Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Future of LA Mass Transit

I just came across this blog post from last September that shows a hypothetical future rail map of Los Angeles. Wouldn't it be great?

(click to see larger image)

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Intel to nVidia

My Dell Dimension 9200c came with a G965 chipset and an Intel GMA X3000 on-board video chip. After installing Ubuntu 6.10 (Edgy Eft), I was never able to set the resolution to 1680 x 1050 which is the proper setting for my Dell 2007WFP monitor. I posted a couple of times (1, 2) to the Ubuntu Forums, but no one was able to help me.

I thought I would wait it out until the i810 driver or some other Linux driver supported the X3000 properly. I was hoping that I'd have better luck with Ubuntu 7.04 (Feisty Fawn). I tried both the Herd-1 and Herd-2 pre-releases of Feisty and still had no luck. I was still stuck at 1280 x 1024.

Finally, I got sick of looking at the distorted images (stretched horizontally) and decided to get another video card to put in my computer's empty PCI Express x16 slot. A Dell tech support guy told me that if I pop in a new video card, the on-board chip would automatically shut off. I figured I would buy an nVidia-based card because nVidia drivers are known to work well on Linux.

After a lot of research online, I went to buy an eVGA GeForce 7300 GS at Circuit City. To my dismay, when I attempted to install it, it didn't fit! I have one of those mini computer chassis, and I learned that I needed a half height (sometimes called low profile) video card. While researching, I only knew to look for a PCI Express x16 card - I didn't know they came in more than one height.

So I returned the eVGA card to Circuit City and began to research cards again, looking for low profile PCI Express cards. I couldn't find a single store in my area that sold one. Finally, I found one on the Geforce 7300GS 256MB DDR2 Pcie. I ordered this along with a Low Profile Bracket Kit which had to be purchased separately.

This video card installed successfully! I was then able to run sudo dpkg-reconfigure xserver-xorg which reconfigured my xorg.conf with the open source nv driver. I changed this to the proprietary nVidia driver using these instructions. After this, everything worked! My resolution went to 1680 x 1050, I could run glxgears, and games like Second Life looked soooooooooooo much better.

The only drawback is that the new video card has its own fan which is annoyingly loud. Because of this, I am thinking about moving my computer into a cabinet or under the desk.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Walking L.A. #4 - Venice Beach

At the Rumor Mill this morning, we were surprised by two of our friends who showed up at the last minute even though they didn't RSVP. With them joining us, we had a total of 5 people for the walk of Venice Beach, which the book describes as Old world Italy meets Funky So-Cal Beach Culture.

The walk started at the east side of the Venice Canals, meandered through the canals, and then took us north on Venice Blvd to Abbott Kinney Blvd. It then continued on Abbott Kinney Blvd past all the restaurants and stores between Venice Blvd and Main St. Finally, it passed the Westminster Dog Park onto Winward Circle and back through the canals to the starting point.

I have seen all these areas before, so there wasn't any feeling of discovery as there may be on some of the future walks. I did learn a few things though about Venice. For example, the book mentioned that Windward Circle used to be a picturesque lagoon back in Abbot Kinney's day when there were over 16 miles of canals. Right as we read that, we noticed a big mural painted on the Ocean View Adult Day Health Care Center (1500 Main St.) that depicted the lagoon and the canals leading into it. We paused to enjoy the mural and ponder about the early days of Venice Beach and how neat it must have been to get around on gondolas.

The next walk is Mar Vista - not too far from our house!

Saturday, January 27, 2007

California Native Plant Garden Design Course - Part 2

We went to Part 2 of our 3-part landscape design class today at the Theodore Payne Foundation. We brought in our base plan for our house along with some bubble diagrams depicting some general ideas in the garden like a bird bath and a sitting area.

The course outline for Part 2:
  • Questions
  • Review - Start Creating Your Native Landscape Design
  • Select Materials
  • Develop Your Final Garden Design
  • Soil and Site Preparation
  • Irrigation Techniques
  • Individual Design Projects
  • Work Session
I didn't feel like I learned a lot today. The instructors went over different ideas for designing a garden, but they were very general. The main ideas were to create groups of similar plants, create curvy borders between planting areas, and to create focal points. This is useful, I guess, but I didn't feel like it was getting me any closer to designing my garden. I still have no idea what plants to pick.

I had heard before that native plants won't require any watering or soil amendments. Today, the instructors said that the plants do need watering in their first few years until they become established. They also said that in some cases, you should add compost or gypsum to the soil. One of the main reasons I am interested in a native plant garden is that I wouldn't have to do these things. I think I am going to try leaving the soil as-is and not watering and see what happens. I have planted a few natives already and they seem to be doing just fine with no watering and the unamended soil I planted them in.

At the end of the class, one of the instructors looked at the photos of your yard and our initial base plan. He didn't really have much to suggest except that we try to make some meandering curvy paths -- that seemed to be his thing -- and that we might want to put a tree or two on both sides of our front yard. I'm not sure if I'm going to take that advice since I enjoy being able to see a lot of the street from my front window.

