Sunday, December 31, 2006

Rose Parade Invasion

My area of Pasadena has been invaded. It happens this time each year. An army of RVs rolls in and sets up camp along every available inch of side roads within a block of Colorado Blvd (the parade route). I just drove to the grocery store, taking side roads the whole way to avoid road closures, detours and stuff. In my area, the barriers and road / lane closures started 2 days ago. As I approached the store (Vons) from behind along a back road (that happens to parallel Colorado Blvd), I was startled to see a football land in the road right in front of my car. I braked hard, it wobbled underneath and past. And then I saw the group of young guys who were tossing the ball. They were part of the inhabitants of the 8 RVs parked along that road in that block. No biggie really. If I remember, I'll take pics (and post them) of the disgusting aftermath of trash piles on Colorado Blvd late on parade day.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

How to Block Flash Cookies

Several web sites track you using a little known feature in Flash that lets them write files to your hard drive. These have been generally named "Flash Cookies". For example, I discovered that Amazon was using this. Even if you delete your browser's cookies (and cache and all else), they sometimes use the flash cookies to recognize you and flash your name in bold atop the Amazon web page. That's exactly what I don't want to see when surfing from an Internet cafe, or even from my own laptop sitting at Starbucks. Maybe I'm strange. I also don't wear my name on my shirt or hat.

Anyway, here's how to stop those flash cookies for people using Mac OS 10.3.9. I haven't yet examined this on my Windows XP system, and I don't yet own Tiger. The flash cookies are stored in 2 locations:

~/Library/Preferences/Macromedia/Flash Player/#SharedObjects/[some-strange-folder-name]
~/Library/Preferences/Macromedia/Flash Player/macromedia.com/support/flashplayer/sys

For a while I was routinely deleting the entire contents of these two folders. That has given me the confidence that this wasn't breaking anything. Lately, I went ahead and changed the permissions to these two directories using the simple "chmod -w" command from the shell. So far I haven't noticed any bad effects from this. So far all flash content still plays just fine.

Stock Pick For the Week

Here's my latest stock picks. Manitowoc Co. (MTW) Precision Castparts (PCP) Paccar (PCAR) Sherman Williams (SHW)

I am placing these on my watch list and am considering them as candidates for 6+ month trades. By "trades" I mean that they appear attractive opportunities for making some returns in the short term (less than a year) and are not necessarily good long term "investments." Note: I have no intention of buying these right now, but MTW and PCP might continue going up after the new year. PCAR has a seriously dropping MACD and so I'll just be watching that one for a while.

As always: NEVER buy a stock just because I mention it. Always do your own homework. This way, if you lose money and blame me, then I can point to this "fine print."

Friday, December 29, 2006

I Got A Boo Boo

I got myself an owie! One minute I was healthy and walking toward a chair, and the next I was in pain. It happened so fast. I was barefoot and stubbed my toe into the chair leg. I wasn't even hurrying or rushing or anything. Of course, it's the little toe. The pinky toe. The little piggie that went to market (or something like that). Now it's swollen to 150% of normal size and it's all purple. It's probably broken. It's not the first time this has happened and probably won't be the last.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Toddlers! Cheap Renewable Energy!

Today I have a renewed appreciation for what parents go through. Yesterday I was visiting friends and was playing with their 2.5-ish year old boy. He really enjoyed being lifted up and carried about while laying flat with his hands out front - exactly as if he were Superman (which he calls "pooperman"). Today I have a sore lower back.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Another Comic I Made

Here's my second attempt at using the clever program called Comic Life. This one describes some of the fun I experienced while cat sitting for friends recently. Click on them to see larger versions.



Friday, December 15, 2006

Meaningless Blog Post

I think that Justin Long is going to have a very successful career. I've liked him since Galaxy Quest (which is a very funny movie). I figure he wont go down the notorious paths of Tom Cruise or Mel Gibson.

Yes, I realize this is a stupid pronouncement of my personal opinion. But, hey, it's my blog and that's what I'm posting today.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Life Improvement

I've discovered a terrific blog containing a lot of useful tips for getting the most out of life. The RirianProject blog is authored by a young man named Ririan who lives in Bucharest, Romania. I strongly recommend it. It might take you several visits to go through the archives, but it's worth it.

A few posts that I've found interesting are: 6 Ways to Boost Your Mental Acuity at Work, Blast Away Bad Mood with These 11 Fast Fixes, Ten Commandments for a Stress Free Life, How to Survive a Bad Day, 11 Great Ways to Start Your Day, 22 Ways To Overclock Your Brain, Remember to Say Thank You, What to do When You Make Mistakes, and many more.

Read, learn, grow, share, enjoy, live.

Earthlink Loses Your Incoming Emails

This came out Friday. Apparently a friend of Robert X. Cringely has done some testing to discover that Earthlink mysteriously loses a large fraction of some of their users' incoming emails. Very very unprofessional. Worse yet ... I have an Earthlink account. I think this will be the final straw causing me to switch to another ISP.

Friday, December 08, 2006

New Puzzle - Hotel Bill

OK, I had some comments that the last puzzle wasn't that hard. And so while I search for a harder one, Matthew has submitted this one. It's not necessarily super hard, but it is interesting.

Three men check into a motel. The clerk tells them that the room will be $30 so each man pays $10 and they go off to their room. The clerk then realizes that they were actually staying in a $25 room, and sends the bellhop to the room with $5. The bellhop decides to keep $2 and gives each man $1 back. The men ended up paying only $9 each for the room. So, the men have paid a total of 3 times $9 or $27 for the room and the bellhop has kept $2. That's only $29. Where's the missing dollar?

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Difficult Puzzle

Here's a new puzzle. It's not easy. And it lures people into an incorrect answer. We'll see if Dr. Kim has ever used this one for his class.

For a round-trip flight between New York and Los Angeles and back to New York, how will a constant and uniform wind affect the total elapsed time of the flights compared to having no wind? Will a constant wind, uniform across both legs of the trip, make the total flight time longer, make it shorter, or have no effect?

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Audacity Audio Editing App

Audacity is an easy to use program for editing audio files. It's multi-platform with versions for Windows, Linux and Mac OS X. Check out the screenshots. Best of all, it's free. I tried it this morning and decided I liked it and I'll keep it in my software tool box. You never know when you'll need to edit the audio track from a video I've taken with my digital camera - to _enhance_ the story. hehehe

Blocking Ads and Flash in Safari

I've come across a very easy way to block ads and flash content when using Safari. Note: this also works with Mozilla, Firefox, Netscape, and others! I found several sites offering the same explanation so I guess it's been around for a while. It involves changing your preferences to use a local CSS style sheet. That CSS file has all the patterns defined for a variety of ads and flash junk. This even works for me using the old Safari in Panther. Here's one of the sites with the helpful explanation. I'm currently using their CSS file. It's also easy to toggle this off: simply go into your Safari Preferences and change the local CSS style to "nothing". It's really that easy.

