Archive for May, 2006

May 30 2006

Fog City Diner

Published by under Food

On the Embarcadero at Battery St.

A high end diner in a classic or ‘railcar’ format. Outdoor seating on Battery St. We only had a big snack or a light meal with three small dishes: Caesar salad, potato wedges, and mac & cheese. All were good but not a little pricey. Caesar salad was done well, but relatively small.

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May 28 2006

Digital Photos Forever?

Published by under General

We have a need to scan some photo and the potential to scan 40+ years of family photos. First we’ll need to acquire a photo scanner which fortunately looks easy and not too expensive. Years ago we bought a (Microtek I think) flat bed scanner that was large and fairly expensive. Like most things computer scanners are now better, smaller and cheaper.

What is troubling me most is what photo database program to use. If we do scan all the old photos, they should be annotated and the people and place identified. Maybe dated as well. Where do we keep all that information? The obvious choice is iPhoto since we are using Mac’s but then we and our heirs are committed to always using Macs; assuming Apple and iPhoto continue to exist. A good open source photo database that runs on Macs and other platforms would be a potentially better basis for a long term solution. A kludgy solution would be text files of annotations, but then access is poor and the information could get detached from the photos. Hmm

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May 25 2006

Synners

Published by under Books

by Pat Cadigan

A chance stop at the local library branch led me to this book. I dropped off Snow Crash and decided to take a quick look at what SciFi books they had. While looking for that section of the library, I decided to see what they had by David Brin. Nothing by Brin, but Synners was showing in a nearby gap on the shelf. I read the cover and decided to give it a try since it was in the same cyberpunk vein as Snow Crash.

Synners is quite different from Snow Crash. Both had the same sort of post apocalyptic cyberpunk trappings filled with computers, young hackers and networks, but the story lines and styles were very different. Snow Crash is a broad, almost comic book like adventure of good versus evil written on a grand scale with a lot of ‘action’. Synners is more of a personal story of a few not always coordinated group of people who are faced with a man made but technology driven disaster. (Of course, the disaster is also facilitated by overly ambitious people in an evil corporation.) Synners moves on into some far out human/machine interfaces (i.e. direct connections from brain to network!) and ends up with an almost psychedelic battle between human and non-human intelligences ‘inside’ a network.

In Snow Crash, the humans remain clearly in control of the exotic technologies. In Synners, they don’t. Snow Crash involves a widely accessed virtual reality that provides an alternative social environment in which people can interact, exchange information, do business, even fight a bit (no pun there). In Synners, virtual reality is a mostly personal environment in which people can immerse themselves to have adventures, create movies or video for fun or profit. The Virtual realities are like super realistic video games where body suits and special rooms create realistic sensory experiences. But these are always isolated rather than a social environments.

Both books were interesting and, incidentally, provide upbeat endings. Synners is farther out on the credibility/imagination scale and is more difficult to read due to more confusion on location of action and participants. More ambiguous.

PS. Synners refers to ‘synthesizers’ who create rather than to moral sinners.

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May 18 2006

Snow Crash

Published by under Books

by Neil Stephenson

Last weekend, I read Snow Crash which I thought I’d read once before but after a few short chapters, I decided that I hadn’t. This book was written in 1990 or 91 and describes a not too distant, post trauma, chaotic world. Countries and governments are little and relatively unimportant organizations, franchises, gangs, ‘burbclaves’, the Mafia et. al. are at least as powerful. The hero is a hacker and the heroine as super capable skateboard messenger. The plot line gets quite bizarre and is mostly entertaining if unbelievable. Running through the story is Stephenson’s habit of interjection mostly true(?) lectures on various topics which flow off the plot; in this case the nature of language, Sumerian culture, and computers.

A main strand is how the “metaverse”, a virtual world, plays a major role in how real society functions. The metaverse’s capabilities much exceed those of current virtual reality sites, such as the game of ‘second life’ now popular on the internet, but the similarities are beginning to be striking. In both, real people buy virtual real estate build what you want, have adverts, provide entertainment, etc. Differences of course (e.g. the metaverses cool ‘heads up’ display glasses and representations) but the core idea is pretty near identical!

The 80’s show up strongly in a large representation of ‘Nipponese’ business men and organizations as players in the chaotic, post state world. Businesses, franchisers, gangs and cliches dominate. States are either franchises or possibly the government of a subdivision. Skateboarder and ‘freelance’ hackers are cool dudes running around in the creases of society.

