Friday, December 28, 2007

Feeling the power of the Dark Side of the Force

At this point, I'm not sure who is actually the dark empire: Microsoft or Apple. Neither seems to be in the role of the "Rebel Forces" and neither seems to be as vast of an empire to warrant being called the Empire. I'd give the Rebels designation to the Linux camp.

Anyway, I've never been an Apple fan boy and I didn't like how proprietary their hardware used to be. Despite how their UI was touted from the get-go, I've always thought all the ones pre-OSX were pretty crappy in how they "dumbed down" the interface for the users. It wasn't until OSX was released that I even had a vague interest in a Mac and that interest was the result of Apple switching to a FreeBSD kernel as the underlying OS. To have a full UNIX system with all the tools AND a nice UI is nothing to sneeze at. Still, it wasn't enough to get me to want a Mac.

When Apple announced that they were going to switch to an Intel processor, that's when I started to take greater notice. Sure enough, not long afterwards, the ability to run Windows on Mac hardware became reality. Having the ability to run Windows on top of OSX with a UNIX base is the best of all three worlds and made the Mac an compelling development environment. To have this all on a notebook... well, that's enough to turn the heads of even the toughest critics of Apple.

So, was this enough to get me to give up my familiar tool set that I've accumulated over the years on Linux and Windows and to learn a new environment? Not really. The cost of switching is still too high for me from both hardware and software perspectives. However, if work gives me the opportunity to work with this platform then I have no objects.

Yep, you guessed it. I got a Macbook Pro from work which I'm now working to get my data transfered over from my Windows notebook. I'm learning the "Mac" way which is different experience from either Windows or Linux. We'll see how it goes.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Back in the Java again

One of the things I did when I joined Yahoo was that I put all my Java books into boxes and took them out to the garage. Java wasn't my favorite language, but I didn't dislike it either. I can appreciate some of the advantages that it brought to the table and how it simplified some of the grunt work that is required when using another language.

Thus, it's been a few years since I really did anything serious with Java and I decided it's about time to refresh myself as well as finding out what all has been changed. The newer things I've been hearing are Spring and Hibernate while a lot of the things I was using before like Tomcat are still around.

I picked up the book, "Beginning Pojos" by Brian Sam-Bodden to give me an introduction on some of these topics. It's been a decent read so far. I think the next thing I study more on is GWT.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Canon EF 70-200mm f/4 IS

My last trip taught me that what I'm missing in collection of lenses is a more general traveling lens. Carrying all those different lenses around was just too bulky and I ended up pretty much keeping the EF 28-105mm on all the time. However, because of the type of shots I was taking, the 105mm didn't have the range that I really wanted. This X-mas I finally decided to go for my first L-series lens to address the short coming of my collection.

Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM

I decided to go with the 70-200mm f/4L IS lens for a number of reasons. The reviews (and here) on the quality of this lens is superb and even though it doesn't have the f/2.8 of its renowned older sibling this is a much less bulky lens and 1/3 the price. I think the trade-off is worth it for amateur photographer like myself especially since I want to be able to carry this lens around when I'm on vacation.

I decided to go with the IS version even though it's a hefty premium over the non-IS version but I'd much rather invest in a lens then get photos that causes me to kick myself later. With this lens, I figure that my travel collection would be 1 prime (either the 28mm or the 50mm) and/or the 28-105mm and this one. Most likely I will try to stay with just 2 lens to keep the weight down.

I haven't had a chance to put it through its paces, but maybe the upcoming holiday will give me that chance!

Bears at Raiders


I went to my first NFL game when the Chicago Bears came to play against the Oakland Raiders. I've seen the Bulls, Cubs, White Sox and even the Chicago Fire play but the one team I never saw live was the Bears, so I was pretty excited. Hearing the stories about Raider Nation and Raider fans, I wasn't sure if I should wear my Bears gear, but once at the stadium there was a surprising number of Bears jerseys. I guess because there isn't much of a rivalry between the Raiders and the Bears there aren't as much animosity for the visiting team.

It was a fun experience. The weather was great, the seats were much better then I expected (I could make out all the players on the field) and with only a few minutes remaining, the Bears staged a come-from-behind victory.


If the Bears play the Raiders again, I'd definitely want to try to see them play again.

Goodbye, 2007

The year is coming to a close and like every year at this time, it is good to reflect on the past year and look forward to the new year. 2006 was a significant year for me both professionally and personally that concluded with me becoming a father, an event that was like winning the Super Bowl (Chicago, you tease me so...). I didn't expect 2007 to be like 2006 and as I look back I would say that this past year was an year of adjustments to all the changes that happened in 2006. As the year is ending, I feel that things are falling in place and that makes me excited for 2008.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Did MS help or hurt Facebook?

Microsoft paid $240 million to invest in Facebook. This is a pretty small amount for Microsoft, but since it's for less then a 2% stake in Facebook it puts a perceived value of Facebook at $15 billion. While this might make the people at Facebook feel pretty good about themselves, I wonder if this really helps them as much as it helps Microsoft. Effectively Microsoft was able to pay $240 million to prevent any other company from buying Facebook since very few company will want to spend that much money on a social networking site. This is as good as MS buying Facebook for chump change.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Y! 360 vs Y! Mash

Yahoo! Mash just completed its first month of existence outside of Yahoo! I have to say that one of the most eye-opening experiences for me has been the comments from the Y! 360 community and how passionate and loyal they are to 360.

I'm not exactly sure how the rumor started or why people assume that Mash is a replacement for 360, but the comments on the various boards are filled with how Mash is not 360 and they are absolutely right. Mash is NOT 360. A key feature of 360 is blogging and Mash doesn't currently offer any blogging functionality. I appreciate the comments by the 360 community because as developers we're happy to know that people use and like what we build, but before people get too hung up on whether 360 is being shut down please first just consider how different the two products are.

What the two does share is the idea that users are connected to each other in some way, aka the "social graph", and it's probably this element that causes people to link 360 to Mash. It's probably the same reason that people accuse Mash of trying to copy MySpace and Facebook. In reality, there are hundreds of "social networking" sites out there that it's almost becoming a standard type of application like word processors or audio players. Within this class of applications, there are basic functionalities that is expected such as a friends list. Not having a friends list in any "social network site" is like a word processor that doesn't let you enter text or open a file. At the same time just because two applications can both open files doesn't mean they are trying to copy each other.

In the end, I hope that the 360 community continue to vocal about what they want to see happen with 360 and at the same time let Mash, a different product, develop into something useful.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Is Apress the new O'Reilley?

Today, I fired up the web browser and typed in '' to check out what new computer titles has come out and I realized that I used to go to O'Reilley instead. In fact, it's been awhile since I've gone to O'Reilley other then to read some of their tech articles. O'Reilley used to be THE publisher of practical technical computer books related to development, UNIX and open source. They published the Perl book among other must have references that were on the desks of every programmer I know.