I have to admit that it isn't perfect. For example, while it does block the flash ads on TitanTV, it doesn't block all of the flash ads on Yahoo Finance and it doesn't block any of them on weather.com. This is important because FlashBlock for Firefox does block all of those I just mentioned.

Over the past several months I have adopted the practice of using Firefox to visit specific sites who choose to use aggressive or annoying dynamic ads (including Yahoo and Weather.com). I haven't switched entirely over to Firefox because it starts up very slowly on my mac - compared to the more compact Safari. Firefox is also more likely than Safari to have a new security vulnerability. For my tastes, Firefox has way too many features and crap. But I figure there will never be a perfect browser for me, or for anybody else for that matter, and so I'm fine with using multiple browsers.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

New Puzzle: Sort of Simple Logic

This one isn't too hard. Although one genius kid I know had to be walked through it (which is odd since he gets most others correct immediately).

There are three sock drawers in a dresser. The drawers are labeled as white, black, and mixed. Every drawer is labeled incorrectly. One drawer contains all white socks, one all black socks, and one has a mixture of white and black socks. You are allowed to close your eyes and pick one sock from one drawer. How can you correctly label each drawer?

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Fixing My Broken DVD Player

A while ago, my Philips DVP642 DVD player died. It wouldn't do anything. And it wouldn't even surrender the DVD that was inside. Luckily, we have the Internet. I did some poking and discovered that this model has a well known flaw. A single inexpensive capacitor on the power supply board dies. I found a nice description on Amazon, as well as this Yahoo group, and this guy's blog and his detailed photos of his repair job, and even this forum about bad capacitors.

So today I finally got around to repairing mine. I decided to document this brief adventure a little differently. I hope you enjoy these panels. Click on them for the larger (readable) versions.





Epilogue: Since I'm in the process of upgrading my television and video experience to the digital high-definition world, with a new 47-inch 1080p LCD display, I'll probably give this DVD player to Goodwill because it doesn't upconvert. My new Oppo DVD player still works very nicely (my blog post about that). I'll probably get myself a new backup DVD player - one that has upconversion to 1080.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Wifi NAS using your USB HD

I was planning to post a positive note about a clever thing I spotted in PopSci magazine. It's the Linksys WRTSL54GS wireless router / NAS server. Then I read the negative reviews on Amazon. So I won't even post a small pic here.

I would like to have a device like this, where you connect your own USB HD and it provides the network front end for NAS functions. That way I could easily upgrade to larger and faster drives. From the reviews, it looks like most of my friends could probably use it (they could overcome most negative comments) - except for it not supporting NTFS formatted drives.

And so, if any of you gadget-geeks out there know of a decent alternative, then please share it.

Balloon Puzzle

Here's anther easy puzzle before I throw in a hard one.

You are stopped in a car with a helium balloon floating in the passenger compartment. All the windows are closed and the AC/vents are turned off. The car accelerated forward. With respect to the passenger compartment, does the balloon move forward, move backward, or stay stationary? And why?

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Stellarium Star Watching Guide SW

A really smart MIT researcher showed me this cool program for viewing the stars. It's called Stellarium and is the product of a sourceforge project of that name. They've got application downloads for Windows, Mac (Tiger only), and Linux. You might try this out for yourself over the upcoming holidays.

I just installed it so I can't offer any real review comments. I'm trying the Windows version. In the past I've used web sites that have this function, usually using Java. Those sights are clumbsy to use and slow, so I'm hoping that this program gets around that. I like to jump to a location where I plan to be (such as on hiking or camping trips) and select the future date for that event, and then look to see exactly what will be visible then. I like these tools because I know next-to-nothing about stellar constellations, and I tend to use the idiot-proof info on Stardate.org (and their radio show podcasts here) for knowing what major viewing opportunity is coming up. Feel free to post any comments you have on this program right here.

BTW, the Leonid meteor showers are continuing tonight.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Book: Electric Universe

I just finished the book titled Electric Universe: The Shocking True Story of Electricity by David Bodanis. It has a mediocre 3/5 stars from 23 Amazon reviewers. I wouldn't give it that many stars ... maybe 2.5. While Mr. Bodanis has written several books on the topic of science history, I think he has much room for improvement. Heck, he doesn't even have a Wikipedia page.

The book's subtitle is a bit misleading, and it led me to expect much more from the book. That unsated expectation probably biases my review and comments a bit. To be fair, it did include a lot of interesting little stories of several historical figures related to the development and/or use of electricity, such as Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, Heirich Hertz, Guglielmo Marconi, Samuel Morse, and Alan Turing. Also, it does a reasonable job of explaining the true nature of electricity: that's it's not a bunch of electrons flowing great distances within a conductor, but instead a quite interesting cascade of electromagnetic fields and their short-range interactions with the electrons already present in the atoms that reside in the conductor's molecular/atomic framework. So in summary, if you're interested in the various historical stories, or are otherwise stuck with no other books, then you'll probably enjoy this.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Another Puzzle About Weighing Things

This puzzle is part of a famous family of puzzles and so it might be easy, if you're familiar with that set of puzzles.

You have five jars of pills. One jar of pills is contaminated. The only way to tell which pills are contaminated is by weight. A regular pill weighs 10 grams and a contaminated pill weighs 9 grams. You are given a scale and allowed to make just one measurement with it. How do you tell which jar is contaminated?

Hacking Electronic Road Signs

Here's a link to the tale of a brave guy who took it upon himself to improve the messages displayed on the electronic road signs in his neighborhood. LOL

Don't worry, there's no ad-ware (that I know of): Funny Story

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Another Clock Puzzle

Continuing in the clock theme, here is another puzzle.

How many times a day do the minute and hour hand of an analog clock overlap?

Be careful! It's not as simple as it may appear. If you find these puzzles too easy, then you might remember them so you can throw them at your younger relatives when visiting family over the upcoming holidays.

Extra Credit: show Perl code that will solve this

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Clock Puzzle #1

Here's an easy puzzle about clocks.

What is the angle between the minute and hour hands at 3:15 on a standard analog clock?

For extra credit: How many times a day do the hour and minute hands form a right angle?

Book: Stumbling on Happiness

I just finished the audiobook version of Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert. It scores 4/5 stars from 88 Amazon reviewers. The audiobook is read by the author. Here's an accurate synopsis from the Amazon page:
Do you know what makes you happy? Daniel Gilbert would bet that you think you do, but you are most likely wrong. In his witty and engaging new book, Harvard professor Gilbert reveals his take on how our minds work, and how the limitations of our imaginations may be getting in the way of our ability to know what happiness is.

