, ate a late lazy breakfast, and then headed back to Orlando. We got back home around mid-afternoon to a wild enthusiastic greeting from the two Labs and the three cats (yes, even the cats were wildly enthusiastic, for cats).

Although it was a fast and short trip, it was still a lot of fun. If nothing else I mapped out what to do next year. My wife has decided she wants to go down to the Keys next Mother's day. I think we've started a tradition. I can think of worse ones.

I probably should have taken more photos than I did, but there's a point in life where experiencing life becomes so involving that photography gets in the way. This was one of those points. I plan to spend more days traveling the Keys next May, so maybe then I'll come away with more interesting and varied photography. And if you're looking for travel photography, my wife and I are planning on another Great Northern Road Trip back to Toronto this year, but spread over three weeks instead of two.

Camera Gear Used

Yeah, I used cameras some of the time, the E-M5 (mostly) and the NEX-5N (for an upcoming review of the Sigma 19 and 30mm lenses).

Saturday, May 11, 2013

the olympus e-p5

Olympus E-P5 with M.Zuiko 1.8/17mm lens, all in black
It's now official. Olympus has released the next true Pen, the E-P5. I say the next "true Pen" because the E-M5, which I own, is a different model line altogether, and doesn't have the word "Pen" anywhere on it, not the body nor the box it was shipped in.

This Pen is a far better camera than the two-year-old E-P3, which I was not at all happy with when it was introduced. Olympus took all that is good about the E-M5, especially the sensor, mixed in the best bits from the Pen line (both the old film Pens as well as the newer digital lines), fixed what needed fixing and produced this current iteration. And from what I can tell so far it's a pretty decent iteration of the Pen side of the Olympus camera lines.

The only problem is the cost. The body alone is $1,000. You can pick up the still-excellent E-M5 for about $100 less. If you buy the "super kit", which includes the new black 1.8/17mm and the VF-4 EVF, the price jumps to $1,500. If you stop and think about the individual cost of the body and the 17mm, you're essentially getting the VF-4 for free. Regardless, the $1,500 price puts it squarely in very competitive camera territory. When I think of what I can get for $1,500 these days I immediately think of the Fuji X100s and the Nikon Coolpix A. Both of them are fixed lens cameras (28mm equivalent focal length) and both of them are roughly $300 cheaper ($1,200) than the super kit price. While they're fixed lens cameras, they have larger sensors (APS-C) and their lenses are considered excellent, probably better than the 1.8/17mm M.Zuiko. And the Fuji has something that both the Nikon and the E-P5 lack, and that's a built-in viewfinder.

Since we're talking about Fuji and competitive mirrorless cameras, we might a well consider the Fuji XE-1, which is an interchangeable mirrorless camera with an APS-C sensor, a built-in EVF, and built-in flash, all for the price of $1,000, body only. Fuji lenses are a bit more expensive (the 2/18mm is $600), but they're no more pricey than the M.Zuiko 12mm or 75mm or 9-18mm zoom, just to name three.

I could also bring up the Nikon D7100 DSLR for $1,200, body only, which can be matched with some rather inexpensive but reasonably fast Nikkor primes around the $200-$300 price range. But I've not been too enamored of Nikon's DX lens line, and it's glass that decides what type of body I buy.

Am I going to buy this camera? Do I even need this camera? The answer to the second question is a resounding "No." I have an E-P2, an E-PL1, an E-PL2, and the E-M5. And when I get really bored I reach across the table and grab hold of my Sony NEX-5N with its kit lens and the two Sigma lenses (19mm and 30mm) I picked up for a song not so long ago. That Sony reminds me that I can pick up a top-of-the-line NEX 7 with its 24MP APS-C sensor and the 18-55mm kit lens for $1,100, or the body only for a mere $950. And the Sony has, again, a built-in EVF.

But that still doesn't answer the question, will I buy this camera? I don't know. I don't use what I've got, and haven't for some time now due to an interesting turn of events. I am taken with the design of the camera and consider it quite beautiful. I'd love to add it to my collection, and retire all my other, older Pens. But every time I think of pulling the trigger on an E-P5 preorder, I think of the Fuji and the Sony cameras, especially the Sony NEX 7, and the new lenses coming online from various lens makers such as Sigma, Tamron, and Zeiss. Especially Zeiss.

And so, as usual, I'll sit on the sidelines for a while and ruminate. In the mean time I'll use my more than ample Pen and E-M5 collection and get back into photography. I suddenly have an itch to go out and use my gear...

Friday, May 10, 2013

the last three weeks

On Wednesday, 17 April, I walked into my office at The MITRE Corporation in Orlando for the last time as a MITRE employee. That day, my division director, who I'd not seen before that day, dressed in a suit and tie, was sitting in the local office's main conference room waiting for me to arrive. Within five minutes I found out I'd been laid off due to sequestration. Or at least that was the official story. I was given a severance for my four years and 11 months as a MITRE employee, COBRA information, and a glossy brochure for Lee Hecht Harrison (LHH), a company that advertises themselves as "change management" and "career transition" experts to help me find another job. I turned in my various badges, signed several pieces of paper, and was back out of the office in about 45 minutes. I didn't bother to clean out my office (I'd do that a week later) as I was still in physical pain and in something of a mental state of shock. I went home and started to think about my options.

