hrj: (doll)
This will be the last of my year-end summary posts. Falling on Friday, as it does, I thought I'd sum up all the reviews I've posted in 2015.

Scheduling one day a week to do reviews has worked out fairly well - at least as long as I have a backlog of the lesbian movie reviews to fill in around the new material. This isn't a list of absolutely everything I read or watched this year. There were some book re-reads that I didn't blog, and I'm very irregular in reviewing short fiction. I also skipped a few new movies if they didn't grab me enough (or, in the case of the new Star Wars movie, because everyone's freaking out about spoilers, so I just did my discussion in some carefully labeled online discussion spaces). You could also count my discussion of podcasts and web magazines as reviews of a sort, but I haven't included them here. I've organized things by type of media and then somewhat thematically in the larger categories.

Books: Non-fiction
I don't generally do full reviews of non-fiction (other than the entire Lesbian Historic Motif Project being extensive reviews).

Margaret of Parma: A Life by Charlie R. Steen

Books: Fantasy
Five of these thirteen are 2015 publications, all are by female authors, most are fantasy as opposed to science fiction (only the Itäranta falls more in SF). Only two are by non-caucasian writers (although they're both in the 2015 publications, making 40% for that category).

Random by Alma Alexander
Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear
Passion Play by Beth Bernobich
Queen's Hunt by Beth Bernobich
The Ghost Dragon's Daughter by Beth Bernobich novelette?
Penric's Demon by Lois McMaster Bujold novella
The Blazing World by Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle audio
The Golden City by J. Kathleen Cheney
Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho
The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard
Cold Magic by Kate Elliott
Memory of Water by Emmi Itäranta
The Privilege of the Sword by Ellen Kushner also my pre-review

Books: Lesbian
Most of these are historical romance, with the Douglas being the only fantasy entry. (Although I could have double-entered Karen Memory here for lesbian fantasy.) Believe me, I would love to read more books in the intersection between fantasy and lesbian fiction, but I'm also very wary of much of what's being published in that intersection. Part of it is having some very specific tastes and standards, but part of it is a touch of paranoia around reviewing books too close to my own work. The simple fact is that I know that a lot of them aren't going to be up to my standards, but it's very easy for some people (especially in the close-knit and somewhat high-strung field of lesbian literature) to see a critical review by a fellow author as being a malicious attempt to "take down the competition". It isn't a competition. And yet I've seen enough things out there on the web to be extremely cautious about reading and reviewing lesbian fantasy unless I know right off the top that I'm going to love it, or I know that the author and the author's dedicated fans have a professional attitude. I suppose a could make an exception to my "review everything" rule, but that leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I don't want people to think that I'm deliberately avoiding books in this category because of this issue. There's also that I would very much want to love, love, love any lesbian fantasy novel I read, and it would annoy me more than usual if I found it simply ok. And of the five entries here (counting the three Bassett works as a single item), two made me wince, one was "eh, ok", one was "promising", and one was "I liked this!"

Lily in Bloom, My Lady's Service & A Sweet Revenge by Marie-Elise Bassett novelettes
Rebeccah and the Highwayman by Barbara Davies
Lancelot : Her Story - by Carol Anne Douglas
Petticoats and Promises, by Penelope Friday
Rughum and Najda by Samar Habib

Books: Other
I don't read much fiction that doesn't fall in either fantasy or lesbian fiction, but enough people had made comparisons of my books to Milan's historic romances that I decided to check one out. The Bechdel falls in here because it isn't a novel (or even really fiction).

The Duchess War - Courtney Milan
Are You My Mother: A Comic Drama by Alison Bechdel

Live Performance
In addition to my usual Cal Shakes run (although I missed reviewing Twelfth Night for some reason), I took in three Broadway shows during two New York trips, and a local small theater production. Interestingly, that's more shows than the first-run movies that I reviewed (although possibly not more than I saw).

Cal Shakes: King Lear
Cal Shakes: The Mystery of Irma Vep: A Penny Dreadful
Cal Shakes: Life is a Dream
Broadway: Hand to God
Broadway: Fun Home
Broadway: Hamilton - An American Musical
Or by Liz Duffy Adams (Anton's Well Theater Company)

Historic Cookery (i.e., recipes I tried out)
Some years, the historic cookery section is much larger.

Alpennian Almond Cakes

Movies: Lesbian movie reviews
I revived (and reprised) a series of short reviews of lesbian movies in order to have a back-log of review material to fill in when nothing else offered. I still have a lot of items on video I could include here, but I'd need to actually watch them again!

