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Preview: A Silicon Valley Life

A Silicon Valley Life

One insider's view of living, working and playing in Silicon Valley.

Updated: 2017-07-03T04:14:16.985-07:00


Leica Q Review - A Red Dot Renaissance?


Just for fun, I'll start at the end - this is a great camera, and I only wish it were mine.  Yes, the basic rangefinder design still has some interesting shortcomings, but successive generations of Germanic engineering evolution have yielded a truly satisfying, 21st century digital camera, capable of delivering outstanding image quality.  Any operational shortcomings can mostly be rectified by firmware updates, and it's a suitably good-looking, modern device, thereby ensuring that owners should feel happy with what they've bought for years to come.  And that's key because, being a fixed lens digital, "what you see is all you get"; buying into the Q means no ability to swap lenses, and of course no chance to change sensors (though with 24 MP, full-frame sensor on tap, there'd really be little point in doing so).  Also on the plus side, it is "mainstream Leica" enough to offer the chance of strong residuals, and the entry price is lower than anything comparable in what some would call the "true" Leica catalogue of M- and S-badged products.St. Nectan's Waterfall, Nr. TintagelBut there is one question that needs asking: is this indeed the first model in a new family of "Leica Ms for the masses", or a one-off exercise aimed at testing out some new EVF, sensor, and software-corrected lens technology?  Time will tell, of course, and for many that's all beyond the point: it's a real Leica; it's lineage is clear; and the appeal is obvious.  So now it only remains to dig-in and see if $4,000 + buys you everything you'd expect from a camera bearing that iconic logo.Grimspound, DartmoorFirstly - and perhaps obviously - this is in no way a professional review.  I rented the camera from LensRentals to give me something different to use on a visit to the UK.  This was not a photographic trip, but rather a holiday with family and friends.  Therefore, taking a Canon 1D body, tripod, multiple lenses and a backpack, would have been both a pain to travel with and mean that I'd be slowing everyone down, interfering with what was supposed to be their vacation, too.  Now, I have not owned a Leica before, though I did have a rangefinder for a while some forty-plus years ago, but am experienced enough to the point where I knew in advance what I was letting myself in for: less flexibility than a DSLR perhaps, but in return a whole deal smaller, lighter and more nimble of a travel camera, and with the promise of world-class optics to boot.Cornwall ChurchyardSecondly, I don't tend to shoot much in the way of street photography, nor do I own anything quite wide enough to equate to the Q's 28 mm lens on a full-frame sensor.  Therefore, this would be both a test of the camera and of my ability to find something interesting to do with it.  In addition, I was also taken with the idea that a fixed, wide-angle view would force me to move around more vs. standing still and zooming in order to get the frame I wanted, a bad habit that I ferry confess I do tend to slip into far too often.Summer BloomsLastly, most of what I do is black-and-white.  In fact, what I really wanted to rent was the latest 246 iteration of the Leica Monochrom, a camera I really applaud Leica for both producing in the first place, and then for sticking with and updating.  Alas, when factoring in the rental price of both the body and a couple of lenses, the costs went far beyond what I could justify for a two week trip.  Maybe next time.BalloonsSo that's the set-up.  I'd be shooting with something optimized for the wide-view/close-up style of picture making, with optics known for their excellent color-rendition and accuracy, in a small, light (if somewhat idiosyncratic) body style.  Let the fun begin!Plum TreeMy initial impression will come as no surprise to existing Leica owners, but this is a well built, solid-feeling camera, that's a pleasure to behold and to, well, hold.  The controls feel well-weighted, with a reassuringly precise feel to the aperture ring, lens focussing actio[...]

Flying Across America - Part VI


At last, civilization!  Or at least, what seems to be so when the basic criteria you apply is "has a taxi service".We'd called ahead in our never ending quest for overnight hanger space and so the airport manager had kindly agreed to leave one side of the hanger open for us, but only with the strictest instructions about not blocking-in the air ambulance!While waiting for the taxi to arrive to take us to a nearby hotel (we were only 5 miles outside of Blythe) I heard some odd engine notes in the background and went to see what was happening.A Pair Of Ospreys Landing Near Blythe, CAIt turned out that a flight of three Ospreys set up an approach and landing into the desert just north of the airstrip.  I've seen them on the ground as s static display, but never before when operational.  I know that the development process for these aircraft was immensely challenging, but they really are an impressive site, especially as they transition from one flight mode to the other.Taxi; hotel; Sizzler; bed.  Another of those exciting on-the-road kind of nights, then!  Honestly, by that stage, and remembering we'd just flown 8.7 hours for five legs, all in desert heat, all I cared about was air-conditioning and sleep.07:00 and the sole taxi (same car, same driver) was back at the hotel, and we were soon back at Blythe airport.  With luck and a final push, today should see us back at home base.For the first leg, we aimed to do Blythe (BLH) to Barstow-Daggett (DAG).  Working through it the night before, our best option this time was to follow an old railway line north west through the desert before picking up another road, this time Route 40, to take us straight to Barstow.  With the early morning light filtering through some mid-level clouds, the desert & surrounding mountains looked beautiful as we flew across open territory. allowFullScreen='true' webkitallowfullscreen='true' mozallowfullscreen='true' width='320' height='266' src='' FRAMEBORDER='0' />The other joy about this sort of "off the beaten track" flying is that you come across really unexpected things, such as the small, inactive volcano and lava field we found here. Still, you can't also help pondering how long you'd have to wait for help in some of these areas if forced to set down.  (Note to self: get personal ELT beacon for next trip if aircraft doesn't have one installed!)We made it to DAG in 2.1 hours, stopping again for fuel, weather briefing and water before tackling the next leg to Bakersfield (L45).  This would mean crossing over the lower-end of the Sierras and so we spent some time talking over the options.  However, it was already clear that one choice - the Tehachapi Pass - was off limits as the briefers warned us that a TFR was in effect due to fire-fighting operations.  Plan B was to head south towards I5 and the Grapevine, where we could either follow a VFR flyway (if it was easy to spot from ground references) or just go back to following the Interstate (also good as I had already checked the maximum altitude of the Grapevine before leaving home.)Approaching The Grapevine (The Quarry Is A VFR Landmark)Once again, Mother Nature was exceedingly kind to us.  Not only was visibility excellent. but the winds were light and so we crossed the Sierra ridge-line with barely a ripple.  Bakersfield was not far off, fuel looked good, and for the first time we caught sight of the Pacific.We landed at L45 after 1.9 hours, found the self-serve 100LL and then - even better - we found the airport had a cafe (and a very nice one to boot!), albeit at the other end of the airfield.  I have to say though, it felt slightly decadent firing 2SA up again just to taxi from the fuel pumps to the cafe, where we were delighted to find helipad markings on the apron out front; just 'cos, that's where we therefore parked!Reviewing the charts, and based on the performance we'd mea[...]

