Archive for January, 2007

San Jose Camera & Video: Awesome Camera Store

Sunday, January 14th, 2007

San Jose Camera & Video is a local photography store in San Jose, near Campbell (fairly close to 280 and/or 17).

Now, I haven’t actually properly cleaned my camera — sensor or otherwise — or any of my lenses. Duh! So, I took the works into the store and asked for some basic tips and the proper tools.

The kind fellow behind the counter took everything apart, cleaned everything, took a bunch of test photos to find and remove bits on the sensor, put everything back together all while walking me through it. He could easily have gotten away with simply selling me a couple of bits for cleaning.

What an extremely pleasant experience. My third extremely pleasant experience. I bought a lens from them. They also helped me out when the filter shattered and I had no idea how to remove it without scratching the front element of the lens.

Anyway — extremely helpful place. Consistently go above and beyond in the customer service department and frequently talk the customer out of wasting money, offering less expensive solutions or showing how to solve the problem at hand with existing equipment.

Roger hits a developmental milestone

Saturday, January 13th, 2007

My son, Roger, just hit a major developmental milestone. We have been playing separate games of Crash Bandicoot: Wrath of Cortex and had both gotten to the Lava Runner Dude Boss Level (fire level boss).

Roger just got through it. Before me. We aren’t cheating or using FAQs, so he really did figure it out and do that hand-eye coordination thing before me.

Sigh. They grow up so quick.

Scientific data visualizer, anyone???!?!

Thursday, January 11th, 2007

Does anyone know of a decent piece of software for visualizing data?

Specifically, I am generating somewhere between 2 and 10 data records per second where each record contains samples in several different units; quantities (some in the millions, some in the 10s), absolute counts, percentage, deltas from previous sample, etc…

I just want draw very nice graphs of the data. 2D or 3D doesn’t matter. Effective and flexible presentation does. Ideally, I would like to be able to merge two sets of data into a single graph to see how the two compare.

Any suggestions?

Update: Thank you to everyone who responded!

I had a poke at jfreechart. Looks fairly promising, but requires a bunch of Java coding. R and gnuplot both looked fairly promising, but I didn’t dive terribly deep.

This morning, a friend mentioned this post and Wolfram’s Mathematica came up. Can’t believe I didn’t remember Mathematica! I used it off and on from 1989 through about 1994 or 1995. Love it.

I gained access to Mathematica for a half a day and was able to solve my visualization problem! Though, I have to ask: What the hell happened in the 10 years since I last used Mathematica?!?!?!??!! It is vastly more powerful than it was, but — damn — the fonts and display are all jagged and nasty. I remember Mathematica notebooks being beautiful. Of course, that was Display PostScript on a NeXT box.

I also ran into Hobo Data Loggers at MacWorld and their software looked promising. I gave it a try as it could import data from external sources. Worked relatively well, but didn’t offer enough control over the presentation. However, if I needed to instrument something in the real world, I would definitely consider using their stuff.

Regular Expressions

Wednesday, January 10th, 2007

Today’s XKCD is brilliant.

That is pretty much how learning regular expressions for the first, second and third time felt for me.

Though, I was sitting on the train between CT and NYC many years ago, tossing together a set of regular expressions to do log transmogrification and analysis for’s weblogs and Jerry Walker was the man on the rope swinging in to save the day. He turned broken line noise into working line noise!

Atomic Buffalo Turds (ABTs)

Monday, January 8th, 2007
ABTs Ready to Serve

I made Atomic Buffalo Turds [ABTs] for the first time today. Nope, I didn’t name ’em, but I did refine ’em a bit over the typical recipe found around the net.

Delicious. Each one is a half of a jalapeno stuffed with something meaty, something cheesy, wrapped in bacon and smoked for 45 minutes on the Big Green Egg.

They were only mildly hot as I thoroughly de-veined them. Normally, I wouldn’t do that, but there were a number of people at the gathering who don’t do hot (and I was feeling nice today).

