death in paradise

Damn you Netflix – Death in Paradise

Trying to avoid opening the work laptop yesterday, I was browsing Netflix, and one of their recommendations just popped under my remote. Death in Paradise, a BBC detective show.

The premise is somewhat weak, the pilot showed a police officer in Sainte Marie (Martinique in the Carribean) was killed with some unusual circumstances. An inspector from Scotland Yard is sent over to solve the case.

So you are on an island in paradise, with a classic British person (full suit, tie, etc).

Now I am frickin’ hooked. Catchy themes, always with a twist, and enough humor and interplay between the cast. Fun.

The stiff english gentleman, the island girl detective, two worlds collide. Makes me want to sell everything and move to Martinique.

Now I have three seasons to watch.

Thanks Obama.


Specialized Invades Santa Teresa Park

Today I did a mountain bike ride in my local park. As I was wending my way around the park, I noticed something odd. I passed an amazing amount of cyclocross bikes on the trail.

Trust me, if someone is off road, doing some serious dirt riding with drop bars, it is a a cyclocross bike. I mention this, as I see maybe one a year. Tops.

Today, I saw at least 6 in about 5 miles of trail riding. About 1/2 way through my ride I rode past a huge tent, with Specialized emblazoned all over the side. I asked one of the people with a black Specialized T-shirt on (who was carrying some beer) what this was all about.

A closed event, hosted by Specialized for their dealers to become familiar with the 2016 series of bikes. There were stations to setup suspension, to adjust bikes, tons of food, and probably 200 bicycles.

Cool place to do it. Santa Teresa park has a pretty wide variety of trails. From tight technical single track, wide open fire roads, some gnarly rocky downhills, and even some good roads to ride on for those inclined to try the road bikes.

I was totes jelly.


Apple Photos – it sucks big tool

Like many Apple users, when I bought a digital camera in 2003, I naturally gravitated to using the bundled iPhoto. It worked well, and my original camera, a Canon Sureshot 2.1 megapixel camera, integrated with it well. We took a couple of international vacations, and iPhoto was a useful tool for managing the photos.

Of course, I upgraded from that original digital camera to a DSLR, and started shooting in RAW format. iPhoto worked well until 2008 or so, but at about 40,000 images it reall started to collapse.

At that time, I bought a copy of Apple’s professional photo organization tool, Aperture. In its second version, it was quite good. It picked up the old iPhoto libraries and albums, it worked well. Its organization capabilities were vastly superior, and it worked well for me.

Fast forward to 2012, and the beginning of merging with the iPhone/iOS world. The version 3 upgrade brought this thing called the Photostream. Captured by your iPhone, it was a good concept, but in practice it really sucked. Suddenly my library was cluttered with all these “Photostream 201x October (or whatever month)”. The first few months, it was OK, but 3 years later, I can assure you it sucks to have these small automatically created albums. I can’t find shit.

In 2014, Apple announced that Aperture was going the way of the Dodo, and never will be improved. I took that as a trigger to look for a replacement, focusing on Adobe Lightroom.

Fast forward to today, and Apple has completely deprecated Aperture. You are forced to move to Photos, their new iCloud linked solution.

So, being the good Apple acolyte, I made the transition.

The good:

  • The photostream is dead. Thank fucking God, someone at Apple put a bullet in that feature.
  • All your photos are online, and sync’d with all your devices/computers. You have the option to have reduced resolution images on your devices, instead of 12megabyte RAW images. So I have my entire collection on my iPhone, and it doesn’t swamp my storage.
  • Editing the metadata is a bit streamlined. But the truth is, I am not ever going to go back and manage my 60K images one by one. Not gonna happen, regardless of how streamlined it is.

The Bad:

  • You pretty much need to buy additional iCloud storage. So now I have paid storage on Dropbox, Google Drive, and now iCloud. A wee bit of overkill.
  • It doesn’t do anything with all the fucking “Photostream” albums. That homeless abortion is still crawling up your leg.
  • It has these giant buckets called “iPhoto Events”. That is where it dumps all the iPhoto albums you defined. So you are constantly navigating among lame folders. Yes, I could re-arrange them, but I have hundreds. What a pain.
  • Much of the image modification/tweaking you could do under Aperture is gone. Simple controls, optimized for internet/social media sharing. Lame. Tres lame. I would even say completely, full retard.

Alas, my main photo organization tool will be Adobe Lightroom. It is just a better workflow. Fortunately, Adobe realizes that a lot of serious amateurs and pros who used Aperture will be switching, and have built into the latest version(s) of Lightroom the ability to go import all the Aperture libraries.

I can understand why Apple did this. The pro applications aren’t major drivers for them, and convergence between the iOS devices and the OS-X devices makes for a better experience.

Fortunately, we have some options.


Getting there – Weight loss in progress

The diet is continuing well, and apart from two visitors this week, with a couple truly egregious cheater meals, I made some progress.

The statistics so far:

  • 3 weeks (started July 3)
  • down 11.6 #’s (that is a 4.54% loss)
  • Exercise is trending up – both walks at lunch during the week (2.4 ish miles), and cycling on weekends, is feeling better.