Flying Across America - Part V


Dawn Roll-Out. Van Horn, TexasAnother early start; another morning not quite sure how we'd get back to the airfield.  Fortunately, the hotel manager very kindly proved the thesis that, thanks to evolutionary imperatives and human social development we are all by nature altruistic, by agreeing to be woken up early just to get us back there!  Note to self: must be a lot of opportunities for setting up local private taxi services over the web, especially in smaller towns where more formal arrangements just don't exist.  Hmm, actually, that's not a bad idea at all ...(Just as an aside, we asked what brought an enterprising young man like himself to such a - shall we say, "remote" - part of Texas?  He explained that there was a plan to open a natural gas well, i.e. a fracking project, about 100 miles north and that, as this was the nearest town, some very good times lay ahead for the hotels & other businesses in Van Horn.  Fair enough, and we both wished him every success.)A long day was ahead of us.  Since the weather remained so weirdly storm-free, we decided to press-on to see if we could make it into California. As the crow flies, that would be something like 520 nm; alas, we would have to take a slightly more meandering route in order to a) avoid major peaks, and b) avoid a major incident by accidentally crossing over the border into Mexico.  In addition, for the last day or so I had been suffering from increasing pain emanating just behind the right shoulder blade.  It was just a by-product of holding the controls for hours-and-hours a day and only flared up after about the first hour of flying, but I can't say I was looking forward to it returning on what was now day four of the trip.  (However, I'm not the only one to feel like this on a long R22 trip, as was very well explained by Philip Greenspun : "When folks ask me for a short summary of my trip from Los Angeles to Boston in a brand-new R22, I say "For the first day, I was worried that I was going to die. On the fifth and sixth days, I was worried that I wasn't going to die." Sitting bolt upright, a bit tense on the controls, hour after hour, is not very comfortable.")Back to following the same road once again, but now, as we started to climb, desert was giving way to desert-plus-hills, which at least improved the view!  This first leg would take us through El Paso and the controller kindly allowed us to continue to follow the Interstate and hence to get a good view of downtown and, immediately over I10, of Mexico!Downtown El PasoAfter 1.9 flying hours we landed in Las Cruces, NM (LRU) just in time to see two military helicopters taking off from the apron there.  (Fort Bliss is a major army base sitting just east of El Paso, and of course border control activities must drive a lot of additional helicopter operations as well.)  Wendy reminded me that big-rotors = big-downwash, so we jinked around a little in order to steer clear of the big-boys' toys!  More fuel, more weather briefings and then back to it: next stop, Lordsburg, NM (LRU).  We planned for a shorter legs here in order to recognise both the increasing density altitudes we were seeing (maxing out at 6,800') and fewer alternate airports on the map.From Lordsburg (1.2 hours from LRU) we headed next for Benson Municipal (E95), a leg that got us out of New Mexico into Arizona, and a further 1.3 hours clocked-up on the Hobbs.At Benson we were able to pick up another quart of 100W Plus oil, something that wasn't always available at every stop but which we kept an eye out for as we were using just under a quart a day.  We also saw an old Douglas R4D-8 aircraft, standing out  a bit from the usual clutch of Cessnas, Mooneys etc. you'd expect to find parked-up on airports such as this.Seems that someone bought it at a drug-auction after it was seized by the US authorities, with the idea of re-fitting it for commerci[...]

Flying Across America - Part IV


Here's where 622SA got to spend the night. $50 got her rather deluxe accommodations as I think you'll agree, but, in the words of Bob Dylan, it was indeed the "shelter from the storm" which we needed to find (though never actually needed anywhere along the whole route). Anyway, the entire crew got a decent nights rest and we were back at it by 07:30.Today would be the day we'd try and get through Texas, though realising it's going to be a long, hot and largely dull journey, characterised nicely by the mantra "follow that road", in this case, I20. Sometimes, "Follow That Road" Gets A Bit Tricky To ImplementFirst stop was Abilene Regional (ABI), a 2.4 hour leg, and from there to Big Spring (BPG), a quicker 1.5 hour hop that we cut a bit short in order to get down to the ground for fuel (we could have flown longer) and a rest-room break (oh no we couldn't!)  Along the way - at least for the first part of the day - there was stuff to see and green to be found .... which is of course why I turned this picture of windmills north of I20 into B&W.In addition to being a very welcome sight (as explained above), Big Spring was a great little airport; very nice terminal, good facilities and an interesting history.  Turns out it was an ex-army airfield, first opened in 1942 to train bombardiers in high altitude, precision bombing.  It closed in 1945 but then got a second lease on life in 1952 when the Korean war required additional training facilities to come on line to supply increasing numbers of fighter pilots. A couple of Fifties-era aircraft remain on the apron and it looks like there is a fairly decent aviation museum on the airfield somewhere too.Even Airplanes Have A Pecking OrderRested and re-hydrated, it was time to move on. However, the heat was starting to build and the wind was getting stronger too.  One - the wind - is easier to live with than the other.  The six legs from ABI onwards all saw density altitude readings over 5,000 feet, with the highest reported as being 6,800'. Therefore, take-offs and landings had to be executed with more care and finesse than ever as, especially at full-up gross weight, we now didn't have much of a power reserve to play with.Now we were firmly in trucking country, over-flying multiple logistics depots along the side of I20. allowFullScreen='true' webkitallowfullscreen='true' mozallowfullscreen='true' width='320' height='266' src='' FRAMEBORDER='0' />Next up was Pecos Municipal (PEQ, 1.6 hours from BPG) where the temperature gauge read 43 Celsius on landing ... and only a little bit of that was down to heat from the tarmac and engine; suffice to say, it was damnably-hot out there.  Someone came out to meet us in a golf cart and, once we parked-up and shut down, brought across a fuel tanker.  We asked for an amount of fuel we though the aircraft would take and that would get us comfortably to the next stop but without carrying the extra weight of completely topping-off the tanks.  Just as we were collecting our things to head inside to plan the next leg, we suddenly saw a cascade of 100LL running down the back of the aircraft - you know, the bit with the hot engine, still-pinging exhausts and all .... Turns out, the chap manning the fuel truck didn't realise that we had twin tanks, and that to get the quantity of fuel requested would mean filling both sides, not just one.  (The tanks cross-feed, but that doesn't happen fast enough to automatically compensate for the rate of fuel flow from a pressurised delivery system.)  Fortunately, nothing caught fire and so we avoided the spectacle of seeing what a Robinson R22 would look like fully-engulfed in flames. ("Depressing" would be what I'd expect the answer to be.)  Lesson learned, and so from then on we made sure that, where fuel was served, [...]

