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.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Fourth visit to Bass Lake

We visited Bass Lake, near Oakhurst and south of Yosemite over five years ago. Typically we camped out during the hot summer months on the South shore and take a dive into the warm lake to cool down. Bass Lake is an artificial lake and used for boating, jet skiing and swimming.

On our fourth trip to the Sierra national forest, we stayed on the north shore of Bass Lake, close to the dam. As it is November, all the power boaters are gone and with them their large mosquito sounds. Rather than hundreds of water vehicles, I only counted 3 boats the entire weekend. The lake was calm, which is great for fishing for rainbow trout. Most of our weekend was spent on the empty Marina View docks with our fishing poles in the water and reading a book.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Camping among the redwoods in Boulder Creek

A couple of pictures from this weekend's camp out among the redwoods in the backcountry of the Boulder Creek Scout Reservation


It's fun to drive a bunch of scouts to an outing. Besides a sing-a-long of What does the fox say, you get to learn a bit about the boys. Yesterday the topic of allowances came up. This is since recent an important topic for my son as he is responsible to pay a portion of the monthly cellphone plan. He saved and paid half of a new iPhone 5c. I added him to my plan with unlimited voice, text and internet. However he has to pay 50% of the $30 monthly service plan for his phone.

Both kids have been receiving a weekly allowance since last year. Saving is important. At this age, I want to also teach them how to spend. I use the iAllowance iPad application. I love the fact that you can set up an automatic interest for the savings account, so they can appreciate the magic of compound interest. Also it is not all about the money: you can earn stars and free ice cream.

Until recent, both kids were able to earn $3 every week. It was not tied to any chores. Now that obviously my son is coming up short to pay his monthly cellphone plan, he asked to revise the allowance amount. We are changing the allowance upwards, though with strings attached.

Here are those nasty terms and conditions:

  1. You do not earn any allowance if you do not participate in the regular household chores. If you do not do any of the basic chores such as making your bed, cleaning up your room, cleaning of the table, there is no allowance this week. 
  2. No allowance is given if you do not practice your music instruments or sports. 
  3. Your allowance includes a big portion for you to spend and learn how to spend wisely and another portion to save. 
  4. You can earn extra allowance by doing a special chore such as planting vegetables in the planter box or cleaning the car.  
  5. It is your responsibility to make sure your allowance is credited to your iAllowance account. 

Based upon an article in the Huffington post, the amount is raised to about $0.75 per year of age.

Friday, November 01, 2013

Kid's cellphone contract

The song of the summer is over: "Dad, can I have a cellphone? Da-haad". As my son is more independent and on the road without us, it is a good idea he has a means of contacting us easily. We decided to get him a cellphone. Which cellphone is appropriate is an entire different story. We jointly decided for a smart phone, for which he had to fork over 50% of the initial cost and 50% of the monthly service fee. To complete the cycle we all are accustomed to as adults, we made him sign an official service contract. I created it as a mix of freely available contracts for kids. My son was happy to sign this and even more happy when, as a surprise, we were able to give him his first phone afterwards.

Dad and Mom Mobile - Service Contract

We are excited you will be entrusted with your first mobile phone. Fun fun fun … but there are some rules. This contract between _________________ and _______________ establishes the rules and consequences regarding mobile phone usage. The rules includes, but are not limited to, the following:

Full Access - I must agree to give the device immediately to my parents when they ask for it. I will not hide the password and make it available to my parents at request. At any time, I must fully cooperate in showing them the contents of my device, including contacts, pictures, videos, text messages, or anything else stored in it. My parents may access my phone without my knowledge.

Charged - I will turn off my phone at bedtime and place it in a save location. I will make sure my phone is charged.

Take care - I will know at any time where my phone is and keep it in excellent working condition. I will not share my phone with anyone, except dad, mom, and ___________.

Family - I will not disrupt the family harmony. This means I will turn off my phone at the family table, in a restaurant, in church or when asked by my parents.

Being a person - I understand that having a cell phone is a means of communication, and is not a replacement for actual face to face interaction with my friends and family members. Therefore, when I am with others, I will make the people I am with my priority.

School - I will abide by my school’s rules regarding use of the device. I will not disrupt the class by my phone usage. It is expected I keep up your excellent grades.