In hindsight, a few oddities, missed technology evolutions, are apparent as amidst all the computer mediated reality and super smart devices, a “stealth helicopter” uses ‘videotape’ to spy on and record the action. That’s pretty retro.

An entertaining story that I read quickly. Plot and action soon reaches the comic book level of believability, but fun.

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May 08 2006

Zagura

Published by under Food

A new ‘Modern Moroccan’ restaurant on Guerrero St. just south of 22nd. Modern is about equal to influenced by california style cuisine. We had a tasty meal: I had an eggplant ‘duet’ salad and grilled salmon on a couscous patty with a few lightly grilled vegetables. B had a glazed carrot salad and lamb on a couscous base with vegetables. Both good. Entries are $15 to $19. Worth a try. Likely will return again.

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May 08 2006

Peter Rabbit never told me

Published by under General,retro

Interesting bit of trivia I heard in a podcast yesterday was that Beatrix Potter, the author and illustrator of Peter Rabbit, was the first person to discover that lichen are a symbiotic confluence of an algae and a fungus. She discovered it, drew some illustrations and published, but ‘nobody’ paid attention since she was a woman. Eventually, she did get credit after it was subsequently discovered again by a man. Old news, but new to me.

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May 08 2006

China Mountain Zhang

Published by under Books

by Maureen McHugh

I want to like this book, but can’t really recommend it. A nice easy to read story set in second half of the 21st century. A future in which Chinese Communist ideology triumphs, and after a revolution and subsequent travail, the US is part of a socialist world dominated by China and by Chinese people. The main character Zhang is a gay American Born Chinese (ABC) who overcomes some obstacles and makes it as an engineer with a degree from a Chinese University. There are several other strands that cross Zhang’s path but don’t add much to the narrative.

The main scifi component is related to man/machine interaction and is best exemplified by the ‘kite riders’ who provide a risky bit of entertainment that can be partly experience by watchers who ‘jack in’ to them while they race. In general, people are allowed to be integrated into machine to influence them but the reverse is generally illegal since it can be very addictive. Naturally, such interactions exist but are mainly part of an outlaw culture. Overall, I didn’t think the man/machine (cyborg) aspect was well elaborated. Nor was the Chinese dominance well explored.

So it was okay, but ‘no cigar’.

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May 04 2006

Into the Storm

Published by under Books

by Tom Clancy

Subtitled “A Study in Command” which is appropriate as this is not ‘a Tom Clancy novel’. Rather, it is the story of a General’s (Fred Frank’s) view of the U.S. Army with a focus on his command of the VII Corp in the first Iraq war. So, it is not a gripper and has taken me about five months to finish. Easy for me to put down and do or read something else. That said, it is not uninteresting and contains a lot of stories and details about how the Army operates and what its like to see a battle unfolding from a commander’s point of view. No stories of blood, guts and hand to hand fighting here.

This is the first military history that I’ve read so I can’t compare it to others. It is to a large part a military biography tracing General Franks from Vietnam to retirement. Naturally, there is an undercurrent of self justification concerning some apparent criticism by some people of his conduct of operations in Iraq but mainly it is the story of the Army in battle and how this commander thought about it and worked at it. Surrounding this core is the story of how the Army’s organization, strategy, and tactics evolved from Vietnam through the end of the cold war and now into the mess we are currently in.

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May 03 2006

Ham Radio – 2

Published by under retro

A few posts ago when writing about “Q Codes”, I mentioned that I got a ham radio license. I got the license because of the potential usefulness of a ham radio capability in a disaster; most likely an earthquake.

Since I got the license, I’ve spent a few hours trying to figure out what I want to do with the license and it turns out that ham radio is not easy to penetrate. Lots of shortcut jargon to decipher, a wide range of technical information and choices, and now I see that participants in this hobby are in the midst of a verbal ‘civil war’.

Apparently, the licensing rules were changed in the early 90’s in a manner that made it easier to get the initial license; no Morse Code requirement and just pass a simple multiple choice test which is how I got my license. This makes one a “Technician” (or an NCT for ‘non code technician’). That’s what I am. It seems that a lot of the hard core old timers think NCT’s are the scum of the air waves and let them know it. This naturally turns off the new technicians who now have many other ways to communicate over long distances (cell phones, internet chat) and other more interesting technical attractions (internet, programming, video games). Hence they seem to disappear with some regularity. The war is over ‘what to do’ with ham radio; make it accessible? make it broadly interesting, or make it into a true museum of retro-technology?

I still haven’t decided what if anything I’m going to do. Will probably investigate more and then get an entry level 2m transceiver for use in emergencies. See how that goes.

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