Flying Across America - Part III


Another day, another few states to check off.While things were still relatively cool, we elected for an early start.  We'd fuelled-up the night before so once we'd snagged a lift the few miles back to the airport from the hotel, done our pre-flights and repacked our chattels, time for the off once again. The goal for today was to get into Texas, preferably as far as Dallas but otherwise over the border somewhere.  Planned route was Weedon Field, Eufaula (AL) to Demopolis (AL), from there to Hawkins Field, Jackson (MS), to Shreveport Downtown, (LA) and finally hitting Dallas Executive (TX) where options were very good for hanger space overnight and a decent hotel nearby.Demopolis must have been about the smallest airport we hit all trip, but had the essentials of a) 100LL fuel, b) a bathroom and c) water (for the pilots).  Of course, at each stop we also got an updated weather briefing and checked the charts so we knew what to expect, where, and when.  And just as importantly, we took the opportunity to un-knot ourselves from holding the controls or generally being stuck in a very small space for hours on end.  (I wanted to do as much of the flying as possible and so Wendy got the short end of the stick by having to handle charts, airport directories and GPS systems - plural.  More of that in a minute.)Demopolis Airport Terminal!Somehow or another, we managed both to make good time (a tailwind helped) and avoided any hint of bad weather.  The ground rolled away beneath us and, unlike what we were going to be seeing the next day, remained fairly green, lush and interesting.Plant For Processing Something, Somewhere In MississippiI mentioned the need for more than one GPS?  Turns out the installed unit in the helicopter had two issues: one expected, one not.  As is common, the Garmin unit in the panel had information loaded for the south-eastern part of the USA, hardly surprising given that's where it was based. Even so, it looked like we could get routes through to about mid-Texas, but not much further.  Wendy was already on top of the problem because she'd seen it before and so had borrowed a Garmin 496 to bring with us.  This turned out to be a double bonus because we found that, after the first day or so of use, the panel system's display washed out, rendering it almost invisible.  Golden rule?  You can never have too many backup GPS platforms!  (I had my iPad with me which was the second line of defence.  Trust me - charts are great and remain indispensable, but for basic navigation then nothing beats being able to follow that magenta DTK line!)Maps Doing One Other Thing GPS Can't: Being A Sunshade!By now it was becoming a very long day.  Having reached Shreveport, crossing the Mississippi River from Louisiana along the way, we'd already been in the air 6.4 hours, the last leg alone being 2.5 hours long.  But, Texas was calling!  (I think it said "moo", but couldn't be sure.)One final push saw us complete the Shreveport to Dallas Executive leg in a further 2.1 hours.  Ultimately, the fact that the weather was clear with no convective activity in the area sealed it - there just aren't that many windows to fly a whole day in this part of the country in July without encountering thunderstorms and so we elected to make full use of the daylight and benign skies.  However, the FBO at Dallas Executive was a very welcome sight, as was the Hampton Inn a few miles away!  8.5 hours air-time is quite tiring, but we'd made real progress and were cracking-on a treat.  Time to get some sleep.[...]

Flying Across America - Part II


Because of operational limitations on this aircraft, we had to find a route that would avoid the need to climb over any high mountains.  This is particularly true in the summer when air that is hot, moist and high robs the helicopter of a chunk of even the limited performance it starts off with. In practice, this meant trying to avoid flying at anything more than 6,000 above MSL, and preferably even a little less than that would be good. Consequently, we opted for what's known as the "southern route", a way of crossing the USA that limits the need to cross substantial areas of terrain above 2,000 feet; indeed, the highest we saw was around 4,500 MSL, and even then only on two specific legs.

We finally got underway from MYR around 1:30 pm local time, and with the sort of luck that would follow us along the entire journey we found ourselves with no convective warnings, just a few low level, widely-spaced cumulus clouds for company (see above). Despite the later-than-ideal start, we nevertheless managed to see-off three states on the first day: South Carolina (MYR to 88J), Georgia (ACJ) and Alabama, ending up for the night in Eufaula (EUF).

In order to leave ourselves the appropriate margin mandated for helicopters (20 minutes fuel remaining on landing) we gave ourselves a maximum range of around 2.5 hours in the air, and planned our legs with alternate fuel stops if head winds or weather meant we needed to land short. That basic calculation factored in a high-end fuel consumption of 10 gallons per hour and a maximum R22 capacity of 29 gallons. On day one we did legs of 2.0, 2.2 and 0.9 hours respectively, for a flying time total of 5.1 hours.

Eufaula wasn't very large but had a decent airfield (runway 36 above!) and, something we love to see, an open hanger in which we could leave the aircraft overnight.  Especially this time of year, it's good to avoid any risk of the blades suffering hail damage because that would basically be game over, and rather  expensively so to boot.  However, it turned out that Eufaula did lack one key thing - a taxi service! Fortunately, a very kind gentleman working on his plane at the airfield took us into town that evening, and the hotel manager where we stayed just as kindly brought us back early in the morning.

Day one over and we had covered a decent amount of ground, especially given the shortened day.  Good stuff!