Now, though, their titles seems to cater to a more mass-market crowd and publish a lot of quick-reference guide. If I want to learn about something, I no longer think about O'Reilley. My last few purchases ( Building and Extending GAIM, The Definitive Guide to GCC, Foundations of GTK+ Development, Bginning PHP and PostgreSQL 8 ) have been from Apress who seems to have replaced O'Reilley in the area that O'Reilley used to dominate. I still have my old O'Reilley books which I reference frequently (Programming Perl, Essential System Administration, UNIX Power Tools, etc.), but now I have to do some research on a new O'Reilley title before I purchase one.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Yet Another Social Network

Over the past few years, social networks has been all the rage. Sites like MySpace, LinkedIn, and Facebook has garnered a lot of media attention and the term has moved into the mainstream. I don't have a problem with the term "social network", but it does tickle my funny bone when I hear people talk about how social networks are new and pioneered by the likes of sites like MySpace or Facebook. Social networks has been in existence since... well, when Man crawled out of the ocean and saw that other naked person crawling out next to him. Humans are , by nature, social creatures and we tend to like interacting with others.

What bloggers and the media really mean when they talk about "social networks" is the technical application for communication on the web. I bring this up only because it annoys me when they make sound like social networks are some brand new thing (like Web 2.0? ^^) pioneered by the likes of MySpace or Facebook and any new site is just "yet another social network." Yes, any new site is just another social network, but so is MySpace and Facebook. Pick up the phone book and there is a social network application that your great grandparent probably was already using and that is probably thousands of years removed from the first social network. Ultimately it boils down to how useful each of the site fulfill their purpose which often is for improving communication.

Mash fugly... avoiding the fate of MySpace

One common criticism of MySpace profiles is that they can be so hideously ugly or impossible to read. Y! Mash wants to be able to give users the flexibility to customize their profiles too but also protect the eyes of the unsuspecting viewer so if you run across a profile that just hurts your eyes and brains, try clicking on the "fugly" link and it'll take away the crazy CSS and let you see the contents in a very basic format.

Mash vs My!

I've been reading some of the blog postings from new users of Yahoo! Mash and one of things mentioned but a few is whether Mash replaces My Yahoo!. I thought I should point out that these two product serves a very different purpose. Mash is information you want to share with the world while My! is information you want to see for yourself from the world.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Today, Yahoo released the beta of a new site called Yahoo! Mash. Because it is currently an invite-only site, going to the link might now reveal very much, but Tech Crunch has some coverage and screen shots here. Now, normally I don't tend to talk much about my work or give my opinions about it other then to mention some new features coming out of Yahoo, but Mash is a little different in that I'm directly involved with it. I switched out of my previous group where I had been for the past few years to work on this project and be its engineering manager.

Mash is a strange beast and is different for different people. Some view it as a social network site. Some view it as a Facebook competitor. Some believe that it is a Y! 360 replacement. Mash is all of these and none of these.

At its core, Mash is your Yahoo! Profile with additional functionality often found in social networking site with a very wiki-like philosophy. Additional functionality can be obtained through "modules". Not only can you customize your profile, but your friends can also help you build it (with your permission) by editing the profile and adding new modules for you. We hope to open it up so that everyone can write their own modules to share with others, but until them we're giving people as much freedom as possible to customize the page. You will be able to edit and create your own CSS to make the page look however you like (or your friends can do it for you if you're not so artistically inclined. ^^;).

I hope people find the site to be both fun and useful. Keep an eye out for the Hot Potato (get it? mash...potato...) module that jumps from profile to profile! It's still in beta so we know there are some features that users are wanting. I encourage people to make suggestions on our suggestions board.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Bears vs Chargers

Fox advertised the Bears vs Chargers as the top game in week 1 so obviously the game being shown in my area is between the football power houses Lions vs Raiders. Nice!

Listened to the game on the 'net and thought I was hearing an archived game. Bears defense playing great and put in some monster stops, but after constantly being on the field they eventually gets worn down but still keep other team's offense out-of-sync. Bears offense then helps other team get some easy scores since they aren't able to generate any TDs for their own team. After the game, team defends their QB and offense and comments that it's hard to have 4 turn-overs and beat a good team like the Chargers.

Here's the problem, Chicago has to win games where they give up turn-overs because they are a turn-over prone team starting with Rex Grossman and down to their running backs. This is the type of offense that Chicago has decided to go with when they decided to stick with a quarterback that flip-flops between being great and being terrible. Even if it is not a reflection on the quality of the QB, it is the quality of the coaching staff. Given their philosophy, I'm surprised that they made any change for this year.

Why didn't they just stick with the same core of talented players and depend on luck to get to and win the Superbowl? Obviously, I disagree with this and I'm sure that it wasn't the team's real intentions, but the truth is that they didn't put out a better team. They put out a mentally weaker offense from last year because their "leader" is just trying to survive each game without screwing up regardless whether the team wins-or-loses. He's not ready to take a team on his shoulders and carry them to victory so first he must try to hold on to his job and make sure blame doesn't fall on him.

Some comments on chicago bears forum are pretty reflective of how the fans feel about the team. String the two extreme ends of the criticism, the feel is still that the Bears are unpredictable and can't win without an early big lead that put pressure on the other team. Trailing 0-3, fans were already giving up because they don't feel that Grossman can be counted on get a scoring drive together. They didn't necessarily give up the game since the Defense can scrore some TDEs, but the a QB needs to be both a good player and a person who can inspire confidence around him.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Apple fanboys rejoice, Apple supporters groans.

In response to the cryings of many Apple early adopters of the iPhone after Apple lowered the price by $200, Apple decided to issue a $100 credit to those folks. The folks who were complaining that it was too soon to drop the price should continue to complain although I suspect they won't. I guess that means it's ok to drop the price by $100 after 2 months but not by $200.

Those who cried that Apple was punishing their most loyal users who waited in line to buy the iPhone at launch and would be pacified by this credit obviously are not really loyal Apple users. By demanding to be compensated, they are effectively trying to weaken the company by taking away revenue. Hard to break it to you folks, but companies need revenue and profit to survive. The argument that these folks are true supporters of Apple just doesn't fly.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

iPhone for $399

Apple announced a $200 price cut on the iPhone just two months after its release and it has set off a firestorm of indignant comments by Apple fan boys (uh, I mean early adopters) of how they got screwed by Apple and they should sue the company for lowering the price. All this for a product that as far as I can tell anyone can get if they go to the Apple store since it's far from selling out.

I don't think I need to say much on how silly their arguments are although I can also sympathize to a certain extent especially for those who might have have bought it only a couple of weeks ago because they needed a new phone. However, the one argument that just seems so ridiculous is the one that says, "I'm ok with the price cuts if it happens 6 months after launch rather then two." How does 6 months, or 5 months, 3 months or 2 months matter? What changed during those extra 4 months?

I wonder if any of the complainers will be home buyers 'cause they're going to suffer from a serious case of buyer's remorse.

Sunday, September 2, 2007


While Fedora 7 has stabilized since its release, I continue to find minor problems which I don't remember encountering in the past. The latest is when I tried to use the UI tool to configure Samba. I wanted to add another share drive, but it does not seem to work. When you click on the "Add Share" button, the dialog pops up but the "Save" button doesn't do anything. The dialog stays open unless you cancel and so nothing gets saved.

ESPN and Michael Vick

The new NFL season starts this week and as a Chicago Bears fan it's been a long off season. In the weeks leading up to the start, the stories has not been the usual camp reports and draft signings news but rather the news of Michael Vick. Wherever a sports fan turn, the Vick story was there right in front of them. At one point, I remember watching ESPN and they had the ticker of upcoming stories with nearly every other segment on Vick's trial!