Bar Girls
Carol (also under first run)
Cynara: Poetry in Motion
If These Walls Could Talk
The Incredibly True Adventures of Two Girls in Love
Kissing Jessica Stein
Mädchen in Uniform (1931, German)
The Midwife's Tale
Tipping the Velvet
When Night is Falling

Movies: first run
Other movies that I remember seeing, but clearly didn't review include the final Hunger Games movie and the new Star Wars movie. ETA: OMG and how could I forget Mad Max: Fury Road? Since I'm likely to use this post as a memory prompt for my Hugo nominations, I may keep adding to it if I remember more.

Into the Woods
Jupiter Ascending
The Martian
Mr. Holmes

Products and Services
Not so much a review as an explanation why I won't be trying and reviewing the product at the current time.

Apple Watch
hrj: (doll)
I confess that despite some necessary rules about acquiring new toys ("you must demonstrate that you'd really play with it once you have it"), in the end I always seem to be a sucker for each new Apple thingie. I love my iPhone. I held out on the iPad until I'd come up with a list of five things that I could/would do with it that I couldn't do with any other appliance. Not so much with the "get the complete set of sizes" thing -- I can't imagine what I'd want a mini-iPad for that I couldn't do better with either the full size or the phone. And of course my Mac laptop IS my brain. (Though I'm probably getting due to upgrade. Just need to do a complete analysis of how the newest OS will fuck over my current favorite programs first.)

But I cannot see myself buying an Apple Watch.

I was in Walnut Creek last Saturday for a haircut (this was just at the leading edge of when my current lung crud was raising its head so I still had brain power) and decided to swing by the Apple Store to check things out. Yes, I know the Apple Watch has been on the market for quite some time now, but there's no rush, right? I had only the vaguest notion of what the functionality of the thing was -- basically a sort of micro-iPhone, right? But it talks to your iPhone so it can delivery a more convenient interface without needing the internal capacity? OK, as far as it goes that was the right impression. But I hadn't quite realized just how limited the functionality was.

So as far as I can tell, you've got basically 20 functions. A quarter of them are essentially clock functions of some sort. Another quarter are informational interfaces equivalent to the "swipe down info" on the phone screen (calendar, weather, various notifications). Another quarter are basically "remote control" options for programs on other devices (camera, music, passbook).

The only really specialized functionality are the "fitbit-type" activity monitoring functions. But even more than a fitbit(tm) device, it must be worn on the wrist to function (due to body sensors) and therefore may be selective in what types of activities it detects. (If it's using an accelerometer, then vigorous activity that involves little hand motion may be under-reported.) And while it's "water resistant", wearing it while paddling still sounds counter-indicated. So all the issues I had with an actual fitbit still hold.

That brings us around to the final two factors.

Back when I got my first cell phone, I stopped wearing watches and never looked back. The tan on my left wrist has been seamless for quite some time now. I like not having anything on my wrist. Everything I ever wore a watch for now happens on my phone far more conveniently. One of the reasons I disliked the fitbit (and one of the reasons I took to wearing it on my ankle) was that annoying presence. If there were an Apple Watch that you could wear as a pendant, as a pocket watch, as a brooch, or as any of these interchangeably, then I might consider it. But it needs that body contact for the fitness functions. And that puts me off.

And then there's price. Let's just say that after taking phone plan discounts into effect, I'd end up spending more for an Apple Watch than I did for my full-function phone. More than I did for my iPad. I'm not saying that I judge on a price-per-gram basis, but I do judge on a price-per-function basis. And I just can't see that there's any way it would be delivering hundreds of dollars worth of function-value to me.

So, Apple? I'm happy that you're exploring new ways to entertain the gadget-geeks (in which category I do, indeed, fall) but you've seriously missed the target with this one as far as I'm concerned. I'll pass.
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Interestingly, according to the Fitbit, I take more steps with my left leg than with my right. Today I went back to wearing the device on my ankle, but I rigged it up to tie with a ribbon so I could wear it on my (preferred) left ankle. Same basic routine as the first two days of wearing it, but at the point when I got home (at which point the day's activities diverged) it had recorded 1000 steps more than it did at that point the day I wore it on the right ankle. Not sure what to think about that.
hrj: (doll)
So as predicted, wearing the Fitbit on my wrist (as intended) rather than the ankle resulted in a noticeably lower step-log for the exact same activities. I can't do an exact comparison because I didn't track exact intermediate numbers during the day, But by the time I got home, the step-count was approximately 2000 lower than yesterday's. (Approx. 10,000 yesterday, at that point, approx. 8,000 today.) Now my overall day's total ended up higher today because yesterday when I got home and did yard work, I was running the weed-whacker in the back yard with involved a lot of planting my feet and moving the arms back and forth (less foot movement) whereas today I was raking up the cut grass/weeds which involved a lot of hand movement (also more foot movement but remember I have the Fitbit on the wrist this time). And I also went out to see a movie after that, so more walking. But as predicted, the specific vigorous activities that I do get under-counted based on wrist movement. So for maximal tracking, I should wear it on the ankle during the day but on the wrist when I get home (or for dragonboat practice!).This suits me since I'm disinclined to view the device as a desirable fashion statement. But I'll probably come up with some alternate method of fastening it on my ankle because even the loosest setting on my skinnier ankle is a little tight.

