Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Grandpa, Salida Park, 1980

I took about a dozen trays of 35mm slides home with me from Arkansas. These date all the way back to the mid-70’s.

I purchased a flatbed scanner with a slide attachment last night and tonight got around to trying the scanner. The film seems to be deteriorating. The clarity has suffered, the color seems to have shifted heavily toward red, and, of course, there are a good number of marks and scratches. This is the first one that I scanned and saved, so I’m still in the learning stage, but I’m worried that some of the older slides might be beyond saving.

I worked the curves on this to reduce red and introduce a bit more blue back into the mix and I’m reasonably happy with the results. It is still far too red in some areas, though, and I’ll need to establish a decent workflow if I want these to be done before 2012.

Still, I like this picture. It was likely taken by my grandmother (or perhaps my Uncle Billy) and my grandpa is seen walking their little poodle. Sadly, they are all gone and no one is there to tell me about this trip. He passed away back in 2005 and I still miss him.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Hateful Things: Acura’s Holiday Advertising

If you haven’t seen Acura’s holiday advertising--the “season of reason sales event"--you should watch this video. The ads dare to suggest that all of the overly ostentatious commercialism of the holiday season can be combatted by buying or leasing a new Acura. The logic, apparently, is that springing for a rental reindeer is a symbol of excess and buying a new car is a symbol of “over saving.”

I have nothing against Acura, but these ads make me cranky every time I see them.

(Edited for clarity.)

Monday, December 27, 2010

Arkansas Christmas Miscellany

Merry Christmas to you all just a little bit late. I hope you’ll forgive my tardiness.

Darling girl and I spent Christmas in Hot Springs with my parents. It’s the second time we’ve made the trip, although it was complicated a bit this year by the awkward (for us) placement of the holidays. The trip home was done in one, long fifteen hour drive yesterday so I wouldn’t miss any work after we decided that it wouldn’t make much sense to leave late on Christmas to start the drive home. It wouldn’t have been fair to my parents since they only see me once every few years.

This is a series of notes about the trip.

Firstly, Hot Springs is a fun little town. It reminds me of Colorado’s own Manitou Springs only, perhaps, a little bit nicer.

We stayed at the Embassy Suites and it was absolutely wonderful. I used to work at an Embassy Suites and have stayed at a few here and there across the country, but this really was one of the nicest I’ve seen. The rooms were great, the setting beautiful, and the staff was uniformly warm, friendly, and helpful. I had chosen the Embassy Suites because I needed a place with a desk, enough room, and high speed Internet access so I could work for the first few days that we were in town. I wasn’t much disappointed.

Not much but just a little. See, the hotel was wonderful, the free breakfast in the morning was perfect, the bar with some of my favorite vodkas didn’t hurt matters, but I did have an issue with the “high speed Internet” service. Two issues, really. The first is that most hotels (like the Hampton hotels that I normally choose) offer free high speed Internet, but the Embassy Suites charged for daily access. At the price of the room, I’m surprised that the service isn’t included in the deal. I won’t complain too loudly on that front, though: I made the reservations knowing I had to pay extra but decided that it would probably be worth it since I was also able to make spa reservations for my wife on premises, there was more than enough space for my needs, and it the location was good for us.

But, having chosen to pay for something that I normally get for free, I was surprised at the flaky, slow connection that I got. The service was slow, when I logged in daily it offered an extra paid upgrade for faster download speeds, and it dropped connections somewhat regularly. The work that i was doing required me to be sending 70+ meg files to a printer and I ended up missing a few soft deadlines. Luckily I was working with a friend (if you ever need a printer in Denver, Bob at RM Printing is the most reliable and hardest working man that I know in the business--I can’t recommend him enough) who was more patient with me than I deserved. I did end up getting the work done, but it was much harder than it should have been.

The kicker was that the wireless connection was so bad and so inconsistent that I ended up going old-school: wired connection to a data port in the wall. While my reliability went up, the speed didn’t see much improvement.

If the network service hadn’t been so flaky, it would have been the perfect place for the first half of our stay.

Secondly, I got my mom a Kindle for Christmas. I got her one because, largely, I couldn’t afford to get her an iPad but I knew that the Kindle would be something she would really love. That meant helping her with the set-up and showing her a bit how to use the thing.

