October 29, 2005
This is the map of a run I did in Beijing from the Grand Hyatt (lower right) to the Forbidden City (upper left) and around the hutongs (traditional neighborhoods) in the area. I just thought it was a cool shot; it's also amazing to see how big the Forbidden City is.
(This shot was generated by SportTracks.)
I just remembered this story from my last trip. When I'm on the road, I regularly call the family to check in and say hello. Andrew (8) tells me about his day and asks how I'm doing usually, as you might expect. Michael (5) just wants to know what I've bought for him. He's becoming more directive about what constitutes acceptable gifts and went as far as saying I wouldn't be allowed to re-enter the house without Lego Bionicles in hand this time.
What's more, he now wants to control what gifts Andrew gets too. On one call, I was talking to Michelle and heard the kids fighting in the background. When Michael came on, he was crying and upset.
Michael: "Andrew was being really mean to me. Throw away his gifts and just bring him rocks."
Yeah, I'll get right on that. Nothing I'm looking forward to more than carrying rocks in my suitcase. I'm sure there's some law about that too that would invite Customs to check my orifices out thoroughly.
I've alluded to my new running toy a few times in previous posts, but I haven't blogged about it yet. The Garmin Forerunner 301 is a GPS-based workout tool. It combines a GPS, heart rate monitor, and some other training software. It tracks my distance, pace, elevation change, and heart rate as I run or bike. It also automatically calculates mile split times, tells me if I'm running faster or slower than the pace I set, and can even handle interval training (once I get around to inputting some workouts.) The 301 has a rechargable battery with good life; it recharges and downloads data to the PC via a mini-USB port -- pretty convenient.
The software Garmin provides is pretty bad, but fortunately, there's an awesome free application called SportTracks. This thing rocks. It's a good exercise log, provides tons of charts, and overlays my workouts over Google street maps and satellite maps. If you use a Forerunner, you simply must use SportTracks.
The device is reasonably easy to use to seems OK accurate (not sure if the weird paths on my maps are GPS errors, map errors, or software errors). The only downsides are that it's a bit big still (and dorky looking) and it takes a while to acquire the GPS signal each morning when I go out to run (although it's forced me to take longer stretching, albeit in the cold and rain.) Also, like all GPS units, it needs line-of-sight to the satellites in order to keep the signal. The Garmin does simple extrapolation of your path once it finds the signal again, but invariably, the path shorter than I really ran. Running under tree cover obviously poses problems (this is especially bad for me in my neighborhood.)
As many trainers advise, keeping a log is a good motivational tool as well as a good way to track your progress. The Garmin takes this to the next level and is fun, fun, fun for geeks like me.
When I was in Hong Kong a few weeks ago, I bought a Dopod 566 Smartphone. This is one of the newer Microsoft Smartphones. This phone was codenamed HTC Hurricane and is also known as the C550 if you're in Europe. Unfortunately, it's not available in the US yet (although T-Mobile is apparently going to bring it here eventually.)
It's a beautiful phone with a very sharp QVGA screen (higher res than the Audiovox 5600 that everyone at Microsoft seems to have.) Cooler (for me as the IE guy anyway) is the IE button on the phone. I also liked the music transport controls on the outside of the phone; I had planned to use the phone as my MP3 player.
So, after a few weeks of using the phone, here's what I think.
So, I'm happy I picked up the phone overall; it's a big upgrade from my last phone. The IE button is a big hit on my team, and it serves my needs well. The MP3 sync issue is the only really huge problem, and I wish the transport controls worked when the phone is locked. Maybe Smartphone 2005 fixes that. I'll have to ask.
Last night around 3:00am, I was coming home after an evening with friends. As I was driving, I noticed my car was pulling to the right a bit. "Damn," I thought, "I'll have to get that looked at." A few miles later the car started to vibrate and make more noise; I realized that my tire was going flat. I hoped I could get home, but as I pulled onto I-405 from 520, I knew it was a hopeless cause. I pulled off under the 12th Street overpass and stepped out to inspect the damage. The tire was shredded. No goop was going to fix this.
Fortunately, I had my AAA membership number and phone number in my wallet. I called them up, and the dude was out in thirty minutes, just enough time for me to watch the episode of Good Eats I had synched to my Smartphone. (Technology wins!) Dude wheeled out his industrial sized jack, unrolled the airhose for his tools, and had my spare tire on in about three minutes. It would have taken me thirty minutes of flipping through the owner's manual just to figure out how to get the cover off the hub with the special key BMW provides.