Details on the click through…

Read the rest of this entry »

Music; six degrees of separation.

Sunday, January 7th, 2007

I have a large CD collection that evolved out of various lines of investigation across what is mostly the popular music landscape. It all started with Bronski Beat, Thomas Dolby and Propaganda.

The connections across the collection are sometimes surprising. For example, Public Image Ltd. released Album in 1985 (named Compact Disc on the CD release, pictured at left — that is a link to the Amazon product page). iTunes Music Store has the album, too. Surprised it isn’t called “Digital Download” or something like it.

Anyway, it is a great album. Driving rhythms. Lots of great guitar and synth work and Lydon’s somewhat disturbing voice on top. It stands out in the pop music arena. There is something more to the composition and musicianship than would be expected from just some random band.

Not surprising. Musicians contributing to the album include:

  • Ginger Baker: one of the best rock and roll droppers around. Brilliant solo career, too. A very fine example of his work is Ginger Baker Middle Passage.
  • Bill Laswell: Beyond being an extraordinary producer and founder of the brilliant Axiom label. Examples of his work? There are thousands. This guy is unbelievably prolifc. Two standouts are The Goldan Palominos Dead Inside (Dark. dark dark dark. Brilliant.) and Praxis’ Transmutation (Mutatis Mutandis) (Insane album. Brilliant. Soundstage moves around all the time).
  • Steve Vai: Brilliant guitarist, both in terms of play ability and in his technical musicianship. He got a job playing with Zappa by transcribing Zappa’s music by ear and sending Zappa a copy. Many a guitarist has idolized Vai. The guitar solo in rise certainly smells like a Vai guitar-wank anthem. On top of Baker’s thundering drums, it is just plain old awesome.
  • Ryuichi Sakamoto A classically trained synth virtuoso. Ryuichi has played with David Sylvian, Robbie Robertson, Brian Wilson (Beach Boys) and many others.
  • Nicky Skopelitis Often appearing as a session guitarist (or stringed instrument player), Nicky has contributed to lots of well known albums.

End result? A brilliant bit of musicianship in a genre — synth-punk — where you really wouldn’t expect a lot of emphasis on composition. Lydon’s contributions are obvious and he certainly sets the energy level appropriately.

Branching out from the above list of artists, I could easily find connections — six degrees of separation or less — to most of the three thousand or so albums in my music library.

Boston Butt Idea

Saturday, January 6th, 2007

I made a boston butt — pork shoulder — yesterday (well, technically, the last two days since it was cooked for nearly 18 hours) and I tried something a little different.

I configured the Egg with the original grilling grid and the riser grid that I built. I placed a pizza stone on the bottom grid.

Then, I dropped the two hunks of pork meat in an aluminum pan on the top grid. Instead of starting with a dry pan, I left all the juices that had run out of the pork after in the pan. Quite a bit of juice comes out after it has been dry rubbed.

The theory was that the pork would partially braise in the liquid, generating an excellent flavor and varying the texture between the top and the bottom of the meat.

Worked beautifully. The end result was very moist and had a delicious smoky, almost candy like, flavor throughout.

And that got me to thinking. How can I further maximize the flavor?

I’m going to smoke the next butt in my cast iron dutch oven without the lid. I think I’ll add some onions and garlic to the pot prior to smoking. Maybe a little bit of red wine, too.

Should be interesting. I’ll make sure to cook a couple of additional backup butts the regular way, just in case.

iTunes Library Backup, rsync & cover art

Wednesday, January 3rd, 2007

A while ago, I wrote about synchronizing iTunes libraries between a couple of machines using rsync while allowing for multiple locations.

I continue to use that system and it works great. Since I wrote that, iTunes has added significantly improved cover art handling. In fact, the whole cover flow thing has totally changed the way I interact with my library. Much more visual now. Has that feel of flipping through a stack of CDs to discover that hidden gem I haven’t listened to in a while.

