Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Arco, No Threat to Starbucks

We were doing a Costco run to Carson City today and stopped by the Arco to fill up the tank. (Only $1.73 per gallon, gotta love Arco.) As I walked into the store I noticed a makeshift sign on the door advertising 99 cent espresso. Someone had actually taken a piece of cardboard and written "99 cent espresso" on it with a ball point pen and taped it to the door. As I was getting my change, I asked about the special.

"So you guys are offering espresso now?" I said.

"Naw, we've had it for a while. We're just running a special now," said the cashier, flashing her partially toothless smile at me.

I couldn't resist, I told her I would try one. She turned and yelled "Coffee!" over my shoulder to her co-worker in the back of the store. She then directed me to the coffee bar part of the mini-mart. There a handsome woman wearing a Happy New Year! tiara greeted me and asked what I wanted.

I told her just an espresso. She was amazed. No milk? No flavoring? No sugar? Just espresso? Yes, just an espresso please. This seemed to confuse her. The menu did indicate espresso along with lattes and cappuccinos. Finally she shrugged and got to work. It took quite a while and she even had to add more beans to the top of machine. After a few minutes, she presented me with a steaming 16 ounce cup filled to the brim with espresso!

"Wow, that's a big espresso," I said.

"Yeah, well I had to fill up the cup," she responded.

I realized that she had simply been pressing the espresso button on the machine until the cup was full.

"Usually an espresso is a lot smaller," I said, pointing to a small espresso cup next to the machine.

"Well I didn't realize that," she said, somewhat offended.

On the plus side, the coffee was actually pretty good. I could only drink about a double espresso's worth, and I'll probably be up all night because of that. It's a shame to waste so much coffee, but at least it only cost me 99 cents!

Barack and Me

I just read that Roland Burris has been nominated by Blagojevich to replace Obama in the senate. This struck me because I've actually met Burris. In fact, he's been to my childhood home a few times. My father, Jerry Beguelin, MD, was a early supporter of Burris and we had fundraisers at our home back in the 1970s. I have a vivid memory of the event. One of the Harlem Globe Trotters attended. I remember he had these really cool blue sunglasses. I commented on them, and he actually gave them to me. But I digress.

This is the second time in as many months that I've found myself connected to our President Elect. Last month I was watching Obama's news conference where he announced a bunch of cabinet nominations. It turns out his nomination for US Attorney General, Eric Holder, was actually my lawyer a few years ago. (A long story that I won't go into here.)

Holder was working for Covington and Burling at the time. My college roommate Stuart Irvin also works for this prestigious firm. I called him to chat about this coincidence. It turns out Stuart is also an alumni and parent at Sidwell Friends. Guess who else has kids going to Sidwell? Turns out Barack Obama's daughters will be attending Sidwell next month.

In another coincidence, my daughter's best friend from grade school is also attending Sidwell Friends.

Small world.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Diamond Peak

After a bunch of snow this week, all the lifts are open at Diamond Peak here in Incline Village. I took this shot from my iPhone yesterday. You can see Lake Tahoe in the background. I like the way the sun is reflecting off the lake but not coming through the clouds. The smaller peak in the center-right is the top of the Lakeview lift and the Snowflake Lodge.

Here's a shot from last weekend at Snowflake Lodge. You can tell it's closer to the lake and lower in elevation. I believe the point sticking out in the lake is actually the boarder between California and Nevada, home of the Cal Neva Resort. Note the term resort is used loosely. :-)

Seinfeld on Letterman

Seinfeld did a pretty funny stand-up routine on Letterman last week. I wanted to send it to a friend so I figured I would just blog it here.

And here's the post stand-up conversation if you're interested.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Got My Boxee

Just got my alpha invite to Boxee. It's a new piece of software that integrates video from your hard drive or from the internet with your TV. Now you can watch Hulu with your remote control.

I'm sure I'll have more to say after I've played with it a bit.

quick intro to boxee from boxee on Vimeo.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Always Look on the Bright Side of Life

In these dark days of winter, don't forget to look on the bright side. What've you got to loose? You come from nothing, you leave with nothing. Don't sweat it.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Canceled MobileMe Screws iPhone Sync

iTunes was telling me:

over-the-air settings can be changed on your iphone
But I couldn't find anywhere on my iPhone to change this.

If you cancel your Mobile Me account, make sure to turn off the Mobile Me syncing before deleting the account. I noticed that calendar events were not being updated back and forth between the iPhone and my Mac. Turns out I had deleted the Mobile Me account but iTunes was still relying on Mobile Me to do the work.

If you already removed your account, just add it back as described here. Your contacts will go away but you can then restore them by telling iTunes to copy them to your iPhone.

Cancellation of MobileMe considered harmful. Just don't sign up in the first place and you'll be fine.

More Tesla Driving

Here's a longer video. I couldn't get it uploaded to Smug Mug because they limit the size. YouTube was more lenient with the video size and time limits. So here you go. Maybe not as exciting as the first video...

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Starbucks-Aware iTunes

Ok, this is kinda cool and kinda creepy. I fired up iTunes while connected to the WiFi at Starbucks and it knew what song was playing in the store. I wonder how this works. iTunes must connect back to Apple every time I fire it up. There must then be some process by which it looks up where I'm connecting from. If it's a Starbucks, then they can figure out what's playing and show the correct thing.