What's more amazing is that I'm not sure we even have a AAA membership anymore. Michelle wasn't sure, and they had our old, old address. Nevertheless, they bailed me out at 3:00am in the rain on the side of the freeway, no questions asked. If we're not members now, we'll definitely rejoin.
October 28, 2005
The event was at the Grand Hyatt here in Seattle. As we walked in I saw my favorite things filling the room: sushi, sake, beer, Japanese beauty pagent contestants, and... a silent auction! This promised to be a great evening.
Well, the sushi was only OK, the sake came in little cups, the beer was poured badly, and the beauty pagent queens were too young and a little plain, and the auction stuff was mostly uninteresting. Still, we ran into some friends and had a few good pieces of sushi. Nishino, no surprise, was the best. I also liked Mashiko, at least as much for their URL -- sushiwhore.com. They were the only place that had a line all night.
Anyway, I left with a full but unsatisfied belly and didn't really discover anything fantastic or new. Mike, however, learned that mochi ice cream expands after you eat it, so it's wise to not fill up on them. Oh well. Live and learn...
October 22, 2005
I ran my second 5K this morning (really my first since the last one was so messed up.) This was the Pumpkin Push, an annual race to benefit the 45th Street Clinic. Once again, a group of my colleagues from work ran the race, making it a lot more fun. Here you can see me with Scott and Bruce (Rob also ran but missed the photo op.)
It was a perfect fall day -- sunny and warm. The race was at Seward Park in Seattle; it was full of lovely fall colors and is right on Lake Washington, so there were great views throughout the race. Since it's so close to Halloween, many runners were in costume. As you can see above, we're pretending to be runners.
I had hoped to run 8:30 splits today (I ran ~8:40s last time) and started out a bit ahead of pace. Then, I reached The Hill. Forward progress ground to a halt while my heart rate raced skyward and legs burned. While tempted to slow to a walk, I was determined to keep pretending to run. I managed to haul my fat butt up the hill and back down it to finish the race just under 29 minutes (we didn't stick around for official results). According to my watch (I did buy the Garmin Forerunner 301 -- more on that later), I ran splits of 8:27, 9:34, and 8:30, so aside from The Hill, my splits were right on target.
Here's my GPS track for the race over a satellite photo, courtesy of SportTracks, a very cool (and free!) GPS-enabled logbook program. (The finish time is wrong because I started my watch late.)
After the race, we went to the Bluwater Bistro in Leschi for our now traditional post-race brunch of huevos rancheros (or the closest thing we could find. In this case, a yummy "Texas Toast" -- poached eggs, cornbread, beans, rice, and salsa).
I was worried about this race since I haven't run much since the last one and wanted to run a faster pace. While the hill ultimately screwed my plans, I'm happy to have completed the race pretty quickly and to have run the whole race. Time to pick the next race (the Dawg Dash next week is too soon, I think. No reason to help or patronize the Huskies anyway. Go Stanford!)
One thing I learned today (after looking at the photo) -- I need to pin my number lower. This one looks like it's hanging from my nipples. Not sure I'm ready for Bruce's loincloth number look, but even that's better.
[results update: My official time was 28:51.3, meaning 9:18 splits (not sure about the difference between my calculated times and the official times). I placed 63rd of 102 of men 30-39 and 167th out of 266 overall. It surprises me that there were more women than men in th race today: 385.]
October 20, 2005
Here's a pretty cool article on a species of ant in the Amazon that kills off all plants in an area except the particular type of tree they nest in, creating "devil's gardens".
October 16, 2005
Although I was warned before I went to Malaysia about the local "delicacy" called durian, I was drawn like moth to flame. My travel mantra is to always try to local foods, so durian was a must, even though durian is famous for its stench (enough to get the fruit banned from local hotels) and strong taste.
That said, I knew it would be a bit daunting, so I tried what I thought would be a safer form -- durian cheesecake. It tasted like liver and onion cheesecake. The taste was oddly strong and not at all what I expected. A second bit confirmed the overwhelming flavor. That was enough for me. The durian burps later that evening were rueful reminders of my experiment gone bad.
I can almost see how durian would be an acquired taste like strong cheese. There was something complex about the flavor, but I don't think I'll be working too hard to pick up a taste for durian.
Yesterday morning, I was lying in bed. I heard Michael (5) exclaim to Andrew (8): "Andrew! I just found the King of Boogies [boogers]"
By the time I got to the boys, the King was no where to be found, with no witnesses. I'm not looking forward to finding the King.
