Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Pirate is Home!

Our new friend, Pirate, has just come home :). You can see plenty of pictures in the gallery. He's getting well aquainted, sniffing and digging EVERYWHERE.
Pirate

The name Pirate is going to take a little time to get used to, but it won out hands down.
Pirate

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Check Out This Hot Dog

If all goes smoothly, this may be our new friend!:
Carl, the beagle

He is a four-month old beagle/basset hound. We've spent a fair amount of time with him at the SPCA and really like him. If our application comes through and the timing works out, we will be all set.

Now all we need is a name! We have several ideas, including:

  • Carl

  • Hendrix

  • Gordon

  • Sam

  • Pirate

  • Napoleon


My personal favorite has got to be Pirate. Just imagine the scenarios...


> "Oh he's so cute, what's his name!?"
< "Pirate."
> "Oh...um...oh."
> "Hi...pirate."
< "Yarrrr!"


Feel free to submit any ideas as a comment--we are open to suggestions. We were pretty set on Charlie Brown but that was vetoed because we found it was used by another family member's dog.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Learning French

On my recent journey to Canada (work, don't ask), I took it upon myself to learn French. Audiotapes? No. Workbooks? No. Full Submersion? No. Street signs? No. Oh wait, yeah, street signs. For much of the way through Canada, the highway signs came in pairs: the first in English and the second in French.

Using a few signs as my Rosetta Stone I now consider myself a fluent speaker. Here's what I've learned so far...

Metric Conversion


Let's start with an easy one:
Metric speeds (english) Metric speeds (french)

Cool, let's add some words to my vocabulary:

  1. Metric

  2. Conversion

  3. Maximum

  4. Radar

  5. Detector

  6. Prohibited


Another easy pair:
Speeding costs you (english) Speeding costs you (french)

Some more vocab:

  1. Speeding

  2. Costs

  3. You

  4. Speed

  5. Fines


And one final pair:
Tailgating (english) Tailgating (french)

Last set of vocab:

  1. Tailgating

  2. Kills

  3. Leave

  4. Some

  5. Space


Awesome, now I have a fluent vocabulary of 17 words. My next challenge is to communicate with others using only these words. Feel free to submit your suggested sentences as a comment.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

How is your WiFi?

I must admit that I am impressed with the adoption of WiFi. My parents, friends, coworkers, etc. all have jumped on for the ride. In fact, in my apartment I can see at least five networks—seven if I stay near the window. I think this is great!

Of course you knew I was going to say "but." Here's my gripe: the wireless protocol is still notoriously unreliable. It isn't enough that we get less than half of the advertised distance and perhaps a quarter of the advertised speed; we also must weather intermittent connections.

It's really the randomness that bothers me most. For example, I have a Netgear wireless router at home (802.11g) that worked pretty well for my Dell laptop for about three months. I could venture all over my apartment without fear. Recently however, my connection sucks. It is dropped frequently (several times a session) and often refuses to reconnect. If you use Windows XP and have experienced this, you are familiar with the dancing yellow ball. That annoying animation is supposed to indicate "one sec, we've got the network." For me, it usually lasts about a minute before the horrid red X appears. That awful red X is supposed to indicate that no access point is available. In my case it indicates "fuck you, you're on your own today."

Whoa, I got a little worked up there.

Perhaps the problem is with my router. I don't remember reading in the manual that it requires daily hard-resets but doing so does seem to do the trick.

I recall similar experiences with my D-Link router (so old that I could only find it on the support site!). I used to use a Linksys router at work and it functioned pretty well most of the time and required a reset only a couple of times each month. All of my experiences have been with protected (WEP or WPA-PSK) protected.

My point is that this technology has had plenty of time to mature. I'd rather see advancements in stability instead of speed. For nearly all users, speed isn't the issue.

If you have had good experiences with your wireless connection, please comment on what equipment you have. It might also be helpful to know if your access point is open or closed (if you don't know what that means and you set this thing up yourself, your router is open).

Finally, if you are using a Mac, don't bother commenting. My iBook rocks with any WiFi connection.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Intelligent Cat Door

Here's another cool use of imaging that I read about last year: the intelligent cat door. A guy made this in his spare time to solve an annoying problem. Apparently, his cat had been bringing dead rodents into the house with him. Obviously this was unpleasant. What he did was surprisingly simple.

