Published again! XKEData.com Calendar

My photographic work has once again been chosen for the XKEData.com Calendar. The top shot was taken hanging out the passenger side of the 65E while descending the Beartooth Highway in the 2006 GTTSR. The bottom shot is Gary Herzberg’s S1 FHC, shot at St. Mary’s Lake in Glacier National Park on this year’s GTTSR.

Always nice to see one’s work in print.

Go buy yours today: XKE Data – Store – Calendars.

Contemplating a new Camera

One of my frequent commentators, jculpjr recently asked about what sort of camera gear I use. It was a timely question as I’m seriously considering a new camera. I’d like to throw out a wish list so to speak and hopefully get some feedback that will help me make a choice. Your participation is welcome.

This is the machine (photo from a contemporary review) I’ve been using to capture images since 2002:

It is an Olympus C-5050 zoom. It has been a great camera for me and I still find it useful, however it is getting a tad beat up and it has some weaknesses that I’d like to eliminate with a new machine. However, let me start by telling you what I like about it most, in order of importance:

  • It is small and lightweight.
  • It runs on AA batteries.
  • Did I mention it is small and lightweight?
  • It has fairly easy controls, and a lot of manual settings.
  • It works well on “point & shoot” mode quite well.
  • It shoots VERY well in low-light conditions.
  • It has this nifty flip-out LCD:

You have no idea how handy this is when shooting with the camera at arm’s length, something I do a LOT. It flips both up AND down, meaning I can hold the camera way above my head, or down on the ground an still see the LCD screen.

Some other nice things about it:

  • It has a “movie” mode, so at the flip of a switch it can be a video camera, with sound.
  • It has lens adapters so I can shoot with a wide-angle or a telephoto.
  • It has never given me trouble.

Now, here are the things I hate about it:

  • Whenever I change batteries, the date/time reverts to midnight 01/01/2002. This is annoying especially since all the other settings (flash, drive mode, etc) are saved!
  • It is NOT an SLR. It has a viewfinder, which I adore, as that is how I prefer to shoot, rather than looking at a screen, but that viewfinder does not see what the lens sees. This is fine when working with the built-in lens, but utterly fails when you add a lens adapter. In the latter case the lens almost always blocks the viewfinder. This hurts as I shoot with a very wide angle lens MOST of the time.
  • The tripod mount is off-center from the lens. A design crime of the highest order in a camera!
  • The LCD is small compared to today’s cameras.

So my ideal camera is a Digital SLR, that is small and lightweight with a good, reasonably-sized multi-angle LCD. After that, I’d like it to have great lenses, good controls, and the ability to shoot video & sound. Size is my primary concern though. I used Mark Collien’s Nikon D-something on the GTTSR and it is am amazing camera… great lens(!) and awesome photos but my gawd… it was friggin HUGE! I just don’t want to lug around something that big & heavy.

So I’m all ears if you have some suggestions. I have ZERO brand loyalty, and am open to any and all comers.

Mini Movie Review: Religulous

I saw this movie a few weeks ago. I had an evening free, and a coupon for a free movie, so for the price of expensive popcorn, I had some entertainment for about 100 minutes.

(Note: I love movies and as a person with a lot of visual training I appreciate films and filmmaking. I have a continuous NetFlix queue and watch about 5 movies a week. I could probably post as many movie reviews here as I do car photos. Who knows, perhaps I will.)

This movie is not really an artistic expression, or an example of the filmmakers art however. It is a shaky-cam documentary with Bill Maher questioning religious believers about the bizarre and illogical portions of their religions. He takes great joy in revealing the ironies, hypocrisies, and logical fallacies of organized religion. Organized western religions that is, as those of us in the western world have very little knowledge or context to analyze eastern religious belief, so he left those out.

It was of course thought provoking, and entertaining. The relentless knife of Occam’s Razor leaves very little left of religious belief, since so much of it appears to be stuff people made up as they had no other mechanism to answer questions of the unknown. As mankind gains knowledge, mythology is revealed for the nonsense of which it is, mostly. When intellect and empiricism is applied to mythology, very little survives. For example Thomas Jefferson, a man of considerable intellect, endeavored to condense the New Testament into logical statements, devoid of supernaturalism, and it ended up being less than 20 pages long. In large print. Go ahead, it is a quick read.