How much coverage can they squeeze out of one story? Michael Vick's crime is pretty heinous. At the least it demonstrate a lot of cruelty in what he did to another living creature, but with the constant barrage of news coverage I started to get numb to it and the story became another statistical news item. I wondered whether it was orchestrated by Vick's PR machine to save his career and if it was then the people responsible are geniuses. From the initial reaction of "Vick's career is over", ESPN put so many commentators in front of sports fans to argue that Vick shouldn't be punished by the NFL that I'm sure that people started thinking, "Just shut up about this story, who cares if Vick plays." In the end, it really took the focus off Vick and put it on everyone else.

The media can be scary...

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Canon EOS 40D


The latest toy from Canon is the new EOS 40D. I'll just have to admire it from afar... :-)

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Lowepro Compudaypack Dimensions

For the backpack I reviewed here, the dimensions are: 11.4W x 53D x 5.5H (camera compartment), 12.2W x 1.8D x 15.9H (notebook compartment), 12.6W x 5.5D x 11.4H (top daypack department).

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Lowepro Compudaypack

Finding the elusive "perfect" bag is like a never-ending quest. When it comes to computer bags, I've settled on the Waterfield Cargo bags for its convenience and durability. The bags are sturdy and the notebook is easily accessible from the top without having to open up any flaps which makes it really convenient when going through airport security scans, but I wouldn't call this the "perfect" computer bag. The bag can get a little heavy and with it being a messenger style bag it slings over one shoulders so it can put a lot of weight on that one shoulder. When the notebook is inside there aren't a whole lot of additional room (maybe the large size is better, but I only have the small and medium) for things other then some books, magazines, or papers, but the outside pocket is pretty roomy for smaller accessories. I wish it had the option where I can carry it on both shoulders like a backpack.

For my camera gear, I bought the Canon bag because I wanted one bag that can be used to organize my gears. For that purpose, it works very well, but my recent trip showed me that it isn't very practical for plane travel. The bag can be very heavy and bulky and having a baby, backpack and camera bag at the airport just makes traveling difficult. For traveling, I also don't need to bring everything which means with one bag I'd have to leave some gears out loose when I take the bag.

1455 (click to see larger image) Canon camera bag.

2136 (click to see larger image) Inside of Canon bag with my gear.

So I decided what I need is a combination computer and camera backpack that I can use to carry just the camera gears I need along with a notebook and still have room for magazines to read on the plane, accessories and baby's emergency supplies. There is a surprisingly few number of camera bags for "everyday" use and combinations of notebook+camera bags are even less. One of the first that I was able to find was the Lowepro Compudaypack. This bag seemed to fit the bill as it is designed to be lightweight and has compartments for both a notebook and camera gear. My initial fear was that it didn't have much room for anything else. A friend of mine went through the same exercise of looking for a combo bag and he chose the Crumpler Sinking Barge.

The Crumpler looked like just what I was looking for and seemed very spacious even after loaded with the computer and camera gears, but at $180-$190 it isn't cheap. I was at a local store when I saw it had the Compudaypack and I eagerly checked it out. The bag turned out to be roomier then I expected and it did feel very light. At $80, it is less the half the cost of the Crumpler and you can find it on-line for $50. It became a no brainer to get try the Lowepro first.

The Compudaypack looks pretty much like a normal backpack and is basically a notebook backpack with a compartment underneath to hold the camera gears.

2142 (click to see larger image)

The various padding allows it to keep its form, but I didn't feel it to be bulky when I put it on my back. The camera compartment is large enough to hold a camera (in my case a Canon EOS 30D with battery grip, eyepiece extender, and a 28-105mm zoom lens attached), a couple of lenses and a flash. It comes with pads so you can rearrange the layout of the compartment to fit your needs.

2139 (click to see larger image) Compartment after I changed the configuration around.

2115 (click to see larger image) Holding my gears.

2118 (click to see larger image) Zipper.

Even with everything inside the compartment, I didn't feel anything poke against my back when I carried the backpack and the bag still felt pretty light. The gears fit in snuggly and the padding is not bad although I would swing it around or just drop it on a hard surface.

The laptop compartment doesn't have a strap to hold the notebook although a 17" notebook would probably fit pretty tightly anyway. I tried a 15" IBM Thinkpad and it was a good fit although the Thinkpad has that hand grip on the back that make it a little bigger. The compartment also has a pocket for magazines. Overall the compartment is not that big so the lack of a strap to hold down the computer might be ok since there's not much room for the notebook to slide around anyway. The compartment is padded on all sides to help keep the notebook safe.


The third compartment is for general stuff and contains a number of pockets to help organize small accessories. The flap has a larger pocket for cables and wires.

2121 (click to see larger image)

2124 (click to see larger image)

The base of the compartment is padded since it is the top of the camera compartment. The front of the backpack has a small compartment for a mp3 player. The shoulder straps are padded and each has a Lowepro Sliplock attachment loop to hook a water bottle, lens case, etc. to.

2133 (Click to see larger image) Notice the loop on the shoulder strap to hook accessories to.

So far I like the Compudaypack. The durability seems good although I need to use it awhile to test it. I guess I should try to take another vacation to really get to use the bag!

The dimensions are: 11.4W x 53D x 5.5H (camera compartment), 12.2W x 1.8D x 15.9H (notebook compartment), 12.6W x 5.5D x 11.4H (top daypack department).

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Playing with Picasa

On a recent trip to Hawaii, I got introduced to Apple's iPhoto software on OSX. I thought it was a decent piece of software, but a bit basic for me and there were a couple of minor bugs. My trip did show me that I probably should use something to help me manage my digital photos as my collection has gone past hundreds to thousand(s), so once I got back I tried out Picasa. Picasa is a photo management software that was bought by Google and then released free. I heard good things about it including that it was a better iPhoto then iPhoto. It runs on Windows with a Linux version in beta.

My experience so far with Picasa has been good. It is as simple as iPhoto and has the same basic functionalities. When it is first installed, it asks you if you want it to search your computerfor all graphics files (pictures and movies) or limit the search to the "My Documents" folder. I wish it allowed me to enter a different location since I don't keep my photos there For some reason, PNG files aren't enabled by default, so you have to enable that yourself.

Overall, a neat program with a great price. If you take a lot of digital photos and need a quick, fast and easy program to management those photos then definitely give it a look.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

modprobe usb-storage works

One of the problems I had with Fedora 7 was that it couldn't automatically detect my external USB drive on start. I had to either manually run 'modprobe usb-storage' (or turn the drive off-and-on) and then manually mount the drive after it finish booting. This weekend I grabbed the latest kernel package and the bug has been fixed! I can now put the mount entry back into /etc/fstab and have my drive loaded and mounted automatically.

It took a little bit longer then I expected for Fedora to fix this bug, but now that it's ready I'm happy. :-)

Dust on Camera Sensor!!!

I went on a trip recently and it was the first trip where I had my EOS 30D with me to take pictures with. Half way through the trip, I began taking pictures of the scenery including the sky and clouds. I uploaded the photos to a computer to look at it that night and noticed some "smudges" on the pictures. It turned out that some dust and lint fibers has gotten into the camera including the camera sensor. Never having had this problem with my film SLR, I didn't really know what to do. The only cleaning item I had with me was some Kodak lint-free lens paper (which I suspect caused the lint fibers to get introduce into the camera in the first place when I used it to pick up some dirt that got onto the view finder).