He realized that he could tell if his cat was dragging in an unwanted rodent with him by looking at the cat's silhouette. He setup a computer to capture images of the cat's silhouette as he waited by the cat-door. Then a relatively simple comparison algorithm is used to determine if the new image represents the cat with or without a rodent. If the cat is rodent-free, the computer triggers the solenoid-controlled door so the cat can enter. If the computer detects that the cat is carrying an unwanted critter, the door remains locked and the cat is forced to wander away.

The beauty of this design is that it is built using mostly off the shelf components. First, consider the solenoid door. These already exist in the form of proximity triggers—typically you would attach a beacon to your pet's collar which electronically unlocks the door only when your pet approaches, keeping other animals out. As your pet walks away from the door, it automatically locks. Brilliant!

The "imaging device" is just a webcam—simple enough. [Warning: geek-stuff coming] The comparison algorithm could be something like a bitwise compare or (even easier) a GZip compare to a reference image. If my memory serves, nothing more complex like feature vectors + distance functions was required.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Poseidon Swimming System

Now this is damn cool. The Poseidon Swimming System is a computer imaging system used to detect when someone is drowning. Effectively, it tracks swimmers and sounds an alert to screens, sirens, pagers, etc. when a swimmer stops moving. How cool! This is an awesome application of imaging technology—a field that typically only receives publicity for its security implications.

You might also be surprised to hear that this product has been around for several years.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Auto-Tint Glass

Auto-tint glass has been used in eyeglasses for many years now (my earliest memory reaches as far back as 1995). You've probably seen it around—people wear a single pair of glasses that transform into sunglasses when they go outside into the Sun, and transform back into regular eyeglasses when they come inside.

Let's all pause a moment and consider how amazing this simple thing is.

Ok, thank you. I am curious why this technology hasn't found itself more useful. Imagine the possibilities!

Windows...everywhere!

You can buy permanently tinted windows but they come with a pretty serious limitation: at night, they are really, really dark. How about windows that automatically tint during the day, but lighten up at night? It seems to me that this would keep our cars and houses cooler in the warmer months by blocking out the Sun (energy efficiency is all the rage these days, right?).

I think this would be particularly useful at offices. The office I used to work at had tinted windows and they always made things look dreary outside. When it actually was dreary, the windows made things look like a storm of biblical proportions was approaching. Auto-tinting windows could reduce this problem by dimming only to the authority of the Sun.

Sure, I guess a naysayer would complain that we'd lose the energy savings in the colder months because the Sun helps but screw it, I say it's well worth the trade off. You could still use this in lieu of standard window tint for reasons already mentioned.

So the next time you plop into your hot, 140F degree car on a hot summer afternoon consider auto-tinting windows.

If anyone has any figures detailing how expensive this stuff is, let me know. This is the only reason why it isn't more popular that I can think of.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Gas prices

This isn't your usual "oil prices are out of control post" so simmer down.

Thanks to my friend Brian here at RoviSys-NC, I have some new insight into the problem. The standard response to the "gas prices are too high!" complaint is, "you're actually lucky, they pay $7.13 in Amsterdam!" My personal favorite is when they something like, "You're complaining about $2.56/gal? Try Amsterdam, they pay $2.56 PER LITER!!!!!!!" They actually add that many exclamation points in added emphasis--it's as though a gallon is equivilent to 100000 liters (in case you don't know, 1 US gallon = 3.7854118 liters).

Anyway, the point of all this. The price of crude oil isn't that high. What really gets you is the tax. The article referenced indicates that for an average price of fuel in the US of $2.56/gal, the tax tacked on at the federal, state, and sometimes local level totals to about 40 cents. That is, without tax, that gallon of gasoline would be only $2.17, not $2.56.

Not a huge deal, but consider this. In Britain, the average cost of unleaded was $6.06/gal. If you cut the 75% that goes to the government in taxes, the price drops to a mere $1.97. Holly cow! That's right, Britain's fuel costs are overwhelmingly dominated by taxes.

It seems that a similar trend exists within some states in the US and most countries in Europe. These tactics appear to be part of an effort to encourage the use of other fuels and efficient vehicles. While I'm all for such outcomes, I wouldn't be happy about forking over so much in taxes--and I'm not even a smoker (roughly, a pack of cigarettes: $3.00 = $2.00 tax + $1.00 tar).