After the first 30 minutes of the first CD, I was thinking that I was not going to like the book. I was wrong. By the 2nd or 3rd CD, I was hooked. It's interesting, and he describes quite a lot of studies performed (experiments) on people to test their happiness or satisfaction and whatnot. So if you have a lot of spare time (the audiobook was 7.5 hours on 6 CDs) then you too might enjoy this. If you'd like to sample the author and this book, then you might simply watch his 18 minute presentation at the TED Conference in September 2006 (scroll down for his entry).

Speaking of the TED Conference, I strongly recommend the video posted recently of Michael Shermer, founder and publisher of Skeptic magazine.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Angus Burger Comparison

Yesterday I tried the McDonalds Angus burger. And so today I decided to try the Angus burger from Burger King, so I could compare them - before I forgot what the McDonalds one tasted like. Without justification or explanation, I'll proceed here as if somebody cared.

McDonalds Pros:
Nice taste. Almost tastes like beef! Decent size, could be bigger.

McDonalds Cons:
Limp pickles, just like on their other burgers. No real onions. No real lettuce.

Burger King Pros:
Good sized, a tiny bit larger than McDonalds. Decent quantity of onions. Includes a mild BBQ-like sauce that tasted good. Decent amount of real lettuce - not the ground/shredded lettuce common on some burgers.

Burger King Cons:
Meat had no flavor; tasted like the meat-simulant used in the burgers sold at the Tuolumne Meadows grill in Yosemite Natl. Park (where everybody is either too hungry or too tired to complain). Includes mayo by default. YUCK!

Conclusion: Ideally, I'd like to eat neither of these, but if forced, I'd prefer to use McDonalds' meat on the BK burger.

New Puzzle

Some of you had some interesting responses to my last puzzle. Several of you (rightly) chose to not post your answer publicly, but instead emailed them to me. And so I've decided to backstep a bit, and to offer a more deterministic puzzle. This is better suited for those who not only wish to remain inside the box, but also want to be reminded of where the box's walls are.

Puzzle:
You have eight billiard balls. One of them is defective in that it weighs more than the others. How do you tell, using a balance, which ball is defective in only two weighings?

While it's probably possible to google the answer. Please give it an honest try on your own.

Car Battery Recycling

Los Angeles makes it super easy to recycle hazardous waste. I was able to drop off my old car battery (and clense myself of the last reminders of an unpleasant experience) at a place in Sun Valley - just to the north of the Burbank airport. It took all of about 1 minute and was FREE! They had a drive through arrangement and they only ask 1 question: your zip code, since the service is only available to residents of Los Angeles city or county. They have 5 permanent S.A.F.E. recycling centers available for residential waste.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

How do you react to amazing things?

Here's a small thought exercise. You're sitting alone in an outdoor cafe. Not engrossed in anything, so the ensuing interruption is not offensive to you. A clean cut person (man or woman) approaches, smiles and sits at your table while politely telling you that they'd like to show you something. You're curious, but not freightened, and so you say nothing. Before you could say anything, the person shows you a small ball, colored green and about 2 inches in diameter. They hold the ball briefly with 2 fingers above the table and then withdraw their hand. The ball remains there, floating above the table. Not entirely rigid/frozen, as you see the slightest slow motion and rotation occuring. The person sits there, with a pleasant smile, looking at you, and the ball. Oddly ... nobody else seems to notice what's taking place.

Now the question. What would you do? Would you:

a) ask "What is it?"
b) ask "Where did you get it?"
c) ask "How does it work?"
d) ask "Can I have it?"
e) ask "What is it for?"
f) ask "Who are you?"
g) angrily tell the person to leave
h) say nothing and observe the ball
i) say nothing and reach out to touch or hold the ball
j) say nothing and proceed to experiment by placing your hand or an object above/below/around the ball
k) leave before this kook steals your money with this clever distraction
l) attempt to take the ball and run
m) do something else?

I have my own theories about what the majority of people would do. And I believe I would do something different than the expected norm. Thoughts like this make me wonder about the root causes for some human behaviors.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Book: Jim Cramer's Real Money

I recently finished (1 day past October's National Book Month) the audiobook version of Jim Cramer's Real Money. It's narrated by Jim, so it's a fun listen. It scores 4 (of 5) stars from 176 Amazon reviewers. Jim Cramer is a co-founder of TheStreet.com, host of the CNBC TV show Mad Money, host of the daily radio show Real Money, co-host of the former CNBC show Kudlow & Cramer, a successful trader, and a former top-ranked hedge fund manager.

From the Booklist review on Amazon: "...Here Cramer reveals how he made his money and distills his methods so that the average reader can understand them. Rather than catering to the Wall Street party line of "buy and hold" investing, he is an advocate of "buy and homework." He recommends starting with just four stocks in safe, diverse sectors and devoting a minimum of one hour per week of study to each company. Although others condemn speculation as pure gambling, Cramer insists that the fifth part of your portfolio should be devoted to a purely speculative play to take advantage of potential "home runs"..."

I've read many investing books, and I recommend this one for everyone who wants to buy individual stocks. It contains many of the same precepts as the traditional dogma, such as the importance of diversification and not spreading your investments too thin. I like his recurrent views of (a) embracing some speculation and (b) not buying and simply holding. If you enjoy his TV or radio shows, then you'll surely enjoy listening to this audiobook. Might be just right for an upcoming airline flight.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Pain ... Intense Pain

I had a headache for 3 days. No fun. Bad enough that I went to the doctor. Something I normally avoid, unless I'm missing a limb or something. So the doctor said I have cluster headaches and he gave me samples of this and scripts for this and this.

I'm better now :-)

Friday, November 03, 2006

Movie Trivia

Pop quiz hot shot!

How many times did Ben Stein's character in Ferris Bueller's Day Off say the name "Bueller" when taking roll?

Wow, that movie has 7.8/10 stars on IMDB from 41,959 votes.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

TED

I can't say enough positive things about the TED Conference speakers. TED is for Technology Entertainment Design. It is a conference that brings together many of the foremost thinkers and do-ers of our day. It's by invite only, but luckily they post videos of their speakers. I strongly recommend you check it out. Here's the link to the TED speakers' video download page.