Or, you can flip it 180° to JUST the mythology and get it down to one small image file.

Of course Judiasm and Islam get equitable treatment in Religulous. Maher is an equal opportunity offender. Even Scientology and pot smokers gets skewered. It was good fun though everyone he interviewed became defensive and hostile when confronted with absurdities they held dear, whether it be virgin birth, talking snakes, expending effort on a particular day of the week, or eating one food but not another. Ironically the exceptions were two Catholic Priests, representing the Vatican no less, who seemed to take it all with a great sense of humor… It only took them about 400 years to come around to accept a heliocentric understanding. Perhaps there is hope after all?

The very fact that every religion continually subdivides into factions, big and small, is sufficient proof to me that nobody has a monopoly on truth. Every religion has at its kernel the golden rule, but wrapped around it are layers and layers of bullshit, mythology and irrelevant minutiae, and wrapped around that is an a hard shell ethic that says “everyone else is wrong.” “Others” are doomed to eternal punishment, or deserving of death, or whatever – and that certitude is in direct opposition to the core belief itself.

Unfortunately humans cling hardest to beliefs that are unknown, and refuse to subject them to serious inquiry and questioning. Instead they accept words written a millennia or more ago, and handed down through time as the divine word.

Then they fight over them. Usually to the point of violating commandments.

Where Religulous fell apart was the ending. Literally the final few minutes. It attempted to draw a conclusion to the previous 98 minutes of lighthearted inquiry. It fell into the same logical trap that religion does: “All those other people are crazy, so we are doomed.” In other words “They are wrong.” This was accompanied by a barrage of disturbing images delivered in a propagandistic style that would make Leni Riefenstahl proud. For me it literally ruined my night. C’mon Bill, you can do better.

One of the founding principles of this country is religious freedom. People can believe in whatever they wish, and so long as they don’t harm, or steal in the process, they’re welcome to be here. The Constitution says that Government has to butt out, and not try to impose any one belief system on its citizens (unfortunately something it fails at in innumerable small ways however.) Roughly one-fifth of all Americans are non-believers, or have chosen to not follow any specific faith, a fact that the believers often forget or ignore. But you can not legislate thought, or belief. Nor can you deny others their freedoms to speak, think, worship, and believe. I have no problem with fundamentalists building museums showing people and dinosaurs living together. Just don’t use government funding to build it, expect tax breaks because of it, or attempt to push it into the public school curriculum. I’ll defend to the death your right to believe batshit crazy stuff. Just don’t expect me to buy into your beliefs.

Bill Maher should have left his doom-filled conclusion on the cutting room floor and left us to draw our own conclusions… but hey, he’s entitled to his own opinions. 😉

An old habit dies… hard.

I have a confession to make: I’ve been using the same email user agent for about eighteen years. Yes… EIGHTEEN years. How many software products from 1990 do you still use?

In 1990 I was using a Macintosh IIsi, System 6.0.7, and Eudora 1. If I recall correctly it was version 1.3 or 1.5. I used my wife’s student account at the University of Washington to get online at first. A shell account on a UNIX host, a newsfeed (Newswatcher!) and trusty old Eudora for reading mail. I had a Hayes 2400baud modem at first, then I joined the 90s eventually with a Prometheus 14.4k modem, with built-in fax AND voicemail. (I was doing full-blown telephony in 1991!)

But trusty old Eudora was my mailer. It stayed my mailer.

I went through many machines (MacII, Centris 650, PowerBook 170, Duos, the infamous green 2400c subnotebook, iMacs, G4s, a TiBook that wheezed itself to death eventually, and now my current, though aging aluminum G4 PowerBook.) But Eudora remained my mailer.

I upgraded operating systems (System 7, OS8, did my best to skip OS9, jumped to X when it finally stabilized, through all the iterations of OSX up to 10.4) and Eudora kept on chugging. I managed to keep just about every bit of mail I had sent or received from about 1994 through 1998… when the great Jaz drive failure hit me as I was moving machines in the UK. Did I give up? Nope, I just started again.