At any rate, an amusing gadget. It will make the corporate fitness program happy. And it's an easy way to get a relative read on my day-to-day activity. I'd be happier if it gave more accurate metrics. Note that the default step-goal is 10,000 per day and I manage that only by dint of putting in at least 80 minutes of vigorous exercise.
hrj: (doll)
It's probably premature to do a review of a product I only started using today, but this will probably be added to.

I'd been looking vaguely at various "fitness tracker" devices that sync to your smartphone but I hadn't yet found a sales person who actually knew the mechanics of how the things worked and I was having a hard time translating the somewhat grandiose claims ("tracks how many calories you burn", "analyzes your sleep patterns") with the lack of any obvious mechanism for true biometrics (e.g., heart rate, brainwaves). And, in fact, as far as I can tell, the vast majority of entry-level devices rely solely on accelerometers. They track how and how often you wave them around due to their positioning on some part of your anatomy.

So I hadn't yet found the information and/or features I wanted in order to be willing to shell out the non-trivial cost … until my employer decided that this year's inducement to participate in their "healthy living" program was a free Fitbit device. Well, "free" -- that's worth the experiment. So I signed up and selected the "Flex" which is the wristband style. Being the perverse sort of person that I am, my first day's experiment involved putting it on my ankle instead. (Since it's designed for a wrist, it only fits on my right ankle -- the one where the sciatica has caused enough muscle wasting at the ankle to slim it down sufficiently.) My theory is that since -- as I've determined -- the device relies solely on an accelerometer, it may measure rather differently when tracking foot movements than hand movements. And since my major exercises (bicycling and elliptical) involve functionally immobile wrists, I expect that tomorrow's experiment -- with essentially identical activity but the band on the wrist -- will show substantially lower numbers.

The nature of the measurement also ensures that vigorous exercises that don't involve high-impact don't count as "very active" for the devices metrics. (The FAQ outright states, "your active minute count will be lower for activities that are not primarily step-based, such as weight lifting, cycling, and rowing." Hmm, weight lifting (check), cycling (check), and rowing (check). Also, I would add, elliptical (check). No doubt due to the smooth motion. In other words, "If you do an activity that will fuck up your knees, then we'll give you extra points, but this actually has nothing to do with intensity of effort." So my day included at least 40 minutes of vigorous cycling and slightly less than 40 minutes of vigorous elliptical but my Fitbit only credits me with 11 "very active" minutes.

On the other hand, the device does seem to count all my leg movements as actual steps (although it only counts steps by the leg it's attached to -- as I assume it only counts as a "step" the motion of the wrist it's attached to). I know this because the elliptical counts both feet and gives me my full 5000+ steps for my workout but in the same time the Fitbit only credited me with ca. 2500. OK, fine, it's a relative measurement. But it isn't actually counting "steps".

The "sleep tracking" is similarly less useful than the hype. You start tracking your sleep by tapping on the device to say "start sleep tracking" and you stop by tapping again to go out of sleep mode. So let's say I'm having bouts of insomnia and repeated waking. I will be able to track exactly how much sleep I actually get because at that point when I finally manage to drop off … I will wake up sufficiently to tap the device, ensuring that I will then lie awake for at least another half hour. Or am I missing something? (It does track movements during sleep, so I guess tossing and turning will be tracked.)

So let's see what Fitbit claims today's numbers are. I took 11,100 steps, covered 4.63 miles, had 11 "very active" minutes, and burned 1810 calories (they include basal metabolism in this). I'll accept their "step" count with the above caveat, but bicycling and elliptical combined I know totals over 13 miles (so they're calculating how far I would have gotten if I low-impact walked 11,100 steps). And as noted I actually had more like 80 "very active" minutes. Based on calorie guides for specific activities, based on specific effort levels, my high-impact activities estimate out at about 1100 calories (not including low-impact stuff and basal metabolism). And I predict that tomorrow's tracking (on the wrist) will even more drastically under-report my activity.

