Monday, December 18, 2006

Mike Stern at Catalina

Tonight we went to see Mike Stern and his quartet at Catalina Bar & Grill which featured Dennis Chambers, Bob Franceschini and Victor Wooten. I saw Mike Stern's group 15 years ago in Santa Monica when he was playing with the late Bob Berg. They were amazing then, and are still amazing now.

Tonight was the last show of his 6-day stint in Los Angeles and the club was totally packed with enthusiastic fans. I had no idea so many people in Los Angeles would show up for this show. It was great to see since often, amazingly talented and famous jazz musicians pass through LA and are greeted by embarrassingly small audiences. I guess Mike Stern appeals to both jazz and rock fans.

This was the first time I saw Victor Wooten and Bob Franceschini live. Wooten, of Bela Fleck and the Flecktones fame, was practically the highlight of the night. During one of his solos, he played inspiring renditions of The Christmas Song and Go Tell It On The Mountain. Franceschini was good, but in my opinion, he didn't compare to other sax players that I've heard Mike Stern with like Bob Berg and Michael Brecker.

I haven't seen many good jazz shows in recent years, so it was great to finally make it out and see some of the best musicians in the world.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Discovering Nerdcore

A buddy of mine at work just told me about Nerdcore, which is basically people rapping about technical stuff. Most of the rapping isn't that great musically, but it is pretty funny for us computer geeks. Check out this example Monzy performs at Stanford University and this short documentary about Nerdcore itself: Nerdcore For Life Trailer.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Blu-ray BD-J at LAJUG

This evening I attended the Los Angeles Java Users Group. The topic was Blu-ray and BD-J, a platform for providing interactive content with movies on Blu-ray discs. Several engineers from Panasonic made the presentation, as they are developing Blu-ray products. They also authored the Blu-ray content on The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, one of the first Blu-ray offerings.

The technology looks interesting and is just starting to break into the market. It occurred to me that it may be a good time to learn BD-J and start a company based on BD-J development while the technology is so new. I talked to one of the Panasonic developers after the meeting, though, and she told me that the spec isn't that "open". There is no way right now to download the spec or some kind of development platform and get familiar with it without joining the Blu-ray Disc Association (which I think costs a lot of money). Granted, I haven't really looked into it that much. Maybe it is easier than she led me to believe.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Langer's Deli

This morning, I went to go jam with some friends from work at a music studio they rent on Cotner in West LA. After our jam, one of them had a craving for a pastrami sandwich at Langer's Deli near MacArthur Park. That area is known to be a pretty dangerous area with lots of crime and drug deals, although I suspected is had been improving lately as with the rest of Los Angeles. Eager to try a new restaurant and see MacArthur park for the first time, I agreed to make the trek out there for lunch. My friend raved about how Langer's was by far the best deli in LA, especially for a pastrami sandwich.

I have to admit, the food was pretty good. I was told to get
#19 - PASTRAMI, SWISS CHEESE and COLE SLAW Russian Style Dressing $11.25. I have been slacking on my effort to be vegetarian and today I slacked again and ordered #19 as my friend recommended. I have to admit, it was pretty darn good. In addition, I ordered matzo ball soup and we shared an order of potato pancakes which came with apple sauce and sour cream. It was all very good.

Our waitress, Eveline, was a 69-year-old charming woman with an accent that sounded Scottish. For my friend who recommended Langer's, chatting with her was half the reason he liked to go there. She delivered great service with a smile.

After lunch, we decided to walk off our big meal at MacArthur park which was across the street. The park was lively with people strolling, resting, and, of course, peddling fake ID's and who knows what else. We got approached by at least 2 men asking if we needed any fake ID's. I guess if you need a fake ID, this park is the place to go!

It was really a beautiful day in LA since it had rained during the last week. It was one of those warm sunny fall days on which you can see all the surrounding mountains, landmarks like the Hollywood sign, and the shiny buildings downtown. It was a perfect day to visit MacArthur park for the first time.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Family Hike in Wildwood

To burn off some of the Thanksgiving dinner calories, my whole family (mom, dad, wife, brother, sister-in-law, and dog) went hiking today at Wildwood Park in Thousand Oaks. My dad wanted to go there since we used to go there when my brother and I were kids and none of us had been there in a while.

We parked at the park entrance where Avenida de los Arboles dead ends and walked all the way to the giant teepee and then over to Paradise Falls.

Along the way, we searched for the Indian Winter geocache along the Santa Rosa Trail, but could not find it. We didn't attempt to find any others because my brother and his wife weren't very interested in geocaching.

We followed a different route on the way back following Indian Creek Trail back up to Avenida de los Arboles. The way back was mostly uphill and my mom had a hard time making it up the trail. We saw a snake cross the trail in front of us which freaked my mom out.