I went online to find out what to do. The first page I found was Bob Atkin's article on CMOS sensor cleaning for the EOS 10D. It is a good article that described the problem, how to detect whether you have dust on your sensors and ways to clean the sensor. Of course, reading the article also scared the heck out of me 'cause I would rather not send my camera off to the service center, try to clean the sensor myself and risk damaging the camera, or just pretend the problem doesn't exist.

Regardless, the first thing I wanted to do was to check to see where all the dust particles are and instead of taking another picture (it was already night time), I just took an existing image and set the contrast to be high to make the dark spots more noticeable. Then I took off the lens and with the lens paper I carefully had it pick up just the two major pieces of lint that was on the sensor (Go to the 30D's menu and next to last is a "Sensor Clean" option that will close up the mirror so you can see the sensor but make sure to turn the camera to "Off" when you're done otherwise the cover to the sensor doesn't close.). I barely had the paper touch the lens for fear of causing scratches.

When I got home from my vacation, I got myself a blower bulb and proceeded to pump as much air into the body in hopes that it'll get the dust particles off the sensor. The article felt that this method does very little or would just moves the dust around, but I noticed that on the 30D the walls of the lens compartment has a little bit of stickiness to it which would allow it to grab onto any dust that flies around. After about 10-15 blows from the bulb, I was able to get the dust off my sensor and now everything looks good.

During this experience, I learned a few things. First, dust is common especially with digital SLRs since it doesn't have film that is rolled along and pushes away dust. Second, go with the blower first and don't give up after just a few tries. Some people suggests turning off the camera before switching lenses. I'm not sure if that does anything, but why take the chance... I'm fortunate that the dust that got on the sensor wasn't too stuck on and the blower method was enough.

Finally, go to YouTube and search for sensor cleaning to see actual videos of people cleaning their sensors to get an idea of what to do.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Air Travel

I recently came back from a trip where I flew on one of the major carriers (American) instead of a low-cost carrier such as Southwest. While I've read the troubles that plagued the airlines, I didn't realize how bad flying has become until I flew American. When it comes to low-cost carriers, I don't really think about the flight. It's like riding the bus or transit... it's just a mode of transportation. This is not a good thing to have your transportation be something you remember after your trip (imagine if your summer vacation is dominated by memories of that long painful drive). It could be that I don't expect much service on these flights and that is why it seems like the flight attendants are typically friendlier and happier, but on the major carrier the attitude is different. They want to distinguish themselves as higher then "low-cost carriers" at the same time that they reduce service and quality to below that of the low-cost carriers.

They try to be more formal, but because the service is subpar it just makes the flight uncomfortable. On my flight, I was asked by the flight attendant to step back 6 inches since I crossed the invisible line between coach and first class, and besides the fact that the flight only served a couple of drinks or sell you food the attendants somehow had to keep walking up-and-down the aisles throughout the flight so nobody can stand up.

In the end, flying the major carriers doesn't leave you with the feeling of having had a good flight. It doesn't even leave you feeling neutral and not noticing it. It is now decidedly un-enjoyable and unpleasant.

Harry Potter

The final Harry Potter book (#7), Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, was unleashed to the public some 10 years after the first volume was published this summer. Since I had started the series, I felt compelled to finish it much like how I ended up seeing the third Matrix movie or Star Wars Episodes 1-3 (although I did think that Star Wars got better as it moved along). It's a quick read that took me about a day and half to finish and I was going to write about it earlier but didn't feel motivated to.

Reading this series (especially in the later volumes) is like watching an TV episode. J.K. Rowling describes the scenes like a screen play and fades them in-and-out like sitcom. I started expecting to read into a commercial. It reminded me of reading George Lucas' Star War novels (I'm a Star Wars fan btw) which didn't have much details or character development. The power of George Lucas wasn't his ability with prose as much as he was able to create a world in our minds that allowed us to fill in the magical details. Similarly with Harry Potter, the beauty of the series lies in the world that exists in our imagination and far from Rowling's writing style.

What really bothers me about reading Harry Potter is how Rowling uses so many pages to attempt to describe in excruciating detail Harry's emotional turmoil and troubles while regulating the supporting characters' trouble to a few simple lines even though they are suffering similar (if not more) then Harry. It always felt to me that Harry's friends sacrificed more for Harry then he did for them, but their troubles are trivialized in comparison to Harry's.

Harry Potter is worth a read because it is part of our pop culture, but don't expect too much especially in the later volumes. Even as the length of the books grew to extremely lengthy (wasn't there an editor?) it is a quick read so check it out and find out why kids are walking around with a lightning bolt drawn by markers on their foreheads.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Putting the Camera Gear Into Use

Now that I've used the 30D along with my set of lens I can better comment on whether my purchase decisions were good or bad. My reason for purchasing the 30D was because my existing point-and-shoot were simply too slow to capture the baby pictures. The 30D was well rated and capable of shooting very quickly. Canon's lenses are also known to be very good. The Rebel line of camera, while relatively inexpensive, seemed to leave my friends wanting to upgrade to the 30D after they got more experience with photography. The 5D, a full frame professional camera, is out of my league given my amateur status. :-) There is no need to talk about the Mark series...

Starting with the body, I'm very happy with the 30D. I feel that I made a good purchase here and it is the sweet spot of bodies for someone like me who takes pictures of family and friends, vacations, and occasionally tries to dabble in trying to do something artistic. The body alone doesn't make the camera so let's discuss the lenses.

I started out with the 50mm f/1.8 II which is what every beginner can feel comfortable starting with (unless you bought a kit with the lens). At under $80, it is fast, easy to use and produces good pictures. For indoor baby pictures, this can be pretty sweet as it lets you get some good close-ups so this is definitely a good buy.

My other prime lens is the EF 28mm f/1.8. Again, a solid fast lens that is great for indoor pictures of the baby. It does require you get closer to the baby if you want the close-up which can distract the baby from what he's doing and is what you were trying to get a picture of, but the quality and speed of the lends is excellent. If I didn't have this lens, I'd be happy with the 50mm because I tend to like to take real close-up shots, but for typical indoor shots of people and objects, I like this lens. I've noticed that indoors it's getting closer to 50/50 whether I have the 50mm or 28mm on the camera. I don't have much desire for the 24mm or 17mm lenses. Conclusion? Based on the growing frequency that I'm using the lens, I'd say it's a worthwhile purpose.

For my versatility camera, I picked the EF 28-105 f/3.5-4.5. When I'm on vacation or just out-and-about, I seem to have this lens on 90% of the time. It lets me take pictures of closer objects when I want to and gives me the flexibility to zoom in on stuff not too far away while being relatively quick (does require me to up the ISO sometime). I got some great shots while on vacation with this lens. I tend to like smaller social gatherings so that mean I'm usually fairly close to the subjects I'm shooting. The times I really feel the lens falls short are at events like weddings where I'm not always close to the main subjects (i.e. bride and groom) and I want to capture their expressions or when I'm trying to shoot pictures of the entertainment from my seat. Then I would wish that I had a 200mm lens. So, thumbs-up on this lens.