On the way out, I stopped by the Theodore Payne shop to buy some wildflower seeds. I wanted a different color flower to compliment the orange California Poppies that I already planted. The woman there recommended Nemophila menziesii (Baby Blue Eyes). I think they'll look great next to the Poppies.

On the way home, we stopped at Langer's for the good ol' #19. We would have strolled in the park afterwards, but it was raining.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Walking L.A. #3 - Southeast Santa Monica

No one else joined us this time, but we still began at the Rumor Mill for coffee and bagels before the walk. I didn't expect many people to come because this walk was in an area most of my friends are familiar with. If fact, this walk passes through the building that I work in!

We parked on the diagonal part of 26th St. between Cloverfield Blvd. and Olympic Blvd. The walk started out near all the art galleries at Bergamot Station. Unfortunately all the galleries were closed as it was a Sunday.

The rest of the walk basically took us through the Water Garden and the Yahoo Center (formally called the Colorado Center), and then down to 20th and back.

We passed 2112 Broadway which is the home of Playboy Studio West. I have passed it many times before, and have never seen a single person come in our out of that place.

The book described this area as having colossal office parks, teeming with high-powered executives in button-down shirts and ties. I guess there is some of that, but for the most part, the workforce in that area is largely business casual.

While in the Water Garden, I found a geocache of the same name: Water Garden (GCXF6B). It was one of the easiest I've ever found. Anyone passing by can see it. These walks are a good opportunity to go geocaching. I have to remember to seeks some out on the remaining walks.

The next walk is Venice Beach.

Walking L.A.: 36 Walking Tours Exploring Stairways, Streets and Buildings You Never Knew Existed

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Walking L.A. #2 - Northwest Santa Monica

We met up again at the Rumor Mill for coffee and bagels. A different group showed up this time. There were 9 of us total including two babies.

We carpooled to the start point at Ocean Ave and Adelaide Drive. The first part of the walk took us by the well-known steep staircases that lead from Adelaide down to Rustic Canyon. We descended the one near 4th Street and ascended the other near 7th Street. It was the first time there for everyone in our group except for one who was taken their by her personal trainer a few years ago. Being another beautiful day in January, the staircases were filled with exercising addicts on their quest for buns of steel as our book put it.

The rest of the walk was pretty uneventful as it just made its way through the residential neighborhood south to Montana Ave, and then circled back to the starting point via Montana Ave and then Ocean Ave. It might have been more impressive if it was our first time there, but I've been to the shops on Montana and the path at Palisades Park many times before.

The walk ended by passing by a striking white structure overlooking the ocean at 101 Ocean Ave., again the book's words. None us could figure out what it was. It seemed like either an exclusive residential complex or a fancy hotel.

After the walk, 3 of us headed back near the Rumor Mill to have lunch at Bharat Bazaar. We were hungry enough to get samosas in addition to our combination plate.

The next walk is in Southeast Santa Monica.

Walking L.A.: 36 Walking Tours Exploring Stairways, Streets and Buildings You Never Knew Existed

California Native Plant Garden Design Course - Part 1

Yesterday, we began Part 1 of a 3-part course about garden design with California native plants. It was held at the Theodore Payne Foundation in Sun Valley. We're hoping that after this course, we'll be able to replace the landscape of our front and back yards using mostly native plants.

The instructors, Anna Armstrong and Richard Walker, were very nice and very knowledgeable. They have been doing residential landscape design since 1991, but the majority of their work has switched from residential to commercial in recent years.

The course outline for Part 1:
  1. What is a California Native Plant?
  2. Why Design a California Native Plant Garden? - Sustainability
  3. What You Have to be Comfortable With - Nonconformity
  4. Get to Know Your Yard - Base Information and Site Analysis
  5. Decide What You Want In Your Garden - Functionality
  6. Start Creating Your Native Landscape Design
  7. Select Materials
We basically received an introduction to gardening with natives and its benefits and then learned how to sketch our yards and the structures that will not be changing. We were advised to sketch on 24" x 36" paper using a #2 pencil. I asked about the use of computer software and didn't receive any recommendations other than Autocad which is very expensive and doesn't run on Linux. Even if I'm able to get a hold of appropriate software, we're still going to do our sketch by hand since it might be hard to print on the proper size paper.

When I got home, I searched the web for CAD software, looking for programs that were free and run on Linux. I found 2 interesting ones. VariCAD is a good looking 3D/2D CAD tool that runs on Linux, but it costs $599. QCad is a 2D CAD tool that also runs on Linux and has a free Community Edition! QCad turned out to be perfect for this exercise. I'll write more on it later...