So the next time someone tries to stop your complaining by throwing in some (probably) made up number from Europe, remember that most of it may be in taxes.

Also keep in mind that I didn't thoroughly research this or fact-check anything.

References: csmonitor.com

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Buying an iPod: Fight the Urge to Splurge

Continuing our discussion of the sneaky iPod pricing structure from yesterday, here are a few tips to help you fight the impulse to splurge.

Purpose

Are you planning to use your new player while exercising? If so, you might be better off with a flash based player like the Shuffle and Nano. Running and shaking can cause the hard drive based players to skip, crash, and otherwise stop playing music. Do not let that "3 minute anti-skip" crap fool you—they don't work well when used while exercising. This is the primary reason that Sarah got a shuffle and she loves it.

Space

Do you really need that space? Possibly not. First, do you even have 5,000 songs (that's how much you'd need to fill up a 20 GB player) on your computer? If not, why get the 60 GB beast? Spend the extra $100 on music!

Another thing to consider for this point is how often you will be updating your player. If you are fanatical about your playlists or just by habit happen to dock your player several times a week (remember: the more you listen, the more you've got to charge!), you can probably get away with a very small player since you won't need to carry your entire collection with you all the time. To accomplish this, setup your player to populate with new stuff every time you plug-in (automatically).

Physical Size

I'm not claiming that the full-size iPod is big, but the shuffle and Nano are tiny. If you are already lugging around a wallet, cell phone, pda, etc., a full-size iPod might be too much.

Age

Finally, with all things tech, you may find your device out of date before you were able to exploit all that extra space. In my experience, these players are designed to last two to three years of solid usage. If you don't really need the biggest player right now, relax. The chances are that a cheaper, smaller, and higher capacity player will be available in a couple years when you do. Plus, a video capable iPod is coming soon, trust me.

Timing

If you can't really afford any iPod now, don't sweat. They are only getting cheaper. You might recall that only three years ago, the cheapest model was $299 (5 GB). Now there are a handful of offerings below the $299 mark. As competition increases, you win. Look forward to the iPod Pico in the spring (j/k).

Final Note

If you've had your heart set on a particular model, go for it! At $299 for a sweet music player and storage device I'd say you're getting a deal. On that note, if you plan to use your iPod as a storage device (pictures, documents, movies, etc.), a larger model may better suit you after all.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

iPod Nano

My friend Bryan did a quick analysis of this tiny, little device. I completely agree with his conclusion regarding color choices: what happened? Like Tif, My wife agrees that the mini is soooo "I want one" because of the color choices. As it stands now, your only options are white and red (U2). Wow it's small, though.

Check out Bryan's article for some more commentary and references.

I find the iPod pricing structure devilishly clever. It kills me:












ModelSize (GB) Cost$/GB
Shuffle0.5$99$198
Shuffle1$129$129
Nano2$199$100
Nano4$249$62
Mini (disc.)4$199$50
Mini (disc.)6$249$42
iPod20$299$15
iPod60$399$7




Let's ignore that last column for now ($/GB). We'll work our way down. Suppose you are interested in a Shuffle. You get double the songs for a mere $30 more. That's a tough upgrade to ignore unless you really lock into the first model being sub-$100. Don't worry, it gets worse.

Suppose you were interested in a Nano. Starting at $199, you are damn close to a full blown iPod. For a mere $100, you get ten times the space! Ok, ok so space is important to you but not that important? So you move up to the larger Nano (4 GB). Whoops, now you're only $50 away from the real deal—might as well upgrade right now. We had basically the same problem with the Mini that this model replaced.

Tomorrow I'll discuss a few ways you can talk yourself out of (or maybe into) these upgrades.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Impatience at its best

While waiting in line on one of Cary's main roads a few days ago I was presented with a fine display of impatience. Let me set the scene for you. We're all waiting at a traffic light that has a left-turn lane. There is no one in the lane and the cars going straight at backed up so far that if someone DID want to turn right, they'd have to wait to get closer--to the point where the lane begins.

While I admit this would be a little annoying it certainly doesn't justify using your SUV to drive onto the cement median with all four wheels for a significant distance only to wait in the turn lane for the light to change. Is that what we've come to? I'd be pissed, too, if I didn't get any use out of my trail-rated vehicle--what with all the off roading I do in my family transport--but take it out on the environment like everyone else. Thanks for doing your part to keep gasoline prices up there (can you say supply/demand?).