It was a really nice day for a hike. It was warm, not windy, and many of the trees were turning their fall colors. We stopped at Boba Loca on the way home for Boba drinks and then returned home to prepare a dinner of Thanksgiving leftovers.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Your American Accent

What American Accent do you have? According to this short quiz on American accents, I have a Midland Accent.
"You have a Midland accent" is just another way of saying "you don't have an accent." You probably are from the Midland (Pennsylvania, southern Ohio, southern Indiana, southern Illinois, and Missouri) but then for all we know you could be from Florida or Charleston or one of those big southern cities like Atlanta or Dallas. You have a good voice for TV and radio.
I thought it would be able to tell I was from California, but it didn't. Try the quiz and tell me if the accent it guessed for you matches where you actually come from.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Google Image Labeler

Have you tried the Google Image Labeler? It is a game where you and a randomly chosen partner are shown images one at time. You and your partner have to type in possible labels for the image. You keep typing labels until you and your partner have a label in common which earns you both points. Then a new image appears and you start again. This goes on for 1 minute and 30 seconds. After the round is over, you can choose to see the labels that your partner typed in.

Once I started playing, I got hooked and played for about half an hour. It is kind of fun and nice to know that you're doing your part to help Google better classify its images.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Washington/Centinela Redevelopment Part 3

Recently, there has been some more visible progress on the construction at the corner of Washington and Centinela.

There haven't been any changes to the northeast corner lot. It is still an empty dirt lot with a fence around it. On the northwest corner, however, the old buildings have been demolished within the past 2 days.

Pictured here are some construction workers tearing down the facade on the northwest corner. This morning, they started to put some spikes in the ground at regular intervals. I don't know what they are for yet, but I wonder if that means that they will construct buildings on the northwest corner first even though the northeast corner has been torn down for quite some time. I am getting anxious for something to happen on that corner.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Kings for a Night

Last night we saw the LA Kings at the Staples Center VIP-style! My company owns one of the VIP suites and occasionally hands tickets out to the employees. I am not really much of a hockey fan, but I had never been to the Staples Center and I didn't want to pass up the chance to go for free and on top of that, to visit a VIP suite. It was really cool. The VIP suite is kind of like a small hotel room, but where there would normally be a sliding glass door to a balcony, there were 2 rows of leather seats overlooking the inside of the Staples Center. The room also had a couch, a sink, and some refrigerators which were stocked with soft drinks, juice, wine, and beer.

The hockey game was pretty entertaining. The crowd really goes crazy when the home team scores a goal. The players fight a lot without getting reprimanded by the referees which I think is kind of lame, but I guess that's what a lot of people go to the games to see. To me, it is a little WWF in that respect.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

More California Native Plants

This morning I went back to the Theodore Payne nursery to buy some more native plants for my garden. I wanted a few that grow tall to place in the very back of my yard, and I wanted to get one that would serve as a ground cover to fill up the bare space between plants while the plants are small. I ended up buying the following plants:

Mimulus aurantiacus (Bush Monkey Flower)
Arctostaphylos (Emerald Carpet)
Arctostaphylos glauca (Big Berry Manzanita)
Salvia clevelandii 'Allen Chickering)
Sambucus mexicana (Mexican Elderberry)

I will add these near the other plants I bought at the Theodore Payne Fall Festival a few weeks ago.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Del Rey Day 2006

Yesterday we went to this year's Del Rey Day, a community event sponsored by the Del Rey Neighborhood Council. I appreciate the council's effort to build a sense of community with an event like this, but it doesn't seem to be working. Every year there appears to be less people attending the event. It always feels like the only people there are the ones who had something to do with planning the event itself.

Del Rey suffers from a lack of identity. Few people in Del Rey would be able to tell you there is such a thing as Del Rey, let alone the fact that they live or work there. It really is an adjacent to community. It is the part that is left over after defining the boundaries of Marina Del Rey, Mar Vista, Culver City, and Playa Vista. There is no part of Del Rey that feels like the center of the community. Few, if any, real estate agents use the term Del Rey when advertising properties. If you tell someone you live in Del Rey, they will try to correct you and say "You mean Marina Del Rey? Playa Del Rey?". If you tell a cab driver at LAX to take you to Del Rey, they will give you a blank stare.

This year they held the Del Rey Neighborhood Council officer elections at the Marina Del Rey Middle School to coincide with Del Rey Day. That was a good idea. They were able to muster up 137 voters according to the preliminary results. I think this was more voters than they've had in the past. Almost all the officer seats up for grabs had only one candidate to choose from which didn't make for a very exciting election. The only contested seat was for 2nd Vice President which was won by write-in candidate Katia D'Amico by a narrow margin. Katia told me that she ran at the last minute because she was concerned that there would otherwise be no Latino representation on the board for an area with quite a large Latino population.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Comparing Endorsements

Every time there is an election with many local government offices, issues and propositions to vote for, I often turn to endorsements from various organizations to help me figure out how I want to vote. Usually I collect endorsements from organizations I tend to side with (such as the Green Party, the Sierra Club, and the LA Times), as well as ones I don't (such as AAA, the Republican Party, and the AAGLA). I have even gone so far as to put them in a spreadsheet so it is easy to compare their positions on all the issues. I wish there was some web site that would make this easy. If all these organizations uploaded their stance on each issue to such a web site, it would be such a great resource for the public.