I like the Kindle. It’s responsive, it works well, and it is really nicely priced--I think that my mom will love it.

I can’t love it, though. I can like it, but not only is it too limited in comparison to my iPad, but even on its own terms it has some design compromises that really bug me. For instance, the tiny keyboard is hideous. The sub-chiclet sized keys are ridiculous and I can’t understand why they didn’t have room for not only larger buttons but more buttons. Why doesn’t it have a set of number buttons? Why do I have to use an odd, on-screen pop-up for numbers and the alt-keyboard? I also, stupidly, mistook the “back” button for the “delete” button a number of times while I was setting up her account information--my fault, certainly, but it still bugged me.

Much of what I didn’t like about it came down to unfavorable comparison to the iPad, though. While it was responsive and it had a very nice screen, while it was light and very nicely sized, it didn’t have the same mix of size, convenience, and incredible breadth of capabilities of the iPad. I know it isn’t a fair comparison (the Kindle is built for reading and nothing more), but I couldn’t stop myself from making it. The same way that I judge netbooks negatively in comparison to my MacBook Pro, I can’t help but judge the Kindle a little negatively in comparison to my iPad.

This has lead me to wonder, though, that with an iPad in my life, do I really need my iPhone? I might actually downgrade to a phone when my current contract is up.

That also brings me to my thirdly, too: the iPad played a big part in this trip, too. Instead of using my dedicated GPS, I used MotionX-GPS Drive HD. It provided a larger screen with bigger maps and instruction, a great set of extra features (a few button clicks to find a list of the nearest coffee shops), voice directions, basic iPod controls, and the option to pre-cache all of the maps that I would need for the trip. I bought a mount for it (that proved useless) and ended up with what I will term a field expedient method of mounting that involved a design feature of my 2008 Ford Taurus X and the particular case that held the iPad. It worked shockingly well.

Since it was hooked up to the car stereo, the music volume dropped every time the voice instructions came along to tell me where to turn. That was a nice change from the stand-alone GPS where the directions would sometimes get lost against the music.

There were a few negatives, though. We ended up a little confused in Hot Springs when we missed a turn and it couldn’t find a new path for us against the quick turns we made to try to get back on track, for instance, and had a few other situations where it had a hard time finding a new route when we went off script. The stand-alone unit seems to be quicker in mapping new routes when necessary. Like the stand-alone unit, though, the MotionX app found some imaginary roads near where my parents live. Apparently the maps for the roads near Hot Springs Village have a few glitches.

The biggest issue came when the app crashed, though. About eight or nine hours into the trip home, the application froze. It came some 80 miles before my next turn, so it wasn’t a big issue, but it was a surprise. A quick restart had it back directing us in just a few seconds, so there was no damage done, but it doesn’t inspire the kind of confidence that you want from a GPS system. I’ll be using it again on my trip to Vegas next month and I’ll see how well that works out.

And, still on the subject, fourthly, the iPad makes a better workmate than you’ve heard. I was thrilled that I bought the 3G version on this trip. Whenever the flaky Internet service (and access at my parents’ home was spotty, too) my cell service was fine. I answered emails, I took notes, I sent links to pdfs through the Dropbox application, I used the contact list and the task manager (I use Manage, a great .99 todo application that balances a nice interface and features with simplicity of presentation and some useful export options) to keep me in touch and on task. I won’t be making my next 36 page brochure on the thing, but it’s not just useful for entertainment.

What I found most surprising was that I was only out of cell phone contact a few times during the entire trip. Where 3G wasn’t available, it was rare that I didn’t have EDGE coverage. For all that AT&T is maligned for its network--and that isn’t entirely undeserved--the breadth of coverage for me was still impressive. And for a good chunk of my stay in Hot Springs, the 3G connection was more reliable and faster than the “high speed” Internet connection that plagued me.

It’s hard for me to spend $900 on a non-essential bit of electronic kit without feeling even a little bit of regret, but I can honestly say that I don’t regret the iPad purchase at all. It has done more than I imagined it would and it has really changed the way I view tablet-based computers. It has a few shortcomings that I would like to see addressed, but the overall device is startlingly good.