We're supposed to identify what we want in the garden with respect to functionality. Here are some ideas I have so far:

For the front yard:
  • A bench for sitting and enjoying the garden
  • A path that leads from the front porch to the sidewalk, possibly curving or jogging to the north which is the way I leave the house in the morning (right now we only have a cement path that leads south to the driveway)
  • Two trees in the parkway
  • Short paths in the parkway that let people cross from their cars parked by the curb to the sidewalk
For the back yard:
  • Area for at least 2 people to sit and enjoy the garden
  • Path from end of patio to northern side yard
  • Vegetable garden
  • Path from end of patio to vegetable garden
  • Path allowing the harvesting of fruit from our orange and avocado trees
  • Path from the patio to the compost bins behind the garage
  • A bird bath
  • Possibly an outdoor fire pit
  • Possibly a giant chess set surrounded by a bench or two for people to watch

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Porn Industry Chooses HD DVD

I was really hoping that Blu-Ray would win the battle to become the high-def technology of choice, but there is some early speculation that HD DVD will beat it out according to this article: HD DVD versus Blu-ray - The porn industry says HD DVD.

It is pretty safe to say that whatever the porn industry chooses will be the winner - just like with VHS over betamax. The main reasons I was rooting for Blu-Ray:
  1. It wasn't backed by Microsoft like HD DVD
  2. Widespread Blu-Ray technology means more jobs for Java programmers (see my previous blog post).

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Walking L.A. #1 - Castellammare

I got a cool gift for xmas -- a book called

Walking L.A.: 36 Walking Tours Exploring Stairways, Streets and Buildings You Never Knew Existed

Last weekend we tried one of the walks in Silver Lake and enjoyed it a lot. We thought it would be fun to get other friends involved to go through the whole book, taking one walk each weekend morning. Two friends joined us for the first of these walks this morning which was in the Pacific Palisades in a neighborhood called Castellammare which means Castle On The Sea.

We met up at the Rumor Mill for coffee and bagels and then carpooled to the start point on Castellammare Dr., which was just off of Sunset Blvd near PCH. It was a beautiful day in Los Angeles. It was warm and sunny. The air was really clear, and you could see for miles up and down the coast of the Santa Monica Bay.

The walk took us by impressive houses including the former abode of John Barrymore, an Italian-style villa, and many modern homes - my favorites. We joked about how we wished someone in our circle of friends could have penetrated this privileged style of living so we could all hang out in neighborhoods like this on patios overlooking the ocean. The views were so amazing, they reminded me of what you can see in Santorini, an island in Greece that I visited in 1996.

After the walk, we went to Gladstones for an early lunch. We learned that their beach-front patio is actually owned by the state and public, which means you can eat there without purchasing anything from Gladstones. I thought that was interesting.

As we were ordering, we spotted celebrity David Hasselhoff of Knight Rider and Baywatch fame. He ended up dining on the same patio with a few other people, one of whom we guessed was his daughter. It was a funny sighting.

The next walk is in Northwest Santa Monica.

California Native Plant Horticulture

We took the California Native Plant Horticulture class yesterday morning at the Theodore Payne Foundation in Sun Valley. This was the class description:
This class will cover a wide range of topics, including the definition of
native plant, why they're valuable, plant communities, plant requirements, establishment, planting details, pruning, irrigation, maintenance and where to see and buy native plants. It is recommended for anyone who is just getting started with natives and as a precursor to our California Native Plant Garden Design Course.
There were 17 students and two instructors, Ken and Rhonda Gilliland. Both were very nice and enthusiastic about CA natives. The class didn't have much of a structure other than to hand out some materials, define what native plants are, and to answer questions from the students for about 2 hours. Then the class went outside to get a short pruning lesson and to walk around the nursery while Ken and Rhonda answered more questions and pointed out various adult natives growing nearby.

I learned that native plants need no fertilizer, no pesticides, and no water other than what comes from rain. Also, neighborhoods with fewer lawns and more native plants have less lawn mowers and less leaf blowers making for a more peaceful experience.

The highlight of the class was actually not officially part of the class, but an after-class field trip to Ken and Rhonda's native plant garden in Tujunga. They call their property Quail Hollow. They've really done a nice job in their garden which includes many of the plants that you can buy at Theodore Payne. It was very helpful for me to walk around the garden, asking Rhonda about the names of the plants and how she cares for them.

She also showed me what California Poppies look like when they are just sprouting which helped me tremendously because I planted some from seed, and I almost mistook their spouts for weeds and pulled them. They are popping up all over my garden so I should have an impressive display of poppies come Spring.

Here is a picture of the garden at Quail Hollow from 2003:

Next weekend we will begin Part 1 of a 3 part class on designing a California native plant garden. I'm really looking forward to it.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

No More TUX

I am sad to read the news that TUX Magazine (self-described as the first and only magazine for the new Linux user) did not survive. Apparently Issue 20 was their last issue ever. They ran into financial trouble. I guess it was to be expected since their readership consisted mostly of people that want software and everything related to it to be free.

Although the writing in TUX was not top-notch, I enjoyed reading it because they catered to new Linux users like myself and introduced a lot of useful Linux software. Also their PDF landscape format made it really easy to read online. Back issues 1-20 covering March 2005 until now are still available for download. I recommend checking them out while they are still relatively relevant. Farewell TUX!