Initial Thoughts – Mac OS X 10 – Yosemite

I have been using the latest OS on my MacBook Air for about a week now, and in general I really like it. Not Earth shaking, but solid, and the improvements really add up to a better experience all around.

The UI – briefly

The first thing that you notice is the flat visuals. Bowing to the contemporary design trends, the windows, the visuals, and all the other decorations are devoid of shading, gradients, or any other visual eye candy. Naturally all the skeuomorphic bits are long gone. Neither good nor bad.

Of course, with it comes a new typeface for the UI, Helvetica Neue replacing the long time OS-X typeface Lucida Grande. Unlike a lot of geeks on Slashdot who wailed like they were having their hands lopped off, I don’t really mind. In fact, with such a large change of the UI, it would seem de rigueur to go all the way.

Of course, these changes alter the look and feel to better mimic the experience on iOS 8. So it is not a surprise that many of the changes are to applications that will help unify the experience.


Author Appreciation: Robert Ludlum

My first introduction to Robert Ludlum's books was back in the 1990's. I was traveling a lot, and my girlfriend at the time tossed me a book she had finished, Ludlum's "The Bourne Identity)". Not my usual read (science fiction), but it was an absolute page turner.

I went on to read the rest of the Bourne trilogy, and a lot of the other works of Ludlum. Set in the cold war, most of the tales were of espionage, the craft, and the interplay between the east and the west. Gripping tales that didn't rely on gimmickry, or hokey plot twists. Solid tales.

Fabulous tales and entertaining reads in a way that Tom Clancy tries to achieve, but doesn't quite get there.

What prompted this bit o' nostalgia was watching the 2002 version of The Bourne Identity. The movie, starring Matt Damon, and Franka Potente is in every way as gripping and riveting as the original novel.

Naturally, the original novel, written in 1980, long before the internet, cell phones, and many of the accoutrements of modern society existed needed a bit of adjustment. And the producers did a fabulous job of adaptation, like due to the hand of Ludlum in the crafting of the screenplay, shortly before he passed.

Today, I am reading another Ludlum classic, "The Matarese Circle", a story of two top spies, manipulated into cooperating against all instincts by a common enemy. A fairly common theme, but the detail, the "dance" and the capitulation are 100% Ludlum magic.

Fleabag hotels and internet

In this day and age, pretty much every hotel has free wifi. Woo hoo. However, there is a nasty nasty trend. Shitty free wireless that sucks just enough to make you want to pay for the faster service.

Yes, the standard wifi is free, but it is so often bandwidth capped, and metered, so that surfing the web is painful. There are long resets and time outs, that will drive you bonkers.

And your corporate VPN? fuggedaboutit. It will fail. Either it will never handshake, or it will stall and you will never get your email.

Of course for a few bucks ($5 – $15) you can upgrade to the pro class of internet.

Sigh. We are camped out at Extended Stay America, and yes indeedy, they have this same ploy.

Apartment Living: Parking hell

Unlike most posts, this isn't about our apartment, but instead the duplexes across the street. Last night was a 3 round doosy of a fight. All the 4 letter words were dragged out.

The situation:

Across the street are duplexes. Two unit "houses", with two garages. One garage for each unit.

All of these garages are converted into illegal apartments. No way would the city code office permit these.

Thus a duplex is really a faux quadplex. Each house has four families living there, with 4 (or 6 or 8) automobiles. And no garage parking. So all these cars cram into the concrete pad.

The start of the fight:

The quadplex across the street, the same one with the parties that happen any day ending in "Y" takes up almost all of the concrete pad. They even have a "classic" car under a cover that is permanently parked there, as well as a boat on the street.

The tenant on one of the far side units of the illegal quadplex often has his car boxed in. He has torn out his undercarriage going over the curb to get in and out. He, rightly in my opinion, believes that he shouldn't be this inconvenienced.

Last night the simmering pot boiled over. Fuck you's, motherfuckers, bitches, whores, and a lot of other colorful language started flying around 7:00 PM. Lasting until almost 8, we thought "Phew, it is done". Not so. Started again at 9:00, and I just gave up.

Yep, life never gets boring.

Getting Back in Shape

This weekend marked a milestone. I went out both days for a mountain bike ride in Santa Teresa park. Two trips up the gnarly Bernal entry road, a couple of loops of the trail, and two personal bests (as tracked by Strava).

Encouraging signs:

  1. The initial climb, while still a ball buster, is tolerable. I can climb all the way without stopping, and my speed is increasing (hence the personal records).
  2. The instincts and skills are coming back. I am rolling up and over obstacles that I was walking over. I still try to stand up to climb, and that almost always ends the momentum.
  3. Today I even took on a couple of additional climbs just to do them. Yep, feeling pretty good.
  4. On the way back, I felt fresh enough to explore some of the neighborhoods. I even found a community garden that I didn’t know about. Cool.

I still have a long way to go, but I have to admit, it feels pretty damn good. One day soon, I will bolt on the GoPro and capture a couple of trails. That should be a blast!

In the mean time, I will not feel guilty enjoying a brewed, malted beverage.


Solve California’s Financial Issues Forever

As with most states, there is always a bit of tightness in the budget. California, although our outlook has improved, still is on the precarious edge. I have the guaranteed solution to those fiscal woes.

First step, raise the fine for texting while driving. California’s is the lowest in the nation at $20 for a first offense. Make it a nuisance, say $100 or $150.

