Archive for 2009

Lee Recommends Toys

Man, time flies… When I wrote this 8 years or so it was useful, fun stuff. But now I’ll just relegate it to the data pile. I updated it in 2005 but… feh, don’t read this, it’s old and most of my recommendations don’t hold true any more.

Lee Recommends Toys

[last reviewed (poorly) 9-16-05 – Lee]

Here’s a list of many of the “good things” I enjoy.

Tivo – bought 11-01 – It just plain works. This thing has allowed me to watch exactly what I want, exactly when I want. The recorded picture quality is indistinguishable from live tv… Did you hear that? A perfect playback of tv. Your old VCR is going to start gathering a lot of dust. And the program guide is…. why didn’t they come out with this thing 50 years ago?! It’s so intuitive and easy and… gush gush gush! Suffice to say, I like my Tivo. I bought a suped-up one on eBay. It has an extra 80 gig hard drive giving me 80 hrs or recording time on “high” quality. I would get 200 hrs on “basic” but the picture quality there is ucky. I’d say that 50-80 hours of recording time is the minimum you’d want to get your Tivo with. You think that sounds crazy but it isn’t. It’s important to have enough space on it so that you don’t have to watch your favorite programs before they expire… and have some space left over so you can sample new programs, record entire mini-series, movie marathons, etc…
Bread maker – bought 12-96 – Breadman Ultimate. See my cooking page. I -still- use it all the time.

Sharper Image Quadra air filter – bought 1-01 – It really works to reduce allergy problems, it’s quiet and saves money over filters. I sold mine a while back and haven’t bought another because I don’t feel like I’ve needed it.

Pocket PC Cassiopeia E-125 – bought 5-01 – I used to have a Palm III but I got tired of my eyes getting tired with the crappy screen. I’m happy with it. I use it 10 times a day every day. With Avantgo, I get to read the newspaper while I’m on the train every day. That’s cool. 9-9-07 update: I haven’t used it in a while. I just use my cell phone or my home computer. I’m -still- waiting for a cell phone/PDA that fits in my pocket. :-(

Avantgo for the Pocket PC. So there I am reading the newspaper every morning on the train, but my “paper” is this tiny (but legible) thing! The electronic newspaper has arrived! 9-9-07 update: I haven’t used it in a while only because I only used it on my Pocket PC.

Vindigo for the Pocket PC – started 12-01 – Vindigo was the best thing I had for the Palm… now it’s available! Wee! It’s great! 9-9-07 update: I haven’t used it in a while only because I only used it on my Pocket PC.

Canon Ultura mini-DV video camera – bought 12-99. 9-9-07 update. I’m still happy with it. Though I use a digital still camera far more often. I use the still-mode and video mode on the digital camera. It is just more convenient.

Nikon 775 digital camera – 9-9-07 update. This camera went wonky on me a little while back so I bought the 5 megapixel Canon Powershot. That one got accidentally left in the Albertsons in El Cerrito just before Burning Man so I’ll be shopping for another soon. The Nikon 775 was a good camera.

Here’s my original review (with updates)

bought 12-01 – I figure that what I really
want is a 35 megapixel camera (1200 dpi 3×5 photos… a real film camera) and they’ll be available in 5 years, Moore’s law (5 years later and we’re only up to 7 megapixel :-( ). This 2 megapixel camera works quite well enough for now. After having this camera for a while, probably the most important features are:

  • small size. If it’s not small enough to bring with me everywhere, I won’t!
  • reasonably durable. I passed over cameras that didn’t have automatically closing lens caps and too many protrusions.
  • a good case. I’ve got this little aftermarket pack that keeps it safe and nearby. It’s really really worth the $30 and looking around for just the right size.
  • easy uploading to my PC. Mine is USB. You plug it in and Zoop! it’s in my computer
  • good editing software. I use Jasc Paintshop Pro 7.0 to fix shots with bad color and red-eye. (I now use Picasa for most straightforward edits. It’s easy to use)
  • good viewing software. I haven’t found -really- good viewing software yet but I use ACDSee 4.0 (Picasa is the one!)
  • good printing setup. I haven’t printed any pictures yet but I might use,, or one of the new (as of 7-02) $180 photo printers. I still don’t print photos often. I like
  • at least a 32 meg memory card. My 32 meg card holds 64 images in 2 megapixel mode. The price of memory is falling rapidly… get a 64 meg or 128 meg card. Remember that when you’re on your next 2 week vacation, there won’t be any place to buy new “film”. (now I have a 2 gig card :-)
  • movie mode is kind of nice but not essential. If you get it, it should record sound too. (movie mode is essential!)
  • rechargeable battery. These cameras can eat batteries like nobody’s business