With over 16,000 songs across several thousand CDs worth of music, I have a huge number of albums that don’t have cover art and don’t automatically resolve art from the music store. For automatic downloading of cover art, I have been using SonicSwap Boink. For the 30% of the time it mismatches cover art, I do a Google Images search to find the cover art.

Now, I have been using this command (paths modified, obviously) to backup my music library, including all metadata:

rsync -a -v --progress --block-size=220000 mastermachine:/Volumes/Music/ /Volumes/Music/

And I noticed that the synchronization process was taking a really long time recently! Much longer than would be expected given that I haven’t been ripping the rest of the CD collection recently.

It turns out that any track with updated cover art was having at least 220,000 bytes copied between machines. Given that the actual cover art is typically around 20,000 bytes and I couldn’t imagine an additional 200k of ID3 tags associated with the cover art, that order of magnitude difference in bytes changed vs. bytes transferred is a hell of a penalty!

The problem is the block-size. It is both a scanning window size for rsync and appears to also specify the minimum # of bytes transferred to describe a change in a large file.

I cranked it down to 15000…

rsync -a -v --progress --block-size=15000 mastermachine:/Volumes/Music/ /Volumes/Music/

…and the backups now go much, much faster. Of course, it’ll slow down the transfer of newly added music, but not by that much.

Update #1:

Denis suggested that turning on compression would fix the issue. To be specific, he suggested turning on compression in SSH and using rsync over SSH.

It only helps for the transmission of the iTunes database file(s). The media files, including the cover art, doesn’t compress by any noticeable amount when transmitted.

Pushing compression down from rsync into ssh may have the additional advantage of also compressing the rsync adminstrative noise, but larger block sizes are vastly more efficient when pushing media around with rsync!

So, no, compression won’t really help this problem for anything but the iTunes database files. Given their size — many many times the size of the average audio media file — I have been using compression and simply eating the slight CPU overhead related to fruitlessly compressing the already compressed media.

Pot Roast

Tuesday, January 2nd, 2007

As a cook — I suppose I can call myself a “cook” now — pot roast is another one of those foods that intimidate me. Even more so than ribs or a boston butt. At least with a butt and ribs, I have some kind of diagnostic instrumentation available.

Pot roast?

Beyond the initial prep and a brief interruption later in the cook to introduce some veggies, it is all about leaving the damned lid closed. It is a black box. A chewy, fatty, tough cut of beef goes in and, if all goes well, a fork tender cut of tasty delicious meat comes out.

Of course, my mother — if she reads this (which she occasionally does) — will likely laugh at me. Pot roast always seems to be something she’d just toss together at the last second and it would turn out perfect.

I decided to have a crack at a pot roast today and the results were excellent. Could be better, but excellent none-the-less. And damned easy.

I pretty much followed this recipe from the Simply Recipes site (cool site! subscribed!).

My modifications:

  • Started with about a 5lbs chunk of beef chuck pot roast, bone in. It was an odd cut. It was about an inch and half thick. Fatty. Tough, but all natural. Cheap at $2/lbs.
  • Browned the meat in canola oil, not olive or grapeseed. Since I was cooking in a seasoned, but not coated, cast iron dutch oven, I used a bit more oil than the recipe called for.
  • Tossed in a splash of bourbon.
  • Used red onions instead of yellow.
  • Smushed about 2 heads of garlic. Smashing the cloves makes ’em easy to peel and releases more flavor.
  • Added considerably more than 1/2 cup of red wine.
  • Diced some large carrots and halved small potatoes as the vegetable.
  • Cooked the meat over low heat — a simmer — for 2 hours. Added carrots and potatoes on top. Cooked for another hour and half.

It was delicious. Fork tender; no need for a knife to serve or eat. Everyone loved it, even my relatively picky son.

Next time, I’ll use less liquid and up the cooking time a bit. No risk of drying out given the very little amount of liquid loss observed. I’m also betting that the drippings could be made into a killer gravy, but I have not the remotest clue in the world as to how to pull that off!