So unless your primary exercise activity is running, don't count on a Fitbit to track your actual exercise efforts. But if you calibrate it against whatever your target activity routine is, it may be useful for tracking whether you hit that target.
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On my Kalamazoo trip I also had the chance to experiment with using my iPhone as a GPS device ... courtesy of having forgotten to pack one connecting component of the regular GPS, which omission rendered it useless. (I had the GPS, I had the car-power cord, I forgot to include the bit that connects the power cord to the GPS.) Since I was just using the map app I couldn't get voice directions and there was a certain amount of having to reach over to pinch-expand/contract the display to change the detail. But given that I'm fairly familiar with the route between O'Hare and Kalamazoo and with the overall geography of Kalamazoo, the app was sufficient unto my purposes. Due to the ad hoc nature of the experiment, I didn't have a power cable that could connect the phone to the car outlet, but I had sufficient juice in external power packs to tide me over (and I'd thought to bring one of those "jelly" mats that you can put on your dash to provide a "sticky" surface for phones and whatnot.

I've been looking at the Navigon phone/pad app to provide the additional functions of a GPS, although I'm a bit put off that evidently a number of the functions I'd consider standard are provided instead as in-app add-on purchases (and the most common complaint in the iTunes store has to do with difficulty downloading the map files). I've been holding off on paying for a map update for my Garmin in order to look into switching to a mobile app instead, and this one looks like the best candidate so far. If anyone has experience with it, I'd be interested to hear.

Based on my Kalamazoo experience, I wouldn't care to use the iPhone version for most driving situations, due to the small screen size. (This is exacerbated by the fact that the glasses I use for driving don't focus well at dashboard distance.) So in addition to the app, I'd need to find an iPad holder that would place it in a safe and convention position for GPS functioning. The natural location would put it smack dab in front of the radio controls/display which is suboptimal. Ideally, something on an extensible arm so that it could be variably positioned would be nice, but I haven't seen anything suitable yet. (Alternately, I could try something with the case I got with the GorillaPod arms, but that would end up being rather jury-rigged.)
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When I decided to move to the suburbs, I made the commitment to myself that I would not be driving in to work -- not every day, not even most days, in fact, as rarely as possible. So one of my location criteria was close proximity to a BART station. And to make the commute even more practical and flexible, I decided to get a folding bike that I could take on BART during commute hours. Mind you, this wasn't absolutely essential, because there's no parking fee at North Concord BART and the Emery-Go-Round shuttle from Macarthur station gets me to about 3 blocks from work. (And it's quite possible that during the rainy winter season I'll leave the bike home.) But I really wanted to have the flexibility to run errands from work (to my PO box, to the credit union, shopping) and the idea of keeping a bike at work permanently didn't appeal to me.

So having done some preliminary research and consulted knowledgeable experts, I got a Brompton folding bike from a distributor in Palo Alto. It was, to put it bluntly, expensive. However it does live up to the hype. After several days of practice, the fold-down and unfolding are very fast and smooth. When folded up, the bike has a very small footprint. I'm still getting the hang of how to tuck one foot around it to hold it in place when I'm sitting down so that it won't fall over on the curves and decelerations. But on a very crowded train, I can simply stand straddling the bike and it takes up little more space than I would by myself. It's light enough to carry easily up and down stairs (but small enough to take on the escalator), although not light enough to take the stairs at a run to catch a close connection.

As a bike, the Brompton isn't something I'd ride long distances for recreation. The 16" wheels have a very different steering feel than a standard bike. There also isn't a lot of "spring" in the construction and you not only feel every bump, you feel every little stick you run over. (Of course, I'm used to my Trek, which has actual spring suspension on the front end.) The model I got has the hub-internal 3-speed gears and 2 derailleur gears on the crank, for a total of 6 combinations. My commute biking is all essentially flat and I stick mostly to the lower derailleur. The gearing on the 3-speed set doesn't allow for a lot of nuance, but the highest power gear is sufficient to tackle the hills going up to downtown Berkeley.

The commute itself is turning out to be relatively painless. Relatively. For the settling in period, I'm getting up at 6am with a goal of out-the-door at 6:30. That gets me to my desk around quarter of 8. I may adjust things to target an 8am arrival more closely. I don't really have a routine coming home yet, but at least twice last week I managed to get in my gym time before heading home. The routine also works well for picking up groceries at Berkeley Bowl before getting on the shuttle, although not much more than a backpack's worth.

