My geek project @ work

Most days I’m a high-tech executive dealing with the day-to-day operations of my company. Occasionally I get to do a little geek fun on the side though. Here is my latest one:


I set up an old Mac Mini with Boinx Software’s iStopMotion in my office yesterday, and today packaged it into a weatherproof container:

That was before I closed it up, so you can see the insides. 😉

We mounted it up on the roof, here:

That is the base of a 19″ telco rack bolted to the roof screenwall.

It is running a test timelapse now. I’ll post a link to the result soon.

Here it is:

No iPhone for me.

Chucks Old & New Phones

I finally retired my worn out, beaten, and tired Treo 600 a couple of weeks ago (yes, that is electrical tape holding the antenna on!) Did I get an iPhone? Nope.

I was at Moscone Center for the Macworld Expo keynote last January when Steve Jobs announced the iPhone. I’ve been to many keynotes and basked in the Reality Distortion Field enough to have built up a strong resistance. I like the iPhone, I really do. I’m certain that it has a fine future. So certain I bought AAPL stock during a lull last spring when it was well under $100. But would I buy an iPhone for myself?

I seriously considered it. Here is what my decision came down to:

* I loathe AT&T.
I’ve been an AT&T customer before, both as a cell phone consumer, and as a corporate customer. Their billing and account management systems are probably the finest example of Soviet-style bureaucracy you will ever find in the free world. They make dealing with the Department of Licensing seem efficient by example. The lock-in deal that Apple made with AT&T was probably my biggest RDF let-down of the keynote. The more I thought about doing business with them the more I was put-off by the idea of buying an iPhone.

Yes, I know, I could have joined the (miniscule) ranks of the un-lockers, but I’ve grown old enough that I have lost the desire to hack *everything* around me. Some things I just want to work, and a telephone is one. The bricked phone people can whine, but honestly, they should not be surprised.

* I can’t go alone.
I was on a shared plan with my spouse, and it made sense for us to stay on one. In fact I started looking for plans that would work for my whole family. Chris is of driving age, and Nick is of “I need to be driven everywhere” age. Nick in particular was tiring of borrowing phones to call whichever of his two parents was coming to Track, Cross-country, or whatever practice/meet/lesson he needed to be shuttled to and from.

Sue & I had a 2100 minute plan from Verizon. I used about 120-175 minutes and she blabbed her way through the rest. We never went over and usually used almost all.

AT&T’s family plans don’t match up well with our usage and I could never get a straight answer on how they meshed with the iPhone.

T-mobile offered a family plan that seemed to fit us like Goldilocks’s “just right” porridge.

* Coverage and Technology
This issue is what completely sold me on T-mobile and the phones I chose, and eliminated the iPhone from contention entirely. T-mobile offers UMA phones. “UMA” stands for “Unlicensed Mobile Access” which boils down to yet another VOIP system, but this time using 802.11 as the Layer 1/2 protocols. T-mobile offers an option they call “Hot Spot @ Home” that includes a wifi router, and GSM/UMA phones to go with it. Sue wanted a small, “flip phone” type handset, so for her and the boys I selected a Nokia 6086. The killer features for Sue are small size and voice dialling. The handset I chose for myself is a RIM Blackberry Curve. The killer features for me are:

1. The ability to easily sync my contacts from my old Treo to it, a task slam-dunked with a side-grade of MissingSync from Mark|Space. I’ve been a happy user of their Palm product since my old trusty (and original “brick-phone”)Kyocera 6035 (… man I miss that phone… sigh.) It was trivial to get my years and years of phone address book entries into the Blackberry after purchase: hook it up to the Mac via USB and click. Presto!

2. Reasonable-cost data access.
I never actually used a full data plan on my Treo as Verizon’s data plan rates were particularly usurious whenever I looked at them. I was content to use my Treo more as a PDA (calendar/contacts/to-do lists/etc) than a full-blown communications device. I did use the excellent PDATraffic application to get traffic data for my commute, and paid $0.15 per kilobyte to do so (happily I might add, as the app was very lightweight in its usage.) T-mobile’s unlimited data plan seemed very reasonable and works both over the EDGE network (just like an iPhone) and over WiFi. (But unlike the iPhone I can make voice calls over WiFi too.)

Overall though the deal closer for me was the UMA/WiFi calling. We live out in the boonies. In the Cascade Foothill surrounded by hills and trees. Thick, tall trees that (occasionally fall down) contsantly and utterly destroy a cell signal. We’ve lived there for a decade and never have been able to make or receive cell phone calls. In some ways this is a blessing, but it is growing tiresome in today’s reality. Getting in touch with us by phone was always location-dependant. Now it doesn’t have to be. So for the first time ever, if you call me on my cell at home, I can answer. So can Sue, and now, so can the boys.

* Other Considerations.
I considered just replacing my Treo. I had collected a small number of useful PalmOS apps over the years and I really had grown fond of some of them. In the end I could not justify staying with the platform. It is really old and showing its age. I can’t bring myself to jump to Windows Mobile… it is just such a kludgey environment. Sort of the worst of PalmOS coupled to a bad WinCE UI.