From the recent crop of postings, I really enjoyed the presentations by Ed Burtynsky (photographer), Ben Saunders (solo trek to the north pole), and Malcom Gladwell (author). I'm sure you'll find some favorites of your own.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Stuck In the Desert

I recently experienced one of my nightmares related to my travels in the wild outback of the southwest deserts. I got stuck. My car's battery died. This happened as I was gearing up for a nice hike up Cave Mountain. I was very lucky because I was within about 1.5 miles of the interstate highway (if I wanted to trek across the soft desert sand - which is dangerously annoying because it tends to give way letting you drop from 3 to 8 inches below the surface. I was also about 1 mile, and within view, of a cell tower. What luck. So I called up a friend (yeah Wes!) and he helped me find the closest tow service. I only needed a jump start, but still, it was really really expensive. The first pic is of my car sitting there on the powerline road - dead.

When I returned, I used my favorite forum for Acura MDX owners, acuramdx.org, to learn that the OEM battery traditionally lasts 2-3 years. So I should feel very lucky that mine lasted 3.5 years and 83,000 miles. Cool! I also learned that the best replacement battery is the Optima. They make the red top line for engine starting, and the yellow top line for deep cycling, which is popular with the young kids and their massive car stereos. Here's a pic of my new battery, the Optima 34R Red Top. It looks like a six-pack. It's a sealed lead acid gel type and can be mounted in any orientation and is very insensitive to vibration. It has terrific energy storage and is an inch shorter than the OEM battery (a 24 group). Optima includes several mounting adapters. I used the height adapter that attaches to the bottom of the battery allowing it to sit perfectly in the taller 24-size well in my car. It took me an hour to replace the battery. Most of that time was turning the small nuts on the mounting brackets, because I had to use a crescent wrench since they're metric and my socket set is English.

With my shiny new battery, I still wasn't properly prepared to return to the outback. I bought myself a portable jump starter. I took my time learning about the important metrics in this growing market. There are a LOT of products out there, with the prime manufacturer being Vector (they even make the ones branded as Black & Decker and Husky). More and more of these products are now including extras such as integrated air compressors and AC inverters. I chose to avoid those sinply because I already carry 2 air compressors and 2 AC inverters, and those features add bulk to the jump starter - making it take up more valuable volume in my SUV. I learned that the important metric is CCA = Cold Cranking Amps. Many of the products advertise a huge "peak amps" value - but be warned: this is not CCA. If it were, they'd proudly say it. As Wikipedia says, CCA is the amount of current the battery can provide at 0 deg F for 30 seconds. By comparison, those peak amps they advertise are very short peaks - like milliseconds. Clearly, CCA is more important in cold climates where the starter has more trouble turning a cold engine with cold engine oil. I chose to buy the Coleman Powermate Waterproof Jump Start System PMJ8660 (see pic at right). Nothing fancy and has 315 CCA. I've already used it with a 12v air compressor to pump up a couple of my tires. I like that the little light is on a flexible arm allowing me to point it at a dead battery at night, instead of most units that have the light integral to the casing - which might require me to tip the heavy jump starter to get much use from the light.

Of course, if I had bought a jump starter before-hand, I could have avoided hundreds and hundreds of dollars charged by the pirateering tow service. My bad. I failed to use the same level of safety and backups that I use for my tires. At least now I'm better prepared than before - so the experience has caused me to improve my overall preparedness.

Needless to say, I didn't get in the planned hike.

Monday, October 30, 2006

The Best Book of October


Here's the best book I read during this National Book Month. America. The full title is "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Presents America (The Audiobook): A Citizen's Guide to Democracy Inaction". It scores 4.5/5 stars from 579 Amazon reviewers. It's very funny and includes audio scenes performed by the Daily Show ensemble. I was driving to Zion National Park while listening to it. At one point, I was laughing so hard that my eyes were tearing, and I had to pull over so I wouldn't crash. I strongly recommend this one. Even if you read the book, you'll probably enjoy listening to Jon and his troup's performance.

More Books (it's still October!)

I also read The Innovator's Dilemma. Remember folks, I don't actually read these. I buy the audiobook versions and listen to them mostly while driving. This works out well since my hobbies include doing things far from home and that means lots of driving. This book is interesting. I had to say that first, because the audiobook narration was painfully dry. But having survived engineering school, I'm accustomed to gleaning value from dry presentations of all sorts. Here's a short excerpt from the Amazon summary summary comments by one Harry C. Edwards:
At the heart of The Innovator's Dilemma is how a successful company with established products keeps from being pushed aside by newer, cheaper products that will, over time, get better and become a serious threat. Christensen writes that even the best-managed companies, in spite of their attention to customers and continual investment in new technology, are susceptible to failure no matter what the industry, be it hard drives or consumer retailing. Succinct and clearly written, The Innovator's Dilemma is an important book that belongs on every manager's bookshelf.

It was interesting to examine some of my personal experience in the framework described of innovators. I never realized it, but there was a time when me and my coworkers at TRW were definitely innovators (by the standards described in the book) and were using the very same techniques to break away from the corporate status quo. I recommend the book for anybody interested in managing or participating in business innovation.

To balance that review, I read a book about a fish. Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World is not a good book. I was enticed by the 4.5/5 stars from 88 Amazon reviewers. Often, I thought the author must have been meaning to write a cook book. He includes cod-based recipes throughout the book. I did enjoy the historical information. It's neat to learn about how significant this staple was in so many markets around the globe. I would have preferred a more orderly presentation of that historical information. Maybe geographical, or chronological, or theological. Anything but the apparent meandering path taken. The same author has another book titled "Salt: A World History". It's not yet available in audiobook format. I may not read that one.

October is National Book Month

I haven't posted for a while. Just lacked motivation mostly. Well, with the month coming to a close, I had to post some book reviews since October is National Book Month.

I read "iCon Steve Jobs: The Greatest Second Act in the History of Business". It has 3.5 stars (out of 5) from 53 Amazon reviewers. Steve Jobs wasn't pleased with this unauthorized biography. I can understand why he reportedly banned it from Apple buildings and Apple retail stores. It's just impossible for somebody to describe detailed activities of Steve when he was admittedly alone in his home. Aside from that sort of thing (and there's enough of it to be annoying), it wasn't too bad. It certainly wasn't good.

The Little Book of Value Investing got 4.5 stars from 10 Amazon reviewers. If you're interested in value investing, then you might enjoy this. But even then, it doesn't add much value beyond what Ben Graham and Warren Buffett have already offered us. If you ask me, save your money on this one. If you want to learn more about value investing, then please read the Warren Buffet Way (an excellent book).

Taking my reading to new lows was Hedge Hogging. I thought it would be an informative description of hedge funds and how they work in the financial system. It turned out to be a very dry and annoying tale laced with pseudo-fictional stories. Painful, it was. To give it credit, 54 Amazon reviewers have scored it 4/5 stars.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Lowest Bid Wins! How to buy a new car for $50.

