April 2007 Archives
April 22, 2007

Autocross - become a better driver

Cars

This Saturday I went to my first autocross event ever. It was organized by the local BMW club Golden Gate Chapter, and drew a large number of participants (more than 118 drivers registered).

Autocross is a sport which emphasizes your driving technique, followed by your car's performance. You're the only car on a course setup by traffic cones, and you need to navigate it in the fastest possible time. The course can only be navigated a relatively slow speed, usually less that 40mph (60 km/h), and includes a lot of turns. Driving the course usually takes around a minute or so, so proper technique and car control are essential in getting good speeds.

Besides getting together with a lot of interesting people, you also indirectly learn how to react in a fast developing situation, including daily driving on the street or highway. I think this makes you a better driver, more conscious about what happens on the road around you. It does seem to make you less tolerant towards people driving slowly in the fast lane, keeping the traffic behind them :(

This particular event lasted from 8am until 6pm. It was a long and cold day at Marina Airport, but well worth the effort. A lot of fun an excitement watching people drive all sorts of cars, from heavily modified ones to legal street cars. I drove my BMW M3 convertible, and thanks to the coaching of three experienced people I managed to drop from 71.817 seconds in my first run, to 65.943 seconds in the last one. A pretty decent improvement, considering this was my first autocross event ever. I also made it in the top 10 of my car's category - yeah, I was number 10 on the list, but hey, I was still in top 10 :) Update: The results are here.

Lots of fun and excitement, I'm looking forward to future events.

Update (June 16, 2007): Some of the pictures I took at the April autocross were published in die flüsternde Bombe, the monthly newsletter published by BMW Car Club of America, the Golden Gate Chapter. Check them out!

Posted by ovidiu at 05:02 PM | Comments (0) |
April 19, 2007

Nokia 6131 review

Cool gadgets

I posted this on Amazon, but few days ago they somehow managed to delete all the reviews for the phone (they seem to be back now). To prevent against such things, I'm reposting it here. Click below for the review.

This is a great everyday use phone. It doesn't have all the bells and whistles of the newer Nokia phones, like integrated WiFi (with VoIP integration) and GPS, but it does very well what is designed to do. I use this phone with T-Mobile with their unlimited Internet plan (using EDGE).

Pros:

The build quality and materials chosen are top notch. The plastic cover doesn't look and feel cheap, like many other (some expensive) phones out there. I like the fine leathery touch of the battery cover, which provides a good grip of the phone in the hand.

The internal screen is large, with plenty of pixels and colors. Most of the apps look very well. With Google Maps for example it's very easy to read and discern the details.

The phone' sound quality is superb. The earpiece is very clear, and the microphone and voice processing hardware inside the phone makes the other side hear you clearly. The loudspeaker is fairly good too, although I'm not using it very often.

The Bluetooth software stack is perfectly compatible. My car's Bluetooth implementation is very picky and works only a handful of selected phones. The Nokia 6131 phone is not listed as a compatible phone for BMW M3, but it works just fine with it, while the fancier and more expensive Nokia N80ie phone does not.

The included radio is pretty cool when you're bored, although it requires the included proprietary headset to work (it uses it as antena).

Google Maps and GMail work excellent on this phone. They don't come with the device, but they're just a download away from Google.

The phone's camera does a fairly decent job with well lit shots. It also takes videos, which is pretty cool for a phone. Just don't expect the camera to replace your point and shoot or DSLR.

The ability to use MP3s as regular ring tones is a huge bonus. No more buying ridiculously expensive ring tones from your phone company, when you already own the music. Just take the song you want, edit out a 30 second portion of it that is suitable as a ring tone, convert it to MP3 and upload it on your phone. You could assign different ring tones to different people, so you can recognize who's calling you.

The phone now has MacOS X compatibility, with the latest 10.4.9 release. It synchronizes your address book over Bluetooth without any problems, including the people's pictures. When somebody calls you, his/her picture appears on the external display. The picture is scaled up however, making it look a bit ugly. I guess Apple needs to allow for higher resolution pictures to be set in AddressBook.

Cons:

As many other Nokia phones, the phone cannot use a regular headset, it only works with the proprietary Nokia headset. This is understandable, as the headset is stereo, and doubles as an antenna. It would be nice however to have an extra plug for regular headsets.

The package does not include a MicroSD card. Not too bad, they are quite cheap, but you should be aware of this if you decide to buy the phone.