Second, have every officer of the law on full alert. They will become virtual ticket writing machines, because I see CONSTANT people texting while driving here in the bay area. Literally I SEE with my own eyes, in my slow slung S2000 no fewer than 50 offenses each direction.


Fourth PROFIT!

For the record, there are four states that do not ban texting while driving and the maximum first time fine/penalty is Alaska. $10,000 and 1 year in jail if you get caught. Source: MotherJones

Bike Review – 2015 Specialized Crave Expert

Having sold my old mountain bike in the move from Tucson to Chandler, I found that there was something missing in my life. Having caught the mountain biking bug in the late 1980’s, and having thrashed the local trails here in the south bay mercilessly, giving it up left a hole.

To fill that void, I splurged on a Specialized Crave Expert. It is a hardtail 29’er, with pretty decent components. Having ridden it a few times, with some good miles in the saddle, it is time for my first review of this steed.

Riding Impressions


California Dreaming – Automotive Edition

Living in San Jose, you see more than your fair share of Tesla’s on the road. Smug people driving their zero emission vehicles. (although, truth be told, I see probably four Nissan Leafs for each Tesla I see, there are a LOT of Leafs here) Heck, on one message board, someone talked about how they had run a special power line (high current, separate billing from their home) to their garage to charge it for a mere $4,500 and another $1,800 for the charger unit itself.

corvetteDriving next to one of these on the freeway at about 5mph (heavy traffic) I daydreamed about buying a Tesla, stripping out the batteries and all the electronic junk, and mating the chassis to a late 1960’s or early 1970’s Corvette drive train. 454 cubic inches, 4 speed manual transaxle, a 10 second quarter miler.

corvette_drivetrainImagine driving up next to a Tesla snob, blipping the throttle, then leaving them in a cloud of tire smoke. True bliss.

Yes, one day we will all drive electric vehicles, we will also have better intercity train service, and the idea of a fire-breathing muscle car will be a distant memory.

Not the author

Mountain Biking – Starting from Scratch

As I return to the fold of mountain biking, it is quite like a fresh start. I used to ride a lot, beginning in the late 1980’s on an old Diamondback Ascent, and graduating to front suspension in 1997, I got quite proficient. However after a several year layoff, it is indeed like starting from zero. I have to remember and relearn all my skills and instincts.

I thought it would be good to highlight some learnings, and hopefully help some other newbies to not get discouraged. This will likely run to several parts, so strap in and get ready for a ride:

  • Fear – Unless you only ride flat trails without any real topography or obstacles, you will have some natural fear. This is your brain telling you that you aren’t ready for the challenge you face. It is telling you to slow down and work up to it. If you do not feel any fear, you are likely a sociopath, and probably have a GoPro camera mounted to your helmet. As a beginner, don’t sweat it.
  • Condition – Even if you spend a lot of time at the gym, or riding a road bike, the odds are high that your general state of condition will be wrong for mountain biking. You use different muscles, and very few exercise machines can get you ready. Don’t rush it.
  • Shame – If fear grabs you on a trail or obstacle you are attempting to negotiate, there is no shame in getting off and walking over it. Trust me, no ace mountain biker will give you any crap for it. The alternative, a nasty crash and possibly injuring yourself is not worth the risk. There is no shame in backing down.
  • Safety Gear – While you might argue that you don’t need a helmet on the road (a crazy assertion), there is no way you can make the same case off road. If you ride dirt, if you do anything challenging at all, you WILL fall. Wear all the gear. Helmet, glasses, gloves. If you fall a lot, consider elbow or knee pads. Nothing sucks worse than being miles into the wilderness and getting hurt. Walking out dripping blood is no fun. Be smart.

The thrill is still there, and the reflexes are (slowly) returning. I have gone back to being a total newbie, riding trails that I know, and it is a joy to learn the basics again.

As my condition returns, and as I gain confidence/skills, I will again glide over obstacles that are giving me pause today. And that is OK.

I will never be a GoPro Hero, and that is OK too.


Apartment Living – The Edge of Poverty

One thing that living in an “affordable” apartment complex is that you live among people who are near the poverty line. No desperate poor, but people who are close. There are many signs, but one sure sign is the ubiquitous “Swisher Sweets” wrappers.

Not being a smoker, I wasn’t very aware of the small flavored cigarillos that are sold at convenience stores. Small, dark paper (like a cigar, not a cigarette) and often with wild flavors. Orange, Chocolate, Cherry, and others, they are popular with kids (those near 18) as they were inexpensive, and sold in singles or three at a time.

These wrappers are all over the apartment grounds

These wrappers are all over the apartment grounds

When the cost of a package of cigarettes approaching $9.00, the less taxed flavored cigarillos is a popular option. That and the fact that they can be bought in singles or in small packages. A couple bucks will buy a 3 pack, or about 70 cents each. Popular when you live dollar by dollar.

I know that they are popular here, as you can’t walk without seeing the empty wrappers everywhere. On dog walks, or even cycling in the neighborhood, you see them all over.

It is sobering to be reminded on such small items of how close to poverty many people live today.

Update: A friend who shall be nameless mentioned that there is possibly another explanation for all the Swisher Sweets wrappers, than people who could only afford a couple of smokes at a time. Apparently they are opened up, the tobacco stripped out, and then stuffed with marijuana. We might have a pot-head problem instead of a poverty problem.  Not sure that is better though.