There is a REALLY cool site out there doing something very interesting. I read about it on page 38 of the October issue of Business 2.0.

Limbo is a novel auction site that auctions off merchandise donated by companies - primarily interested in the promotional value. For each auction, the winner is the person with the LOWEST and UNIQUE bid. So, if you bid $1.58 for that 42 inch plasma HDTV then you will win it, if nobody else bids the same amount and all bids lower than yours are not unique (multiple bidders bid that value). Check it out! I'm planning to try it this week - they just started up a new auction for a 42 inch plasma TV. Be warned, some auctions are free to bid and others cost you 99 cents per bid. Be sure to click on the "How To Play" link at the top of the page. It explains some interesting features - such as: after you bid, they give you some feedback about your bid in relation to others and ask if you want to bid again. Clever. The Business 2.0 article said that when you're charged 99 cents to bid, that money is split 3-ways: between Limbo, your wireless carrier, and the donating company.

Some people I've mentioned this to began to consider if this might relate to some game theories or other mathematical models. Based on the info in the "How To Play" page, it might be to a bidder's advantage to bid later - closer to the end of the auction. Also ... read the rules for any of the auctions so you can see some of the fine print. For example, most (if not all) have the rule that the prize cannot be re-sold or transferred for one year. That is a good way to prevent some clever folks from operating a business to bid many many times to ensure winning an item and then merely sell it on eBay for much more than they bid.

Simple Disaster Recovery for Macs

I've finally implemented another stage of disaster recovery for my mac system. I've always performed regular backups, and stored the files on separate media, and tested the recovery process. For all that, I use some shell scripts I wrote using Helios xtar for preserving the HFS resource fork data.

Today I have added another layer that will make me sleep better. My backups would still require a significant amount of recovery time because I would have to re-install the OS and then reload my backed up files. To improve on this process, I bought an external firewire drive that is the same size as my system drive (80 GB) and I created a bootable clone of my system drive onto that firewire drive. I bought an ACOMDATA 80 GB Combo drive from Fry's (cuz it was cheap). And then I used SuperDuper! to create the bootable clone. Simple really. Now I'll try to routinely create a new system clone - maybe every week or so. It only took 48 minutes.

So now if I have a horrible drive emergency, I can immediately boot off the clone and run diagnostics from there, or simply return to finish any task I was working to meet any deadlines I might have (and repair the primary drive later).

Friday, September 29, 2006

The CIA's New Personality Quiz

The CIA has a cute online (and very short) personality quiz located here. I took it and it told me that I am a "daring thrill-seeker". hmmmm I've taken some serious personality profile exams by our friendly government in the past, and this is clearly a marketing thing. The final page seems to indicate the possible labels, and none of them is sociopath or homocidal psychopath. But it is cute. Maybe it will get more people to apply to be a spy!

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

My New DVD Player: OPPO DV-970HD

I am very pleased with my new DVD player. I bought the OPPO DV-970HD from OPPO Digital. They're a small company in Mountain View, CA that primarily makes DVD players. So I figure they want to make good equipment, since that's their main revenue stream.



It will upconvert to 480p/720p/1080i. It'll play NTSC or PAL DVDs. It has an HDMI output (maybe soon I can actually use that). And it meets my primary requirement of playing DivX video files. Best of all *** it has a USB2 port and will play files from an external USB storage device. I've tested that with a USB flash drive and with an external USB hard drive. I've connected a 320 GB USB external drive that is loaded with DivX videos of movies, cartoons, and other stuff that I've recorded, as well as JPEG images and MP3s. The only negative that I have so far is that it won't play MPEG4 video files (although it did play MPEG1 and MPEG2). Recently, I sent an email to their support people on a Sunday, and they responded within a few hours - still on Sunday! They definitely know how to do customer service right.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The Book: Small Is The New Big

This week I finally finished the audiobook titled "Small Is The New Big" by Seth Godin. The full title is "Small Is The New Big and Other Riffs, Rants, and Remarkable Business Ideas." It's a collection of thoughts, ideas, stories and such from a very provocative marketing guru for the Internet age. I'm surprised that Amazon has only 9 reviews, but not surprised that those have scored it 5 (out of 5) stars. I would have never bought this book, if I hadn't stumbled across the video of Seth's presentation at Google. That was intriguing, and so I guess I wanted to hear a little more.

Seth Godin is famous enough to warrant his own Wikipedia page. His web page is here, and his blog is here.

I enjoyed the book, and recommend it to anyone interested in modern marketing (not just Internet or e-commerce). The audiobook is read by Seth, and so it conveys his enthusiasm very well. It was very long though, at 6 CDs running for 7.5 hours.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

This Is A Test

I was visiting a site and noticed that they give you the code you need to embed their content on another site. And so ... I decided to test it.



It's a funny clip. Although, Bob seems to step on the same rakes, over and over. I can't help wondering if it's a result of economical reuse of animation footage. Oh well. It's still funny.

The Mac Wardrobe Dissected

Lifeclever has a really clever post where they dissected the wardrobe of the mac actor in Apple's new ads. It's really clever and kinda funny. I inserted their pic here. I hope they don't mind. But they do deserve your visit to their site (and the page views for their ads). Then you can see the extra stuff that I don't mention here. LifeClever mentions that the actor is Justin Long - who actually has a Wikipedia page. Seeing his filmography, I knew he looked familiar. I actually saw this on Lifehacker. Both Lifehacker and LifeClever seem to have a lot of posts relevant to mac users.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

My Neighborhood Skunk

The skunk I saw recently seems to have taken up residence in my neighbor's crawl space. Every morning I can smell the faint traces of skunk in my back yard. The little guy has probably been frightened by some sound coming from the bushes causing him to spray. No big deal. I've seen the little critter a couple times now. I've also found his tracks in my back yard. Skunks have very long front claws so they leave distinctive tracks. For a couple days in a row I've discovered holes that he's been digging in my back yard. Apparently, skunks like to dig. I even found that fact mentioned on the Wikipedia page about skunks. I keep watching for my neighbors. I'd like to tell them about the wildlife living beneath their house. If only to see their reaction.

VisualHub Testing

I've finished my testing of the handy video conversion utility named VisualHub. The trial version only allows conversion of videos that are less than a few minutes. The registered version costs $23.32. That must be part of some new palindrome pricing fad.

