Sunday, March 30, 2014

Tour of Flanders Prediction

Here we are. Exactly one week before we know who is the new ruler of Flanders, the tour of Flanders.


Rather than writing how great or boring a race was, here's my prediction for "De Ronde Van Vlaanderen". In this year's classic races we've seen a little bit of everything. The big guns are ready: Sagan, Cancellara, Boonen, Vanmarcke, Van Avermaet. Their lieutenants are in form as well: Terpstra, Stybar, Devolder to name a few. However, one guy sticks out above them. He is the clear favorite: Fabian Cancellara.

"He's too strong. He's just too strong", Wilfried Peeters stated in 2011 when Fabian took off with more than 60 kilometers to go. Ultimately he did not win that year due to lack of food and fluids, a mistake he won't make twice. He was also very strong in 2012, but unfortunately had to abandon the race with a broken collarbone. And of course, he won in 2013.

How could he be beaten? Barring any crashes or mechanical defects, there are few scenarios in which other mice can steal the cheese.

  1. When the race is decided in a sprint with Sagan and Boonen. This is an unlikely scenario as I doubt either of them will be able to stay with Cancellara when he turns on his turbo on the climbs. 
  2. When Devolder is able to break away and stay in front, ahead of Cancellara. Devolder has won de ronde already twice and definitely can win it again. It will be a very difficult decision for the Trek team to allow Cancellara go after his team mate.

Update: While I believe Cancellara has the best chances, I am rooting for Boonen, and Van Marcke.

Friday, March 28, 2014

The majestic E3 Harelbeke classic

Today's E3 Harelbeke race was truly Belgian classic worthy. The new race layout makes this the little brother of the Ronde Van Vlaanderen (next week). Thus far the classic and semi classic season has been pleasant, but nothing like today's race. Omloop het Nieuwsblad lacked the big battle throughout. Brussel-Kuurne-Brussel at least had a big name winner, Tom Boonen. Strade Bianche provides for wonderful scenery, but lacked drama and mano-a-mano battle among the big guns, except at the very end in the streets of Siena.

The last 80 kilometers of the E3 Harelbeke classic provided a little bit of everything. The crashes on the small windy roads provided the initial drama. The race broke open right before the Paterberg. You had a bunch of big guns attacking in the front, while Cancellera was fighting his way back in the background, racing from group to group to rejoin the front. Boonen, Van Marcke and Van Avermaet only showed up from time to time in the second row. As the final four were racing to the finish line, Terpstra and Vanderbergh kept making it hard on Sagan with continuous attacks. Wonderful to watch. And at the end, Peter Sagan was the great winner.

If this is a precursor to next weekend, it will be fun.

Friday, February 07, 2014

Churning the midnight oil

Time to get in shape. Seriously. I just turned the odometer another digit. Sadly, a number of my friends recently all suffered hardship with their health. Some were diagnosed with cancer, another friend got a heart-attack before his fifties. And today, I sadly got the news that a former colleague a handful years older than me, passed away.

Since reading "Renner willen worden" by Karl Vannieuwkerke last summer, about becoming a semi-professional cyclist at an age when most cyclists start to slow down, I've been working on my eat, sleep and workout habits.

This week, I found a great deal on a magnetic bicycle trainer on Craigslist. My neighbors can now see me early mornings or late at night churning away, while watching a catchy movie or series on my laptop.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

I am not a gamer

That's right. The last game I got really into must have been either Loderunner, Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego, or Castle Wolfenstein on the Apple II my dad put together with the local homebrew computer club. I did play PacMan and Donkey Kong with friends on their Atari. And then there were a couple of years in the desert, until we purchased a Wii console and own a dozen of Wii games. Though let's be honest, a Wii console is not a real gaming console. It is a social-make-a-fool-of-yourself system. We love it. We love to dance in the living room or pretend we are the best at making jump shots.

Tonight my son and I decided it was time to get a real game. A new Playstation or Xbox One is still on our shopping list, after we first upgrade our tube television. We decided to get the latest SimCity on our Mac. I was eager to finally see what a new game looks like since the pixel days of my Apple II.


My purchasing experience was not a great one. As the dad with the credit card, I started the purchase. Before I could purchase it, I had to create my own EA gaming account. I understand that vendors want to hook you into their world and I proceeded to create an EA Origin account. BIG MISTAKE! SINGLE MISTAKE of the night which would send us down a path of over and hour of download hell.