Flying Across America - In A Robinson R22


Earlier this year I completed my private pilot training, and hence now have a licence allowing me to fly helicopters (up to a certain weight, at least).  The aircraft I trained in - the Robinson R22 - is one of the most common training helicopters in the USA today, despite it being a bit, er, challenging to learn in, thanks in large part to its highly sensitive controls, decent amount of power & overall light weight.The school where I trained, Specialized Aviation, in Watsonville, CA, recently acquired an additional R22 for its fleet, but one that was based in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.  Therefore, volunteers were need to ferry it back to Watsonville, a journey of some 2,400 nautical miles.  "Oh, and BTW, please could we get our hands on it ASAP?"  How could I resist??Fortunately for Specialized - and for me :-) - my co-pilot, Wendy, was one of their most experienced instructors, with more than 1,000 hours in Robinson helicopters and qualified to teach up IFR standards.  Phew!  Having this kind of back-up capability in the cockpit is a huge plus, turning something that could otherwise be deeply challenging into a more of a fun road-trip, though minus the arguments about what you listen to on the radio of course!Getting to Myrtle Beach was fairly uneventful, even if Delta made me take a somewhat bizarre route. To get an even half-way decent fare meant me flying to Atlanta, which was fine and itself only about an hour from KMYR, but then I had another leg of 2 hours up to Detroit, followed by 2 hours back from Detroit to Myrtle Beach.2SA, the aircraft we were collecting, was being bought through Huffman Helicopters, a great operation who really put in a ton of hours bringing this particular ship back up to top-notch standards (they'd bought it back from one of their clients who was trading-up, and the aircraft had been sitting outside for a while so therefore needed quite some TLC in order to get back to being fully airworthy.)After a test flight and some final fettling, we were ready to start work on the first significant challenge - packing!  We calculated that, with full fuel tanks in this particular R22, we had a max payload, including ourselves, of 317 lbs.  Bearing in mind we had to at least bring along a set of wheels so we could move the thing, spare oil (for the heli) and water (for us), plus all the necessary paperwork, maps, FBO guides, spare GPS, small tool kit, etc. then I hope it's obvious that having two 160 lb pilots wouldn't have been optimal!  Fortunately, (i) neither of us fell into that class, and (ii) there isn't a ton of luggage space in these things anyway so apart from the essentials then we were packing very lightly (see above);fortunately, we weighed in at exactly 317 lbs and I then threw away a duplicate airport guide for the West coast which dropped a further pound off the total - job done!  We were ready for the off! (Parts II through VI follow ...)[...]

Have you noticed how social networking ...


... has made us all less social? Sitting in Starbuck's, I cannot help but notice that every single customer, me included, is staring at a screen. We are all completely absorbed in our own micro-world, the source of which is some sort of screen-centric device, be it a PC, smartphone or tablet. But on the plus side, it is quiet in here!

The Iron Lady


I was 21 years old when Margaret Thatcher became prime minister, 33 when she resigned. It was clear to all even then that Britain was changing beyond recognition. Thatcher's government accelerated a process of dramatic reinvention the country had been going through since the end of the second world war, largely through a protracted series of battles fought simultaneously on many fronts, from organised labour to European integration and even the Argentine junta on the seas of the South Atlantic.  Thatcher's legacy is clearly visible today and, love her or loathe her (because she pretty much polarised people into one camp or the other) no one can really question  her pivotal role in changing the course Britain was on in the nineteen seventies.  However, it's not clear to me that this film manages to capture any of that, except perhaps in en passant fashion, which is a great shame because that's a story that still needs to be told.The Thatcher we see here is old, confused and delusional.  Dementia consumes her to the point where she's plagued by the ghost of Dennis, her two-decades-dead husband, continually popping up with that fifties-era "buck up old girl, everything will turn out all right" spirit anyone over 40 will recognise.  Yup, the stuff of Shakespeare, but unfortunately without a script to match.  Instead, her current condition seems to be not much more than a vehicle through which to cover standard bio-pic fare about her upbringing in Grantham as a grocer's daughter, her hard-fought climb through the ranks of the conservative party and culminating with her becoming what no one - even Thatcher herself - thought was possible: Britain's first woman prime minister.  Don't get me wrong, the historical stuff is done well (even if there is quite some licence taken in places) and likely much more interesting to audiences outside of the UK or those who grew up after she was ousted than it was for me. And to be fair, Streep's performance in this film really is extremely good, to the point where most viewers would need to see the two Thatcher's, real and acted, side-by-side in order to tell the difference. However, I was hoping for something more focused, more engaging, more intellectual if you will; something that captured the sweeping change my generation went through with Thatcher as she literally reshaped the socio-political landscape.  What we actually got in this film seemed more a commentary on just how much dementia sucks, and we really don't need a statesman laid low as the focal point in order to understand that problem. (Go and see instead the Iris Murdoch bio-pic, also, interestingly, with Jim Broadbent in the role of long-suffering partner, for a picture of the misery and loss Alzheimer's brings with it.)Bio-pics can work, but you have to come away with a real understanding of what made the subject tick, what drove them, and perhaps more importantly what they lost or gave up along the way.  The use of her on-going dementia as a framework around which this film is built gets in the way of that.  Her present state blunts a critical examination of the radicalism her premiership was suffused with, implying instead that she was just a tough old bird who had to become more manly than the men around her in order to succeed.What I'd like to see instead would be a film that explores the end game of her reign as leader of the conservative party, the point where she was no longer seen as an asset by the Tory grandees but rather as a liability.  Now that would indeed be a tragedy worth of WS's finest penmanship!  Politics at its worst - that story's got it all!(Professionals have of course written much more perceptive reviews of this film than I, and so I urge you to check out at least[...]

Apple: So What Could Possibly Go Wrong?