Various house-sale errands meant that I did drive to work twice last week, providing a comparison. So a bike/transit commute of ca. 1:15 compares with a drive time of 0:45, given the same departure time from Concord. (With no unusual Traffic Events on the route. Those could bump it up considerably.) But taking transit means that I get in about 45 minutes each way of reading e-mail and other online material or even books. I remember reading books. I actually read an entire novel in the last two weeks. And the online time is something I'd be doing anyway, so in effect (assuming I don't simply expand my online time) I'm "saving" half an hour a day over driving. Although not over a non-commute life. I'm still settling into a routine at the moment. One of these days I'll even get caught up on my sleep.
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As the first SF MacWorld Expo where Apple wasn't an exhibitor, there's been a lot of buzz about what the effects would be, and whether they'd be distinguishable from the effects of the general economy. (And also a certain amount of buzz noting that, given the timing of Apple's iPad announcment, it seems a bit stupid for Apple not to have participated in the Expo and announced it there.) I have to say, from where I stand, that there's a real possibility -- but far from a certainty -- that the absence of Apple has triggered a death spiral for the event. I've only been attending for the last half dozen years or so (I think -- I'd have to do some research to figure it out precisely) and I've seen the size of the Expo flow and ebb. There was at least one previous year when it only filled half of the Moscone Center space, as it did this year, and it was back to both sides the year after that.

But when [ profile] scotica and her friend Rob and I were mulling it over on the drive back to her place (for Olympics viewing) after attending the Expo yesterday, we kept coming up with more and more examples of long-term favorite exhibitors who were absent this year. All in all, it felt very thin on the ground. (Another metric is the sad scarcity of freebies -- although I think some of that perception is fueled by the shift from stacks of software demo CDs to pointing people at downloadable demos, which is hard to fault on an environmental basis. But the useless tchatchkas -- pens, keychains, foam toys, etc. -- were also very thin on the ground.)

I went into the Expo with a small handful of "missions" as well as the usual intent to check out new stuff, and I failed at all of them, either due to the relevant exhibitor not being present, or due to exhibitors having skipped bringing the stuff I was interested in. I did come away with several nice new toys: a solar charger for the iPhone (handy for future camping trips -- you can leave it on the dashboard charging during the day, then fully recharge your phone when you come back in the evening), a sport armband iPhone purse-case from ArmPocket, which should be handy for bicycling, one of those Gorillapod wrap-around tripod thingies for my digital camera, and for one of this year's emergent themes a pair of Telefingers touch-sensitive iPhone gloves, which enable you to use your touch-screen without freezing your fingers off.

There were several emergent themes from the Expo:

The aforementioned touch-sensitive iPhone gloves. (Three or four different vendors. There was one vendor who had some very nice leather ones, but I'd already bought a cheaper pair elsewhere and while I've been thinking about getting a nice pair of leather driving gloves, I don't know that I'd want to combine the functions.)

Portable iPhone/iPod rechargers (also portable laptop external batteries). These have been available pretty much since the emergence of the power-guzzling iPhone, but there seemed to be an explosion of new products this year. Maybe I just don't use my iPhone enough, but aside from camping trips to locations without electrical outlets (which, coincidentally, typically don't have enough signal to use the iPhone much), I've been quite satisfied with the one model of emergency backup power that I have. So I wasn't in the market.

Page-feeding and ultralight sheet-feed scanners. The sort that ScanSnap has been featuring for years, but I think there were four companies with very similar product ranges this year. My crew chatted up all of them about putting out an ultra-light rolling (rather than sheet-feeding) scanner -- something equivalent to the PlanOn Scanner for which I'd like to see competition -- but nobody seemed to have anything similar in the works.

It was also amusing to see how many of the accessory manufacturers already had finished prototypes of gear for the iPad. Targus had some truly drool-worthy cases and sleeves. Some company I won't name or link to because their salesman annoyed me had a keyboard-dock (prop the iPad up in it as a semi-vertical screen and type on a full external keyboard). And, of course, the promise of iPads was the biggest common feature of vendor raffles. (I will probably be buying an iPad after about a year, when they've had a chance to work the bugs out. I note, however, that one of the potential uses for it that I was kicking around at the Crosston Ball -- i.e., a sheet music reader -- is quite likely to be developed (heads-up courtesy of [ profile] ohiblather ). So I have high hopes that by the time I'm willing to take a chance of a new Apple device, I will have discovered enough practical uses for it that my conscience will be clear in buying one.