October 10, 2005
Aside from the fact that I would have gone to Andersen Consulting after college, left after a few years of living out of motel rooms, and then gone to business school only to jump from one failed dot-com to another, I'm sure the world would have been different in other ways without Microsoft.
Well, I should have known it was too good to be true. The race I ran yesterday had some problems.
As the Woodinville Country Slough Run rganizers stated on their website:
The big question of the day was:
What was up with the 5k course?
Answer: A couple overzealous volunteers had the 5k participants turn at the 10k 5 Mile marker instead of the 5k turn around. We measured the difference and concluded that the 5k course everyone ran was about 0.5 k or 0.3 miles short. We apologize for this and will make sure the volunteers are well informed next year.
So it turns out I ran less than I thought. My GPS said the same thing, but I figured it was wrong. My adjusted time (assuming I could have run another .3 miles at that pace) was 27:40 -- still not bad and well within my goals, but not as cool as 25:10.
I'm already planning on running another 5K in two weeks -- the Pumpkin Push. Hopefully, this one will be run correctly so I can get a real 5K time.
October 9, 2005
I had set some reasonable goals: Finish in under thirty minutes and don't walk. I had privately hoped to run 9:30/mile splits, but I was worried I wouldn't be able to do it, since I hadn't run at this pace in my training yet.
I shouldn't have worried. I finished in 25:10, which works to be 8:07 splits or so, and I did run the whole race. I finished 162nd; I'm not sure how big the field was, but I seemed about mid pack. The results should be up on the site soon, so it'll be fun to see where it all shook out. (And, no, I'm not too embarassed that the person who finished just ahead of me was an under-13 girl. I think I saw her taking steroids before the race.)
The race was especially fun because we had nine people from the IE team running together. Bruce and Rob finished first (with Bruce, a hard core runner with a marathon under his belt, finishing with a new personal best). Everyone finished under thirty minutes, so it was a good race for us all. More important, the motivation of having a goal and a group of people to complete it with kept me working out through the last month.
While my legs recover, I'm already looking for my next race. Any ideas?
October 8, 2005
At Microsoft, we always talk about how someone "adds value". The Holy Grail for all employees is to find new ways to add even more value to our products and services and ultimately our users and shareholders. I've spent fifteen years trying to figure it out for myself and lead others to add more value.
Turns out I should have just gone to Hong Kong. There's a machine there where you can add value just by putting money into it. Damn, this would have saved me a lot of time and energy.
(Actually, the machine lets you put more money on a subway stored value card, but the name and the image were too juicy to resist.)
When I left for my Asia tour, it was still summer in Seattle. When I got back, it had changed into autumn. The leaves are a lovely red and gold, and the air is crisp. Really lovely.
While I enjoyed the cities in Asia, I must say how refreshing it is to be back in Seattle. This is a beautiful part of the world, and the fresh autumn air is such a nice change from the muggy tropical air of KL and HK and thick, polluted haze of Beijing.
It may be trite to say, but there's really no place like home. Travelling always reminds me how much I love Seattle.
I succumbed to my latent desire to buy something from Apple; their design draw was simply too powerful. I had convinced myself that I needed a portable wifi hub for my trips. I also figured that I could use it extend the range of my existing wireless net and maybe use it stream music to a stereo.
The Apple Airport Express seemed like just the ticket. It's lovely, of course, and had all the features I was looking for, except, apparently, ease-of-use. I wasted hours of my life that I'll never get back.
I'm sure if I were a Mac user and don't have an existing network, it would have been fine. I'm not. I'm a PC guy with an existing DLink network. Pain, frustration, and agony resulted.
First, you have to install software to configure the damn thing (this must be the only router in the world without browser-based configuration). The software installer sucks. Since I had QuickTime and iTunes installed already, part of the setup fails and gives a cryptic error about failure. Now I don't know if I have enough bits on the machine to make this work. To make things worse, Apple has two products in this line -- the Airport Express and the Airport Extreme, both of which are referred to as base stations in the software but which have different configuration paths. The confusion between the two screwed me up a few times. Fine, I'm dumb.
Next, from my PC (which has to have a wireless card -- you can't bridge through a wired network to an existing wireless router), the Airport would appear and disappear, seemingly randomly. The only indication of status on the device is a single light that can flash and change color (what's next, Morse code?) I tried soft and hard resets several times (which is a real joy -- putting a paper clip into a little hole while I plug the Airport back into the power strip under my desk.) Finally, I put an Ethernet cable into the damn thing and plugged the whole thing into the wall. That seemed to help somehow, although I'm still not sure why.