Malicious usage - I will not text, email or say anything through the device I would not say in person. I will not use my cell phone to take pictures or video of nudity, violence or other unlawful activity. No porn. I will not use my cell phone for malicious purposes, i.e. bullying, spreading rumors/gossip, etc. nor will I send text messages or visit websites that are vulgar, obscene, or sexual in nature. I understand that such messages or websites are both highly inappropriate and potentially illegal.

Be careful and aware - I will alert my parents if I receive suspicious or alarming phone calls or text messages.I will alert my parents if I am being harassed by someone via my cell phone.

Responsiveness - I will always answer calls or text from my parents. If I miss a call or text from them, I will call or text them back immediately. I will not lie about where I have been or how I am using the phone.

Having a cell phone is a privilege, and it may be suspended at any time for disciplinary reasons. If suspension occurs, that does not negate your financial obligation

Financial commitment - We want you to have some ownership in your new device. While we were happy to buy this initial phone for your use, if it is lost or damaged, you will be responsible for replacing it. The ___________ is an expensive device and costs nearly $___. You have to pay $___ for your part of the device. Monthly, you have a $___ fee that covers your call use, unlimited texting and unlimited data. If you make additional purchases (e.g., through iTunes), you will be required to pay ALL related charges.

I agree to all conditions stated above and will adhere to them with a gracious and positive attitude. Any failure to comply will result in loss of phone privileges.

Date: _______________
Signed by: _______________ 

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Tools of the trade has made a living from documenting productivity tools for your daily life. Getting things done websites each pitch their own methodology and tools. Which tools work for you is a personal affair. Here's a list of the tools I use:
  • Email, Calendar and Writing: both at home and at work I use Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Contacts, and Google Docs/Drive. While Apple Mail, iCal and Addressbook synchronize with Google services, I tend to use the browser as the main interface. I am a big fan of the Gmail simple interface and use the tabbed Inbox daily. A common theme for all the tools is the cloud aspect: data is stored in the cloud and synchronizes across operating systems and platforms between my work laptop, my personal laptop, my iPad and Android HTC One phone. 
  • Todo list: I experiment every few months with new todo managers. For about a year I use I love the simple and easy interface, and the fact it works with David Allen's GTD system, which I use. 
  • Taking notes: at work I use Microsoft Word in outline mode for taking personal notes. Unfortunately nothing meets my requirements for a great outliner. When I need to share notes with my colleagues, I use Google Docs. Similarly at home, I tend to go to Google Docs. I never got into Evernote, as it lacks some basic outliner features. Since recent I started using Google Keep for simple snippets and pictures of whiteboards. A big advantage is that synchronizes with Google Drive and has the ability to distinguish between my work and personal Google accounts. On my iPad, I use Notability to take notes. I like the ability to mix text, pictures and sketches. Sadly only iOS is supported by Notability.
  • Drafting and Sketching: I like Paper on the iPad, although I often run out of screen real estate, and my fingers are too fat. I tend to stick with rudimentary sketches of ideas or basic X-Y graphs. 
  • News and blog reading: ever since the demise of Google Reader (darn you Google!), I switched to Digg Reader. I am a big fan of RSS readers. I use Flipboard on my iPad. I catch up on interesting presentation using Slideshare
  • Social media: I live in a socially segregated world: I post tidbits on Twitter (it's open to the world), I restrict LinkedIn to work and professional sharing, I answer questions on Quora and Stackoverflow. I like Google+ - no surprise for Google fanboy. Although you would think I barely use Google+ as most of my sharing is with family in a walled off family community. I do find a lot of substantial information sharing on Google+, unlike on Facebook. I log in to Facebook to catch up with the gossip du jour among my friends. I am your stereotypical Instagram user sharing food, drinks and signs. I limit sharing of personal and family pics to my walled off Google+ community. (yes, I am married and have two kids, but you wouldn't know from Facebook or Instagram.) Buffer.App helps me posting to social media. 
  • Instant messaging: Adium (iOS)
  • Video Conferencing: I use Webex at work, as it has the benefit to allow people to dial in from a mobile phone or landline. At home, Google Hangouts is streaming our household across the pond every weekend. 
  • Data Storage: MacOS Time Machine to USB hard drives and a Synology NAS, combined with Google Docs and DropBox. I use DropBox only for a few things: using IFTTT to store all my Instagram pictures in a single folder and for whitepapers, eBooks and other reading material as I can open it on any of my devices. 
  • eBooks: I dropped iBooks for Kindle on iOS and Android. Regardless of the device I can access my book. 
  • Experimental tools: TicTrac as my personal data dashboard; Prezi for online presentations. 
  • Specialized: Microsoft project, and a whole suite of Software development tools. 
When you take a moment to list all the applications you use, you are amazed about how many there are. I wonder how things got done 25 years ago. 