On the whole "Death spiral or temporary slowdown?" issue, I have to say that there wasn't enough meat to this year's MacWorld Expo to draw me back for a second day, even with the convenience of it being open on a Saturday (today) and even with the draw of an iPad demo today. I will definitely still plan on attending as usual next year, but if next year is as thin or thinner than this year, I'll re-evaluate. This would be unfortunate for the Apple byproducts market, because attending the Expo has driven a enormous percentage of my software and peripheral buying. And, frankly, for me the Apple corporate presence was never a big part of the draw. Yeah, it was nice to see the new products in the flesh, as it were, before buying. But that's not what I spend my money on at the Expo itself.
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Blackstone Audio (a producer of audio books) is hereby proclaimed a Good Company. One of the tracks on one of the disks of my 8-disk unabridged Histories by Tacitus (thanks for the xmas prezzie [ profile] cryptocosm) kept breaking iTunes. I described the problem and my attempts to troubleshoot it to the Blackstone Audio sales contact e-mail and they responded the next day with the information that they're sending me a replacement disk. (All I'd asked for was a downloadable copy of the one track.) If you are a fan of audio books, check them out.
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The appointment this afternoon was only for an initial consultation, but after chatting for a while, I felt good enough about our communication to say, "If you've got the space in your schedule, go for it." Of course, given the practical and esthetic constraints, it wasn't going to end up drastically different from what I usually get: more tapered in back, a bit longer on top, a little different around the ears. I like it, but I'm not sure I like it three times better than a Supercuts cut. So we'll see how I feel the next time it's time to cut.
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As projected, I spent much of yesterday shopping for burglary-replacement items and now have a new laptop, digital camera, and fireproof file box. The insurance company will be delighted to know that I've replaced the latter two at a lower cost than allowed (despite the camera being, of course, more powerful than its predecessor).

The insurance company's research determined that they would consider the MacBook 13-inch 2.4 GHz to be equivalent to my old machine for the purposes of "replacement". However their research didn't take the brand new MacBooks into account, and it turns out that the new 13-inch MacBook fits their allowance nicely. I briefly considered upgrading to the MacBook Pro or the Airbook, but when it came down to it, their advantages aren't things I use, and their disadvantages affect things I care about.

I've done all the initial set-up and copied over the applications and user files from the desktop machine and my backup files. Now it's a matter of going through all the applications and making sure they're happy. (Some will need to be reinstalled; some will need new authorization keys; some will need a bunch of tweaking to get the preferences set correctly.) As usual, I'm finding it annoying how many of the programs have user data in forms that are really hard to restore from backup. Like web browser bookmarks. Safari explains to me how to import bookmarks from a different browser program ... but not how to import them from a backup file. Similarly for my old mail archives. I know I've done that one before (several operating systems ago), but I also know that it was really annoying -- all the old mail ended up marked unread, and for the most part it lost the original date-stamps and was relabeled with the import date. So I've got a bit of slogging through to do. On the up side, since the new laptop has, of course, come with Leopard installed and is running the near-continuous backup routine through Time Machine, the theory is that if I ever have to do this again (no No NO!) then restoring from the Time Machine backup should be much simpler. Yeah, right.

Now for the pluses (in addition to the aforementioned Time Machine backup, which I do wish I'd gotten around to installing on the old laptop). I really really like the new display. The old laptop had real problems being visible when working in outdoor situations. Even sitting near the windows in a cafe made it difficult to read. The new screen display has no problems in this direction at all. Very happy. The touchpad is the new "multi-touch" version debuted on the iPhone. I'm still picking up all the tricks, but I like the concept, especially the ease of scrolling. The aluminum case is also nice, although I'm not one of those who worry about keeping their hardware cases in pristine condition. The machine is also -- I believe -- a bit lighter in weight than the previous one. Not enough for a big difference, but still nice.

Separate topic: I've confirmed that the problem synchronizing my Treo wasn't the cable, alas. The new cable non-worked the same with the desktop machine, and both old and new worked ok with the new laptop. I had a few problems synchronizing with the laptop, but they seem to boil down to one program that needs to be reinstalled. So I'm perplexed by the non-working sync on the desktop machine. The cable checks out. Other peripherals work on that usb port (and I tried multiple ports). I synchronized successfully a month ago and haven't made any significant changes in the hardware or software since then. I guess the next step is to reinstall the Palm software and see if that makes a difference.