FRS Radios

9-9-07 update: I haven’t used my FRS radios in a long while. They don’t have the range needed to be useful in many places… large events, Burning Man, etc.. Cell phone coverage keeps getting better such that there aren’t many places that aren’t covered any more. And the single-duplex talking gets on your nerves after a while as opposed to a telephone.

Here is my previous review:

Family Radio Service radios are just like the walkie talkies you had when you were a kid, but all grown up. The sound is crystal clear for between 1/2 and 2 miles. Perfect for keeping together on a road trip, at a convention (warning, at the Las Vegas Convention Center, they had a range of like 75 yards. Combined with the ambient noise in there, they aren’t worth it) , festivals, camping, at flea markets, etc.

I like them because they’re cheaper than cell phones. A set can cost you $80, that’s 2 months cell phone service. But these radios will last for years. They work where cell phones don’t, in the country, or when service is flaky.

If you are buying an FRS radio, the most important features to consider are:

  • Power button that doesn’t accidentally push while in your bag. It sucks when your batteries are dead before you even get there!
  • Rechargeable batteries. Radios last 12-18 hours on a charge, which is a full day. But then buying another 6 AA batteries for tomorrow kinda sucks. You got these things because they are cheaper than cell phones and you want to keep them that way.
  • Privacy codes are nice. They keep the random static to nill.
  • Call buttons and Vibrate modes are good. Just like a cell phone!
  • A good belt holster.

I have a pair of Cobra FRS-305s with rechargeable NiMH batteries. After I put some cardboard over the power switch so they wouldn’t accidentally switch on, they work very well (thanks to the guy in Staples for that suggestion!). The holster isn’t perfect either, but it’ll do. I also have a pair of Motorola Talkabout 250s. They eat batteries, turn on accidentally, turn off accidentally, have a poorly placed Talk switch, and mediocre holster. Wanna buy some radios, cheap?

North Bay Solar

My good friend Barry is co-owner of a solar consultancy. Pathways Energy Solar Brokers

He goes to businesses and homes and figures out what kind of solar electric systems would work for their situation. Then he shops around to different solar integrators to get the best price. He helps with the whole process, making sure no funny business happens. He knows the solar industry really well and he’s a really great guy. I’d trust him with my roof.

And it’s pretty cool that his services are essentially free for the customer. From his site:

Since the solar companies have to spend very little time competing, they are able to keep their costs down and these savings are passed on to you. We receive our fee from the solar contractor for delivering a sold client to them, so we are able to offer our services to you at no cost.

It’s a little like the old Progressive Insurance ads… “When solar companies compete, you save.”

If you live in the San Francisco North Bay… Santa Rosa, Sonoma, Napa, Petaluma, Novato, Healdsburg, Vallejo, anywhere in the whole North Bay… and you are thinking of putting solar on your roof, call Barry!

1575 things Mr. Welch can no longer do during an RPG: Part 2

1575 things Mr. Welch can no longer do during an RPG

Oh. My. God.

Back in 2005 I came across this list. My sides hurt every time I look at it. Really. Try it. Caveat: if you haven’t ever played an RPG, your sides will remain pain-free.

I just revisited the site and see that there are now 1575 things that Mr. Welch is prohibited from doing. TheGlen is a fricking genius.

I have blatantly stolen his list. I very strongly encourage you to go to his Livejournal blog and read them there. Besides, there are loads of comments on his site.

Moreover, do not read too many of these at once. Bookmark this page. Stop reading after your sides start to hurt. You can come back next week or next year. We’ll be here for you.

Continue reading ‘1575 things Mr. Welch can no longer do during an RPG’ »

How to clear your ears when flying

Every time I fly my ears hurt upon decent. It’s been like that for as long as I’ve been flying. My ears just don’t clear themselves on their own. I have  tried chewing gum and yawning and swallowing hard; they will sometimes work to get air into my ears but the technique I’m about to show you works every time.