Let me know if you have any interesting tools or if a category is missing.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

July 21, a new king

As Belgium gets a new king, Chris Froome is crowned the new Roi du 100er edition du Tour de France. Kittel est le prince des Champs.

I've enjoyed watching the Tour more than other years, and with reason. A lackluster Cadel Evans and the early departure of Belgium's hope Jurgen Van den Broeck aside, this Tour had a lot of excitement.

A true king
Although Chris Froome started the race as the favorite, it was not handed to him. His rivals didn't waste any time and started attacking from the first day in the Pyrenees. Unlike other years where you waited for some action only to be disappointed time after time: yes, Schleck brothers, I am talking to you. Throughout the tour the attacks kept coming. More over, Froome didn't just defend his yellow jersey. He attacked, won stages and earned it thread for thread. A calm and humble Froome rightfully crowns himself the winner of the 2013 Tour de France.

Picture: The Guardian

The battle among the knights
On the flat stages, it remained exciting. There was the battle royal between the sprinters. Cavendish got unseated by mister-needs-a-new-barber Marcel Kittel. Although Andre Greipel got a seat at the sprinter's banquet as well.

The day they attacked the castle
You would expect the legendary ascend to the Mont Ventoux or the double Alpe D'Huez stage to be the most exciting ones. Nope. The flat stage 13 between Tours and Saint-Amand-Montrond was cycling at its best. First, an unlucky Valverde got behind. Then, Froome and Sky were put on defense when Quickstep, Belkin and Saxo took advantage of the cross winds. It was fighting for every second. Finally, Cavendish finished it off nicely.

New blood
Surprises came from Nairo Quintana, the dynamic Dutch duo Bauke Molema and Laurens Ten Dam, and Jan Bakelants who won a stage and got the yellow jersey for Belgium for a couple of days. 

The jester
It was of course of no surprise that Sagan, winning the green jersey, would bring a little show as he wheelied through the mountains and across the finish lines. 

Relive the Tour with

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

My new found digital leash

Since a few months I am tracking some of my daily habits using a Fitbit Flex wristband and Aria scale. Interconnected devices. The internet of things. M2M. Oops, I've been brainwashed recently by the IoT marketeers, but got enough antidote to escape its tentacles.

Techcrunch, Lifehacker, GigaOm all have written extensively about devices such as the Fitbit Flex, the Nike Fuelband (as glorified in Casey Neistat's Make it Count video), or the Jawbone Up.

I was initially interested in a device which tracks my sleeping habits. I know I do not get enough rest. Six hours are a blessing. I wondered  how solid the few hours I do sleep are. It is a bonus the device also tracks my steps.

Although I have a "computer-job", I do tend to walk around lot (1). Now that I can track it, I am more encouraged to hit my daily 10,000 steps. I haven't hit it consistently yet. That's my next step.

Not only am I connected most of my awaken hours, I now have my version of a prisoner's ankle bracelet, albeit a cool one. When anyone asks, I'll just mention that my parole officer doesn't allow me to talk about it.

Career development is always and at least once a year

In recent weeks I have been preparing several career development plans (CDP) for my direct reports. This is a multi-step process starting with the employee answering a set of questions, and for engineers a technical skill-set self-assessment. Typically over a lunch we discuss theses answers and review the self assessment. The next step is for me to write up my opinion on the employee: strengths, areas of improvement, and development steps.

Previously when engineers asked when the next CDP will be, my answer was simple: "CDPs are always. Don't wait for a specific HR designated time period. Let's talk in our regular one-on-one about this."

One-on-ones are typically weekly. If there is one thing I want to pass along to new managers is to have regular one-on-one meetings with your team. Talk about the projects, but also about how they see things in the company or their opinion on pending decisions. Over the last 7 years, it is my habit to have one-on-ones while walking around the company neighborhood. This is a habit I picked up from my first manager at RTI: she was pregnant at the time and wanted to include walks in her daily routine. The habit stuck with me. I must have logged hundreds of miles in recent years in the Sunnyvale area. The Northern California weather helps.