The last post looked at a myriad of things that Apple seems to be doing right, and I have to say that even then it was only a partial list. For example, iCloud is clearly a major new initiative that promises plenty of innovation ahead, and we've all seen published excerpts from the Steve Jobs biography that talk about how he's finally "cracked the code" on Apple TV. Even so, Apple will stumble at some point, it's just inevitable. No technology-based business that I can think of, has ever been able to sustain the sort of tear Apple is on for more than a couple of decades at most, and it's now just over ten years since the iPod first hit the market & fifteen years since Jobs returned via the purchase of NeXT.So what could possibly go wrong? Well, here are just a few potential maggots I can think of that could invade Apple's core businesses:Forcing competition into being: as has been argued elsewhere, Apple's five year exclusive deal with AT&T for the first iPhone models basically brought into being the only real competitive threat Apple has in that space today: Android. The very success that Apple saw forced Verizon to respond in kind when AT&T started leaching away customers in their droves; Google's Android was a tailor-made, open-source spoiler, and Verizon gave them a guaranteed market. Between them and the likes of HTC and Samsung, Android rapidly developed into a real competitor, to the point where device shipments for the two platforms are running neck-and-neck. And because Apple is now so broad in its product line offerings, you can see similar alliances popping up elsewhere with perhaps the Microsoft/Nokia pairing being the one most likely to bring new arms to bear in this war. (It's therefore interesting to note that Microsoft is reputedly paying an initial $250 million to get Nokia moving to Windows 7, and that's real money, even in Silicon Valley.)As Apple looks to conquer new markets, the temptation must be great to do the same sort of thing again. After all, financially it did work extremely well, allowing Apple to focus on getting the iPhone right before moving-on to support other wireless technologies. So you could imagine, for example, an exclusive deal with Sony for iTV or perhaps Ford for the iCar entertainment system, as a way of getting deeply immersed in those spaces before allowing others to join the party. OK, perhaps we are out in the weeds somewhat, but you get the point. The risk with exclusive deals is either that they go sour at a point where divorce is difficult or, when they go well, they cause stronger alliances to emerge elsewhere in order to compete effectively.Ticking-off the DoJ: so far, Apple has sat resolutely-planted on top of its cash mountain, refusing to spend large on major acquisitions of the sort an Oracle or HP would see as almost routine.  However, as that pile of money fast approaches $100 billion there are some signs emerging that this could change.  But, as the old maps never used to say, "here there be dragons".  Apple is now of a size, and has achieved such dominance in many of its chosen markets, that there will be those who are just itching for an excuse to break it up, and there's nothing like a big, headline-grabbing acquisition to give them exactly what they are looking for by way of an excuse to probe into every dark corner of what is surely one of the world's most secretive companies.  Indeed, my take is that Apple must have already passed on a bunch of opportunities for just this reason and so will be extremely careful if and when a larger play is made, that they think they can manage the vagaries of the process, both in the USA and of course in Europe, where Apple has already had run-ins before.The patent war goes nuclear: oh boy. The fragile peace that[...]

Simply Stunning


Early-on in the silicon revolution, Intel recognized that the way to build a world-beating company was to drive semiconductors to being seen as a basic domestic commodity, in the much same way as soap powder or cornflakes already were.  And it's hard to argue that they didn't succeed, at least given just how many microprocessors we are surrounded by on a daily basis.  However, with their latest set of results, Apple is now showing that it's possible to take another route to that same goal, that of affordable aspiration.

Apple just posted 1Q12 revenues in excess of $46 billion, a sales performance that yielded a profit of $13 billion.  The jaw-dropping numbers continue: 15 million iPads, 37 million iPhones, 5 million Macs. In three months. Wow.

The highly-tuned Apple ethos of making sleek, highly-capable devices that can delight users, regardless of their level of technical expertise, has changed how the world thinks about technology, and also what we now expect from all other manufacturers.  Time and again, Apple produces things we don't even know we want, but do so in such a way as to ensure that overnight the latest, greatest device somehow becomes a must-have item, rapidly becoming as close to a commodity purchase as it's possible to get, at least as far as personal discretionary spending goes.

Thanks to their canny pricing practices, we can all aspire to being connected with what the Apple brand represents: cutting edge technology married with leading edge design, and all that a price that's just within reach.  It's cool, chic, and, almost at the level of a bonus feature; hell, it's actually useful, too, and hence very easy to justify buying.  "Sure, it might be a bit of an indulgence, but go ahead.  You deserve it, and anyway it will make [insert favourite task here] easier", says the voice inside your head.  Of course, we don't need it at all, but so what?  This is all about wanting, about temptation, and you know how good we humans are at resisting that particular urge. 

There is no better place to be in terms of selling stuff.  Sure, I could aspire to owning a Ferrari, but I'm never going to be able to afford one, at least not the one I'd want.  However, the next Macbook refresh is only months away and my personal laptop is 5 years old now, so I'm already starting to think about what the specifications might look like, especially if the rumoured high-resolution displays do indeed show up.  And judging by their last quarter results, I'm not alone in playing that game.

In their own way, Apple has also achieved high-tech nirvana with their business model: they are the market leader, can command premium prices, and get to enjoy the lowest supply-chain costs in the business.  In every single segment in which they participate, they are the leaders; they lead financially, they lead in branding and image, they lead in innovation.

Today, they have (again) overtaken Exxon in terms of market capitalization, regaining top-dog status as the most valuable U.S. company.  With their momentum showing little signs of slowing, it's a position they look likely to hold for quite some time yet to come.

Apple:every home should  have one, and pretty soon they probably will.

iTunes can't access the music store or you can't sync your iPad?


Yup, been suffering from both of those for quite some time now, along with occasional Windows 7 networking issues (such as an inability to connect to certain sites.)  I tried deleting and reinstalling all Apple software, but to no avail.  The only reason I headed down that path at all because I was finding the mobile sync process from Apple was hogging tons of CPU time and some posters on the Apple support forum recommended the delete/reinstall as being the solution.  Perhaps for them, but not for me!

However, I did eventually find the fix as posted by "rodfromnewark" (who is rightly hailed as a hero on the discussion thread!):

For PC users, before reinstalling, try this:

Start -> Programs -> Accessories -> (Right Click On Command Prompt) -> Run as Administrator
(This gives you the DOS command shell)
then type in:

netsh winsock reset

hit enter, restart PC, open iTunes. Hopefully fixed.

Forcing a winsock reset not only cleared up my iTunes issues but also seems to have sorted the other random networking problems too!  My laptop is once again useful for something other than acting as a winter warmer for my legs, which is nice.
Discussion link is :

Yosemite In Winter


I've been to Yosemite multiple times since moving here, but never before in the winter.  Last weekend, we fixed that!  However, rather than just showing up and driving around, S and I joined a photo-workshop run by the Aperture Academy in order to have a focal point for the trip (pun intended!)