One further plus of the whole new-computer-setup process is that it gives me an opportunity to audit all my software, remove items that no longer work under Leopard, make sure I have all the specs, passwords, codes, etc. up to date in my reference file, and see if there are any updates and upgrades I might want to make.
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The owner of the gym I go to mentioned the other day that he'll be closing in a month or so. Some sort of issue with the lease -- he's going to try to find another space, but nothing is certain. I've decided that whatever happens on that end, I'm going to take the cue to change my membership to a different gym. One that has hours and facilities that let me work out before work (hmm, I feel the urge to add semantic indexing: "let me work[1] out before work[2]"). I will then have the task of shifting my diurnal rhythms about an hour and a half earlier, but it will be worth it to not have that after-work block of time tied up. (And it will mean that evening socializing or weekend events won't require skipping a workout.) Some initial research indicates that two gyms fit my basic requirement: located roughly between home and work.

Maverick's is located in the shopping mall on the other side of the railroad tracks. It's about 4-5 blocks off my usual bike route to work but easily accessible. Lots of equipment, large space. No bike parking. Provides a corporate discount to Big B employees that brings the membership down to 60% of what I'm currently paying, but has an initial sign-up fee and the reviews on suggest that they have a propensity to nickel-and-dime you on "incidentals" like the use of towels and so forth. The reviews also indicate a dissatisfaction with some maintenance and cleaning issues.

Berkeley Ironworks is located half a block off my usual bike route. It specializes as a rock climbing gym but also has extensive general-workout equipment. Extensive bike parking. Provides a corporate discount to Big B employees that brings the membership down to essentially what I'm currently paying. The discount also includes a waiver of the sign-up fee. Towels are free and no complaints at yelp about unexpected extra fees. (The yelp reviews tend to focus on the climbing aspect, so it's hard to compare experiences closely.)

Both have early morning hours; both have more than adequate shower facilities (and both have saunas!). I got more of a "corporate" feel from Mavericks -- a feeling of "we're in this for your money" and a sense that what you paid depended on how good a negotiator you were. I got more of a "we're fellow gym-rats running this for fun" vibe from Ironworks. In terms of "no extra effort to drop by" Ironworks wins hands down. On the one hand, at Ironworks I feel like I'm paying extra for the climbing equipment which I have no strong interest in using on a regular basis. On the other hand, I'd be paying essentially the same as currently but getting a lot more. And since Mavericks has the initiation fee and the towel fee (and what with the Big B rebating half the membership fee for either of them, on top of the discount), Mavericks actually ends up being more expensive in the long run. Hmm, I'd been wavering a little until I did that last calculation. Now my mind is made up. Ironworks it is. I'll stay with the current gym until it closes, simply for old time's sake, but now I know where I'm going afterwards.
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One of the most striking things about camping out in the redwoods is how utterly quiet it can be, especially just after dawn or just before dusk, when the wind is still. Mind you, that wasn't the case yesterday at dinner time ... but I get ahead of myself.

Sure enough, I went in to work at 4am Friday to observe a Certain Process in the purification department, only to have that process not occur until 7:30am. Well, nobody's fault -- these things are a bit hard to predict, and I got a nice lot of work done at my desk with nobody else around in the mean time, and it did mean that I got out of there conveniently early. But the theory that leaving town by 2pm (on a non-pre-holiday Friday) would mean avoiding rush hour traffic was, shall we say, mistaken. Still and all, since I got into my campsite (Hidden Springs Campground, Humboldt Redwoods State Park) while still light, despite having stopped for dinner along the way, we'll count it a success. Since the rest of this is going to be image-heavy, I'll put it behind a cut )

BBQ review

Jul. 5th, 2008 09:58 am
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My 4th of July BBQ & games was a fun little party (and, as usual in my social circles, ended up with twice as much food as half the number of people could eat). We ended up with 8 people (although one retreated to his sick-bed with a cold), ran through Settlers of Cataan, a roll-the-alphabet-dice-and-form-words game whose name escapes me, and a couple rounds of Trans America, interspersed with grilling, ice cream, and a walk out to the Emeryville Marina to see fireworks.

Grill review: I need to work on pacing for my grilling (particularly if it's to be a primary social activity rather than a get-the-food-on-the-table activity). The corn took longer than I expected, and the grilled veggies needed to be being plated as they came off rather than being stacked in the warmer. The meat (of many varieties -- everybody brought enough to share) generally worked out well. I'm starting to get the hang of the temperature variation on various parts of the grill surface, and how to alternate open-hood and closed-hood temperature manipulation. Since I have a stack of ungrilled leftover ingredients, I figure I'll do some more practicing this weekend.