I started by converting a QuickTime movie file to the VisualHub formats that they name: iPod (just MPEG4 with a small frame size), AVI (DiVX), MP4 (larger sized MPEG4), DV, WMV, and Flash. Everything worked fine, except for the WMV output. When played in WMP, there was no audio. However it played fine in VLC. Then I started with a WMV file and attempted to convert it into iPod, AVI, MP4, Flash, and DV. Those all worked fine. Then I started with an MPEG4 file and converted it to AVI, WMV, Flash, and DV. Those worked fine, with the same audio problem playing the WMV output in WMP. Then I started with a Flash video (.flv) and converted it to iPod, AVI, MP4, WMV, and DV. Everything worked. The last test I did was to try VisualHub's feature to burn a DVD loaded with a bunch of videos of various formats. Each of those videos then become a different chapter in the DVD. That worked too. And it played fine on my new DVD player (more on that in a future post).

Final word: I like VisualHub. It's easy to use and does what it says it will. I've already paid for it.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Memories

I can't let the day go by without mentioning it. Today is the 5th anniversary of a very horrible day. I remember that day. I remember where I was. I remember what I was thinking. It would be a bother to express those memories, given the extreme horror that was faced by so many. I hope that I don't lose my memory of that day. I hope nobody does.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Great Video Tools for Mac Users

I've discovered a few handy video tools. For those of you who don't already know, I have a lot of video tools and so it's rare that I find new ones that have additional or otherwise remarkable features. I was wanting to save Youtube videos to my hard drive in a format that I could then replay locally. I found this clever app called PodTube. It will capture the Youtube video that was just displayed in the front-most Safari window. Most of the time, it will even convert it to something that my mac can play - MPEG4 with AAC audio (intended for iPod users). I've found a few YouTube vids (some South Park ones) that PodTube captures as Flash videos (.flv).

Next, I needed to view the .flv files. I tried the craptacular app called flv_viewer, and it did nothing. Instead, I strongly recommend getting iSquint. This is an easy-to-use video format converter that's free! I've now used it several times, and it works as advertised. While, I'll still use QT Pro for advanced video conversions, this little app is perfect for quick jobs. Plus, it will convert Flash (.flv) to other formats - and QT Pro won't do that.

The best part is ... the guys who developed iSquint have a great sense of humor. Clicking on the "Advanced" button brings up an interstitial dialog that's clever and funny. Also, the "Help" menu is very original. I'm seriously considering buying their other product: VisualHub. I've looked at the manual, and will test the trial version later today (trials are limited to very very short vids). VisualHub's manual shows the same humor and creativity as the iSquint GUI.

Another cool tool from the same people who brought you PodTube, is iGetMovies. This little gem captures Quicktime and Flash videos that you just finished viewing, and which are save-protected. So even my Quicktime Pro is unable to save the video to my hard drive. With this wonderful thing, now I can save them for repeat enjoyment without having to be connected to the Internet. An example: some videos on Atomfilms (most of theirs are RealPlayer or WMP though) and some media sites like CNN or others.

On the sad side: during my testing, I decided to compare iSquint to ffmpegX, which will also convert from Flash to other formats. My old version (0.0.9u) worked fine, and then I succumbed to the temptation to upgrade to the latest version (0.0.9w) and that failed, then the previous version failed, then removing the latest version and reinstalling the older version also resulted in no output. hmmmmm Good thing I found a new video conversion tool!

For you Windows users, the popular blog LifeHacker recommends using iTube for doing what PodTube does - capturing YouTube videos.

UPDATE: I just did a simple test. I tried to convert a 39 second mpeg4 video (AAC audio) at 320x240 into DivX using VisualHub trial download. It's been running for more than 30 minutes and there's no sign of progress. Meanwhile, I just did that same conversion using Quicktime Pro in less than 2 minutes (total time, including setting the options). hmmm I need to test VisualHub more. I may also checkout their user forum for more info.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

My Back Yard is Wild Kingdom

The biggest skunk I've ever seen in the wild just walked right past me. In my back yard. About 10 feet away. Wow!

I've encountered an average sized opossum in my back yard a few times. Even cornered him once when he ran into the tool shed. But I let him get away. He wasn't bothering me.

So today's visitor was a large skunk. He slowly walked along the bottom of the fence and paused when I turned and said "Well, hello there." Then he squeezed between the fence and the house and away from my view. I ran off to get my camera, but he was gone when I returned. hmmmmm

Just to answer those of you whom may wonder: no, there's no food or trash accessible to these critters in my yard. I currently suspect that they are living or visiting my neighbor's crawlspace - which has a large opening right where the skunk disappeared, and where I've seen the opposum go.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Some Photos I Took

I'm pleased to announce that the wizards over at Blogger have fixed the Safari glitch and now I can post pics without having to fire up Firefox. woohoo! Here are a few pics that I've taken. I happen to use these as desktop images. The first one is of Red Mountain, looking south from the X-15 crash site. That hill sits just to the east of the tiny town of Red Mountain, CA which is a neighbor of the small towns Randsburg and Johannesburg. I tend to get bluer skies over the Mojave desert in the early morning hours.

The second photo is of the Panamint Dunes in Death Valley National Park. I took it from a remote viewing point off highway 190, to the west of Panamint Springs. I used the 12x zoom on the camera and was pleased with the image stabilization. Here's a Google Maps link to that area. The dunes are the dime-sized crusty white spot in the upper right of the map satellite image.

The third photo is of the Racetrack Playa in Death Valley. I like that place a lot. It was 10 am and already over 100 deg. Here's a Google Maps link for the playa.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Visiting The Site of an X-15 Crash


Today I visited the site where an X-15 crashed to Earth. On November 15, 1967, an experimental rocket plane dropped from the sky onto this very spot. It was the 191st flight of the X-15. The USAF test pilot, Major Michael Adams, was killed.


This is the second time I tried to visit this site. The first time, several years ago, there was scant information available about the site's location. The only reliable clue was the geologic formation on the hill in the background. Several others had found the site and somebody had reportedly planted a small American flag there. In May 2004, an official memorial was placed there to commemorate the tragedy.


During this flight, Major Adams experienced a spin at 230,000 ft and Mach 5, recovering at 118,000 ft. Due to technical problems and other factors, he was unable to pull out of the resulting dive, and the plane broke apart before hitting the ground. Major Adams graduated from the Univ. of Oklahoma with a degree in aeronautical engineering and then enrolled at MIT for a graduate degree but left early after being selected to join the USAF experimental test pilot school at Edwards AFB. For the non-pilots among you, that's the holy grail for pilots. Later, he was selected to become an astronaut but died before he could fulfill that dream. In 1991, he was posthumously awarded astronaut wings for his ill-fated flight.