With our usual consummate skill, we chose the very weekend on which California weather decided to drop the snow levels below 500 feet here in the Santa Cruz mountains, meaning that we'd be gone when the house would be a foot deep in the white stuff.  Fortunately, the forecast turned out to be a bit overblown and only a light dusting actually fell, which was a relief.  However, that was not the case in the Sierras where basically it snowed all day Thursday and most of Friday, the day we drove up to El Portal to join the group.

Fortunately, it was fine driving into El Portal along Highway 140 and no chains were required, largely just because you never get much above 2,500 feet along the way so the road tends to be open when others are not.  However, in the park itself (the Valley is another two thousand feet above that level) snow was falling fast - which was good!

Heading out early on Saturday revealed grey skies and snowy scenes.  Things cleared up progressively as the day went along and by Sunday morning it was clear blue and no cloud cover, but with plenty of the pretty white stuff

The above shot was taken around sunset on Saturday when, alas, El Capitan resolutely refused to clear up despite all the rest of the clouds hanging around Yosemite Valley melting away.  Bummer, because it sort of leaves the scene feeling a bit unbalanced in that what you want as a focus for the view was basically hidden.  Still, a classic winter view nonetheless.

Sunday was clear and cold .... and somewhat curtailed.  S took a nasty fall outside of the small church in Yosemite, spraining her ankle in the process.  Therefore, we packed up early and headed back home (she couldn't put weight on that leg at all, something that makes getting out and taking photos really hard!)

Would definitely recommend the Aperture Academy workshop series, and indeed this was the second one we have done with them (with another booked for May).  They have great instructors who are happy to help however you want them to, and having a large bus in which they transport everyone together makes the whole logistical problem of how to get the entire group from one location to the next a real breeze, especially in places like Yosemite.  Highly recommended - and thanks, guys, for a great trip!

Happy New Year!


Capitola Pier, November 2010

Merry Christmas, 2010


Just wanted to wish everyone a merry Christmas and happy new year!  Here's a shot from May of this year in Yosemite (actually it was in Wawona, to be precise) of a fast-flowing melt-water river.  Buried in there is a lone, sparse shrub that's somehow still standing despite the pressure of countless gallons of water flowing past each and every minute.  May we all be able to call upon such vast reserves of strength and perseverance, eh?  Still, it obviously can pay off because the two large trees on the right were also sticking up through the torrent!

Here's to a wonderful 2011 for all of us!

Yoesmite - Winter Trip


The above was taken the last time we were in Yosemite in late spring 2010, following one of the wettest (and hence, snowiest!) winters for years.  However, we are still seeing quite a strong spell of wet weather in the Bay Area so snow is building fast in the Sierras.  Anyway, long story short, we are off again to stay in Yosemite once again but in winter this time.  Off in late February for a few days, weather permitting of course!

Clearing Storm - A Timelapse


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Thought I'd post a rough version of a timelapse film I did over the weekend. It shows the storm we had clearing out of the area, turning the weather from very wet with low clouds to showery, blustery and clearing. I thought it would be interesting to see the clouds and fog in the valley behind our house "boiling" away as that weather front passes through the area and clearing sets in behind it, and I think I was right. It's worth watching several times to see the different areas - sky, valley, distant hills, etc. - all changing over what was roughly an hour or so.

For those interested, this was done by setting up my DSLR to take one frame every three seconds, importing all the pictures to my desktop PC running Adobe Lightroom, and then outputting (also from Lightroom) at 24 fps, 720p, into mp4 format.

I'll add some titles and a soundtrack, plus some zooms as well, to it once I find a spare cycle or two. Meanwhile ... enjoy the rough-cut!

(Stop press ... for some reason the original video wouldn't post so here's one I did earlier. Similar situation so you wil get the idea! I think the more recent one might have been a bit too long for Blogger.)

Water Gate (No, Not That One)


As mentioned, I've been stopping off at various beaches between Santa Cruz and Monterey over the past few months, partly to take some photographs but partly just to learn more about what's available along the coastline within an hour's drive from home. One such stop, in Moss Landing, yielded the photograph shown above.  It looks like the remains of some sort of jetty, but apart from the two uprights shown & a crumbling bit of concrete at the shoreline, it's hard to figure out what it originally looked like when whole.  It's also hard to determine exactly why it was there (it's actually located outside of the nearby harbour, directly facing the Pacific) though likely it served the fishing - or perhaps even whaling - industry before the more formal harbour complex was built.

I'll plan on going back there for another go at this view because I'd like to get the horizon lower than I was able to do this time around.  It was close to high tide so I had to stand up the beach, looking down somewhat towards the pilings themselves. And for those interested in such things, it was a 59 second exposure.

Peace Offering


Has it really been two months since I last posted something? Apparently, the answer is "yes" judging by the date stamps.  Ooops.  Sorry about that.  So by way of a peace offering, and just to show I've not been totally idle whilst invisible, here's one of a series of shots I've been doing along the local coastline.

Believe it or not, someone, somewhere, thought it made sense to sail a decommissioned concrete-hulled tanker to a point off of Aptos, near Santa Cruz, sink it, and call it a tourist attraction. Unsurprisingly, this was a short-lived venture, leaving as detritues a broken-backed cement-based wreck just yards from what otherwise is a pristine California beach.

Oh well.

More soon!

