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.

Auto Shows 2008

It’s auto show season and I’m already lusting after a few of new concepts:

The new Saab interior is very Saabesque but gorgeous. This just goes to show how numerous, minor, incremental tweaks can improve a design from acceptable to breath-taking.

The press pictures are contrast-deprived and reduce the visual punch the CTS-V should have, but again, the interior! I would gleefully slip into the luxurious folds of those seats, caressed firmly yet gently as I forced my will upon the highway with 550 HP.

Chugging along in traffic, but in control

I think I’ve figured out the perfect automotive combination for performance-minded people in Seattle. Many of us spend upwards of 1.5 hours every day driving between Seattle and the Eastside, usually in stop-and-go traffic. The side streets of Seattle experience congestion as well and our hills are second only to San Francisco. Sounds like a terrible place to own a manual, eh? It is, to be honest. I’ve got 39k miles on it now and I’ll be damned if my clutch makes it past 50k. You know those people that get 300k miles on a single clutch? Their daily commute takes them from Bumblenowhere, Ohio to Flatsville, Kansas. Clutch longevity isn’t about miles, it’s about clutch engagements and how rough the engagements are. I digress.

Though it is not available in many vehicles as of yet, the DualTronic transmission from Borg-Warner seems to offer the performance benefits of a manual with the ease of an automatic. The DualTronic, known to many as the DSG in various WV Group products, is a computer-controlled, dual-clutch transmission. Since it uses clutches instead of torque converters, you get none of the parasitic loss of an automatic transmission. The two clutches can independently engage different gears, the algorithm of which can be changed on the fly. If you’re on a Sunday drive, gently accelerating while in third gear, fourth gear will be pre-selected. Well below red line, the first clutch will disengage and the second one will smoothly grab onto fourth gear. Looking for performance? The system can be put into full manual mode. The algorithms can be changed such that if a potential downshift situation is detected (sudden reduction of the throttle with concurrent application of brakes, for example), the second clutch could pre-select a lower gear instead and rapidly snap to it as decelleration is detected (8 milliseconds is the publicized shift time). Good compromise, eh?

Even better than just having the option of throwing your DualTronic into automatic mode would be the inclusion of Bosch’s Adaptive Cruise Control. Available on various luxury makes such as BMW and MB, the latest version is capable of full stop-and-go control. I’d absolutely adore being set a maximum cruise speed of 65 MPH and then let the car get me across 520. I’d definitely be attentive and not place full trust in the technology, but this would allow me to relax my left foot and frustration after a hard day of work.

I bet that the 2009 BMW M3 will be the first vehicle available with this combination of technologies. BMW have announced they will offer a DSG-style transmission at some time for the M3 and sources say it is coming in the spring of 2008. BMW already offers adaptive cruise control as an option so they may incorporate the latest stop-and-go system by then as well. It’ll be years before this combination is available at a reasonable price.

Pictures are back up!

It only took a few months of calendar time and about twenty hours of actual time, but my photo gallery is finally available at! It has been updated with numerous pictures from this year, as well.

Home Theater Plans

What I have now:

  • Audio/Video
    • Onkyo TX-SR504 7.1 110W A/V Receiver
    • Onkyo Front / Centers : Dual 5″ woofers and 1″ tweeter
    • Onkyo Surrounds: 3.1″ woofer, 0.75″ tweeter
    • Onkyo Subwoofer: 230W 10″ woofer
    • Westinghouse 37″ 1080p LCD
    • Xbox 360 Premium (no HDMI)
    • Composite-only set-top box
  • Crappy speaker wires from the Onkyo HTIB
  • Wooden speaker stands for fronts and surrounds

During the move to the condo, all of my surround speaker stands broke so I’m currently running 2.1 audio. Since I finally own a place, I figured I can finally do something decent with the surround speakers. Since I’m in a condo, I can’t run the speaker wires completely hidden in the wall (no access to ceiling or floor and no desire to rip open the wall at every stud!). I looked into a few different ideas for hiding the wires:

  1. Under the baseboard
  2. Under the carpet
  3. Using flat wire and painting over it
  4. Run cable raceway along either the baseboard or crown molding

The only solution that seemed to work would be to use raceway so I picked up a few hundred feet of corner raceway from CableOrganizer. The room with the home theater has a bay window, a few hallways, et cetera so the only way to run the cable is as such:

  1. From the receiver down to the baseboard
  2. Over to the bay window wall
  3. Up the wall to the ceiling
  4. Across to the wall parallel to the TV
  5. Along that wall to the wall parallel to the bay window
  6. Part way along that final wall

The raceway was just delivered last night and I’m quite impressed. It’s attractive, well-sized, durable and not too heavy. Installation shouldn’t be a problem at all. Based on this fairly annoying Dolby site and the fact that I have to mount the right surround at a certain spot, I’ve found what I would consider the optimal positioning for the four surrounds. I’m going to get some cheap wall mounts that offer some adjustability.

Here is where I’m not quite so sure as to my plan. I know the speaker wires will be run along the ceiling and then will have to drop a few feet to the speakers. I could try to make it look extremely clean by running the wires behind the wall for that short stretch but that would require putting EIGHT holes in the wall. I could make very small holes; just enough to fish the wires. I could install keyhole plates but if I’m running the cables to the exact location of the speakers, why bother? I could also just run more cable raceway down the wall. I think I’m just going to run the wires bare for now while I contemplate these options.