Fireworks review: The fog was fickle. We walked out along the south side of Powell St and could see both the Jack London Square show (except for the lowest stuff which was hidden by intervening buildings and port equipment) and an assortment of probably unauthorized items from the West Oakland trajectory. As we got out past the fire station (where a couple of enterprising fire crew were hawking refreshments in support of the Special Olympics) we could see occasional cloud-glows from the San Francisco show, but it was clear that there wasn't any point in trying to position ourselves for a better western view. So we crossed over to the boat harbor by Trader Vics, then wandered slightly south to avoid the actual harbor view to take in the Berkeley show. Alas, there was a fairly solid fog river flowing in right over the Berkeley Marina, so we saw the lower half of about the first half of the show, and then the fog thickened and all we were getting was cloud-glow. We actually got a much better view of something roughly up Richmond way. I don't know if it was in Richmond proper (I wondered if they might be doing a show at the racetrack in Albany, but it could have been all the way out to the Hercules/Pinole area. And, of course, there were a lot of random (if less ambitious) unauthorized items sprinkled across the horizon. So it was a good evening for getting a sense of the scope of Bay Area firesworks in all their forms, but not as good for seeing a single show in all its glory. I keep thinking that some year I should bike off to the Berkeley Marina proper to see that one up close. (You do not attempt to drive around the waterfront to try to view the shows. In fact they usually barricade most of the relevant streets just to forestall the issue.)
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So I tested out three models: the Fit, the CR-V, and the Element -- those seeming to have the best likelihood of fulfilling my space requirements without getting into serious monster vehicle territory. And this time, I actually did bring the harp along for test-packing. (In addition to needing a vehicle that can manage it, it served as a useful measuring stick for the camping gear. The harp stands about 5 ft at longest dimension and the longest camping gear that I pack runs about 6 ft, so I could estimate the rest.)

Not everyone will be interested in the car reviews. )I have an appointment to go back tomorrow after work and -- short of anything drastic happening to change my mind (which would include their failure to track down either of the colors I'm interested in) -- plan to come home with a new Element.
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So at last year's MacWorld Expo, I picked up an automatic sheet-feeding doublesided color scanner that processes automatically to pdf with the notion that I'd start converting significant quantities of my four 4-drawer filing cabinets full of photocopied articles into electronic form (and thus a much smaller storage footprint). And there are technical details. )

Oh, and unless my memory is failing me entirely, the number on my bathroom scale this morning was the same as the one recorded on my first driver's license.
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Since this past Sunday I got designated the familial long-term airport parking and shuttle bus for the holiday, I had a chance to check out the packability (among other things) of the Youngest Brother's new Prius. Dang, those things are bigger inside than they are outside! The seats-folded cargo bed has about the same footprint as my current Ford Escort wagon. It isn't even clear that the overall cargo volume is reduced by its being a hatchback, since the high point of the roof is taller than the wagon and the low point isn't all that low.

On closer examination, what confused me is that the overall shape of the Prius proclaims "compact hatch-back" but the actual size is definitely "standard" rather than "compact". It's sort of like those deceptively-shaped SUVs that have the same silhouette as a little hatchback except the dimensions are all 1.5x larger. (I also got a brief tour of various other features of the car, although I didn't push for a test drive. 'Course ... I have the keys, and he's on the opposite coast ....)

I do confess to being a little disappointed that I've removed the need to show up at the Toyota dealership with my harp in tow to ask for a "test-pack" Ah well.
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People living in colder regions may want to skip this entry to avoid terminal jealousy. Read more... )

And because several people have asked for it, we have an appliance review. Counter-top Dishwasher -- probably boring to 95% of readers )
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I knew that my old vacuum cleaner wasn't as efficient as it once had been. Heck, I got it back when I lived in Davis, which is quite a while ago. And the attachments have gotten pretty much useless because the attachment plate (which fastens over the bottom of the machine) won't fasten any more, much less create a serious seal. The new vacuum is one of those bagless, HEPA-filter things with a clear plastic "dirt cup" so you can see what it's picking up. Well, today was Main Bedroom Day on the house-cleaning schedule, so I broke in the new machine on a single room. A room that does in fact get vacuumed every other week. It produced a wad of dust-lint-fiber-cat-hair-whatever that would be respectable for the lint trap for two dryer-loads of towels. Yow.


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