After all that chatter, here’s what I really wanted to say: it’s good to be home.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Glad to be Home

I’m not a big fan of LA. The traffic is hideous, everything is expensive, and where I have to stay is about an hour away from the ocean. Flying in and out of LAX is fairly miserable (although the security lines are much quicker than what you find on a bad day at Denver International Airport) and you tend to run into people talking loudly on their cell phones about the TV shows that they’ve been involved in recently.

That isn’t to say that the place doesn’t have its charms. The weather was wonderful and there are some truly wonderful people in the area. While I never really think of it as a friendly town, the truth is that I usually have some great conversations with absolute strangers and in the most odd places.

The young lady who worked the front desk, the lovely lady and her son who were seated with my co-workers and me at Tokyo Wako one night (a place similar to Benihana), a serviceman coming home from a trip to Australia with his family, and a Rhodesian gentleman who left his home country after Robert Mugabe’s government took his home all helped make my days a little happier. LA will never be my kind of town, but, if I were to be honest, there are far worse places to spend a few days.

Anyhow, these are a few pictures from the trip. All were taken with my iPhone and were then modified either on the phone or on my laptop.

This first picture is dark because I was more interested in the shapes and the shadows than I was in the colors. The view is from the hotel and the gentleman to the left is the Rhodesian man I mentioned earlier. After fleeing Zimbabwe in the early eighties with only what he could carry on the plane and a few dollars in his pockets, he made his way to the US and started a business. He provides limousine services and says that business is great. We chatted a bit while he waited for Doctor Suchandsuch and I waited for my ride to the office. Typically I rent a car when I’m in town but decided to let my co-workers shuttle me around this time. I’m glad I did.

I’ve never flown American Eagle, but after my last few trips on United I decided I needed to find a new carrier for my business trips. I wasn’t disappointed. The folks at American and American Eagle were wonderful and the flights got me where I was supposed to be with minimal fuss and very nearly on time. Through my own stupidity, I also managed to miss my flight Friday morning but making changes and finding a later flight was easy and painless. It did leave me spending a good portion of the day at LAX, though, so I spent $50 for a day pass to the Admiral’s Club where the seats were nice, I had high speed Internet access, and where I could find a clean bathroom. I don’t fly often enough to need a membership, but it made the wait much nicer.

I plan to fly American again when I head to Vegas in January and look forward to giving them an opportunity to keep my business.

One of the odd things about flying American Eagle into LAX, though, is that the planes go into a small terminal a few minutes away from the main terminal. Passengers check in and go through security just like anyone else, but then they board little buses that shuttle them to the little building after driving around the runways. When we flew in, the bus driver played a canned tape that explained that we would be going to the main terminal and that the trip would take a few minutes. “Airplanes have the right of way,” the recording helpfully explained.

This next picture was taken in that little terminal. I snapped it when I noticed that people had started to gather around when Bill Clinton came on to explain why Democrats should embrace the Obama-negotiated tax deal. Most of those people had been ignoring the TV until Clinton showed up and I was struck by a few things: first, that in the world of former Presidents, Bill Clinton is a bit of a rock star, and, second, for all that President Obama has been lauded for his speaking skills, he has nothing near the skill of Clinton. Clinton has warmth, humor, and an easier manner, he showed a better grasp of the political situation, and, simply, he has a charisma that our current president can’t match.

Now, Clinton was also in love with the sound of his own voice (and his State of the Union addresses were testimonies to his own unbridled ego), but it was interesting watching him working the press corps with such skill.

I still can’t decide whether it was brilliant to bring in Clinton to help sell the deal or if it was tremendously self-destructive because it showed President Obama to be a much weaker politician. It felt a bit like a Hail Mary pass from a president who still has two years left in his first term and that speaks of an administration willing to take a big risk for a small win. Perhaps that’s not how the Democrats see it, but my Republican mind is smelling a little desperation.

Notably, that Christmas tree is very nearly the only holiday cheer that I saw in the town. It was surprisingly un-Christmasy throughout.

This last shot is taken from my seat while I was flying out. It never translates quite right, but it was a beautiful sunset and a great view.

I’m glad to be home.


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