Helicopter Experience


As a few of you know, I decided to do an initial experience flight at the controls of a Robinson R22 helicopter. I'd been planning to do this for a while but finally was prompted to follow-through when I saw a Groupon coupon for a half-price ($99) trial at Specialized Heli in Watsonville. Half-off? Bargain - where do I sign up??Thanks, largely, to a few fatal crashes early on in the era of personal helicopter training, the FAA requires you to pass a basic ground-school course before being allowed to place hands on the controls, even when paired with a qualified instructor. Sound extreme? Actually, no. A small, 2 seat machine like the Robinson is very sensitive to the controls, and in terms of power/weight ratio actually quite well endowed! Think about going out to a race circuit and being let loose in a formula car when your only driving experience was previously in a 30 year old Morris Oxford and you'll start to get the picture. However, even that analogy doesn't quite cut it, as we shall see.The ground school was actually quite a reasonable test (in the sense of being, well, testful) but having read the basic book on helicopter theory and operations, and sat through an hour instructional class, it wasn't too hard to pass. Having got through that step, and signed on for an hour flight (extending what's offered in the package by some 40 minutes) then it was time to head off into the wild blue yonder, conveniently located right around the airfield.So here's what I learned: basically, helicopters are machines designed expressly to kill you. Your task, Grasshopper, is to learn how to foil their every attempt, and to do so for each and every minute you are in the air.Fixed-wing aircraft are, in comparison, the very model of human-loving devices, actively working to keep you from harm. Take you hands off the controls in, say, a Cessna, and by-and-large the thing will sort itself out for you; it wants to fly level, it wants to keep you up there, all gravity-defying and happy. Helicopters, on the other hand, have no such virtues. Take the controls and try to steer the thing, and it wants to crash. Take you hands off the controls, and now it wants to crash even faster. Flying the thing is akin to bomb-disposal: one significant wrong move - including at times doing absolutely nothing - and you're on the ground in a big exploding fireball before you have time to say, "this might hurt".In order to avoid ending up all KFC (crispy, and able to fit into a bucket), you have to make constant, tiny movements on the main control, the cyclic, in order to coax the thing to the place where you want to be, always nudging it back onto the proper course. However, the problem then is that some of those movements will cause the other two sets of controls you have to manipulate now themselves to require adjustment. (This thing's operating fully in 3D space, plus velocity of course, so both hands and both feet are fully engaged in wrestling your way across the sky.) And don't even get me started on hovering because even the above is trivially simple compared to stopping the thing and staying still in one place. Which, take it from me, is impossible. Judging by the flight path when I tried then looking from the ground, preferably from half a mile away at least, you'd basically conclude I was suffering from whole body tremors the results of which were being directly transmitted to the airframe.Regardless, after an hour I was starting at least to get the hang of heading in one direction, turning and doing the basic up/down thing. However, hov[...]

Netgear WNDR3700: Let Me Repeat Myself, Wirelessly


After getting round to replacing our aging home PC late last year, I finally decided to tackle the next step in upgrading our home network, namely upping the transmission speed to 1 Gig. Thanks to the - fast growing - store of digital images we collectively produce, moving those things around really does take up an awful lot of bandwidth and our old Buffalo router only supported 10/100 Ethernet. Therefore, downloading from storage cards and saving the results to a network-attached drive was getting pretty painful, especially now I'm using 16 Gbyte CF cards!In order to allow for future expansion, I opted for the NETGEAR WNDR3700, dual-band 2.4/5 Ghz unit, largely because it offered simultaneous dual-band support and wireless repeating, the latter being key because I wanted to extend the wireless aspect of the network out to the garage. In order to keep things simple, I bought two of them, largely to make sure that the wireless repeat function should operate flawlessly, free of any weird incompatibilities that might result from using dissimilar devices. (Yeah, I know it's a standard protocol these days, but experience tells me that madness lives down the road you travel by believing "it should just work, sir".)I'll spare you all the extended tale of woe resulting from what I thought should be a simple half-hour job, but suffice it to say that a) the documentation for wireless repeating mode set-up for this unit is pretty much non-existent, b) configuring the two routers to play nicely together uncovers a number of limitations I wasn't aware of going-in and c) I may yet give up and run a cable from the router to the repeater because of poor end-to-end performance. Anyway, for those of you who want to try the same thing, here's how I finally got it going.Step 1: get the first unit working as yer basic, bog-standard wired router. The provided documentation is OK here but one thing to note is that it will, on start-up, want to look for firmware updates. This was OK for me because I was swapping out a known, working (Buffalo) unit that demonstrably had working Internet access so that process was able to complete OK before going into set-up mode. Mostly, you can leave a lot of stuff in there at the default setting for now and it should basically work, though I should say that I used manual set up and not the provided wizard because I've never had good luck with those things.Step 2: once working wired, the next step is to make sure you can access the main router wirelessly. Set-up your preferred security options. (I use pretty weak options here because the neighbours are so far away that they won't be able to get any 5 Ghz signal at all, and anyway drive-by Internet theft isn't much of a risk at our house!) One thing to note: once in repeat mode WPS won't work, so don't go relying on it, OK??Step 3: in wireless repeat mode, there are a bunch of restrictions which you will now need to take into account as we move forwards :- You can't repeat 5 Ghz and 2.4 Ghz at the same time. Yes, you read that right. Despite buying a parallel, dual-band router, it turns out that the repeater will only extend one of them. I opted for 2.4 Ghz coverage (the most common band) to be extended.- WPS doesn't work, but I didn't really care. Setting up wireless clients isn't that taxing after all, and if you think it is then you are probably going to have a hell of a time getting all this stuff to work anyway :-)- Auto channel selection is a no-no on the band you will be repeating, so just pick one. I noticed previous[...]

Why Is Clothes Shopping So Hard?


(image) I had a spare hour or so between meetings yesterday so decided to head over to Stanford Shopping Center to try and do some clothes shopping.

I find buying clothes to be a painful and highly frustrating process. This is because I suffer from two key failings that render me particularly ill-suited (pun intended) to successfully accomplishing that most simple of tasks: a) I am short and skinny, unlike the majority of the male demographic around these parts, and b) I'm not gay. Taken together, this renders 95% of what's exhibited in stores out there utterly unsuitable unless I somehow gain 50 extra pounds overnight or suddenly take to liking pale yellow shirts with shoulder tabs. However, "needs must" as they say and so I ventured forth regardless. Which brings me to a third reason it's a futile quest: I am the wrong age.

Quite sensibly from their perspective, malls such as Stanford cater largely to the clientele to hand, namely rich kids under 25 in their case. Therefore, SSC abounds with stores catering for the young and trendy rather than the middle-aged and indifferent, the latter category being of course the one in which I am counted. In fairness, however, I should point out that the larger chains at least also have to cater to the older crowd, but largely that means they just carry stuff made by Ralph Lauren. Please, God, preserve me from that fate. I have never played polo and likely never will, and what's worse polo, when it is played at all, is done so by the likes of Prince Charles, someone that no one wants to dress like unless they are certifiably insane. And yes, I know the Macy's and Bloomingdales of this world sell suits, too, but I don't know who buys them. Indeed, when I went up there, purely in the interests of checking out the vibe, the answer appeared to be "no one at all" because the entire floor was utterly deserted.