The camera shutter button is on a side, and it's very easy to press it accidentally while the phone is in your pocket.

Setting up T-mobile Internet on the phone could be a pain. You could find instructions online by googling a bit, but it's not the same smooth "just works" experience as on the N80ie.

---

Overall, I think this a great phone for everyday use. It is replacing an aging Motorola phone, and so far it's been a refreshing change. I highly recommend this phone.

Posted by ovidiu at 08:19 PM | Comments (0) |
April 13, 2007

Inside Google: interview with Eric Schmidt

Google

An insightful and rare interview with Eric Schmidt about the inner workings of Google (via Amit.)

From the article:

I've always said that if the company were founded today on an empty lot, we would build the buildings brick by brick. We can't imagine someone else building our buildings, we'd have to build it ourselves. This is a build-it-yourself culture. The good news is there's no free land, and so we have to rent the buildings, rather than build them. But the culture is around building things. In that sense, by the way, it's similar to some of the companies (Intel, Dell, Sony) that I mentioned earlier.

[...] And there were a number of times when I frankly had no idea what to do. But the solutions didn't come as a result of me sitting in a room and inventing it. I don't think Larry and Sergey sat in a room by themselves either. It was an iteration that involved the interactions of five or ten people over a period of time. And the characteristic of such group decisions done right is enormous buy-in.

The characteristics of most companies, in my observation, is that you don't have a lot of buy-in. The decisions are top down or they're driven from some external thing. People are like, “Oh, screw that, they don't really buy in.” But a decision-making process that is a sum of its iterative process, which is how Google works, generates commitment and passion that makes my job very easy.

Posted by ovidiu at 10:15 PM | Comments (0) |
April 08, 2007

Apple's Aperture vs Adobe Lightroom

Photo

To manage my ever expanding collection of pictures, about 4 months ago I bought Apple's Aperture 1.5. At that time I compared it with Adobe's Lightroom, which was still in beta. Aperture felt a lot more solid with respect to features, especially quick adjustments and book printing options. Lightroom seemed very promising, very fast but kind of short of editing features. In the end, I bought Aperture in the hope the speed will not be an issue on my high end MacPro 3GHz four-core system with 4GB of RAM.

Well, I soon grew disappointed. My photo gallery has about 30,000 shots in it. About 25% of these are scans of slide film, TIFF files whose sizes vary between 32MB and 132MB. About 60% are RAW files from Canon 20D and Canon 5D, with sizes between 7MB and 14Mb. The rest are JPEGs from my wife's and daughter's digital cameras. The files are sorted by year and location in hierarchical directories. The pictures occupy some 360Gb of my hard drive.

Overall Aperture is pretty good in speedy editing features. You have pretty much all the options you're going to use right there in the application. No need to start an external application to change exposure, crop and even tilt the image.

The first problem I encountered with Aperture was that there is no easy way to have it import all the pictures at once. Aperture uses the notion of projects, and each of them is limited to 10,000 pictures. So I had to make each year a project, which in itself is a pain. Then each time I'd add a new directory in my hierarchical directory structure, I would need to remember and import that directory in the right project in Aperture.

But the biggest problem I found was only after I started assigning keywords to pictures. The whole idea of this is to be able to effectively search through your pictures to find what you're interested in. However Aperture becomes increasingly slow as you keep adding keywords and pictures to your projects. At the current moment, doing any search will totally bog down my computer to the point it becomes unusable. How the heck did the Apple engineers implement this feature? Do they open each file to look at its keywords? It certainly looks like this is the case, I can't believe how stupid this solution is.

I was so disgusted by this that I went back to Adobe Lightroom, now a full 1.0 release. The application is still speedy and it seems to be doing the right thing. There are some features missing from Lightroom, that are in Aperture, most notable the picture tilt feature, and the ability to create photo albums and send them to be printed to Shutterfly or some other similar service. Apart for this, the application is much speedier and less CPU and disk intensive than Aperture. Update: I take it back, Lightroom does provide tilting, it's right there in Develop, under the crop feature. Not very well advertised.

This said, I can't wait for future updates of Lightroom and the newly announced Photoshop for MacOS X for Intel.

Posted by ovidiu at 11:18 PM | Comments (1) |
April 05, 2007

Race cars

Cars

Last week, at Skip Barber in Monterey, California.

Posted by ovidiu at 09:44 PM | Comments (0) |
 
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