Beautiful sentiment from Hemingway:

Could you say something of this process? When do you work? Do you keep to a strict schedule?

When I am working on a book or story I write every morning as soon after first light as possible. There is no one to disturb you and it is cool or cold and you come to your work and warm as you write. You read what you have written and, as you always stop when you know what is going to happen next, you go on from there. You write until you come to a place where you still have your juice and you know what will happen next and you stop and try to live through until the next day when you hit it again. You have started at six in the morning, say, and may go on until noon or be through before that. When you stop you are as empty, and at the same time never empty but filling, as when you have made love to someone you love. Nothing can hurt you, nothing can happen, nothing means anything until the next day when you do it again. It is the wait until the next day that is hard to get through.

I love Craigslist but I abhor their search and categories

Craigslist is a bastion of depravity and deals, home of the creep and the cheap…  I’ve sold quite a few items on CL, mostly items that would be prohibitive to ship and thus I wouldn’t want to put on eBay.  I’ve sold mostly furniture and gave away a few things like a queen bed frame.  Selling items is easy, especially if the buyer can use keywords properly.   If someone is looking for an IKEA dining table, using “IKEA dining table” as your search terms would bring up perfect results.  The problem hits when you are searching for something without clear-cut keywords.

My example would be my current search for an inexpensive road bike.  Sure, CL has a “Bicycles” section.  Sure, I can set a maximum price of $400.  Sure, I can only pull up results with a picture.  Beyond that, my hands are tied.  What terms do I use to narrow the results?  Right now, that search brings up 855 results.  I’m looking for a road bike, so what happens if I add “road” to the search?  I’m down to a manageable 98 results but I have LOST potential bikes.  The most basic of posts would just say “Cheap bike – $40” and boom, I wouldn’t see that bike.  
How would I fix that problem?  Since I’m only looking for bikes that have pictures, an image view for the results would be handy.   I can quickly determine if the result is a BMX, mountain, cruiser or road bike.   CL could also use categories, but most sellers would be too lazy to categorize properly.  Having “bikes” versus “bike parts” would help tremendously though.  Another solution would be the proper use of negative keywords so I could explicitly exclude the bike types I do not want.  CL seems to only support a few of these keywords otherwise a “-mountain -BMX -kid -kids -women -womens -cruiser” search would work just fine.
The second issue is sizing.  Some people use the proper frame sizing in their listing, others give a random dimension or even state the height of the person they believe the bike would fit.  If you search for  “56”, results that list “56cm” would not come up.  Again, this is a seller issue, not a CL issue.
Third-parties have provided solutions, but CL blocks almost every single one.  Yahoo Pipes had amazing results for CL searches, but BAM blocked.  CL is not making money off these searches, but come on.  They are basically just taking their ball and going home.  They could easily partner up with a service like Pipes, having those search results also link to their for-fee services.  
I’m just frustrated and want a cheap bike.

Learn to love your car again

Is your car losing that new-car smell/feel/taste?  Are you simply bored with it?  Have you lost appreciation for the subtle nuances simply because you drive it every day?  I have a great way to learn to love your car again.  Drive something worse for at least a few hundred miles.  That’s all it takes!

While in Paris, we decided to rent a car and go bomb around the countryside.  We visited numerous chateaus, putted around quaint towns and circled about 60% of Paris.  Renting through Europcar, we were graced with a fairly-new (~6,000km on the odo) petrol Peugeot 206 5-door.   Some highlights:
  • 75 horsepower!
  • 0-60 in just under 15 seconds!
  • 44 MPG!
Filling up in Europe is deceptively expensive.   “Oh, hey, somewhat over a euro per liter, under four liters per gallon, not terrible!”   This is sort of like the “Roughly how many piano repairmen are in Chicago?” type problem; estimates here and there can compound how far off you are from the true total.   After driving about an hour and a half, the refueling bill was about $70 USD.  This is for a sub-compact!   I looked a less-efficient cars in awe for the rest of the trip.  I saw a GTO a day after my return to the States and thought to myself  “That car gets 16 MPG; my equivalent fuel bill would have been almost $200!”
When I slipped behind the wheel of my car, everything was right with the world.  The clutch wasn’t a hilariously-light affair with a three-inch engagement point.  The steering wasn’t so light that I felt as if I was steering with a soggy baguette ring.   The engine could accelerate!   Acceleration is banned in France.   I like accelerating.   I really did enjoy the shifter in the 206.  The 6-speed Getrag in my car is getting a bit notchy at only 50,000 miles.  
My car is nowhere close the the optimal configuration for automotive enjoyment.  It’s an open-diff, nose-heavy FWD with a funky rear suspension (Ford ControlBlade).  If I was coming home to a mid-engine RWD vehicle, my appreciation would be that much greater.

Mystery Meat UI in Blender

As a certified masochist, I’m trying to teach myself the basics of 3D modeling. Blender has quite the large userbase and it’s free so that seemed like a good place to start.