Over the next three weeks I put together a strong resume with the help of a personal friend who knew me and was herself an expert in these kinds of matters, and then began to work my network through personal links as well as through my entry on LinkedIn. I tried to use the resources of LHH but quickly found they weren't as in tune to what I needed or the kind of technical person I was. I knew I was basically on my own when, within a week, I received an email from an LHH employee about "career alternatives through franchise ownership." That just wasn't me. I realized then, more than ever, that I was on my own and I had to drive my own destiny. With my friend's help I put together a plan and a professional resume and began to work that plan.

During the last three weeks I also spent some time nearly every day at RDV Sportsplex in Maitland, FL, exercising and swimming. I manged to drop ten more pounds (I've lost 30 since my knee operation last November), and it helped me keep my mind and emotions on an even keel. That's not to say I wasn't on an emotional roller coaster form time to time, but if I hadn't taken time out for physical workouts, I would have been a complete basket case. Exercise gave me a mental break and allowed my to put my focus on something else besides being out of a job. When I got back "to work" looking for my next job I found I was mentally refreshed, in better emotional balance, and able to be fully focused. I also found out that I felt more confident in how I looked when I went out on interviews, which translated over that three week period into four solid leads towards possible jobs.

That past Wednesday, three weeks to the day after my layoff, the best of the four leads turned into a job offer, and I accepted. I'll be back to work Monday 20 May, doing more satisfying technical work that I was at MITRE and stretching out in an entrepreneurial direction as well. Frankly I'm going to be a lot more happy there than I was at MITRE.

The last three weeks was the culmination of a long drop into personal pain and depression and back out again that started November 2011 and ended November 2012 with my partial left knee replacement. While the MITRE insurance helped pay the majority of the medical bills through that period, MITRE the company showed how little it actually adhered to its corporate ethos concerning a caring work environment. While I had excellent reviews for the first four years of my employment, my performance suffered due to the pain, and that was used against me and helped lead to my layoff. It didn't matter that after the operation I was back to normal. I should note that the day before I was laid off I was in an emergency room again with severe sciatic pain in the same left leg, to the point I needed a week's worth of medications to bring the nerve swelling down and eliminate the pain. Those medications and the heightened exercise during the layoff period will help me in the long run, as the pain is now nearly gone.

At this point I'm truly happy to be away from MITRE and moving towards a new chapter in my life. I can now look back and realize that getting laid off was probably the best thing that could have happened. For whatever reason I was ready when I was laid off and I hit the ground running looking for my next job. I've broken several bad eating habits (which contributed to the remarkable further weight loss) and I intend to keep up with the good personal eating and exercise habits. My wife has remarked many times how I'm now a much happier person, even during the layoff. I strongly believe this happiness will continue for some time to come. Perhaps one day I'll write about why I was unhappy and what I was seeing internal to MITRE, but right now it's enough to be thankful to be out of there, and on the other side of this divide.

I'd also like to point out just how strong my network of friend are. My new job came about through a very strong recommendation from another engineer I'd worked with in the past, who is himself held in high regard. With his strong recommendation I was able to walk into an interview with my soon-to-be new bosses and sell myself as the right candidate to fill their open position. This would have never happened as fast as it did without my network and many good friends in the community where I work. I owe a lot of people a very great debt of gratitude.

But now it's time for me to move on, to focus on the future and the positive potentials. I don't know how it will effect my blogging or my photography but it will, and in positive ways I'm sure. I look forward to being more creative in all aspects of my life.

Friday, May 03, 2013

android development on windows 8, step 1

Nexus 7 emulation on left, Eclipse on the right, all hosted on Windows 8
With some time on my hands I'm building a new Android development capability, this time with Android 4.2.2 and my Nexus 7 tablet as the target device. In the past I was targeting Android 2.3 and my Android smartphone, the HTC myTouch 4G. I have several Android projects I'm pursuing that require a tablet as the platform. I intend to target Android 4.2.2 and later; there'll be no backwards compatibility.

So far I'm using the emulator that ships with the SDK. I've yet to try to tie my Nexus 7 hardware into this. I will say this, when the directions on the Google site say not to build the device from the command line with the SDK, but build it from the Eclipse IDE, they mean it. I tried to build everything from the command line, and when it came time to try it from the IDE it kept failing because it couldn't find the emulator image. I had to delete both the initial SDK and Eclipse install and then reinstall everything, following the directions. Once I did that then everything works properly from the IDE.
First simple project, "Hello World", running in emulator
Setting up an initial project is ridiculously easy. The default Android project under Eclipse creates a complete set of skeleton file within which to work. The project files are complete enough to display "Hello World" when compiled and executed (hence the name of the first project, which I selected).

Android SDK: http://developer.android.com/tools/index.html
Eclipse IDE: http://www.eclipse.org/downloads/