Now I have just about every mail I have sent or received since 1998… all carried around in a pair of “Eudora Folders” on my hard drive (and backed up here, there, and everywhere!)

I have adapted to Eudora and it has adapted to me.

I have two distinct mail modes: work and non-work. I don’t read non-work email at work (except around lunchtime) and I TRY not to read work-related email when I am not at work, at least not on my laptop (that is what my Blackberry is for!) I have YEARS of well-tuned mail filters built (I should screen-shot them… they would astound you! Want to see them? Ask in the comments) and a signature file that is very long (it is how I have packed the “random quotes” here on my site.)

Unfortunately Qualcomm announced Eudora’s demise a while back and I knew this day would come. I test drove several other mail clients, but to be honest… all of them sucked. I know people think Eudora sucked, but it worked for me and I liked it. Hell, I stuck with it for EIGHTEEN YEARS!

I thought about Entourage. Yuck. Way too MS Office-ish. That big honking monolithic mail database terrifies me. Eudora has always stored mail is unix mbox format – plain old text files. Dealing with a corruption was just a matter of firing up BBEdit or vi. Clickty-click. I think that has happened to me three times in 18 years. I have known way too many folks who have had one form or another of Microsoft mail database files go tango uniform on them at inopportune moments. Frequently. No thanks.

I tried Mail.app. I really did. Inertia almost drove me there. It was the one I have test driven the longest. But the rules/filtering is just abysmal compared to Eudora. The mailbox handling lame. And I noted that it becomes a complete pig when you try to deal with large volumes of mail like I do. Searching through my multi-gig mailing list archives for some string of words? Seconds in Eudora! Minutes or a system crash in Mail.app. Yuck.

I’m planning a jump to OSX 10.5, mostly so I can support my family members who all use it. There have been issues reported for the last version of Eudora (6.2) on the latest OS from Apple. I figured now is the time to make the leap away from my old friend.

I thought about Odysseus, as it is billed as a modern replacement for Eudora. However it seems to be in perpetual beta, that seems more like alpha from the users I’ve talked to.

I looked at Thunderbird. No thanks. The UI is just … well… bleagh.

I stumbled across a likely little application that seems to fit the bill: Gyazmail. It has a very flexible UI that allows me to make it behave very Eudora-like when I want it to. It has very good search, rules, and filters. It can import all my old mail(!)

I’m test driving it at the moment and liking it so far. Switched my work mail to it late last week, and my personal mail is still coming over one account at a time. So far so good. If you regularly contact me via email be patient while I work through this transition period.

Good-bye Eudora… it has been a good 18 years.

Apologies to my readers…

I have not done a very good job of keeping this site updated during the past week on the Going To The Sun Rally. Not up to my usual standards. I managed to get the JagCam movies posted almost every day, but really haven’t been able to keep up with writing and photo editing. I will admit to having some serious challenges with JagCam footage editing… mostly to do with my now 4 year old laptop and cranky editing software. Import & Rendering times usually stretched to many hours and iMovie frequently crashed. It got to the point where I could not insert any titles or effects for fear of ruining the output, or just having hours of work vanish in a blink of an eye.

So… often I would just give up and go have a drink.

I’m back at home now and have a pile of work to do, most of it lots of finish work involving the deck and painting, plus some BioDiesel processing… but I promise I’ll set aside some time (and the bottle) and plow through the writing and photo editing backlog as fast as I can. Thanks for your patience!

–chuck

Thinking Outside The Case

Nice Rack!

Note: The below is a straight off-the-top-of-my head rant I dashed off to my editor at a technology journal I occasionally write for. I'm looking for feedback to tighten it up. Feel free to tear it apart!

When it comes to data center metrics the one most often talked about is square footage. Nobody ever announces that they’ve built a facility with Y-tons of cooling, or Z-Megawatts. The first metric quoted is X-square feet. Talk to any data center manager however and they’ll tell you that floor space is completely irrelevant these days. It only matters to the real estate people. All that matters to the rest of us is power and cooling – Watts per square foot. How much space you have available is nowhere near as important as what you can actually do with it.