I've written up my career advise opinion -'cause that is all that really is: my opinion- for several employees now. I must admit it has been quiet complementary to the one-on-one mentoring and career advise. This is in part thanks to the guiding CDP questions and the fact that we make it a special focus. Thus I've come around: career development is always and at least once a year.

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Douglas Englebart got me a $100

When in March of 2012, Robert Cringely took his family on a day through computing history, he had breakfast at IHOP with Woz, tea with Douglas Englebart, and a grabble in the Google snackbar when visiting Andy Hertzfeld. That was all before visiting the Computer History Museum in Mountain View of course.

When somebody had asked me to plan a similar trip, the same three gentlemen would be part of my trip. (I probably would have tried to squeeze in a few more folks.) All three are in the quiet geek hero category and live in the shadow of Steve Jobs. Even in the valley of geeks are some of them unknown.  I once made a lofty $100 of a bet on who invented the mouse. Steve Jobs $0; Douglas Englebart $100.

Unfortunately my trip through computer history will have one stop fewer as Douglas Englebart passed away last week.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Find my Mac - how does it work?

In follow up to my previous post on recovering my Apple computer, as an engineer passionate about networking, I was intrigued in how Find My Mac/ Find My iPhone actually works. Some of the devices have a GPS capability, some have a GSM/3G/4G capability, but my laptop has neither.

StackExchange explains the application using Wifi Positioning Systems (WPS):
The Mac can use Wi-Fi network identification for localization. This is called a Wi-Fi Positioning System (WPS). The access points name and signal strength is determined and looked up in a database to identify the location. The more access points are found, the more precise the localization. Unlike GPS (Global Positioning System) or cell-tower triangulation (together called Assisted-GPS), the Wi-Fi based localization works well inside buildings. There are different databases which collect wireless access points: Google, Navizon, Skyhook Wireless, OpenWLANMap. 
I have been pretty lucky that WPS pointed me to a single house. Now that all my devices are safely at home, the online version of Find My Mac places all devices in the shed in the backyard, on the border with my neighbors. I probably would not have known which house to send the SJPD to. ... unless I used the iPad/iPhone version.

I did discover that using the web-based version of Find My Mac is less accurate in pin pointing the device than using the Find My Mac application on an iPhone or iPad. On my iPad the application actually shows the address and can provide driving directions (which using Apple Maps may or may not lead you to the right location, but that's another story).

Note: At home WPS triangulation does work thanks to the neighbors networks. I actually do not broadcast my SSID. I thought this was a good security measure: if you do not know my network is around, you are not going to try to connect to my network. As this article points out, hiding your SSID isn't such a great idea for security reasons.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Revenge of the nerds

About five years ago, burglars visited our house. Due to the vigilance of a neighbor they were caught in the act, and all goods were recovered. A damaged door and a dent our safe home feeling were the only remainders from the ordeal. Last night, misfortune struck again.

One of the items stolen was a brand new Apple Mac Book Air family laptop. It was fully backed up, so essentially the loss of the laptop was limited to some electronics in a metal case. An expensive metal case nevertheless.

Today using the iCloud Find My iPhone of Mac application, the tide turned.  At 10:28am, minutes before our company board meeting, the Macbook Air popped up on the iCloud browser window. It was located in East San Jose. The first picture showed a radius of a couple of houses. That wasn't a lot to get the San Jose Police Department excited about. I called them nevertheless. They requested I drive to the area but remained a couple of blocks of the houses and show the police officer the tracking information.

In the interim, I was able to take some action. The Find my Mac application allows you take control of the remote device: you can lock it, you can play a sound or you can even erase the Mac. I opted for locking it, without alerting the user (no sound or message was displayed). Apparently for iOS devices you can request it to send you an email when it comes online, so you don't have to poll it all the time.

To a novice user, this renders the laptop unusable.

By the time the board meeting was over, the iCloud application had narrowed the location to a single specific house. I am curious to how it was able to do this, especially since the user was locked out of the laptop anyway. I also got the IP address but wasn't able to tie that to a specific house. If somebody knows, let me know.

