September 30, 2005
I'm sitting in the Microsoft office in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia right now. It's on the 30th floor of the Petronas Twin Towers, the second tallest building in the world. I just finished my last meeting/talk for this two week trip. It's been a busy time, starting in Beijing first and then winding up here in KL.
I did the keynote talk at Hack in the Box, a computer security conference here in KL. The talk went pretty well and seemed to at least not make people hate us more. I actually got a few comments that started with "I don't normally like Microsoft, but..." which I view as a success.
KL is a very cool city. I wasn't really sure what to expect, but it's beautiful, vibrant, and very exciting from what I've seen so far. I haven't had much time to check things out between the conference and meeting with customers, but I hope to go out a little tonight and tomorrow before I get on a plane. I'm pretty impressed with KL compared to other Asian cities.
Anyway, time to go. More blogging later.
September 13, 2005
This morning, I ran thirty minutes continuously for the first time since college (probably ever, frankly). I think I ran about three miles, but I don't have my distances worked out well yet. In any case, I'm pretty happy about it. I've been doing two mile/twenty minute runs up until this morning, so this was a huge increase. My legs were a bit wobbly today. I don't normally feel the effects of my two mile runs so I know I'm closer to my limits now. I'll run at this time/distance for a while until I get stronger.
Since this is pretty close to the 5K distance I'll be running next month, I'm now confident I'll be able to finish the race and hopefully even do it reasonably fast.
(I've been eyeing the Garmin Forerunner 301, a GPS unit/heart monitor that attaches to your wrist. This would give me reasonably reliable time and distance info in addition to scratching my geek itch.)
While we were in St. Petersburg Beach, Florida, Michelle's parents took us to a restaurant near their house called Grouper's. Not surprisingly, they specialize in grouper. For those of you not familiar with grouper, it's a big, ugly, yummy fish. We don't get much grouper here in Seattle, so I always try to get a bunch while I'm in Florida.
Anyway, over the years, I've had a lot of grouper sandwiches, filets, etc. but this was easily the best grouper I'd ever had at any price. I had an incredibly delicious blackened grouper wrap; it was spicy, fresh, and cooked just right. My mouth is watering right now just thinking about it. Everyone else seemed to enjoy their meal too. It also helped that Renee Holt, the owner, and her staff were super friendly.
Renee explained they only serve fresh grouper; they have a boat they work with nearby to bring them fresh grouper. Apparently a lot of restaurants have to rely on frozen grouper these days due to higher prices. Well, our meal was definitely worth every penny.
If you're ever in the St. Pete Beach area, you must stop by Grouper's. Say hello to Renee for me too.
Grouper's Seafood Grill & Market
9524 Blind Pass Rd # 19
St Petersburg, FL 33706-1344
(BTW, I wanted to link to the Encarta Encyclopedia article instead of Wikipedia. Frankly, it was better written, plus I have some loyalty to my old team. Unfortunately, for some reason, this article was selected to only be available to Encarta Premium subscribers. As a shareholder, I really understand why we want to make some money off of Encarta, but there must be a better way. You can't make money charging for something as good that someone else is giving away.)
September 12, 2005
This new camera is sweet. It's fast, fast, fast compared to my S230. Start-up time is zippy, shutter delay is short, and shut down is fast. It's also smaller, over twice the resolution, and shoots much longer videos. In short, it's better in every way over my S230 as far as I can tell.
I can't wait to take it out for a real test. I haven't been this excited about a new camera in a while.
There are lots of lessons to take away from the tragedy in New Orleans post-Katrina. The most poignant one to me is how quickly our veneer of civilization and order can break down. At the end of the day, you can only rely on yourself and your family to take care of yourselves.
All those idealists who think that the government should take care of them to the exclusion of all personal responsibility should take a good hard look at what happened in the Big Easy. "I don't need to protect my family. The police will do that." Yeah right. Faced with the incredible scope of the catastrophe, many of the beleaguered local police burned out or in some cases, joined the looters. Some people who had the foresight and self-reliance to keep their own guns were able to protect their families and property.