It's interesting that something so distant from my life can draw me to a specific place. And while standing there in an otherwise unremarkable spot, cause me to pause and think about all the efforts and work of so many people. While it's fitting for a Labor Day holiday, I surely hope that I continue to take the time for such things. I think they help give meaning to the work we all do every day.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Latest Book I Read: The Long Tail

I listened to the audio version of the new book titled The Long Tail by Chris Anderson. It currently has 4 (of 5) stars from 45 Amazon reviewers and I also enjoyed it. The full title is "The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More." It's like selling millions of things for tens of dollars, compared to selling tens of things for millions of dollars. The statistical background for this sort of thing is called a Pareto distribution. For more info, check out the Wikipedia page for the Long Tail, since I'd probably do it an injustice with any explanation of my own. Chris Anderson is the editor of Wired magazine and also has a Long Tail blog.

I enjoyed the case study-ish information, since that put the message into a convenient and understandable context. I didn't enjoy the book's length. I think it would benefit from a little more editing. But I still recommend it for anybody who is interested in the economics of modern commerce.

Monday, August 21, 2006

My New Tent

On this trip to Yosemite, I used my new tent - a Columbia Bugaboo Family Dome. It's really large (12 x 9 ft) and I'll only use it for car camping. It's over 6 ft tall so I can stand up inside. I really enjoyed all the room. My backpacking tent is terrific (REI Half Dome 2), but it's so small that it is basically a sleeping cocoon. You can see from the pics that I have enough room inside to include a small camping table and stools. There's plenty of room for several people. The Columbia was pretty low cost too, but it doesn't include a footprint, so I used a tarp.

I had planned to hike up Mt. Dana on my way out of the park, but decided against it because I arrived at Tioga pass at noon. Seen in the pics here, Mt. Dana is the 2nd highest mountain in the park (at 13,053 ft it's 61 feet shorter than Mt. Lyell). I took several photos and when I examined the images later at home, I spotted two people at the summit. Cool.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Hiking Mt Watkins in Yosemite NP


On my recent camping and hiking trip to Yosemite NP, I camped at the Tuolumne Meadows campground. The weather was perfect with clear blue sky, highs around 75, and night time lows around freezing. That campground has 304 camp sites with 50 percent available as 1st come 1st served. I arrived there around noon to ensure that I could get a camp site. I was worried that the end of summer would bring a lot of families out before school started. When I pulled in, the ranger told me that there weren't any bears around the campground. She said they were all feasting on the tourists down in the valley. She's right! The NPS has a nice web site reporting updated bear conditions. The bear food lockers in the camp sites have changed since I was last there. They didn't require any lock (padlock or caribiner). And instead, they have a spring latch installed that made it really handy for quick access to munchies.

One afternoon I walked out along the PCT to the middle of Tuolumne Meadow and sat quietly until the animals came out. That's how I got the pic of the little critters. I don't know what they are. But one of them barked a loud chirp whenever they saw me, followed by a fast retreat into their burrow. Continuing my experimentation with the zoom on my new camera, I took the pic of the moon at full zoom and no tripod. I really do like that image stabilization.

My previous post included a pic of Lembert Dome which sits right in front of the campground. I chatted with a law enforcement Ranger who was helping to "extract a hiker" who had fallen. He told me that the hiker had fallen a hundred feet on that dome and had broken their leg. Yikes! If you ask me, that's a very lucky hiker. They must have been on the back side where it's not very steep. Otherwise, they would have died from that fall.

My main reason for this trip was to hike to the top of Mt. Watkins from Olmsted Point. Mt. Watkins is located on the west side of Tenaya Canyon, and is a prominent landmark for hikers visiting Mirror Lake. There's isn't a trail to the summit, so it required some off-trail hiking. It's a beautiful hike that's not strenuous and requires very little route finding, so I strongly recommend it to others. The route I took was about 8 miles and 4 hours round trip. For full disclosure: I did get lost once on the return, when I didn't recognize my surroundings. I was thinking to myself: "Hmmm ... this doesn't look right." But that's why I carry a GPS receiver. I stopped to have a snack and checked the GPS to see that, indeed, I had taken an odd right turn. A few minutes later I was back on the right path. The 3rd pic shown is of Mt Watkins taken from the top of Half Dome. I didn't take that one. I found it on the web. It shows the huge round summit of Mt Watkins. The next pic was taken by me from that summit of Mt Watkins. It was like walking on the surface of a ginormous granite boulder.


The next pic shows Yosemite valley from the summit. It's hard to make out any details because of all those trees. I kept walking down the front of Mt Watkins, so I could get closer to the edge, and closer to Half Dome. Looking back up Tenaya Canyon, you can see the 1000 ft drop and the Pywiack Cascade. Those very steep granite walls are only part of the reason the Parks Service strongly discourages people hiking in or through Tenaya Canyon. I've read several descriptions on the web from experienced hiker/climbers who've made that trek.


The next photos are of Half Dome taken from the front edge of Mt Watkins. I posted the full size images and they are almost 2 MB each. So be warned if you click on them. You can see hikers on the lower staircase section (I hate that section most) and on the cable section and on the summit. You can even see people in the full frame image. I couldn't see any climbers on the face, due to the morning shadows.




I was surprised to find a lot of footprints heading across Mt Watkins summit. It's such a nice hike, I understand the popularity. On my next trip to this part of the park, I want to hike up Fairview Dome, hike the trail to the top of Clouds Rest, and do some off-trail exploring on the granite domes just above Tenaya Canyon.


I tried to attach a Google Earth KML file that takes you to a view looking down Tenaya Canyon, but it failed - probably because the server script is wanting an image file. Let's try this: here's the text. Copy this into a new text file and name it anything ending in .kml Then double click on that new file, and it should open Google Earth and go to the view.

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?><kml xmlns="http://earth.google.com/kml/2.1"><Placemark>
<name>View Down Tenaya Canyon</name>
<LookAt>
<longitude>-119.4858017403796
<latitude>37.79181431012587
<altitude>0
<range>1185.672106342501
<tilt>61.41873706813261
<heading>-132.1193031137566
</LookAt>
<styleUrl>root://styleMaps#default+nicon=0x307+hicon=0x317</styleUrl>
<Point>-119.4854284327588,37.79226568626787,0</coordinates></Point>
</Placemark>
</kml>

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Just Returned


I've returned from several days of hiking in Yosemite NP. Am tired and still have a lot of unpacking to do. It seems that I brought back a lot of the forrest floor with my tent and tarp. I'll post more about the trip later. I took this pic of Lembert Dome - so it will serve as a teaser.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Neat Tool to Improve Your Cell Reception

Antennasearch.com is a neat Google maps mashup website that maps cell towers and antennas. I like it better than CellReception.com because it shows a lot more antennas. I have bad reception at my home, but I found a spot 2 blocks away that's right next to a tower for my craptacular service (Cingular/ATT). Woohoo!