My final lens, the EF 100-300mm f/4.5-5.6, is the only one that I can't say definitely that it's a good purchase. The 100mm range means that it's not well suited for shoot close-ups (100mm means that the object size in the picture is about the size that your eyes see) and while the 300mm gets you close to the action it isn't as versatile as something that goes from wide-angle range to zoom range. In other words, this might have to be a secondary lens and that means when it is not convenient to switch lens then this one might not get used. I'm planning to spend more time using this lens and see if my particular style of photography and the subjects I shoot will eventually make this lens a fit.

Now, let me review my other accessories. I got the battery grip and I'm really happy with it. It adds to the solid feel of the camera (but also weight) and it makes the camera look darn cool. It does add bulk and camera bags might not be designed to fit it so keep that in mind. Some people also feel that it makes the camera feel too heavy but I like that solid weight feeling it adds to an already solid body. Besides, it looks cool! :-D

The canon camera bag I got is not bad. I was able to configure it to fit the body with one lens attached, all my other lenses, cables, manual, lens caps, adapters, and a point-and-shoot. The problem I ran into happened when I got the flash and the battery grip. It took a bit of re-working the configuration to get everything to fit without things falling out when I open the bag, and now that I got everything in the bag is very heavy. I wouldn't want to walk around on vacation with the bag and all the gear inside. So, basically it has become a good storage bag and not as good to travel around with.

I needed a flash and have no complaints about the 430Ex. I've not used the 530EX so I can't compare but the ability to point the flash where I wanted instead straight on the subject with the built-in makes the flash worth it although it also makes the camera heavier and bulkier.

So where does this leave me...? I'm pretty happy with everything I've gotten. The lens and body I picked suits my needs very well. I think my lens collection covers 95% of my needs. I do occasionally wish for a greater zoom then 105mm so that I can just stick with one lens for my normal travel needs. This has made me look at the 70-200mm L lens which is one of the higher rated lenses especially the new f/4 version that is smaller and lighter and supposedly have super good image quality. The other lens might be the 28-300mm lens which covers the whole range that I'd probably use but is said to be very heavy (3.7lb to my already heavy body+battery pack) and the images might not be as sharp as the 70-200mm. Given the versatility of having 1 lens do it all, it might not be a bad trade-off especially since the images still seem to be pretty good given the reviews I've read. At $2000, though, I might go with the safer f/4 bet which runs at around $1000 (still pretty expensive...).

Traveling around with a baby means having a backpack is pretty much a necessity, but a backpack that can hold a notebook, baby gear AND a camera is what I sorely want. I'd like to be able to fit in my body+lens combo, flash and maybe one prime lens when walking about town on vacation and not have something stabbing at my back when I shove the camera in.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

More dependency problems with Fedora 7

Doing an upgrade from from FC6 to F7 doesn't seem to remove or upgrade all the FC6 packages as I continue to run into conflicts with the fc7 package not being able to be updated because the fc6 package and an i386 package still remain on the system. The latest conflict was the ltrace package which was solved by first removing the existing package with yum and then re-running yum update.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007


I love meetings, I hate meetings, I love meetings... Okay, okay, I have a love-hate relationship with meetings. There are three types of meetings (no, it's not the good, the bad and the ugly) that I've found myself in. The first type of meeting is the useful meeting where the right people get together and figure out a solution to a problem.

The second type of meeting can also be useful which is the information meeting. This type of meeting is when one person needs to pass along information to a group of people followed by a discussion or questions. Type 2 can be tricky, though, because it can easily become an useless meeting if the information being given out is ill-prepared or not useful. Also, don't drag out these type of meetings for too long 'cause people have a limit on how much they can take from one person droning on-and-on.

The third type of meeting is the bad one, and unfortunately, the most common one that gives meetings a bad name. This is the meeting that someone has in order to show he's doing something to justify his existence at the company. There is often no true purpose at this meeting or to collect the people there together, yet it seems to last forever. Sometime this can be disguised as type 2 where the person talks forever on a topic that nobody needs to hear about and probably could've been done more efficiently in an email. There is often a lot of people in these meetings but no clear action items results from it. People might say something just so they can meet the "I participated" criteria but there is very little investment by the group. Occasionally there is one person who tries makes it his soapbox, but given the lack of interest by the group who soon just wants to get out it doesn't result in any positive action. In the end, everyone leaves feeling that they just lost a few hours of their lives.

My point? Make sure there is a clear purpose for calling a meeting and make sure you stay focus on the topic to be addressed/solved. If it's for information, get to the point and keep it clear.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Camera Gear update


Bought the Canon EF 100-300mm f4.5-5.6 USM for my long range zoom.

Canon Speedlite 430EX for my flash needs.

Got myself the Canon BGE2 Battery Grip.


Shard, or sharding, has become the new buzz word lately. The term seemed to have been popularized by Google and made more prominent by Flickr and Digg who credits it to helping them scale up performance. Not being familiar with the term, I started to do some research around the web to try to understand what this new technology is.

My initial investigation made me more confused. Based on description by Digg, it sounded like all they are doing is traditional data partitioning (vertical or horizontal, I forgot) or maybe database clustering to distribute load.

When I look at the comments made by Google they also only spoke about the physical layout of their database, but on closer examination it revealed that they work more with Hybernate's sharding mechanism, which is a software ORM (object relational mapping) solution, along with their database architecture. ORM is not new either. Essentially, it means to create an object for accessing data that abstract it from the underlying database architecture. What Hybernate takes one step further is to allow multiple data sources and still create one data object to be used.

In the end, it seems like sharding is a new term to describe the use of ORM with database partitioning together.

Fedora 7 First Impressions

Now that I've had a day to soak in F7 here are my initial impressions of the new distribution.

While F7 should be more of significant upgrade, I'm not sure if the average user would feel that way especially if they just upgraded from FC6. At least, I felt a bigger leap was made between FC5 and FC6. One problem with Fedora's upgrade process is that all it really does is to upgrade your existing packages to newer versions. If you were running Firefox or Thunderbird, you get version 2.x instead of 1.x. Fedora's upgrade process never asks if you like to try the new things they've added such as Xen virtualization which is a pretty major portion of the new version. The same thing happened in FC6 where the much heralded Compiz desktop effect didn't get installed if you just do an upgrade from FC5 so the user would have to know to find the package and install it themselves.

Obviously, my very first impression of F7 wasn't that good because it didn't boot up! It wasn't too difficult to fix it, but still annoying especially because my FC6 instance was working fine and I didn't upgrade to fix a bug.

Beagle might be a good desktop search system and I do appreciate desktop search tools that Google and Yahoo provides, but I don't like Beagle or more specifically how it tries to do stuff without you knowing. First, it runs at the most inconvenient times and slows down the system. It doesn't make it easy for you to turn off because even after "turning it off" it still have scripts that runs without telling you. I had removed Beagle in FC6 and it appeared again in F7.