Hopefully, no one else will ever face the challenges confronting the people affected by Katrina or would ever have to defend themselves from another bad guy, but the stakes are simply too high to rely on hope or a thin blue line of police. I prefer to have the option to choose to defend my family if needed.
Overheard the other day:
Michael (5) to no one in particular: "Will someone please stab Andrew (8) to death?"
Ah, my sweet child.
(Actually, aside from his desire to slice up his brother, Michael has been extra lovey lately. This is nice for me, but has created a bit of a dry spell for Michael stories on the blog.)
Like many middle aged men, I've gained a bunch of weight over the years. I'm not obese or anything, but I'm definitely a little chunkier than I'd like.
As my waist size hit 38, I decided to draw the line and start on both. Over the summer, I started watching my diet, using the guidelines suggested by the Abs Diet which seemed pretty reasonable (cut simple carbs, avoid extra fats, eat more smaller meals, etc.) and lost about ten pounds right off the bat. Good start.
My weight loss stopped there, so I figured I needed to add working out. I started running and biking on and off, but I knew I needed some more motivation and accountability to get me to stick to it. As a result, I've roped a few of my colleagues into running a road race in a few weeks. I'm hopeful that the combination of peer pressure and a date will help keep me exercising where willpower alone might falter. (This public blog post to the entire world helps too.)
So, we've picked the Woodinville Country Slough Run on October 9. It's a flat 5K, so it shouldn't been too hard. I'm running two mile stints pretty well now and am reasonably confident I can get to 5K (3 miles) without much ado if I stick to it. The only risk for me is that I'll be travelling for almost two weeks between now and then so I need to keep exercising on the road. We'll see how that goes.
Anyway, wish me luck!
(BTW, if you're from the Woodinville Country Slough organization committee, fix your damn site. The link to the signup form is broken. Besides, who doesn't have web signup anymore? It's 2005 for Pete's sake!)
Update: the site is fixed. You can download the PDF signup form now.
September 5, 2005
I'm probably the last person in the world to know this, but the Disney Imagineers hid Mickey Mouse images, shadows, outlines, etc. all over Walt Disney World (WDW). Apparently, when Epcot was being built, there was a controversy over whether Mickey would be reserved for the Magic Kingdom exclusively or if he would show up in other places. So, some rebels decided to start hiding Mickeys in Epcot and the other parks.
These can be in many forms. I only found a few including the shadow above in a mural in Animal Kingdom. More often, I found the three circles that signifiy his head; for instance, along the bottom edge of the bells hanging from the pagoda in the Japan pavilion at Epcot, the decorative cutouts were Mickeys.
Anyway, it was fun to search for them as I walked through the parks. Maybe you'll have better luck finding them than I did.
On this trip, in Orlando we stayed at the Walt Disney World Swan Hotel for the first time. This was easily the best hotel experience we've had at Walt Disney World (WDW). The other Disney hotels are crap, as far as I'm concerned. We've even stayed before at the Grand Floridian, supposedly the best hotel in WDW, but aside from the public areas, it's just a glorified Motel 6 with crappy sheets, dirty rooms, and nothing to offer.
However, the key is that the Swan is not managed by Disney; it's a Westin and managed mostly independently (apparently, employees need to abide by Disney personal appearance rules (e.g. no facial hair, no piercings, etc.) but not much else. As a result, it meets the higher standard you can expect from Westin, including the Heavenly Beds with feather pillows (big, big difference from most hotel beds).
The restaurants were also mostly great. In particular, we loved Pallio, their Italian place. Michelle had an insane pasta dish (the name of which escapes me) with little wonton-like pouches filled with farm cheese and black truffles in a rich wine sauce, and my grouper was amazing. More important, their bartender, Chris, is easily the best bartender I've ever encountered. The martinis and Manhattans I had were perfectly balanced and chilled with just the right amount of ice chips floating across the top.
Across the river at the Dolphin, Todd English's bluezoo was also very good, although frankly the hype was so high that it was almost impossible to meet expectations. (Do try the clam chowder and the clam flatbread though. Both were great.)