If you look at your datacenter with a fresh eye, where is the waste really happening?

Since liquid-cooled servers are at the far right-hand side of the bell curve, achieving electrical density for the majority of us is usually a matter of effectively moving air. So what is REALLY preventing the air from moving in your data center? I won’t rehash the raised floor vs. solid floor debate (since we all know that solid floors are better) but even I know that the perforated tiles, or the overhead duct work is not the REAL constraint. A lot of folks have focused a lot of energy on containment; hot aisle containment systems, cold aisle containment systems, and even in-row supplemental cooling systems.

In reality however, all of these solutions are addressing the environment around the servers, not the servers themselves which are after all, the source of all the heat. Why attack symptoms? Let’s go after the problem directly: The server.

First of all, the whole concept of a “rack unit” needs to be discarded. I’ve ranted before on the absurdity of 1U servers, and how they actually decrease datacenter density when deployed as they are currently built. I’d like to take this a step further and just get rid of the whole idea of a server case. Wrapping a computer in a steel and plastic box, a constrained space, a bottleneck for efficient airflow is a patently absurd thing. It was a good idea in the day of 66 Mhz CPUs and hard drives that were bigger than your head, but in today’s reality of multi-core power hogs burning like magnesium flares it is just asking for trouble. Trouble is what we’ve got right now. Trouble in the form of hot little boxes, be they 1U or blade servers. They are just too much heat in too constrained spaces. Virtualization won’t solve this problem. If anything it will just make it worse by increasing the efficiency of the individual CPUs making them run hotter more of the time. Virtualization might lower the power bills of the users inside the server, but it won’t really change anything for the facility that surrounds the servers in question. The watts per square foot impact won’t be as big as we hoped and we’ll still be faced with cooling a hot box within a constrained space.

So here is my challenge to the server manufactures: Think outside of the case.

This isn’t a new idea really, nor is it mine. We’ve all seen how Google has abandoned cases for their servers. Conventional wisdom says that only a monolithic deployment such as a Google datacenter can really make use of this innovation. Baloney. How often does anyone deploy single servers anymore? Hardly ever. If server manufacturers would think outside of the case, they could design and sell servers in 10 or 20 rack unit scale enclosures. They could even sell entire racks. By shedding cases altogether, both server cases and blade chassis, they could create dense, electrically simple, easy to maintain, and most importantly easy to cool servers. The front could be made of I/O ports, fans, and drives. Big fans for quiet efficiency. The backs could be left open, with electrical down one side and network connections down the other. Minimize the case itself to as little as possible… think of Colin Chapman‘s famous directive about building a better race car: “Just add lightness.” The case of a server should serve one purpose only: To anchor it to the rack. Everything else is a superfluous obstruction of airflow. No need for steel, as plenty of lighter weight materials exist that can do the job with less mass.

Go look in your datacenter with this new eye and envision all those server cases and chassis removed. No more artificial restriction of airflow. Your racks also weigh less than half of what they do today. You could pack twice the computing horsepower into the same amount of space and cool it more effectively than what you have installed.

Ten years from now we’ll look back at servers of this era and ask ourselves “what were we thinking??” The case as we know it will vanish from the data center, much like the horse and buggy a century before. We’ll be so much better without them.

Ad Hoc Car Review: 2008 Porsche Cayman S

Porsche Cayman S

I had not planned, nor has anyone hired me, to write a review of this car. In fact I had no idea I’d be driving it. I was supposed to get a ride from Point A to Point B, but instead I was pressed into service to drive the car from Point A to Point B. It is a tough job, but somebody had to do it.

Top of the Notch

Some full disclosure: I carry several biases about vehicles. I love cars that handle well, but I’m not attracted by raw power. My daily driver is a 90 horsepower turbo-Diesel, and I’m very happy with it. Lots of things that people find attractive, I find repulsive: Size, weight, overly soft ride, too much power and not enough chassis. I spend most of my time driving between 30 and 90 MPH, so how a car behaves at 130 MPH, or even if it can go 130 MPH is irrelevant to me. More important in my estimation are handling, ergonomics, and feedback to the driver… you know … Fahrvergnügen. These are the sort of qualities that you find missing from the typical American barge, be it the Sport Utility Vehicle, or the Muscle Car, or the Rental Fleet Quality Vehicle.