For those with a stable FC6 system and isn't dying to try the virtualization elements of F7, I'd suggest waiting a bit for all the bugs to be worked out. This is the first time I've recommended that for a Fedora release but it is only the second time where the kernel it comes with actually has a bug that effected me.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Fedora 7

Today, I optimistically decided to upgrade from Fedora Core 6 to Fedora 7. Given how smooth going from FC5 to FC6 was, I thought I could do it quickly in the morning before everyone was up. When will I learn...? ^^;

The install went pretty well initially. I popped in the install DVD, did a media check on it and let it work its upgrade magic. Everything looked okay when it said it was done and ready for a reboot so I let it. That's when I hit the first problem. For some reason, it did not update the GRUB loader so that it still defaulted to the FC6 kernel which no longer existed because it was upgraded to F7. Getting around it was easy because GRUB comes up again and ask you to pick another selection so I just picked the F7 kernel.

The next problem was that almost immediately as it start loading, it complained about a corrupted drive. Oh, oh... Fortunately, I quickly realize that it was talking about the external USB drive not being available. For some reason, F7 is unable to load USB devices at startup so my fstab entry that mounted the /dev/sdb* device failed since /dev/sdb* doesn't exist! This seems to be a pretty serious bug in F7.

Boot with the DVD again, I went into repair mode and commented out the entry in the /etc/fstab and restarted. It continued with the load and failed when it tried to start X. I had it retry the XConfig for my nvidia card and had it use the open source nv drivers which brought up X. I tried to switch to the nvidia vendor driver and it also failed resulting in me going back to the nv driver until after I did an 'yum update' to pull the latest changes.

'yum update' also had some issues. There was a FC6 package (kdebinding) that were more recent then the F7 ones and it confused yum so I had to first remove the FC6 package. There were also some i386 package installed along with the x86_64 ones that had to be removed in order to get past the dependency checks.

Once I got all the latest updates, I was able to reboot into Fedora (still no USB support at start-up) everything seemed spiffy except that for some reason the nmb service was not enabled to start up at boot which resulted in my windows machine not being able to find my shared drive. This was annoying but once I figured it out was easy to fix.

It wasn't a painless upgrade and I'll have to admit that I'm a bit disappointed after my good experience with FC6. The USB drive issue is big although for now I work around it by manually powering off-and-on the drive after Fedora boots and then manually mounting it to where I want it to be. [Update] Instead of reconnecting the external drive or powering it off-and-on, I ran 'modprobe usb-storage' which will get Fedora to recognize the device so that I can mount it where I want. For some reason, Fedora on start-up does the same thing but gets a "module not found".

There are some other bugs such as the firewall settings not taking into effect even after you "apply" and "ok" the changes. Hopefully these things will get resolved soon.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

My Camera Equipment

I've had some time to play with my new camera and it's been fun getting back into photography especially with such cute subjects! While video is the latest craze there is a something nice about the simplicity of photography. Like Chess, the rules are simple but it is hard to master.


My starting equipment consists of the Canon EOS 30D body which has turned out to be an excellent and responsive camera. It feels solid in my hand and since I don't expect to upgrade my cameras often I was willing to spend a bit more to get a good quality camera. I've been able to capture some excellent baby smiling pictures and that is enough to make the camera worth it. :-)


Along with the 30D, I got the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II (amazon). This seems to be THE starting lens to have. It performs very well and the price is excellent (~ $80). If I went with only one lens this would be the one and for most pictures is the one I use.


I got the Canon EF 28-105mm f/3.5-4.5 II also to be able to get those long range shots. This lens is also priced well compared to other lenses at ~$230. Some might feel the 105mm range is not enough and I can understand that. Sometimes I do wish for a 200mm lens, but that's for another time. ;-)


On the recommendation of friends, I bought the Canon EF 28mm f/1.8 for indoor shots. This lens costs more then the others at ~$400 so it required more deliberation. It's a nice lens to have, but the previous two lens should cover most basic needs.


Along with a new camera bag (~$60) and some lens filters (~$40 total), this completes my base set of camera equipment.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Another video card bites the dust...

When I went to my Linux box this weekend, I noticed that the screen would flicker a few times and then go blank. It would come back for a few seconds and then the same thing would happen again. After checking all the connection to make sure they didn't come lose, I plugged another computer to the monitor to make sure it wasn't the monitor that was flaking. In the end, I determined that it was the video card, so I had to buy a replacement. I got a GeForce 6200 LE since it was wasn't too expensive and I don't need a fancy card for Linux. This is the second video card that has died on me this past year and it really shows that while technology advances the stability and quality of new devices often suffers.

Anyway, replacing it was simple. I popped out the old card and put in the new one. Restarted Linux which fell back to the generic NVidia (nv) driver so the screen was a little off so I had to tell it to use the vendor-supplied one which was already installed since the previous card was also an nvidia card. Fedora didn't list the card correctly (saying I had a 5200 nv30 card), but the Nvidia driver software did list the correct card as being installed. There goes 30 minutes and $80 of my time this weekend.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

GAIM... Pidgin 2.0.0

Pidgin (formerly known as GAIM) 2.0.0 has been released to the public after nearly two years of development. There are some nice improvements especially on the UI side. At the very least, the UI doesn't feel like an outdated 10 years old application. :-)

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Decided to get a flash.

I got the basic set of lenses for my Canon EOS 30D to cover my needs. The last thing remaining to complete my equipment is a flash so I decided to purchase a Canon Speedlite 430EX. The reviews looked good and the price is reasonable if it lasts for a long time. With this last item, I think I pretty much have everything I would need for a long time unless I become a really serious amateur photographer.

Gaim... uhh Pidgin

Overall, I like Gaim/Pidgin and I use it regularly (especially in UNIX environments). Today, the "final" beta has been released as announced on their homepage. However, given their attitude and the April 22 posting. They should add to this quote, "We anticipate a final release later this week." the addition, "As that text states, that was an anticipation -- and we aren't quite ready, yet."

I'm not complaining on the release date. As an open source project, they have the right to determine when it is best to release a "final" version especially since the source code is available to everyone who are impatient and wants something now. The only problem is that they continue to set expectation then fail to meet the expectations and point the blame at the users.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Basic Photography Concepts

Now that I've started getting back into photography, I've decided to refresh myself on some basic concepts of photography starting with exposure.

Exposure is the combination of four element related to light: light, sensitivity, intensity and time. Unless you're using a flash or providing a light source, assume that light is a constant (i.e. you work with what the environment provides).

Sensitivity of film/sensor is measure by the ISO (international standards organization) rating. The higher the ISO, the less light is needed since the sensor is so... sensitive. Thus, in low light situations, one can use an ISO 3200 film and still use a high shutter speed to snap shots. However, the downside of a high ISO is that the result will have more noise (grainy) then a less sensitive (lower ISO) sensor/film.

Shutter speed is the time the curtain of the camera remains open when a photo is taken. It is measured relative to one second so a shutter speed of 25 means that the curtain is open for 1/25th of one second. A fast shutter speed means less time for light to pass through to the sensor but allows for sharper pictures. With a long shutter speed, there is a higher chance that the photo will be blurred since during the time the curtain is opened the subject could move or your hand wasn't steady.

Aperture is the size of the lens opening that controls the amount of light that reaches the sensor. Lens aperture is specified in f-stops and the higher the f-stop the less light is allowed to pass through the opening. At first I was always confused by aperture terminology and didn't really understand how the number is derived.


The aperture of the lens effects the amount of light passed through and that in turn effects the depth-of-field. The equation for determining aperture:

aperture equation

When comparing lenses, the focal length (f) can be set as a constant of 1 thus the higher the f-number (N) the smaller the opening and thus allows less light.