Friday, September 9, 2005

House Hunting Updates (II)

We bought a house today! Our agent haggled with the builder and settled on a great price--we signed a contract earlier today! We are so excited. Check out the photos in the gallery to see our sweet new home.

So if you are heading down to or through the area (to the beach perhaps?) stop in to say hello. You could even stay the night in our extra bedroom (provided I know you of course ;)).

I'll keep all you avid readers posted as things move along.

Thursday, September 8, 2005

House Hunting Updates

Sarah and I found two homes that we really like but after revisiting both homes, one has surfaced as a clear winner. Our agent was over late last night preparing an offer for 105 Stoneline Court.

We chose this house over the other for several reasons. Stoneline is in a nicer area with better schools, etc. It is in an area of higher/quicker appreciation. The community feels better--we have a community pool, and nearby ballpark and bike path. One of the big selling points is land. The first house had less and 1/5 acre. The house we've chosen sits on 2/5 acre. Additionally, two of the 3 adjacent lots (one side and rear) will most likely never have homes on them. The rear lot has a pond on it and the side lot is almost completely in a flood plane with poor position and terrain relative to surrounding properties. That effectively means that we have a lot more privacy and the feel of a lot more land. Obviously all these things translate into a higher cost but it is definitely worth it.

There remain only two things that could keep us from getting this home. First, there is a contingency on the home. This means that another party has sent an offer that is contingent on something, typically the sale of their existing home. When another offer comes in (i.e. our offer), the original party is given 24-48 hours to decide if they want the house or not. Our agent tells us that the odds are in our favor.

The second obstacle is the loan. We don't have much cash on hand so a down payment isn't really an option. We've been told that since we are first time buyers, financing the whole shebang shouldn't be a problem...I guess we'll see.

I'll keep you (that's plural you--my 5 loyal readers) posted with the goings on.

Tuesday, September 6, 2005

Happy!

Today marks our (Michael's and my) 2 year anniversary! No longer newlyweds, we move into the "young couple" or "20-something" category...yay :) 2 down, 50+ to go.
In other news, we've started house hunting in the Raleigh area and have found a pretty good prospect. If you want to check it out, head on over to the gallery.
That's all for now :)

Sunday, September 4, 2005

Canada

I recently went to Canada on a business trip. I stayed in London, Ontario for a few days and came to notice a few things to which I'm not accustomed. These aren't bad things, mind you. I'd actually consider most of these to be a big plus.

Black Clothes

While I don't like to buy into stereotypes (except when they're true--j/k ;)), I couldn't ignore that everyone seemed to be wearing black t-shirts. While my coworker had many interesting and potentially offensive names for the local residents, the fact remains that four out of five people that I saw walking the streets were wearing black t-shirts. I guess it's the style.

Metric

Yay! Why, oh why hasn't the US adopted the metric system!? It would be a pain in the ass for about two years, but after that it would be so nice. Why is the US the only stubborn country left using the English system of measurement?

Speed Warning Signs

Every so often, we saw a road that had the speed limits listed along with the penalties for breaking them, in 10 km/h increments. For example, in a 110 km/h zone:
  • Going 120 km/h = $100 + two points
  • Going 130 km/h = $200 + three points
  • Going 140 km/h = $300 + four points

  • Ouch!

    Beer

    I didn't believe this until I checked it out. Beer is only available at the US-equivilent of a liquor store, known in Canada as the "Beer Store." I'm not kidding, that's what the sign says. You, apparently, cannot walk into your neighborhood Canadian grocer and purchase beer--instead you must go to the beer store before 6:00pm and buy it there. hmmmm...

    Currency

    First, Canadian currency is neat! It is colorful with shiny ribbons on it. Cooler than that though, is that they have coins in $1 and $2 denominations. That is really strange at first but a system I am all in favor of. Here in the US we have $1 coins but they are not used anywhere. In Canada, I bought a sub for $5.50 and paid with a $20. I expected to get a bunch of bills back. Instead I was given a $10 bill, two $2 coins, and two quarters. It was a very weird feeling at first, but something that I'd like to get used to.

    The accent, eh?

    I couldn't leave this out! I'm a big fan of the accent. When working in close proximity with a bunch of Canadians it's nearly impossible not to pick it up. I was there only three days and found myself slipping. It was so bizarre.