Fast forward several download cycles (initial product download, update app download, update data download), it turns out that we aren't downloading a game to be played at home. In today's world, you purchase a license to play on the specific Origin account. When later on my son created his child account linked to my account, we learned that the product code was already in use. Chat support gave up after awhile and pointed me to a phone support page. A lovely girl explained me on the phone that I should have created the child account first and then everything would have been honky-dory. The game would have then ended up in my son's gaming account. Thus we uninstalled the game, got the license transferred to my son's account and started the download cycle again: initial product download 1% .. 5% ... 60% ... 100%. Update app download 1% ... 17% ... 43% ... 87% ... 100%.  Data update download 1% ... 24% ... 69% ...

The days of Castle Wolfenstein were so much easier. Playing the game will be for tomorrow as the download is still going on.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Hiking Joseph D. Grant Park

Almost in our backyard and often the center of many nearby earthquakes is Joseph D. Grant Park. Bicyclist know this park as the midway point and final rest stop on route to Mount Hamilton. We decided to stretch our new year's legs with a short hike along the loop trail. It is an easy hike.

Grant Lake

McCreery Lake

Monday, December 30, 2013

Winter break in California: Monterey

We are continuing our winter break exploration of the West. In previous years, we spent a couple of days in Anzo Borrego desert and San Diego, we explored Marin County and Safari West, gambled in Las Vegas and sifted for Gold near Jamestown. This year, I didn't want to spend much time in the car. We decided to explore Monterey Bay. Plenty to explore:
  • Fisherman's Wharf
  • Cannery Row - which is more that just the tourist trap. Interesting history about how the canning industry came and suddenly disappeared. 
  • Monterey Aquarium
  • Old town - Spanish capital of California
  • Lovers Point and beach
  • Monarch butterflies in Pacific Grove
  • Point Pinos Lighthouse
  • 17 mile drive  - We skipped it this time.
  • Carmel by the sea 
  • Carmel Valley - a small place about 11 miles in land
  • Whale watching as December is peak migrating season towards Baja California. 

Lovers Point, Pacific Grove

More pictures: Google+ Photo Album

Friday, December 27, 2013

Medium: @waffletchnlgy

Since recent I started writing a few stories at It would be great to have a Blogger-Medium plug-in so they are automatically cross-posted.

Medium does bring some freshness to blogs. Blogger has gotten a little ignored by Google. 

Monday, November 25, 2013

On Medium

Ev Williams is on to something. He has been on to something for a while. I realize that on any given night I am using three of his creations. I write my blog using Blogger. I spend a bunch of time on Twitter. And since recent I am an avid reader on Medium. His Medium tagline summarizes it well: "I make systems that encourage typing and thinking (Blogger, Twitter, Medium). @ev."

I read interesting posts on Medium. About a variety of topics. I keep going back to it every night. This made me wonder what was so appealing about this new service. And more importantly, it made me wonder whether I should be writing my posts on Medium or keep posting on my blog. I was even intruiged after reading Andrew Torba's post tonight on how he reached over 100,000 views in 30 days on Medium.

Other than "new is better" and having a big name entrepreneur behind it attracting lots of attention, what does appear to make Medium great?

First of all, the current batch of writers have something interesting to say. Of course that could be coincidence. Good writers may have been suffocated among the thousands of blogs: from soccer moms and tweens to marketers posting wolf blogs in sheep skins. A new platform like Medium may be just the air good writers were looking for to distinguish themselves.

Secondly, it appears to be about simple differences, as compared with Ev's previous platform, Blogger. Medium is the new Blogger + curated contents. Medium provides groups or topics you can subscribe to. Furthermore it provides the reader with an index for new and interesting topics. That's it! That little change may be just the magic sauce which makes Medium succeed.

Lastly, the webpage's visual style is refreshing and most importantly simple. Although that may be true today, a webpage style is easily copied.  Today, it definitely helps making Medium a great publishing platform.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

He who has the most connected devices wins. Not.

Watching SmartThings' CTO Jeff Hagins TEDx presentation on #IoT adding value to people's lives made me wonder two things. First of all, if the CTO of an internet of things company has 132 connected devices, how many connected devices do I have at home. And secondly, how much value are these devices and applications actually adding to our lives.

The first question reminded me briefly of the bumper sticker I used to see: "She who has the most pairs of shoes wins". In IoT terms this would be "He/She who has the most connected devices wins". Thus, I made a list of the connected devices in our house:
  • 4 laptops
  • 5 smart phones
  • 1 tablet
  • 1 connected WII console
  • 1 web camera
  • 1 network attached storage device
  • 1 Aria weight scale
  • 1 Fitbit fitness tracker
  • 1 smart energy meter (although it is disconnected at the moment)
  • 1 smart meter (owned by PG&E). 
  • 3 media players
Total: 20.