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Latest Book I Read: Busting Vegas

I listened to the audio book version of Busting Vegas by Ben Mezrich. The audio book was read by the author. It has 3 of 5 stars average from 32 Amazon reviewers. I like it and would probably rate it 4 stars. Mezrich's previous book on the same topic, Bringing Down the House, has 4/5 stars from 336 reviewers.

Busting Vegas isn't about the same subject as Bringing Down the House. They're both about members of the MIT Blackjack Team, but the earlier book (Bringing Down the House) is about an earlier team and their profitable use of advanced card counting techniques. Busting Vegas is about more recent members of the team and their use of some advanced techniques that aren't strictly considered card counting. They involve statistics, precise deck cutting skills, and other methods that enabled the small team to make huge profits. Unfortunately, that kind of profit does not go unnoticed by the casinos. The members enjoyed the luxury of comp'ed suites as well as the excitement of having guns pointed at them and being beaten up. It would make for an enjoyable movie. I can't help but wonder if Mezrich wrote it that way intentionally.

Semyon Dukach, the principle character in the book has his own web site as well as a MySpace page. No WikiPedia page (yet), so there's a limit to his current celebrity. He is the one who told the story. That makes me wonder if the others might decide to tell their stories too. Knowing that the story came from Semyon made me wonder how biased it might be. Regardless, I recommend this book.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

More Big Horns and Petroglyphs Too!

One of the places I visited on my recent trip was Keyhole Canyon, in the desert south of Las Vegas. The sky was overcast so my photos didn't turn out as nice as I wanted. The site is covered in petroglyphs. Most of which are high up on the rocks making it very difficult to reach them. It gets a lot of visitors, being so close to a large city, and some of the petroglyphs have been vandalized.

I got there early in the morning to avoid the heat. It was only 95 degrees. I used the nifty zoom on my new camera to snap pics of the glyphs that were too high to reach. The small canyon ends at the base of a small (25-30 ft) pour-over with a small stagnant puddle of water that had its own swarm of insects hovering over it. At one point, I looked up to see that I was being watched by a couple big horn sheep.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Big Horn Sheep

When I was hiking in Zion I was very lucky to see some big horn sheep. I've been wanting to find and photograph them in the wild for a while, so this was really neat. I was hiking off-trail on the east side of the park. The landscape was beautiful and there were plenty of trees for shade. While sitting in the shade of a big pine tree to rest and snack, a string of 10 big horn walked by. They probably never expected to see a person there. I didn't want to spook them, so I simply pulled my small camera out of my pocket to take these shots. I waved at the big guy and he stopped and stared at me for quite a while. Then I said something, and he turned and walked away. Then the others came by. I didn't get a pic of the last two.

So then I thought to myself: so that's where the animal use trail is! Sometimes it's helpful to follow the use trails, especially for the larger animals. But it's easy to forget that deer and big horn sheep can jump much higher than I can. I followed the trail back the direction they came from only to see it head into a small dead-end canyon. The sandstone wall at the back was inclined more than 45 degrees. I was astonished to see hoof marks on that wall. It looked like some of the the sheep came down it, and slid a little bit.

Zion Pics - Testing My New Camera


One morning I decided to wander around the Virgin River in the main Zion canyon. I just wanted to mess around with my new camera. It's a Canon S3 IS. I still don't know how to work most of its functions. Here's a pic of a deer that just walked right up to me. Kinda scrawny, especially compared to the big horn sheep I saw.


The next 3 pics show the great zoom capabilities of the camera. The trail named Angel's Landing is up there on that ridge. We could barely make out hikers as white dots with the naked eye. The second pic had moderate zoom and the 3rd pic used the full 12x zoom. I really like the image stabilization. Without that, these pics would have been blurry.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

My Lodging at Zion NP

Because it's the middle of summer, I decided to not stay in the campground. I decided to stay in a hotel that I hadn't tried before, but is rated very highly in my travel book, Moon Handbooks Zion & Bryce. The Best Western Zion Park Inn is also just as expensive as the nicest hotels in Springdale, UT (that's the small town at the entrance to Zion Natl. Park).

Their swimming pool is large and the jacuzzi is also large, however the pool area is not very attractive. There's no shade to hide from the scorching sun and the view isn't anything to brag about. It's just not a very welcoming area. The putting green is large and in bad shape. They have short trails behind the hotel that pass by the Virgin River, where you can either cool your feet, or watch rafters drifting by. I took the pic here of a group of roudy young rafters. They promptly got stuck in some large boulders just below the bridge I was on.

The rooms were very average - classic Best Western. Clean. No stains. No private patio. My preferred hotels there have private patios. Complementary shampoo and soap are basic Best Western fare. My preferred hotels have fancy schmancy shampoos and soaps that actually smell nice. The toilet paper was thin - only airports have thinner stuff. The 8 channels on the TV is typical for that area.

I was eager to try the attached restaurant, the Switchback Grille. I was hoping that, since it's a Best Western, it would be a family oriented restaurant with family oriented prices. I was very disappointed. Notice the elite fare on their menu. Ugh. So I ended up walking around town to recon other dining choices. I eventually tried several during this trip, but I'll blog about one in particular. While walking around town, at one point I was almost run down by a young girl on a scooter. OK - not exactly. I was crossing a dirt side road when I noticed a young girl accelerating her scooter right toward me. I feigned an expression of fear and surprise and she gave a big smile. I ended up choosing to dine that night at the Bit & Spur Restaurant which was highly recommended in my Moon handbook and was conveniently across the street from the Best Western. It had a great selection of Mexican food. It was a pleasant surprise when my waitress introduced herself. Holly smiled really big and said "You're the guy I almost ran over!" We laughed. The food was excellent. The portions are enormous. If you eat there, be sure to bring a huge appetite, or a teenager. I couldn't finish the carnitas flauta I ordered. The prices were decent. Not cheap, but not overpriced, like many places in town.

Another observation. That tiny town seems to host a large number of art galleries and shops. I guess that being in the presence of beautiful scenery must make some people want to buy overpriced artwork.

So, in conclusion, I do not recommend the Best Western Zion Park Inn. Instead, I do recommend 2 other hotels in town. I've stayed at both, several times and they are great. My favorite is Flanigans Inn. It's located close enough to the park entrance that you can walk into the park from the hotel. The rooms are set back off the street. Most have private patios. They all have very soft and comfy interior furnishings. Big soft beds you want to jump onto. The pool is smaller (as is the putting green) but well kept with shade and a nice view of the cliffs. Their staff is very nice and friendly. The other top pick is the Desert Peal Inn. Their interior decor is very contemporary. Private patios, a large pool and jacuzzi with great views. Their lobby staff have been more on the snobby (not quite rude) side.