I’m trying to follow the various online tutorials and while comprehensive, they are occasionally tough to follow. Most are based on older versions of Blender so some of the functions are different. The biggest flaw is not in the tutorial specifically, but the explanations of some of the odd windowing concepts of Blender itself. For example, this tutorial has a great explanation of all the various settings you can tweak on the User Preferences panel. The issue? It doesn’t explain how to GET to this panel! You need to find out on a different page that you need to “click and drag the area between the 3D window and menu header”. What? They have basically put the preferences panel ABOVE the menu bar, hidden by default. You have to drag the menu bar down to find it.

This is impossible to find unless you read the documentation. This is silly:

Adobe Help, you’re on notice!

Adobe Help, especially for Flash CS3, is invaluable. I have learned Flash much faster due to the quality of examples and organization. Unfortunately, some of the help articles can be hundreds of pages and Adobe has decided not to hook up Page Up or Page Down. What? No, it’s not a case of the wrong window having focus. I can use the up and down arrows to move a bit. Even weirder, pgup, pgdn work on the Help table of contents!

Hey Apple, what’s wrong with Backspace?

Navigating in iTunes, you’d think they would use Backspace to navigate backwards. It’s used in almost every application that has a concept of “backwards”. What does iTunes use instead:

“Go to the previous page in the iTunes Store Control-Left bracket ( [ ) “

Yep, it’s so easy to ctrl-[ my way around!

Direct Manipulation

The iPhone didn’t bring touch screens, gestures or a great internet experience to phones. The iPhone brought the idea of “direct manipulation”.

Most mobile phone platforms are list and menu driven. Items are presented in a list and then you’re offered a menu (yet another list) of actions you can perform on these items. This is confusing because the action may be performed on any of the following:

  • The selected item
  • The list as a whole
  • The application itself
  • …act as navigation, leaving the menu or the list or the application
  • …or it might add a new item to the list

There is no real way of knowing what is going to happen when most labels are under 20 characters with little explanation. To put this in context, if you select a contact on one of the latest builds of S60, you get TWENTY-NINE different menu items. Some of these include “Print”. When’s the last time you printed from your phone? Hell, when was the first time you printed from a phone? Yeah.

When people ask me if I like my iPhone, I always say “What it does, it does very well.” Apple took a different approach. You won’t see long menus offering actions you may never need and you won’t even see some key applications like MMS and video recording. Instead, you have direct access to the content. Think of this in three applications:

  • Google Maps: You drag the map to scroll around, pinch and expand to zoom out and in, click on pushpins to start up driving directions. You also don’t get a huge menu of things to do for each item, just a small list of actions at the bottom of the detail pane.
  • Safari: Double tap an area to zoom into it, double tap the same area to zoom out, the URL bar hides once a page is loaded, only a small toolbar is exposed at the bottom
  • iPod: No file management, just different ways of looking at your media collection, use of CoverFlow to see all albums

You can do “less” in comparison to S60, but you can do just about anything you’d really want to do:

  • Call
  • Email
  • View their homepage
  • Open Maps to their address
  • Text Message
  • Edit details
  • Add to favorites

It’s more natural to click on an email address than to have to focus on a contact name, hit a softkey, scroll through a menu and then click “Email”.

Another reason why the interface feels so natural is the speed. Unless I’m doing something silly like running Safari with 5 tabs and trying to get directions at the same time, the interface is snappy. Every application is fast when running. The only slowdowns I ever see are switching applications, which is almost to be expected on a mobile phone.

Navigation is still not as smooth as I’d like. You have the Abort button (AKA Home) and most applications have “Back” buttons built into their upper tool bars. This doesn’t feel natural, so improvements can be made there. I have a few ideas, but nothing for public consumption yet.

Xbox 360 #1 RIP

It was a trooper, purchased on launch from Costco. Why yes, I did abuse the Costco return policy, how’d you know? Walk in with the original box, a broken 360 and come out with a $550 cash card. Glorious.

Altamont 24 Hours of LeMons 2008

The Altamont running of the 24 Hours of LeMons has come and gone for 2008.

As you might have heard, a horrific accident occurred on the first day of competition and we lost a racer. Court Summerfield was not a member of my team and I did not know him, but he will be missed. The racing community is always devastated, no matter the circumstances. I’d rather not write more about this and will leave you to click the Donate link on the home page and let this post suffice.


Another year, another car. Along the lines of the first Festiva, we picked up another one from the same dirt trackers. This was an ’88 Festiva using a carbed 1.6L from a 323. It supposedly had a bad coil but would work just fine after that! After the replacing first the coil, then the plugs and wires, then the cap and rotor and finally the distributor itself, we got the bugger to fire up. We had NO idea what else was in store for us though.