I am obviously not winning. But fear not, Christmas is just around the corner. And let's not forget the batch of Tile devices I am awaiting to track my cat, my kids and ... ok .. I don't dare to add it my wife. However it would be great for her purse and phone. (I used to have a connected device gateway to control door sensors and lightbulbs, but as the gateway start-up went under so when the service to control the devices.)

How much value are these connected devices adding to our lives? I have to agree with Jeff Hagins: so far, these connected devices or their applications minimally impact my life. My webcam movement detection software is flawed and isn't very good at being a burglary detection solution. It does allow me to peak into my house every now and then. I don't really have any smart energy solution to speak of. The most useful application has been the connected Fitbit and Aria scale. I can easily track my weight. Although when put into perspective, that's an expensive alternative to writing down one number on a piece of paper every morning. 

I haven't jumped into the IoT pool of sexy new devices yet. I do keep an eye out for a Nest thermostat and smoke detector. Or to upgrade that old gateway with perhaps a SmartThings set up.

Regardless of how many connected devices I can amass, IoT must be more than just connecting devices to the cloud.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

#IoT in my words

Marketers turned a few too many times around on their chair. The whole Internet of Things (#IoTmarketing machine has spun out of control. So much that they don't even know any more what they really mean. You see article after article, blog post after blog post, about the differences between the Internet of Things, Machine-to-Machine (M2M), (GE's) Industrial Internet, (Cisco's) Internet of Everything, and I am sure I am forgetting a few new terms. They all have the obligatory image of a car, a cell phone, a watch, a fridge, a sprinkler on a cloud background. The articles start with IoT definitions, similar to what I used to read in an encyclopedia. Then there is "the comparison table", which will demystify any confusion between the terms. Typically it is only the starting point for endless discussions about features, protocols, and applications. My simple view on the Internet of Things will have no such comparison table, but I am keeping a cloud picture.

The Internet started by connecting computers, and allowing for data exchange and email. The real Internet came later and was about a new class of applications which hadn't been envisioned before: Websites, e-Commerce, online banking, online training, etc.

Similarly the Internet of Things starts of by connecting all kinds of devices, mostly via low-power radio. Companies don't really know yet what type of applications these will spawn. A recent announcement by Samsung illustrates the point. The best application of their connected TV is the TV adjusting the thermostat lower when watching a movie about the Artic. You also have the visionary thoughts of cars talking to each other to recommend a great taqueria in the neighborhood. Really?

Terminology and marketing speak aside, the Internet of Things boils down to two key points:

1. IoT is about hooking things up and feeding the Big Data monster

Most of the focus today is about hooking up all kinds of devices. It is a wet dream for the hardware engineers of a decade ago. Hardware projects are sexy again. Take a look at the various Kickstarter projects involving new low-power connected devices. The key challenge is indeed about keeping a small footprint, consuming as little power as possible and being able to communicate in intermittent network environments. And of course this all has to happen in a secure manner.

Although some devices will be communicating with each other, for the majority of devices it is all about feeding the big bad analytics engine in the cloud. Google, Apple, Amazon, GE's Predix, are all salivating about the opportunity to crunch and analyze your habits. Initial applications focus on visualizing the data and creating a historical picture. The various biometrics wristbands are a great example. Wait until the next set of applications will harvest data across devices or databases.

2. IoT is about building Smart(er) Systems

A lesser focus in the technology press is about how connecting more devices, systems and subsystems are creating a new set of intelligent systems. Your cars already have tens and tens of monitoring and CPU devices. A new class of electric and autonomous vehicles show how a new intelligent systems and applications are just around the corner. For many system engineers, this turns the volume up to 11. Indeed, it is challenging how the implement a control loops for these devices. It is more challenging to share data to many more consumers when real-time performance matters.

It is not just about the Jetson's mobile. Smarter systems also include systems such as an interconnected battleground with drones and soldiers with tablets, or a hospital where the infusion pumps, heart rate monitor, etCO2 monitor all talk to each other and provide the nurses station with a simplified view of the health of the patient.

Regardless of whether it is about feeding the big data monster or making smarter systems hum, it is great time to be working on the hardware, protocols or data crunching or integrating systems of the Internet of Things.

I may have this all wrong.  IoT may, as Disney's internship posting points out, actually refer to the Internet of Toys. Big Toys.