With this information, I sped down to the area, drove by the house twice to check it out. There wasn't any sign of life in the house. I met up with the San Jose Police Department a few blocks away. Three SJPD officers showed up. After explaining them how iCloud Find my Mac works - this was new to all three officers- , they were convinced and requested me to follow them to the house. Adrenaline, Camera, Action!

After surrounding the house, making contact with the person living there, and a long 10 minutes waiting in the car, they came out with two devices: a iPad mini (not mine) and my MacBook Air. The NASA Curiosity sticker had been removed and will be restored. Victory is mine: I got my laptop back. Revenge of technology, revenge of the nerds!

Yes, this is absolutely a plug for Apple and the Find my iPhone/Mac application. Thanks to the SJPD to follow my lead to the house and recover my laptop. I offered them gladly some training on the tracking application.

Thanks SJPD! 
Epilogue - Unfortunately, the person who was in possession of the laptop, wasn't the person who stole the laptop. He bought the $1100 laptop less than 12 hours after it was stolen, in a tire store parking lot for $150. He was interviewed for close to an hour, the house was turned upside down, but nothing else was found.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Ronde Van Vlaanderen 2013

All the discussions whether the "Muur of Geraardsbergen" or "Bosberg" should be part of the Tour of Flanders (Ronde Van Vlaanderen) aside, the last edition today has become much more of an NBA basketball game. Nevertheless all the scoring back and forth, the excitement of an NBA basketball has been reduced to the last 2 minutes. Either the game is dull where it has been decided early on and the point difference is large throughout the game. Or it is a game of time-outs, fouls, free throws or 3-point shots in the last 2 minutes. Just tune into the last 2 minutes.

That's how today's Ronde Van Vlaanderen felt as well. That's also how last year's Ronde Van Vlaanderen, the first year on the new course, felt as well. Seventeen hills and we all have to wait until the last two for the excitement: Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg.

We knew it was going to be between Cancellara and Sagan. But with exception of Jurgen Roelandts, who did attack a little earlier, and Tom Boonen who had to abandon the race early on after a crash, where were the other favorites? Chavanel? Voeckler? Van Avermaet? Paolini? Why didn't they attack early on? Your names don't even show up on the post race interview lists.

It is only the second time the new course is used, but let's hope that in the coming years, we don't have to wait until the last 20km to see some action.


Thursday, March 28, 2013

Three times is a charm

This is the third time I am packing up all my belongings. The first time was when we moved in our little house. The second time was when we replaced the popcorn (acoustic) ceiling with smooth ceiling and repainted the entire interior. This time I am packing up all the rooms to have the old carpet replaced by Brazilian cherry wooden floors. There were other packing and unpacking episodes, but they were smaller in size: i.e., when we unpacked lots of inherited belongings from our friends who were moving back to Europe. Or when we had to pack up the bathrooms, and the kitchen when we remodeled them.

This is day two of the packing. I expect at least one more solid day of packing and moving remaining. I am doing it all by myself, while the rest of my gang are vacationing in Argentina. I could have used the extra hands. It is however much more troublesome to live in a place with four while it is all packed up. All I need, is a small bag with a change of clothes, a toothbrush, a comb and my laptop.

I've gone at it systematically, starting with cleaning out the garage, where all the stuff somehow needs to fit. Next I started with the kids' rooms and then the living room. How can so much stuff fit in such a little house?  A couple of observations:

  • It appears an enormous amount of stuffed animals survived the last trip to the slaughterhouse (Goodwill). 
  • We got to do better and clean out old toys. I am pretty sure the wooden train tracks have not been used in years. 
  • Lego is everywhere. 
  • So are the little hairbands. 
  • How many purses and little bags can a little girl have? Wait don't answer. I know, as with shoes, not enough. 
  • How many clothes can a little girl have? See previous answer.  
  • Cleaning out and packing up my daughters room, you learn a lot. For example, she loves to tie many toys together and is quite skilled at it. Note to mom: no more yarn for her! 
  • Time to institute the law of Conservation of Toys: want a new toy, get rid of one first. In this house the total number of toys shall remain the same. 
  • And finally, there should be a law that all mattresses come with handles.
Tomorrow I am taking a break from the real work to go back to my day job. A quick peek and I am looking at over 200 emails and a bunch of meetings. I love my other (packing) job. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Introducing the next generation to slide guitar

As we were perusing the camping equipment at REI, a new song came on the radio.