So far, I have adjusted to smaller portions, eating less, and feeling satisfied. I have worked on eating better, more fruits and vegetables, and less meats.

If you care, you can track me at Strava to see my workouts.

It isn’t as easy as it was before I turned 40, but the basics work. Exercise more, eat less, eat better balanced, drink less alcohol.

My goal?  To get to less than 200#’s. If I get there, I will build a new road bike.

Got Called a Hipster

In a discussion on slashdot about the Apple Watch, where the consensus was that it was a product looking for a solution, and that there weren’t any compelling applications for it.

The comment that I offered as a valid use case was as a remote display of the exercise statistics while cycling. When I ride, I wear a heart rate monitor, have a speed and cadence sensor, and use my iPhone to track my statistics. I mentioned that I leave my phone in the jersey back pocket, where I have to stop and fish it out to see my progress. While there is a remote that mounts to the bar, many cyclists report that it sucks. So a watch is a good option.

I mentioned that I was considering buying an Apple watch for this purpose. (note to Babs: I am not buying one, just considering it.)

The attacks were swift, and brutal. I was called a hipster. People couldn’t understand that a cycling jersey has pouch like pockets in the back for things like tubes, powerbars, spares, etc.

The fact that I have two bikes was another point of attack. Apparently, neck-beards living in their mother’s basement can’t understand why a good road bike and mountain bike would be desirable to have.

I clearly am concerned about my image, as that is the only reason why I have an iPhone (over a vastly superior Android phone), and would consider spending $350 for a watch.

Yeah, that describes me to a T.  NOT.

For the record, I have two good bikes. Not great bikes. I ride semi seriously (60+ miles a week), but being a heart attack survivor, it is important to monitor my heart rate, and power output.

I am not a hipster, I mean, I can’t stand to listen to Arcade Fire, I don’t eat macrobiotic burritos, and I don’t have a goatee.

Spotify – It’s Over

Apple Music has won my latest battle for my ears. As is often the case, Apple isn’t first to market (or even second), but when they do get to market, they have the best service, most polished interface, and it “just works“. After only 3 weeks of my 3 month trial, it is time to dump Spotify.

Dear Spotify,

I know this may be hard to take, but it is time to move on from your service. It isn’t you, it’s me. Wait, who am I kidding, it is you and the shortcomings you have. I can’t blame you, as I am sure that some of it is due to your agreements with the rights’ holders. But regardless, it is time to say “goodbye“.

I remember when Spotify came to the US, and I eagerly got in the early access list. The thought of access to a huge library of music, with the ability to sample as much as I wanted whenever I wanted. At the time, the only other option were the Internet Radio stations, and while I liked Pandora, I found that it took endless grooming of their stations to match my tastes.

With your service, I could create as many playlists with just the music I wanted. No limit on how often I could listen to the same songs. It was like having my library wherever I went.

I jumped at the chance to pay for the service, never once questioning the $10 a month. The Spotify app for my iPhone was a great way to take my tunes with me.

There were some second guesses along the way. Google’s Play music service when they launched the “All Access” subscription was briefly a contender. They had good coverage of genre’s in my taste in their library. Plus they had the benefit of having my entire music library uploaded. But alas, their streaming performance, uh, what is the term? Yes, “it sucked donkey balls“. Skips, pauses, and general shitty-ness. Even when they released a Chrome extension to better integrate it, it sucked.

So I returned to Spotify after flirting with the $2 a month cheaper Google All Access service.

I was satisfied, but there were still some issues. Your curated playlists for classic rock, and hard rock were stale. Worse yet, had some odd selections (note: in no universe does the Foo Fighters qualify as “Classic Rock”) Listening for hours each day, you quickly hear your “radio” stations repeat tracks. Yeah, I get that they are just a play list with some randomness tossed in, but I buy my music and listen to my library to not have the top 40 bullshit crammed down my throat.

The final nail in the coffin was the launch of Apple’s new streaming service. I am about 3 weeks into my 3 months free trial, but I already know that it will be the one that I keep. There are lots of reasons, but off the top of my head I have noticed:

  • The curated playlists are great. It is like they can read my mind, when I am trying to put together a mix CD. Doesn’t matter the genre, Heavy Metal, Classic Rock, Guitar Heros, Jazz, Blues, they nail it.
  • The “For You” Suggested listenings. Like when I was a Pandora user, if you painstakingly groom your stations, their algorithms pick some awesome tunes. The “For You” selections are a few suggested playlists rolled out and refreshed daily. Each day, there are some great things to listen to, playlists that are 70 – 90 minutes long. Last Wednesday, it offered up Deep Tracks of Yes. 90 minutes of outstanding music.
  • I have access to my entire library. Minor point, (or maybe it is major) but my entire collection of music is in the Apple cloud, so if I feel like digging up an ancient Yngwie Malmsteen track from his first album, it is there. So even where Spotify had holes (like for the longest time with AC/DC, or still with Paul Gilbert) I can just call it up.
  • User experience. A lot of people bag on iTunes. Hell, on Windows, I will concede that it blows chunks. However, the last two major revisions Apple has done a lot to improve the usability, and reduce the clutter. As a product manager, I know that iterative releases, and the tendency to glom shit into the main application is hard to battle, so clearly iTunes had become a multi-headed hydra. But it is getting a lot better.