The combination of these different factors equals the exposure of a photograph. As you can see, the same exposure can be obtained with different combination.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Actresses that I'd go see

A few actresses who's movies I'd go see just because they're in them:

Angelina Jolie
Scarlett Johansson
Elizabeth Hurley

Ones I'd seriously consider going:

Kirsten Dunst
Julia Stiles
Natalie Portman
Catherine Zeta Jones
Jodie Foster
Heather Graham

There are a few actors who I find tend to turn in good performances so I'd be willing to go to their movies despite so-so reviews:

Dustin Hoffman
Gene Hackman
Morgan Freeman
Denzel Washington
Johnny Depp

Monday, April 2, 2007

Weber Spirit E-310 Grill

I promised that once the backyard is completed, I would get myself a grill and do some BBQ. I didn't want a massive grill that's loaded with hundred of features, but didn't want to get something that is too basic. After researching online, the Weber Genesis Silver B was one of the most recommended grills for its quality and price, but Weber no longer makes it. It turned out that they just changed the name from Genesis to Spirit and I decided to buy the Weber Spirit E-310. A friend came by this weekend to help me assemble it.


It took us about 45 minutes to put it together. The only time two people was really needed was lifting the center piece onto the stand, but having two people always help! We got ourselves a full tank of propane and lit it up full blast for 30 minutes to let it clean all the grilling surfaces. I was pleased to note that while the cooking area got plenty hot, the heat was all contained in the grill. The surrounding areas didn't feel the heat. I was initially worried that having such a small yard might cause plants and house to feel the heat of the grill, but it turned out to be a non-issue.

The grill has a good amount of grilling space, ceramic-enamel cooking surface, a small work tray on one side and the heat/fire control on the other. Overall the grill doesn't take up too much physical space while still provided plenty of cooking surface. I didn't get the optional burner on the side since that adds another $200 to the price tag when I can just go into the kitchen and do the same thing.

I'm pleased with the initial test run of the grill and felt it was a good purchase. I got a cover for the grill to protect it from the element and will hopefully extend the life of the grill since I don't want to have to get another one in the near future! :-)


Now I can get in touch with my inner caveman and cook meat over fire! Rrrr...

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Creating sliding DIVs

Here is a tutorial for writing a sliding divs like you see on Digg or many other sites. It was written in response to another tutorial on implementing a similar behavior.

Both articles are worth reading as it spells out clearly how to do the effect. The version on firblitz takes a more object oriented approach. In both examples, the initial call is from an inline Javascript (a href="javascript:..."). There is nothing wrong with doing this, but to have an even cleaner separation between Javascript and the HTML presentation, it's best to not have inline Javascript at all. Instead, use the event model to attach the function to the event so that that the HTML is completely clean.

Start with the following addition to firblitz's javascript code.

function toggle() {
var sd = document.getElementById("slidediv");
if ( == 'none') {
} else {
function init() {
// attach event listener to objects
var slidediv = document.getElementById("mydiv");
slidediv.addEventListener("click", toggle, true);
window.onload = init;

And the body of the html would just be:


To take it one step further, take out the inline styles. However, this introduced one problem. Javascripts is unable to access the style value directly if it is not an inline style. This is because the element's style is not the style of the CSS object that is assigned through the #id. Thus, you have to manually assign the styles to the element. This is the end result:

function toggle() {
var sd = document.getElementById("slidediv");
var styles = getComputedStyle(sd, ''); = styles.display; = styles.height;
if ( == 'none') {
} else {
function init() {
// attach event listener to objects
var slidediv = document.getElementById("mydiv");
slidediv.addEventListener("click", toggle, true);

And the body of the html is a clean:


Hello world!

Sunday, March 25, 2007

amateur photographer

I'm not even sure if I should classify myself as an amateur photographer at this point. While I'm enjoying taking pictures, I'm not really experimenting and practicing that much. I'm a long way away from the days when I thought about being a photographer shooting bikini models in exotic locations. I just enjoy taking out the camera and taking baby pictures and to capture memories and small things around the house such as the backyard and the animals that visits.

Still, I'm tempted to get a longer range telephoto lens and knowing that I'm not going to be a "serious" photographer, I have my eyes on a basic beginner lens: Canon EF 100-300mm f/4.5-5.6 USM. At around $285, it's inexpensive as lenses go, but after shelling out so much already, I'm in a belt-tightening mode. For now, I guess I should have it on my wish list.

Beginning PHP and PostgreSQL 8

This book by Jason Gilmore and Robert Treat (published by Apress) is meant to be a comprehensive tutorial on the PHP language and PostgreSQL for beginners. Don't expect it to be a detailed book focused on using PHP with Postgres. It's like two books in one. 2/3 of the book is devoted to teaching PHP and it's well written and easy to understand with plenty of examples. It covers additional topics that other beginning books sometime don't cover such as networking, secure programming and web services although not necessarily in great detail, but I like that it seeds the topic into beginners' heads.

The latter 1/3 is devoted to Postgres and provides better coverage then other stand alone Postgres book and more accessible then the Postgres documentation. It discuss database topics, postgres setup and administration and is a good reference source.

I would recommend this book to those who want to learn either these technology especially those who are going to work with PHP since most likely you'll be needing a database beyond the SQLite solution that comes with PHP.

The only area that I wish would be improved is more details on web services on the PHP side and a discussion on database replication on the Postgres side.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Y! Messenger Archive location

If you archive your messages in Y! Messenger and need to move to another location, the files are stored in:

Program Files\Yahoo!\Messenger\Profile\\Archive\

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Currently Watching...

One positive to often having no hands available to do anything is that it gives a good excuse to watch anime. Currently I'm watching:

Tokyo Maji Gakuen Kenpuchou Tou
Tokyo Majin Gakuen Kenpuchou

Busou Renkin

Code Geass
Shijou Saikyou no deshi Ken'ichi
Legends of the Galactic Heroes
Pumpkin Scissors
Shounen Onmyouji
Tenpou Ibun Ayakashi Ayashi
Bakumatsu Kikansetsu Irohanihoheto

No hands = no video games. :-(

Babies are camera makers' best friend.

When one has a baby, there is an inevitable desire by parents (or grandparents telling the parents) to take pictures and lots of it. I wonder how many new camera sells are directly related to a new baby coming into the world with an eager dad ready to satisfy that urge to take pictures and that inner desire to buy gadget? I think camera makers should be like the diaper and baby food makers who sends you tons of samples before the baby arrives to get you hooked on their product. Send the expectant father a new camera body and a brochure of all your lenses and watch the money flow from daddy's credit card.

Not being immune to the this bug either, I started looking for a new camera after missing some good shots with the digital point-and-shoots that I have. I started photography in high school as a sports and yearbook photographer with traditional 35mm b/w film SLRs, but as time when by (along with the lack of a darkroom) I stopped photography as a hobby.

I bought a Sony Cybershot DSC-S85 a few years back so that I can take pictures on trips. It's a great camera with a good balance of features, but more importantly, it was convenient. I just need to take it out, point and shoot and the images are good. Compare to current point-and-shoot digitals, however, it is a bit bulky and I was envious as people started to whip out little itsy-bitsy cameras out of their shirt pockets with bigger LCDs, more mega-pixels and faster shooting speed. I started looking for a replacement for the S85 starting with newer Sony models. Sony has gotten its hook on me with its brand on my camcorder, TV, PDA, camera and notebook (had 2 over the years), but over the past few years I've been getting more disappointed with the quality of their stuff.