"Listen, Listen dad", my son said excitedly, "do you recognize the song?"

It didn't take me much to recognize the slide guitar from the Allman Brothers Band. (I learned on YouTube the song was called "Jessica".)

"Who?,  my son asked, "No dad, this is the theme song from Top Gear."

Of course! I must have heard it a hundred times by now, as we watch the UK shows over and over. Even though the gang of three lost all credibility after the infamous Tesla episode.

Sure, I may pretend to know all about the Allman Brothers now, but about 15 years ago, my answer would have been the same as my son. But that all changed one infamous Sunday night at the Paradise Lounge in San Francisco. It was a few months after I watched Rush, a movie about undercover narcotics agents played by Jason Patric and Jennifer Jason Leigh. Little did I know that Will Gaines, the drug lord in the movie, is played by Gregg Allman.

Back to the night in the Paradise Lounge. It was close to 1:30am Sunday night. Closing time. My roommate, his girlfriend and myself were one of the few remaining patrons finishing our drinks. As we were leaving the place, a group of well dressed folks walks in. The gents were in tuxedos and the ladies were all dressed up in elegant gowns. Intrigued they were let in at this time of the night, we dragged out feet leaving and hid in the back against the wall. The doors closed and everybody inside was asked to stay back, away from the windows as the SFPD was making sure all bars, clubs and lounges had emptied. There must have been perhaps 15 patrons and about 10 of the fancy folks. About 30 minutes past, when the fancy folks opened their cases and pulled out a bunch of instruments. They got on stage and started jamming. They seemed to know the owner of the place. The band sounded beyond awesome. My roommate could hardly contain his excitement. It took me a couple of minutes to recognize the front man: "That's the drug dealer!", I shouted, just as they paused between songs. A little chuckle here and there. But indeed it was the drug dealer. We were enjoying an almost private concert by no other than Gregg Allman and the Allman Brothers band.

And thus a budding guitar player got introduced to the slide guitar at REI.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Strade Bianche

Since Omloop het Nieuwsblad, the races have been somewhat of a dud. Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne was canceled because of weather. The next major race was Strade Bianche. The race over the beautiful white gravel roads of Tuscany started of great. I picked up a few interested twitter feeds with great pictures from the parcours along the way as well: @TourdeJose and @Soigneur_zegt.  Following the races from California isn't typically a problem following the feed recommendations from or on As the race went into its final kilometers towards Siena, the sports-livez webstream was cut short because of the Real-Barcelona soccer game. What a bummer! It took out all of the fun of watching the race.

Image: 2012

Moreno Moser, winner 2013 Strade Bianche
Image 2013 PodiumCafe

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Omloop het nieuwsblad

Stijn Vandenbergh
't Is terug koers! After all the drama with Lance Armstrong and doping (we all knew it), the real cycling is back. Living in California means that it is back to waking up at 5 o'clock to catch the Sporza broadcast live on the internet.

The spring cycling season has officially started in Belgium with Omloop het Nieuwsblad. After the riders enjoy a ramp up vacation in the sun, with the Tour Down Under, the Tour de San Luis in Argentina near my parents in law's house, or the Tour of Oman, it is now time for the real stuff: the spring classics.

Today's Omloop het Volk Nieuwsblad was like a blandly season appetizer. The big guns like Boonen, Flecha, Cancellara, Sagan aren't competing for the roses yet (or didn't participate). The young guns lack panache and strategic inside. That leaves us the older experienced guys, like Luca Paolini who won today in the sprint from Stijn Vandenbergh. Where is the new young talent?

A couple of observations of today's race:

  • It was too cold for a good race: the big temperature shock was too much for the sun bronzed riders. "My eyes were frozen over, I didn't see where I was going anymore", Jurgen Roelandts. 
  • More races should drop the radio communications with the riders. It will be it a more exciting tactical race, although today there was no sign of that. It was overall not a very exciting race. 
  • Van Avermaet has the right form, but lacks some luck and smarts. 
  • It was unfortunate Stijn Vandenbergh (2nd) didn't the play the game smarter with Paolini. He should have stopped cooperating earlier: the team still had Chavanel around, or let Paolini tire himself out more before the final sprint. 
Tomorrow Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne. If the weather holds up and it doesn't snow in Belgium, I predict a sprint for Cavendish.