It starts with the steering.

View from the driver's seat

Acceleration and braking are important aspects to a car’s performance, and distilled by the beaten to death horse of the 0-60 time, or the 0-X-0 time. I find both of those metrics completely irrelevant. I don’t participate in drag races, and I drive on roads, which turn left and right. So steering is the core of the driving experience for me. The Cayman’s steering is very taut and precise. If you could arrange the steering response of cars on a continuum, the Cayman might very well anchor the “best” end of the scale. Unlike the average SUV or luxury car where the steering can be as vague and theoretical as piloting an ocean liner, the Porsche steering wheel was like piloting a fighter plane.

Porsche Cayman & M-B 450sl

Steering of course produces challenges for an automobile’s chassis and suspension. The interaction between suspension, steering, and chassis is generally called “handling”. To really test the handling of a car it is best to push it beyond the edge of the envelope. Autocross is the perfect test of car handling. Speeds are slow, but steering input is fast, and acceleration and braking are constant. I did not have the opportunity to take the Cayman on an autocross course, but I would love to have the chance. Why? From by couple of hours behind the wheel it was by far, the best handling car I have ever driven. I’ve driven some legendary machines, so this is not a light statement.

The Porsche Cayman is so well-balanced. At no time did I feel like the car was challenged to accomplish any task I asked of it. The roads we travelled were not ideal; frost heaved and poorly surfaced, potholes and cracked asphalt were the rule, not the exception. We chose a route that followed state highways and up and over the ridges they call “mountains” here in Vermont, as well as through rolling farmland. Traffic was light but provided enough cars to give some overtaking tests now and then. My drive was such that I had no idea where I was going. My father was leading the way in the 450sl so all I had to do was follow him. The Cayman can drive circles around the Cruise Missile 450sl, so I found myself lagging back on occasion, just so I could drive faster around a series of corners. On the flat ground I kissed The Ton doing this on occasion, and on the hills I never managed to make the tires squeak. Not exactly hard core hoonage here, but I was enjoying myself well within the edges of the performance envelope. It was the very small course correctness, such as a slight swerve to avoid a pothole, that illustrated how well the Cayman handled. Steering inputs telepathically became swift and sure action. I really like the way this car handles.

So handling is what I like… what don’t I like about this car?

Not much. Honestly my nits to pick about the Cayman are minor in the overall scheme of things. The gearbox is… weird. I love good old-fashioned cog swapping with a man-pedal and stick-shift. This is a manual shift car, in fact six-speed manual… but the gearbox seems… well, odd. The engine has plenty of torque and honestly it feels like 3 speeds will do, but in these days more is better so 6 it must be. At any given speed on these two-lane highways the car was just as happy to be in 3rd, 4th, 5th, or 6th. I really could not tell much difference between them. Additionally the shifter itself had a sort of vague feeling to it; was I in 3rd or 5th? Perhaps the gears become distinctly different at Autobahn speeds, but on rural roads at 45 to 85 MPH (yes… I broke the law, deal with it!) they all seemed the same above second gear. Very Minor Detail: The shift knob itself felt odd in my hand too. Smooth faces where they should have been rough, rough where it should have been smooth. Fingers need something to GRIP, not slide on.

Other ergonomic notes: The whole interior, while well constructed, of nice materials, seemed something of an afterthought. The rearview mirror has an odd shape. The gauges seemed to be a tad contrived and busy. Placement of some stuff made no sense. The big old gauge in the middle top of the dash was not immediately obvious as to its purpose; A barometer? A rally clock? WTF? They obviously need to put as much thought into the interior as they have the handling. Not quite there yet.

Following a 356

While underway I came upon a 1956 Porsche 356, and followed it for a while. It was a wonderful moment, as the Cayman is in many ways the 356 of now. Porsches Sacred Cow, the 911 is (in my opinion) artificially propped at the top of the performance heap. If they put as much effort into this chassis as they did the 911, they’d have, seriously, the world’s best car. However if they did, their core audience, the Porschephile loyal customers, would collectively revolt. No Porsche can be better than a 911 in their minds. That is sad in some ways as the Boxter/Cayman mid-engined design is truly a world beater. In other ways it is good because for Porsche it is their “low end” car, meaning it is relatively affordable next to the 911.