  1. Tilt your head to the left and back slightly to straighten the Eustachian tube on the right side of your neck
  2. Pinch your nose with your fingers
  3. Blow gently out your nose. The pressure will release from the right ear fairly suddenly and with some discomfort for a few seconds. Best to do it slowly!
  4. Repeat with the other side

I have done just that on tens of flights over tens of years. I usually have to clear both ears 3 times during a decent. I make sure to do the procedure before too much pressure builds up. If there is a lot of pressure, it can be downright painful when the air releases. But the alternative is to be in pain and be partially deaf for an hour or two while the pressure equalizes on its own.

You just need the tiniest bit of air to make it into your ear so go easy!

Most every time I’m in a plane  descending, I hear a child start to cry. My last flight, the kid was whining loudly for 30 minutes about all sorts of problems, “Mom, I want to sit with my mommy” (repeated 500 freaking times), “My arm hurts” (repeated 50 freaking times), “I’m thirsty” (repeated and repeated and repeated). I will bet that the kid was  suffering from ear pain and didn’t even know it. It’s a really unusual pain that many kids have rarely or never even experienced… they don’t know where it’s coming from… inside their heads? ridiculous!

I  think I’ll write a letter to some airlines and suggest they offer a pamphlet to families titled something like “Mommy, it Hurts! Helping Children Clear Their Ears During Descent“. What do you think?

The Droid Phone Marketing Freaks Me Out

It’s a single evil red eye scanning, absorbing and p0wning your world.

It’s the new Verizon Droid!

droid evil eye

evil verizon droid

It’s like a little Terminator in your pocket, right next to your junk.

Terminator droid

It’s a bit of Sauron in your pants!

barad-dur sauron droid

It’s the little man that will suffocate you in outer space.

hal9000 droid

The TV ad (which can be seen on their web site by clicking “Stealth” on the Droid wheel-o-doom) sells the phone as being the protagonist in a horror movie. Remember The Andromeda Strain? The Blob from 1988? War of the Worlds?  This is how they all start.

local version:

cruel rein droid 4100825307_c9e2822bc0_bTheir billboards even TELL YOU they are going to kill us all. “Here ends the cruel rein of adorable phones” and “A muscle made of microchips”(that will crush human skulls beneath their robotic claw-feet…) (photo via) and “A bare knuckled bucket of does”(that will punch you in the face and steal your world) (photo via)

droid knuckles 4075337447_c8ecef1157_b (1)And if they didn’t scare you enough, the web site for the Droid has this sound track right out of… oh I don’t know, every fricking horror movie ever made. It’s the sounds you hear in Half-Life 2 when you’re in the room just before the room that the squid-headed zombified people are going to attack you in.

My aunt tried a Droid at a Verizon store today and she really liked it. She told me how they have reeducation classes to show you how the phones work.

And remember, “Android Does” is an anagram for both “Donor is dead” and “Dread id soon”!

I am being pelted with rock salt sized hail on the top of san Bruno mountain! and I’m singing!

I am being pelted with kosher salt sized hail on the top of san Bruno mountain! and I’m singing!

That was my Twitter post from the top of a wet rainy icy wonderful mountain top yesterday.

Hmm, I actually meant to say “rock salt sized” hail. :-)

Here’s the pix

I note that iPhone touch screens don’t work as well when they have water droplets on the screen. I’m guessing the conductance of the water drops confuses the capacitive sensors.

Something I learned today: Dark Star vs Alien

The absolute classic space horror movie Alien was inspired by the awesomely classic and low budget Dark Star! (via)

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2009-12-05

  • @rrmutt my visits in the last 5 years have been decidedly non-terrible. Good times at SF branch near gg park in reply to rrmutt #

Let’s trade backup space

This is going out mostly to friends of mine…

Would you like to be my backup buddy? I’ve been playing with it a bit now and I feel pretty good about it. We trade disk space on each others computers… we can’t see each other’s data, but it’s backed up nicely. And it doesn’t cost money to run it peer-to-peer like this. It can be set up so that the Crashplan people don’t have any backdoors into your backup.

I’m looking for maybe 100 gig and I can offer you the same.

Preference will go to friends that don’t live very close to me since one concern is the whole San Francisco earthquake –> fire –> destruction thing.