After some research, I decided that it's time to break out of the Sony grip despite the investments I put in Sony chargers, memory sticks, etc., and eventually decided on the Canon Powershot SD800IS. It's a small and compact camera that feels solid and shoots at 7.1 mega-pixels. It's a nice camera, but honestly I don't see the difference in image quality between it and my 4 mega-pixels S85. In low light, the S85 seemed to come out a bit better for my pictures. It could be that I'm not used to the Powershot yet, but regardless I realize that both camera is limited in how quickly they can power up and shoot fast shots. I could go back to my film SLR but I didn't want to deal with the processing time and getting prints then scanning it, etc.

It was time to get a digital SLR and I narrowed down my choices to the Digital Rebel Xti (EOS 400D) and EOS 30D Digital. The Xti is cheaper, newer and is 10 mega pixels, but the 30D can shoot at 5 fps continuous. After reading various reviews and speaking with some friends who own the Xti and hearing that they would upgrade to the 30D as soon as they could, I decided to just go ahead and get the 30D with 2 basic lenses (50mm prime and 28-105 Zoom). It's been a long time since I used an SLR and I'm excited.


So there, Canon sold two camera because of one baby.

Completed Backyard

Ever since last summer, we've been planning to re-landscape the backyard. Now, months and months later, the final touches have been completed.

We actually wanted to re-landscape the yard when we first moved in because the original English garden style wasn't us and required a lot of work to maintain. We had a few designers come in to give us estimates and they either flaked, was really slow to respond or just couldn't do what we wanted. Eventually we gave up and kept things the way it was until it became a jungle back there that nobody wanted to go into! :-)

With the big news of last year, we decided it was time to finally get the backyard done along with other home projects that we've put off including a Phantom sliding screen and wood flooring. We got a landscaper through a recommendation from a friend at work who came in to clear out the old garden and recommended the patio and designer that we ended up using.

Since we wanted an Asian theme, the goal was simplicity, natural and asymmetrical and the designer helped us with the basic layout, elements and plant suggestions which we then went over with the landscaper to make adjustments.

We're pretty happy with the results. :-) I especially like it at night when the lights comes on. If I can figure out how to do good night shots, I'll try to include some.

The next step is getting that grill...

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

RHEL Version

Had to look in /etc/issues to find out which version of RHEL was installed machines.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

5 Things About Me

Responding to Marc's post.

1. 2006 ended with me being a first time dad!
2. I've lived longer in my current area then anywhere else in my life.
3. My first computer was a Commodore 64 and I had a IBM-AT 6Mhz (not the 8MHz)
4. One of the biggest "wow" computer moments that I always remember is the first time I heard sound through the Soundblaster card.
5. In my freshman year of college, my roommate and I continued the tradition of throwing an end-of-year party in our dorm room because we had the smallest room in the whole dorm.

beagle on fedora

Today I noticed my hard drive spinning a lot and so I did a "top" to see what was running. A process called beagle-build-in was the highest resource consuming task and a "ps auxfw" showed that it was started by a daily cron job called beagle-crawl-system. Beagle is a Mono-based desktop search engine so I guess what this is doing is to index files on the system, but the thing is that I had not enabled Beagle on my service so I'm not sure why Fedora kept this daily cron job...

NVidia 7600 AGP

My new FXF NVIDIA GeForce 7600 GT 256MB DDR3 (PV-T73A-UDF3) card came last night to replace the burned-out MSI Ti4800 (Ti4600-TD8X) card. Because my motherboard is still AGP, I had to get an AGP card instead of the newer PCI-E and there are fewer and fewer AGP options out there especially if you're looking for dual-DVI connections. There seems to be more ATI cards that sports dual-dvi, but they tend to cost a lot more and I've always liked Nvidia cards.

This is definitely a no frills package that came in a small box with the card, manual, CD, s-video cable, power splitter cable and a DVI-VGA converter. The installation was easy, but don't expect to get help from the manual which just said insert the card into the AGP slot. It didn't even take up half a page. Later on, I found that on the CD there were some PDF documents that offered a little more details but only because it included some diagrams.

After putting in the card, I turned on the machine and saw... nothing. The GPU fan was running but I realize that the power cable from the PSU (the card recommends 350W) wasn't connected properly to the back of the card so it wasn't getting enough juice to turn on. Once I reconnected the cable, everything worked fine. I downloaded the latest drivers from Nvidia and a reboot later I configured everything as I wanted and the monitors looked very nice with both going to DVI.

Overall, the card is nice. The AGP version was more expensive then the PCI-E version but it was still cheaper then upgrading the whole machine. The card is actually smaller then my previous card and I didn't notice it being any louder. The latest version of CPU magazine did an article on AGP card and this one got the best review and performance, but is about $30 more then the average price but given that this will hopefully be my last video card for this machine and I want it to last I figure the investment was good.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

MS hotfix for HT and dual-core

This is slightly old (although the latest version is new), but MS has a hotfix designed to improve the performance and compatibility of those running multi-core processors or HT-enabled processors:

I haven't tried it myself, but figure I note it here so I can find it late.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Dead video card

Last night I suddenly smelled burning plastic. After looking through the house, it turned out that the fan on one of the video cards (MSI Ti4800) stopped working and the heat of the card melted the fan and surrounding plastic. Not being a heavy PC video gamer these days, I don't buy the super fast video card that could melt a glacier, but I guess most cards these days will generate a decent amount of heat as to require at least a heat sink or fan. What was interesting is that the video card still worked although probably not for much longer, but I still took it out of the computer and put it in the garage because it smelled really bad.

Since no video card essentially means no computer, I figured that I should find one fast, but as I'm not a gamer I haven't been following the latest in video card technology. Although I've heard a lot of good things recently about ATI cards, I've been a long time user of Nvidia so I started there. The Ti4800 is no longer made so I'd have to upgrade to a newer GPU and this time I decided I really want one that has dual DVI connectors instead of a 1 DVI and 1 Analog, and since the motherboard is still an AGP mother board, I needed to find an AGP version of the card.

A few generations of GPU has passed me by since I bought the 4800 with the latest-and-greatest being the 8xxx series, but those cards are in the $400+ category and way beyond what I want to spend for an old system. At first I thought that the older 6xxx series such as the XFX GeForce 6600XT would fit my needs exactly as it has dual DVI, AGP and is relatively cheap.

However, the shocker came as I read the various comments that the XT requires a 500W power supply!?! I thought, "is this the norm these days?" Looking around some more, I settled on the XFX Geforce 7600GT which got very good reviews and being that it's no longer the top-of-the-line from Nvidia the price isn't at a premium. However, because I had to get the AGP version, it was about $50 more then the PCI-E version. While the 6600XT seemed to require a powerful PSU and the XFX version seemed to be a fairly large card, the 7600GT is less power hungry and is suppose to be more a regular sized card. I'm now waiting for it to arrive and I'll provide more details of my experience with it.

Hopefully this will be the last upgrade for the computer until the whole system is upgraded.

Monday, January 8, 2007


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