Then, I can't get the thing to talk to my existing network. No indication from the useless documentation on why this might be. Finally, in the Airport Express support forums, I discover that Apple has chosen a different subnet than Dlink, so I need to reconfigure the Airport to the right IP address range. OK, now it's showing up occasionally after lots of reboots.
Then, I try to figure out how to extend my network. Turns out you need routers that support some standard called WDS, but the implementations of WDS are not standardized (one of the great myths of standards is that the RFCs clearly spell out how to create a compliant implementation). I still haven't figured out if Dlink's implementation is compatible with Apple's nor can I trick the two things into talking to each other. As a result, I failed on this front. No wifi range extension.
Finally, I configured the Airport to be a music receiver. It's got an output to connect to a stereo so you can stream music from iTunes (Michelle has an iPod and lives in iTunes). I set everything up, configured iTunes, and nothing happened. Restart the hub, restart the PC, restart iTunes. Suddenly, a new button shows up in iTunes and everything works perfectly. I'm still not sure what combination of prayer, animal sacrifice, and voodoo made this work, but it did. It's actually pretty cool.
Of course, I've screwed the whole thing up again by taking the Airport on the road with me (where I had to repeat much of this dance to get the thing working in my hotel room so three of us could connect and get our machines ready for the Hack in the Box talk.) I'm not looking forward to setting this up again, but once I do, I don't think I'll take it with me on another trip.
The Linksys adapter looks better to me for travel, plus it has a four port wired router built in too, so security will be easier and configuration might be simpler.
While I love Apple's drive for simplicity, once the wheels came off, there was nothing I could do diagnose the problem. I think it's bad design to assume something this complex will work perfectly 100% of the time. Apple: give your users a chance to fix problems. Luck is not a good customer service strategy.
[Edited to remove some factual errors. NB, I just tried to hook it back up to play music -- failed horribly and torqued my network. I hate this thing.]
I've always carried power strips and/or extension cords in my demo and travel bags; there are just never enough power outlets at the demo site or the hotel room (especially since I have to power my computer, cameras, wifi hub, cellphone, and sometime other people's computers). However, the problem with power strips is the outlets get blocked by the bulky transformers that much of my gear has.
Enter the PowerSquid. This is such an obvious idea, I'm surprised no one thought of it earlier. It's a power strip where each outlet is on its own cord. Simple. It was a huge lifesaver on this last trip and has earned a permanent place in my bag.
Thanks to Gizmodo for the original pointer.
October 3, 2005
I took advantage of the reciprocal privileges the RHKYC has with my club, the Seattle Yacht Club. It's a lovely clubhouse on the Hong Kong side overlooking the harbor towards Kowloon. They're actually a lot like SYC in the sense that it's a very nice club with history, but RHKYC is still a boating club for families (they even have a pool, bowling alley, and playground). I saw lots of kids and families there. It was nice but not at all stuffy, and the staff was very friendly to us.
Dinner in the Compass Room (their more formal dining room) was quite good. I had New Zealand oysters (good, but not as tasty as good Puget Sound or Hood Canal oysters) to start, a bowl of pigeon consomme with abalone (very subtle and nice), and grilled kangaroo -- a first for me (it was mild, tender, and tasty). Good wine (Penfolds bin 707, think) and some dessert (which escapes me now but that I'm sure was good) topped off a good meal.
This was the first time I've exercised my reciprocal visit benefits. I'm excited to try other clubs now, maybe in Hawaii?
Thanks to the RHKYC for your great hospitality.
I'm home again after twelve days on the road that took me to Beijing, Kuala Lumpur, and Hong Kong. It was a good trip to three amazing cities with my good friends Rob, Christopher, and Andrew (all MS colleagues.)
I've already mentioned my newfound love of Kuala Lumpur. I also rediscovered Hong Kong on this trip. I haven't been in HK since my honeymoon eleven years ago (before the handback of HK to China).
It's still an incredible place. The crowds and the energy are still insane, but the development of the area was even more incredible. Since my last visit, there were huge new bridges (Tsing Ma, Kap Shui Mun, and Ting Kau), a new airport, a new Disneyland, and countless new skyscrapers and major civic buildings. KL, Shanghai, Beijing, and the other Asian cities are all upstarts compared to this grand dame of Asian tiger cities.
While we didn't have much time in HK, it was a great visit. The Grand Hyatt is beautiful, with stunning views of the harbor (see above for the view from my room). Dinner at the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club (see an upcoming post) was really a nice experience as well. And, it's still a fun place to shop, especially for electronics (ask Rob about his MP3 player purchase experiences.)
I can't wait to go back.