I am going to toss the included speaker wire, get some bulk wire and do this right. I’m pricing wire out from Blue Jeans Cable, Parts Express and Monoprice; looks like PE is winning. I’ll run bare wire at the speaker and use banana plugs for the receiver side. Using those plugs will alleviate the headache of trying to do side-entry screw posts for 18 connections of 12 gauge wire! Just getting these speakers finally mounted and using some quality wire should help immensely.

But what about after that? The TV is currently sitting on an ugly IKEA TV bench, the 360 is hiding behind that, the cable box on the other side and the receiver is the only thing in the bench. Unfortunately, the only place for the center channel is under the bench! Highly suboptimal. My desire would be to wall-mount the TV, wall-mount the center channel just beneath the TV and hide all the cables. Hiding the power for the TV would require something like a PowerBridge and right now, the TV itself is doing all the video switching. It has to deal with the 360, cable box and the PC I have just off to the side. Running all of those cables up the wall sounds terrible! The receiver I have now can do 3x component and 3x composite in and does composite out. That would cover everything but the VGA (or DVI) in from the computer, which I can deal with for now.

An HDMI-switching receiver would be a great investment as I could just have the single HDMI cable run up to the TV. I could even use a DVI-HDMI cable to connect the computer to the receiver. I’d also replace the TV bench with an open component rack, for better cooling. The receiver and 360 both get extremely hot! Since I would have space on the rack, I’d probably get either a HD-DVD or Blu-Ray player to enjoy the setup. At that point, I might try to upgrade the speakers but they seem fine to me. I’m not an audiophile by any means.

Ah dreams, oh for the want of time and money to make them true.

Kitteh! Snorgle snorgle

Clare and I just found the cutest cat in the whole world and he’s turning out to be quite the lover!

We had been scouring for the last few weeks, toying with the idea of getting a cat. I’m pretty much settled in to the condo, Clare is staying with me every night and we both wanted a pet. She’s more of a dog lover but my little condo just couldn’t support a dog lifestyle. We’ve sent each other tens of links but none of them seemed like “the one”. Finally, Clare sent a link early one morning titled “HHHOOOOOOONNNEEEYYYYYYY!!!” and a wave of realization hit, here was the one!

I had a few criteria in mind when picking out a new cat. These criteria were not of the “must have” variety, but more of the “must not be” variety:

  • Cannot be a kitten. Everyone wants a kitten. Kittens only temporarily end up in shelters; they get snatched up immediately.
  • As a corollary: cannot be fairly young. No one wants an older cat, so the older, the better I would feel about adopting.
  • Cannot be in perfect shape. A healthy, pretty kitty will be adopted over time. There is little chance a healthy, well-behaved cat would have issues being placed in a wonderful home.

The cat that Clare linked to was six years old, had a teratoma removed from his neck and needed a tooth removed. On the other hand, you could tell he was so sweet and once healed up, would be beautiful! He’s a Siamese mix: mostly a domestic short-hair body but with blue-points and the cutest blue cross eyes! We ran through a few name ideas but since he’s mostly a light cream color with blue points, I came up with the name Roquefort, or Ro for short. Here he is:

Oh god how did this get here I’m not good with Dells

I’m a bad dork. For the first time since my parents bought a Tandy 1000 and then some Acer with a Pentium 60, I’ve purchased a computer instead of building my own from parts. I’ve been running my last homebuilt computer for over five years now and loading a simple video now takes five steps:

1) Shutdown all other programs
2) Fire up Task Manager
3) Kill any rogue process that is taking up more than 10% of the CPU (I’m looking at you, trustedinstaller.exe! Hey, svchost, pipe down!)
4) Fire up the video and pause it after it thrashes for 20 seconds like a fish outta water.
5) Promote the wmplayer.exe priority to High, but NOT real-time. High allows the player to suck up enough resources to play a video properly, real-time seems to override the scheduler causing… problems.

After watching the first four seasons of The Sopranos in this fashion, I decided enough was enough and started trolling for deals on new computers. After realizing that buying a pre-made system was cheaper than assembling one, I focused on Dell deals. Finally, I picked up this system for only $520:

  • Core 2 Duo E6550 (2.33 GHz)
  • 1 GB RAM
  • 80 GB SATA drive
  • 20″ LCD

That processor stuffed in a mini-tower with those other components sorta seems like stuffing an AMG 6.2L V8 into a Festiva (…if only engines were free, I’d have a great LeMons car there) but my old computer has a DVD burner and I’ll upgrade the new computer over time. That processor retails for $200 on its own, same with the monitor!

I barely booted the computer before reformatting the drive and installing a fresh copy of Vista Ultimate. So far, I’m happy with the box and the 2 GB of RAM I have coming my way will only improve the situation.

Last night, Kendra and Brendan invited me out to Bleu to meet a coworker, Aric and his wife, Cherie. He’s a well-read, activity-focused editor for Amazon, she has rapier-sharp wit and a knack with words to the point where she’s a highly-proclaimed author. She has a large following and I’m assuming he does as well, considering how engrossing his blogs are. It felt good just to be in their presence.