All the time I drove it I was mentally comparing it to my 43 year old E-type Jaguar. When the E-type arrived on the scene in 1961 it was truly a world beater. Supercar performance at a very reasonable price. In fact it BEAT the supercars of the day, namely the 300sl and the Ferrari 250. It beat them soundly, in all measures of performance, speed, braking, and handling. It did more with less, and more FOR less. This car is very much in that same mold. Like I said, and I’m happy to repeat, this is the best handling car I’ve ever driven, period. If they let it off the leash it could very well be the best car on the planet, bar none. As it is though, it remains relatively affordable, and truly amazing to drive.

Update & Addendum: Several days after I drove and wrote the above, I had another chance to drive the very same car. Again I was asked to help shuttle a car back to Burlington, so I had another chance to have a second look, and make a few more observations. This time we drove one state highway, and a US Highway in moderate traffic. Unlike the previous drive on winding back roads with little to impede progress other than the 450sl I was following, this drive was more indicative of the day-to-day reality of driving in the real world. It was a lot less fun. I never was granted that true bliss of feeling this car handle. A Cayman without some curves to drive it on is like carrying a fishing pole through the Sahara. Sure there were a few long sweepers now and then, and I swerved to avoid a pothole or two… and yes, the car felt great while doing it, but my second drive was pretty mundane and uninvolved. As such I pondered several things about the car that bothered me. The big center mounted gauge is actually a rally clock, but I was never able to figure out how to work it. The manual was still shrink-wrapped and I didn’t want to break the seal. It had no buttons or obvious controls on itself, so I figured it was menu driven somewhere else on the dash. The radio seemed to have a few odd buttons but pushing them did nothing (even the one labeled “Menue”?) There is a stalk at about 7 o’clock that seems to drive a tachometer based display, but “scrolling” through that UI did not produce anything usable… besides a rally clock should be usable from the Navigator’s seat. I gave up on it. In fact I suspect that a fair number of the controls require some serious study in the owner’s manual. Of course, I spend several nights studying one whenever I buy a new car… something I could not do with this car so perhaps I’m shortchanging the Cayman here.

From the driver’s seat the exhaust note is far away, but not as “bass” as I would expect… more of a mid-range noise. There is however a persistent treble note whine from the engine compartment just off your right shoulder that is uniquely Porsche in its nature. A timing chain perhaps? Every Porsche I have ever ridden in has this note to its range and it is always the most dominant noise heard. It can be spine tingling when really pushing the engine, but when just tootling along at 35-50 MPH it is actually annoying as hell. It takes on the nature of similar annoying and persistent noises: a neighbors howling dog all night, a crying baby on an airplane, or a test of the Emergency Broadcast System. A engine screaming when you press the loud pedal is one thing, but screaming all the time is just too much.

Speaking of spine-tingling, I had the opportunity to do some overtaking and was blown away with how breathtakingly awesome this car is when unleashed! To me 0-60 times are a useless metric, but 50-90 times are truly useful… that is passing performance. When you make the demand of a car to go from rolling at some moderate speed to GO FAST NOW. The Cayman? WOW. Passing in this car makes nicotine and heroin look like mere gateway drugs. I was looking forward to slow traffic JUST so I could pass them. Bwahahhaahhhahhhaaaa! Drop the gearshift down to third and press the right foot and pow! You’re dropping The Ton as fast as you can say “woah” and having that banshee over you shoulder scream some Wagnerian epic – condensed into a few seconds. It is more intoxicating than Everclear.

I could get used to this.

Final Thought: I would LOVE to see a lightweight version of this car, ala a Lotus Elise. Strip out all the superfluous stuff… power this & that, heated seats, A/C, cruise, cupholders, etc. Just basic seats, minimal plastics and carpet on the interior. Strip it down and make it fly. Just add lightness. That would be brilliant.