One note: avoid the restaurant Fresh at the Dolphin. The food wasn't "made-to-order" as advertised. It was just an expensive buffet.
In any case, I have no reservation recommending the Swan if you're visiting WDW. It's a solid hotel, and it's on the Disney transportation system, which is a huge convenience. I don't think you can beat the combination.
(Note, if you're visiting Universal Studios, I'd recommend the Portofino Bay Hotel. It was quite nice and had cool suites for families with kids. I've also heard the Hard Rock is good, and it's even closer to the park.
Once again, we made our pilgrimage to Florida. After a few days on in St. Petersburg Beach with Michelle's folks, we went to Orlando. While last time we stayed at and visited Universal Studios, this time we stayed at Walt Disney World (WDW).
I've always been amazed by Disney properties. At their best, they're amazing. Great attention to detail, sometimes super customer service, and just an incredible world. This trip was no exception. It was especially fun with the boys being older since they really got to enjoy the place (even though they don't like the thriller rides or even many of the loud movies).
We went to all the major parks. Animal Kingdom continues to be a snoozer (although the boys liked The Boneyard, a dinosaur dig themed playground). MGM was similarly a bust for the kids aside from Star Tours. The Magic Kingdom, of course, was great.
However, Epcot turned out to be the surprise favorite of the guys, mostly because of the newly revised Innoventions pavilions. My geeky kids loved all the hands-on activities; this is a huge improvement over the old Communicore with their outdated technology. The Japan pavilion was a hit too, although I'm pretty sure that's just because of the great Pokemon, Transformer, and Yu-gi-oh selection at the Mitsukoshi department store there.
Michelle, being a Disney expert from growing up in Florida, had the system down and managed an excellent vacation. We went at opening each day, playing through noon or so. Then we'd head back to the hotel, have lunch, and hang out a bit. Then we'd head back to the parks in the late afternoon. This strategy kept us out of the crowds and the hottest parts of the day; combined with the fact that Florida schools were already in session, we rarely waited in line for more than ten minutes ever. Very nice.
The only really odd thing (aside from the fact that virtually all the other guests were fat, fat, fat -- especially the people visiting in the water parks -- scare me) was how heavily Disney was pushing their Disney Vacation Club. There were booths and signs everywhere. It was a bit off-putting, frankly.
Despite this push, the visit was good and the kids had a great time. Say what you will about Disney, but they do a great job.
My Canon S230 met an untimely end during our vacation. This little three megapixel digital camera was in my pocket or backpack all the time, producing great photos when the moment caught me without a more substantial camera.
My trusty sidearm died in the line of duty. I had both kids alone, waiting for the evening fireworks show at Epcot. As is often the case when I'm alone with the kids, I just had my S230 (I need at least one hand free to corral children). I had the camera balanced on top of a pointy fence post to stabilize it for the long shutter evening shots when it slipped out of my hand and dashed onto the rocks below. The kids were able to scramble down after the show to retrieve the parts (everything came off -- doors, memory card, battery, the whole works.) The shot above is one of the last ones before it returned to the darkroom in the sky.
Since I can't live without a pocket camera, I placed an order today for a new Canon SD500. This is a 7.1 megapixel camera in an even smaller body (yes, I know the SD550 has been announced. I can't wait and the change isn't important to me.) I hope it's a good successor to my good ol' S230.
(Some shot details: This was shot using the "Night" mode on the S230. This holds the shutter open longer after the flash goes off, allowing the background to get exposed more. None of the lights in the background or the Epcot dome thingy would have shown up otherwise. Normally, the little flash isn't enough to light up anything too far away, but the Japanese gate was pretty close and had some lights on it, so the longer exposure allowed it to fill in. I love trying to make the camera's automatic settings do what I want.)
September 3, 2005
We just got back from ten days in Florida. We first visited Michelle's parents in St. Petersburg Beach and then went onto Walt Disney World.
I'm a little beat right now, so that's all for now. I'll blog more about the trip and such later.