However, I finally did find a cheap shirt at J. Crew ($15 in a sale, a level to which I bet they weren't sure their price guns could sink to) and a pair of "need to look vaguely smart in the office but without actually bothering to wear a jacket" trousers from Banana Republic, also on sale.

With luck, that should see me through until well into 2011, by which time I have no doubt that the problem will have become even worse.

Of Mice And Men, But Mostly Mice


As highlighted previously, we are going through some minor remodelling work. So far, the ugly wood cladding from the ceiling has been removed and the ceiling refinished. Also now done, the lamps set into the full-height of the ceiling in the living room have been replaced with 50,000 hour LED items so now we can actually turn the bloody things on without forever fretting about how to replace a blown bulb. Next up, redoing the work surfaces in the kitchen.Meanwhile, the entire place is off course a mess, including the garden which increasingly seems to look like a scale map of the battlefields of the Somme, exhibiting as it does countless trenches, holes and tunnels. However, that's just the manifestation of a larger problem: mice have made it through our defences and infiltrated the underfloor.A week or so ago I woke up to hear odd noises coming from the kitchen. Something was scurrying over the construction paper that was taped to the floor to try and provide some sort of protection while work was underway. Next night, same thing. Each time I'd go down there and of course nothing could be seen, but I knew alright, I knew ...Things proceeded to escalate. In addition to the "walking about" noises, another sound could be heard: serious gnawing. After a couple more nights trying to figure out where on earth it was coming from, the secret of the mouse army was revealed - one of the buggers had got into the heating duct and was trying to chew its way out from the inside. "This means war", I tell you!Tally so far: four dead, two captured and released (one with minor injuries) and at least one more to go. And one of our traps was captured by the enemy and now presumed lost.Definitely a learning experience, with lessons as follows:1. Mice can get through amazingly small places. I think they got in through a grill set under the house through which air conditioner piping had been (badly) routed. It wasn't much of a gap, but enough it seems for them to slip through at dead of night. Or even during the day. Seems our dogs will chase lizards until the cows (which we don't have an infestation of, thankfully) come home, but rodents leave them cold.2. Mice literally think peanut butter is to die for. Makes great bait. But after a while it does put you off PB&J for breakfast.3. Repairing heating duct is hard, so have someone else do it. On the plus side, you may find, hidden on top of a small cupboard the previous owners built, a 1996 copy of Playboy hidden in an envelope addressed to the head male of said household.4. Reusable traps are great the first time you use them but after that they smell of scared mouse pee and so all future foot soldiers from the mouse army give them a wide berth, thereby utterly negating their value.5. Mice don't spring rat traps and only sometimes spring mouse traps. Be prepared for a long campaign. with a side effect that all the peanut butter they consume means you are strengthening your foes.6. There seems to be a natural force of attraction in effect between set mouse traps and human fingers. Oddly, this force only acts when the trap is wound up and ready to go, not when it has sprung. I'll ping Dr. Hawking to see if potential energy effects at the quantum level can explain this. Or rather, I will when my fingers heal well enough for better tipyng.7. Sometimes, Mr. Mousey isn't killed by spring traps but rather caught by a stray leg, tail or some such. One of the fallen was sans a back leg and that is also why [...]

iPad Unlimited


Spurred largely by AT&T's announcement that the unlimited data plan would be dropped from their available iPad connection options, I went ahead and ordered one before the cut-off date of June 7th. Earlier this week, it finally arrived on my door step, seemingly no worse for wear following it's long, long journey from Shenzen where doubtless small bands of happy elves, living in a forest full of honey, dates and unicorns, knocked it together using fairy dust.The original promise was that AT&T would still honor making the unlimited plan available to customers who bought their device ahead of the deadline. However, it turned out that there's no longer an option to sign up for this unlimited plan on-line at the time you first set-up the iPad from the internal configuration menu. Seems that for all new devices, the only options offered directly from the device are the 250Mb and 2Gb plans.After poking around the relevant support boards on the Apple web site to try and fix this, two things became clear:a) Apple says it's AT&T's problem not theirs, andb) Be prepared to spend a long time on the phone.I can agree with (a) and soon discovered the accuracy of (b).I called the number being mentioned (1 866 640 5125) the next morning and heard a cheery voice say that "due to high call volume, expect to wait more than 20 mins", which was a bit of an understatement given that after 90 minutes of suffering through the single tne playing again and again as hold music, I had to give up and go to a meeting. I tried again that afternoon - and here having a speakerphone on your desk is a godsend - but once more had to duck out after one hour, thirty-eight minutes of listening to exactly the same tune all over again. (Reading some posts that day, others reported wait times of approx. 2 hours so, annoyingly, I wasn't far off getting to actually speak to a human being.)Next day I tried calling early in the morning (7 am PST) and had the on-hold call in the background wile watching England finally win a game instead of drawing them. This time, I reached an operator in an hour and 45 minutes, but I do have to say that once I got there it all went through very quickly. Basically, they collect some details from you, a step which entails your reading some numbers off of the device (so have it to hand and powered up). You then complete sign-up on the iPad for the 2Gb plan and they say that you'll get a message in up to 10 days noting that you've been switched to the unlimited plan and will be charged accordingly. However, one caveat: don't let it lapse. If you drop down to a lower plan or forget to update your CC card details and a charge is declined that that's it - the unlimited plan is gone and you cannot get back onto it.Any-hoo, the device is now running both AT&T and Wi-Fi, and I'll post something more about my initial experiences once I have had a chance to use it for a while and hence have, err, experienced something.[...]



Stockholm's old town, Gamla Stan, is largely on Stadsholmen island and located right in the city centre. It's small, compact and very walkable, at least in the summer when not shrouded in snow and ice that otherwise makes the cobbled streets treacherous in the winter months. (And yes, I speak from experience!)

The architecture is what you'd expect - solid, Germanic-style buildings, plain and with little adornment. Interestingly, that description also seems to apply well to the Royal Palace that's also located here. Compare what's here with, for example, what's to be found in cities like London, Paris and Vienna and you'll see what I mean!

Head down the main thoroughfare to the water and you'll find a frontage of old merchants' houses and maritime offices. During the Great Power Era, Stockholm became the centre of Sweden's push to become a major mercantile force in the region, leading to a period of prosperity and architectural development.

The shot above is of one of Gamla Stan's narrow cobbled streets glowing warm in the early evening summer sun.