While I could afford to keep two streaming services going, I am not going to lie, I haven’t fired up Spotify in over 2 weeks. It has already lost the battle.

From the outside looking in, I am not even sure that I could offer advice as to how to improve the service to beat Apple’s Music. I suspect that you will have a valid market position for the people who loathe Apple and all things it releases. But will that be enough to keep you close enough to profitable? Time will tell, but my bet is that Spotify will try mightily, but fail to grow to be consistently profitable.

Back on the Diet Train

Two weeks in, back on the Perfect Diet Tracker, counting calories, and making sure I track everything. Down 9 pounds – I am sure at least half is water, I am beginning to feel better.

The old adage rings true. Calories in less than calories burned = weight loss. Yes, it was easier before I turned 40, but it still works. The secret is to count everything that passes the lips.

Already I am fitting into jeans I couldn’t wear 2 weeks ago. I have plenty of clothes that will fit as I shed the pounds. Looking forward to that.

It does take a lot of discipline. Portion control is key. Not indulging on the sweets in the office. Doing as much exercising as I can (walking the campus at lunch is good for 2.4 miles.) Bicycling on the weekend.

I am lucky that I have enough will power to not give in to the sweet tooth.

It isn’t easy.

Al di Meola

Bad Luck – Guitar

Sometimes you just can’t catch a break. This one involves music.

Over the weekend, I fired up the guitar and did some warm ups. Then I tried what I had tried 1000 times before. Alternate picking. The 999 times before it sucked. I couldn’t get my right hand and left hand synchronized, and I was over-thinking the right hand motions, screwing it all up.

Last weekend? It clicked. It flowed, the licks rolled off fluid, and smoothly. Not Paul Gilbert smooth, but definitely a breakthrough.

Of course, now my arthritis has acted up, and I can’t play at all.

Why the hell couldn’t I have had this breakthrough 20 years ago?

What’s next, a breakthrough in sweep picking?

Product Review – Wahoo Fitness Cycling sensors

I grew up bicycling, and returned to it semi seriously many times. Gear is important, and the changes in gear have been stunning. I remember my first good road bike, splurging for clipless shoes and pedals. My first cycling computer. A tiny Cateye thing. Worked great, put several thousand miles on it.

Fast forward to today. Cycling computers are so 1990's. There are still dedicated cycling computers, with Garmin making some strong contenders.

However, the competition from a good smartphone is fierce. Built in GPS, accelerometers, mapping, and an always on internet connection combine to make it formidable. However, the smartphone's achilles heel is not having sensors for wheel speed, cadence, and heart rate.

No more is that an issue. Wahoo Fitness makes a line of cadence, speed sensors, heart rate sensors, and even a really cool device that mounts on the handlebars and mirrors what their app is displaying, so you don't have to keep the phone on your handlebars.

I currently have the Heart Rate sensor and the Speed and Cadence sensor. They both connect via Bluetooth, and are compatible with several tracker applications on your phone.

Connecting the sensors is easy, they pair painlessly, and are recognized in both the Wahoo Fitness tracker application, as well as in the Strava application. Several others are listed, but these are the two I use.

It is a huge advantage to track these signals. As a heart attack survivor, it is doubly helpful to track my heart rate. It is good to monitor ramp rates, peak effort, and other statistics that are important to track.

There is a downside though. The heart rate monitor sensor is a battery hog. I have yet to get more than 2 months out of a fresh CR2032 battery. My old Polar heart rate monitor went at least 9 months of nearly daily jogging.

Still, it is a good time to be a cyclist.

The Long Slog of Getting back into Shape

Every so often I get tired of be a fat slob, and need to get back into shape. This time, months of moving, living in a crappy apartment, and high stress at work has lead to me, uh, putting on a few pounds. When the 40″ waist jeans stopped fitting, and the 42″ pants were getting snug, it was time to do something.

So, I fired up the diet tracker, started counting calories, and exercising regularly.

It is amazing how difficult it can be to get in the groove. About 3 weeks ago, I started cycling again, I got the mountain bike out and started humping it. First getting out on the drainage canals in the Santa Teresa foothills, it was a good mellow, and very flat ride. After 3 or 4 of these, I was getting bored.

I tossed in a few longer rides, mostly road. Better, but still not satisfying. I mean, why ride a mountain bike if you are just doing flat stuff, right?

So I have started grinding it out in Santa Teresa Park. A kick ass climb to get there (up Bernal road) a real grueling ride. Then some trails including some climbs and downhills. Good single-track, enough to challenge, but not killer.

Today was my 3rd trip up, and I made it to the stop sign before I needed to pause. I am looking forward to finally being able to clear it to the top without stopping. Maybe another week.

If you are interested, you can follow me on Strava.

And now I am down almost 6 pounds in a week. Sadly, I am sure that is mostly water weight.

A long way to go, but it feels good to start