The iPhone really is attractive. I suppose I will likely have one at some point in the future. But it is still an immature product with a long way to go. Apple had to compromise a LOT of things to get it shipped. The AT&T lock, the lack of features, the the lack of software. It all added up to a “not yet” for me. At this point in my life I’m content to hang back off the bleeding edge and let the early adopters work out the issues at their expense. I’m sure that by version 2 or 3 it will be what I am looking for. I’m happy to grab a mature, evolved product like the Blackberry Curve, and use it for all it is worth while the iPhone makes its way beyond infancy. I like my technology beyond the diaper stage right now.

So far I’m quite pleased with the Curve. It is small, thin, lightweight (especially compared to my Treo) and has some really nice features. I’m loving the way it handles email. My office mates constantly chide me for not checking my email often enough (shocking, I know to those of you who know me… but I have my mail client set to check every 30 minutes… not fast enough for my peers it seems!) So now I am notified in a very nice manner what my inbound mail queue looks like via my phone. If there is something important to attend to, I can. The chat clients are nice too. I only really use AIM, but I could branch into some others too now that I have a unified client (no, I don’t use Adium on my laptop.) The camera actually takes pretty reasonable pictures, so if I’m caught somewhere without my Olympus at least now you’ll have better shots here. It plays music much better than my Treo ever did and made a nice “extra iPod” on a recent set of long flights. I LOVE that it uses a standard USB cable, the same as my camera, to connect, charge etc. No goofy proprietary cable to carry! yeah! I’ve found some useful apps too. Google Maps (though the traffic feature is nowhere near as good as PDATraffic. 🙁 ) and a few others. The voice dialling is excellent, with no training required. It is the best voice dialer I’ve operated since my old Kyocera 6035.

Overall I’m happy with the choice. No iPhone, but at this time I’d rather have useful than just good looking.

What is your Mechanical Aptitude?

which direction

Go here and take this test.

My advice: read the questions very carefully. Literally observe the illustrations. Take your time.
The terminology with regards to directions is relative to position, so LITERAL observation of the illustrations is required. Don’t overthink them as that is how I screwed up. 😉

Let me know how you do in the comments.

5 Club Tour… aborted.

four jags

Christopher & I left home before the crack of dawn yesterday to join in the “5 Clubs Tour“, an event where 5 Jaguar clubs from Vancouver (two clubs in the Lower Mainland), Victoria on Vancouver Island, Oregon, and the Seattle Jaguar Club all converge on one location via differing routes. Since we live in NW Washington we chose to join the Vancouver group where they met just south of the US/Canada border at Sumas, WA.

I chose to go along at the last minute since the weather was nice and I received an email from the Seattle Club begging for participants (they are sort of a “gather and eat” sort of club… not enough driving stuff for my tastes!) Technically I am a “Member at Large” of JCNA, as I prefer to use my Jag Club membership for running slaloms and the Vancouver clubs combined put on 5-6 slalom events per year, unlike Seattle which does only one. Further the Seattle events all seem to take place south of Seattle (The slalom happens in Auburn and this rally started in Tacoma.)

So we drove north a short way instead of south a long way.

It was COLD. Very cold. I hindsight I should have blanked off the radiator partially as the car never warmed up properly.


This is what I get for having a Texas-rebuilt car. The radiator is too good at cooling. The car runs very well when the weather is hot, and has never overheated (a common problem among Series 1 E-types as they age) but the flip side is that at near freezing temps the car never gets really hot enough. There were patches of fog, which of course make things even colder, and the sun came up (finally!) as we went through Lynden… but it did not offer much in the way of warmth.

We were the second car to arrive at the start point (a gas station just south of the border).

two cold guys in a (not)hot car

Chris & I were well bundled and Chris had even the GTTSR blanket wrapped around his legs. When we arrived I let the car sit and idle and sure enough the engine temp finally rose into the “normal” range of 50°-70°C.

The turnout was shockingly small for two Jaguar clubs: A Mk2, a 420G, a S2 E-type FHC, and an MG B(!).

Plus my S1 E-type OTS. Four Jags and an MG. We motored south. The route was simple, SR9 to SR20, follow SR 20 to the Keystone Ferry on Whidbey Island. I didn’t even need Christopher to Navigate. I know these roads like the back of my hand. If I had been making the route I could have covered the same distance on some nice back roads. Oh well.

We drove along through the fall colors with the other Jaguars.

fall colors

Chris & I made a couple of stops, but never failed to catch the rest of the pack who were ambling along at a sedate pace. The sun was finally adding a little warmth to the air and the fog had mostly lifted, so ambient temps were a tad warmer and even with my overly efficient radiator the car never got too cold, with engine temps hanging around or just under fifty degrees Celsius.

I saw an MG B going the other way over the Deception Pass Bridge and waved, was that you Roger?

When we arrived at the Ferry terminal on Whidbey Island the middle of the Island and that section of Puget Sound were completely shrouded in THICK fog.

foggy jags

We sat for an hour or so, waiting for the noon Ferry to Port Townsend, but it never came. The Ferry staff came driving up the road on a tractor informing everyone that the ferries were not running due to the fog. All of us had a quick meeting and the majority of the group, who had rooms booked at the destination hotel, decided to run south to the Clinton/Mukilteo Ferry, then down to the Edmonds/Kingston Ferry and drive north to Port Hadlock. The 420G and myself decided to bail out. The 420G back to Vancouver, and I back to Arlington. Chris & I stopped in Anacortes for lunch.