I wonder if Starbucks are all playing the same songs at the same time? That might make it a bit easier to show what's playing. The satellite jockeys at Hughes Network Systems used to provide a system like that.

No, wait. I see that there is a flat screen on the wall showing the current music as well. The song showing on my laptop changes at the same time as the display on the wall. Nice. Perhaps iTunes is connecting to the same box that is driving the display and the audio here in the store to get the now playing information.

Now for a challenge, how do we change what song is playing? That sounds like a good hacker challenge to me.

Funny Rebuttal of Top Gear Video

My buddy Richard sent me this one. It's a rebuttal of the Top Gear episode I blogged about recently. The language is pretty rough so it's probably NSFW (not safe for work), depending on where you work.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Tesla on Top Gear

Looks like Top Gear, that quirky British TV show, covers the Tesla. They have a bit of trouble with the cars, but it's entertaining to watch them put it through a few trials.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Graham's Distractions

Paul Graham's essay on distraction struck a chord with me. Basically he talks about how easy it is to get distracted and some techniques for staying focused. My favorite quote is:

If you drink too much, you can solve that problem by stopping entirely. But you can't solve the problem of overeating by stopping eating.
For me, the Internet is a lot like food. I can't just give it up. It's integral to who I am and the kinds of things I like to work on. However, it's full of distracting treats and time wasters. Paul solves this problem by using a dedicated computer for all his email and web browsing. All his real work is done on another computer, that he keeps offline.

For me, I turn off all email alerts (Growl is not your friend) and shut down my email client when I'm trying to get some work done. Of course this doesn't help stem my tangential web browsing and whim following.

Of late I've started trying to group tasks together and focus on only those tasks for set amounts of time. If I can dedicate an hour or two to just the tasks related to a specific project, then I can make some real headway. Part of the key is just focusing on tasks related to that specific project and nothing else. Having a specific duration in mind can be a big help. By getting yourself to focus on one project for an hour (or even 10 minutes) will help you get into the flow of things. And for me, the flow around accomplishing tasks is really the best reward.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Tesla Roadster: First Impressions

I've now had my Tesla Roadster for more than 24 hours. I picked it up on Monday, which is the same day they delivered their 100th car. It's a lot of fun to drive, that's for sure. In fact, my neck hurts from all the acceleration!

As others have noted, getting into and out of the car takes a bit of acrobatic acumen. As you can see from the first picture, the car has a soft top that you roll up to remove. There is also a hard top, but they aren't delivering those with the cars yet. It's another body panel so by leaving it out, Tesla can deliver more cars per week. This is the correct choice in my opinion. I can wait on the hard top.

I have noticed some condensation in the passenger side headlamp. The brakes are making a strange noise which my son describes as a whale sound. The folks at Telsa Motors say they are looking into the condensation issue. I haven't asked them about the brakes, but Lawrence tells me it's pretty normal for the brakes on high performance cars to be noisy for the first 1,000 miles or so.

My friend Lawrence Sinclair is visiting from Saigon and we went for a spin. He shot the above photos and a couple of fun video clips of us driving it around the neighborhood hills. Here's one of the clips. I have a longer one, but I haven't had time to edit it down.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Amazon Race Condition

Since our family is spread all over the country (and a good part of the globe) we use Amazon's wish list to communicate what the kids want for Christmas and birthdays. It's nice because the kids don't see what has (or has not) been purchased, but the rest of the family can see what's left on the list. Presumably this avoids getting duplicate presents.

As any computer scientist knows, when you have a single variable and multiple updates going on in parallel, you can end up with what are called race conditions. Basically when multiple writers try to change the variable at the same time, the outcome is non-deterministic. Well yesterday we got caught by that non-determinism. Two uncles in different time zones ended up ordering the same gifts off of the kids' wish lists. Uncle Randy and Uncle Chad were doing their shopping at roughly the same time, unaware of the race condition. Luckily the uncles also sent email confirming their purchases so we were able to adjust the orders satisfactorily!

When I did my PhD in Computer Science back in the late 80s, I never would have thought that non-deterministic access to a single resource over a wide area network would impact my Christmas many years later. I guess it's a geek Christmas after all.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Native Client @ Google

My buddy Brad Chen over at Google pointed me to their release today of Native Client, a project that lets you safely run native x86 code in the browser. Sure, you can run code in the browser today (JavaScript, ActiveX, Java Applets) but typically you have to give up on either portability or performance. The brainiacs over at Google have figured out how to get safe, portable, and performant code running across multiple operating systems.

I've always thought it would be fun to build a computing grid out of idle web clients. Of course the communication patterns would be limited to client server, but at least with NaCl code you don't have to run your compute processes in JavaScript.

For more details, check out the Google Code blog entry or the project page itself.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Telsa 97 Arrives in Meno Park

I was able to touch my car yesterday. Number 97 of the Signature 100 Series is not quite ready, but I now believe I'll have it soon! The Tesla Motors showroom in Meno Park is a very busy place these days. There were a lot of Roadsters on the premises. I believe they delivered 5 cars yesterday.