Thankfully, another Microsoft friend decided to join in on the mayhem. I’ve told him twenty times so far but I’m going to say it again. If it wasn’t for Dan, we would not have made it to the race. Without going into all the build details, which would take pages and bore most of you, here’s the list of everything we did:

Priority 1

  1. Fire extinguisher
  2. Refill transmission fluid
  3. Repaint car
  4. Trim/install front fenders, hammer out dents in rest of car
  5. Rebuild inner joint on driver side half-shaft
  6. Replace steering rack
  7. Wheel bolts + rear wheel spacers from Nat
  8. Alignment
  9. Troubleshoot radiator fan
  10. Check transmission fluid
  11. Lengthen/relocate fuel tank vent line
  12. Troubleshoot oil pressure light
  13. Patch oil pan gasket
  14. Bleed brakes
  15. Replace pass control Arm
  16. Gather spares
  17. weld/rivet panel over old fuel filler location
  18. Tighten shoulder straps
  19. Hose: Thermistat housing to intake manifold
  20. Relocate gas filler neck
  21. Cover for + batt terminal
  22. Wink mirror
  23. Floor panel
  24. Seat
  25. Harness
  26. Window net
  27. Battery tiedown
  28. Change oil
  29. Insp t-belt, water pump
  30. Mount new gauge cluster
  31. Exhaust (if too loud)
  32. Fix throttle return cable
  33. Reconnect radiator fan
  34. Tie down wiring
  35. Air filter / box
  36. Spark plug wire

Priority 2

  1. Vacuum crap out of car
  2. Re-center steering wheel
  3. Steering wheel
  4. Windshield
  5. Install vacuum caps
  6. Add choke cable
  7. Replace thermostat

Priority 3

  1. KYB struts
  2. Cut springs
  3. New Aspire rotors
  4. New Aspire front pads, rear shoes
  5. Used Aspire hubs/spindles, outer tie rod ends, calipers, brake hoses
  6. Replace radiator

There are other things that we didn’t capture, but just look at all of that! This was probably 50 hours of work and Dan did innumerable other tasks in between our meets. By this point, the car was purring like a kitten, was quite stable in turns, braked as well as we could expect and decently reliable. In addition to all of that, we cobbled together a bunch of spare parts, including front struts with the springs pre-mounted. We were not going to face the same issue that took us out last year!

The Cast

Let’s step back and outline the cast of characters:

  • Me, whom you should know.
  • Sanjeev, friend, coordinator extraordinaire and previous LeMons racer (PLR)
  • Dan, MSFTie that I’ve autocrossed with before, works in Jeev’s department, owner of a FIVE CAR GARAGE and more knowledge of mechanics than I thought possible
  • Jeff B, S2K owner, known in the PNW S2K circles
  • Jeff C, S2K, S4 and 911 owner
  • Richie, PLR
  • Nat, Festiva expert, PLR, the reason why we were able to race last year
  • Dale, experienced racer from Austin, PLR
  • Jack, AI superstud, PLR
  • Randy, experienced racer from Austin
  • Craig, good friend of Jeev’s
  • Becca, photographer and friend of Nat’s
  • Heather, friend of Richie’s

Before the Race

The cars were trailered down using a gutted 1974 Holiday Rambler towed behind a rented 1-ton truck. This greatly overshadows the open one car trailer towed behind Nat’s beat up truck last year. Nat, Becca, Richie and Heather made the tough trip this year and I heard it wasn’t the most enjoyable. Everyone but Jack made it to the track well in advance of necessary. We had tons of time to set up the pits, check on the cars and more. Jack’s luggage was delayed and I’m still not sure what ungodly hour he arrived on Saturday morning.

Friday night, we all went out for pizza and my god, did we all get along well. I had spent quite a bit of time with Dan, Jeev and the Jeffs fixing up the car but it was great to see the PLRs and the new faces. A couple pitchers of beer, some mostly fluff race preparation and a bit more drinking and we were all ready for the race. I spent quite a bit of time trying my hand a t-shirt iron-ons, using this cheeky design of my own creation:

I wanted to make shirts for everyone, but I couldn’t find enough iron-on transfers and then I the directions didn’t explain one crucial aspect of the tools, yadda yadda. I was only able to make five shirts, but we might get them printed up for real later.

The Race

The two race days were pretty much a blur. You get bullet points:

  • We finished 60th and 71st of 82 entrants.
  • The blue car made it to day two and then failed spectacularly! Dale caused most of the damage but Jack was in the car when oil just started pouring out. Turns out, the bearing cap blew a three inch hole in the block. No way to fix that easily!
  • The yellow car was having cooling issues for most of the first day. We replaced the radiator cap and fashioned an air director and had no problems the second day. We took two big hits, the first bending a strut and the second shearing an inner tie rod. Luckily, we had a hot swap strut with spring already mounted ready, so the first hit wasn’t so bad. The second hit required us to replace the steering rack and while we had a spare, it took about 45 minutes.
  • We were hit for a penalty this year. Jeff C took a shortcut and instead of spending 30 minutes in the pits, we spun the penalty wheel. He hit the Al Gore Award and thus had to don a tie-dye shirt and dig a hole to plant a tree, all while being pelted with tofu!

  • We’ve already got plans for next year and more people than we need. We are going to focus on reliability and a bit more grip.