A friend of mine just pointed me to a new organization I can add to my collection: the Young Progressive Majority which is committed to increasing the vote for local progressive candidates and issues in Southern California. It targets 20 and 30 somethings. They have a handy voter guide [PDF] for the upcoming November 7 midterm election.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Ms. Dewey

Have you heard about the search site Ms. Dewey?: An attractive woman, Ms. Dewey, vocally comments on your searches before showing you the search results.

I don't think I'll be switching to this from Google anytime soon, but I did find it sort of addicting. I kept trying new keywords just to see what she would say. There seem to be a lot of custom responses to vulgar phrases like "Show me your #@?!" The whole thing is implemented in Flash, so it loads kind of slow.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Theodore Payne Fall Festival

This weekend, the Theodore Payne Foundation for Wildflowers and Native Plants held its Fall Festival at its nursery in Sun Valley, CA. I heard about it from our Sierra Club newsletter. I went yesterday and attended a free workshop called Planting Natives. It was a great opportunity to ask questions and learn about plants native to Southern California.

I am interested in replacing much of the lawn in our front and back yards with some kind of native plant landscape. Native plants have many benefits. For the most part, you don't have to water them or fertilize them. They attract native insects and animals. They are easy to grow since they have adapted to the climate over thousands of years.

Until yesterday, it has been a struggle for me to figure out which plants in the local nurseries are really native. Plants from other Mediterranean areas like Australia and Africa are often grouped together with the California natives. The great thing about shopping at the Theodore Payne nursery is that every single plant and tree they sell is native to Southern California and they have an amazing selection and knowledgeable staff.

While I was there, I bought the excellent book California Native Plants for the Garden. I highly recommend taking this book with you if you visit the Theodore Payne nursery. The plants on display are young and it is difficult to know what they will look like when they mature and flower. However, each plant is marked with its Latin name which can be used to quickly find a complete description and often a picture of the mature plant in the book.

I ended up buying the following plants to start my native plant garden in the very back of my backyard:
Small Leaf Mountain Lilac (Ceanothus Julia Phelps)
California Buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum foliolosum)
White Sage (Salvia apiana)
'Firecracker' Island Snapdragon (Galvezia speciosa)

On the way home, I stopped at the Sepulveda Garden Center where the LA chapter of the California Native Plant Society was having another native plant sale. There I picked up another Firecracker Island Snapdragon, a Purple Sage (Salvia leucophylla), and a packet of California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica) seeds.

When I got home, I planted all the new plants and seeds. I can't wait to see how they turn out.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

RIDE-Arc: Los Angeles Muertos

I went on my first full RIDE-Arc ride last night which was called Los Angeles Muertos. Starting at Wilshire and Western at 9:30 PM, we rode to various creepy parts of LA. Starting with an old crematory where some famous people were cremated (I can't remember who - they were famous long ago), we rode to the Angelus Rosedale cemetery which was built in the 1800s. There were a few famous people buried there, but the only one that meant anything to me was jazz pianist Art Tatum. We were given about 2o minutes to explore the cemetery grounds by bike.

I was really hoping we'd go to the house featured in Six Feet Under since it is in the same West Adams neighborhood. Instead we went north and rode to the Hollywood Forever cemetery. Again, we were given about 30 minutes to explore. I had been to this cemetery many times at night, believe it or not, for Cinespia movie screenings. Still is was fun to explore the whole thing by bike.

After that, we rode west on Hollywood Blvd, turned right up to the Magic Castle, stopped at a house where the Black Dahlia murder allegedly took place, and finally over to the Church of Scientology to end the ride. Jill was craving a doughnut so we stopped at Winchell's on the way home. We didn't get home until 2 AM.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

New Role As Manager

Earlier this week I found out that one of the Directors of Engineering at my company will be leaving for a new job at eHarmony. I was asked if I wanted to assume some of his responsibilities and manage a team of 4 people: 2 Java developers and 2 PL/SQL developers. At the risk of not getting to code very much anymore, I accepted and my title of Principal Engineer will be Engineering Manager starting October 16. I figured it was time for a new challenge and higher standing within my company. My new team will be focused on projects that typically last around 2-3 months.

Just in the last few days, my job has changed tremendously. I am starting to get invited to a ton of meetings. Some are just to meet key business people, some are to learn about and prioritize all of the company's projects, and others are to get to know my new team and determine what our goals will be. During the last 2 days (16 hours) of work, I think it has been 14 hours of meetings and 2 hours of free time at my desk.

I have a feeling that I'm going to have to start relying on side projects outside of work to keep up my programming chops. Right now I'm pouring through Ruby on Rails books and also working on a Java-based social shopping web site with a few other people. That should keep me pretty busy.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Life Can Be So Car-Free

This evening we attended part of the Life Can Be So Car-Free event at the new Los Angeles State Historic Park which is just north of the Chinatown station on the Gold Line. Ideally I would have ridden my bike or taken the bus to this event, but I had to attend a wedding all day today in La Mirada, and the only way I could get there on time was to drive! I figured going by car was better than not going at all.

I got there at around 8 PM after they had just started to show various movies on car-free and car-lite living. There weren't quite as many people there as I thought there would be, but I saw a lot of familiar faces - people that I see on Critical Mass rides.

I found a display at one of the booths pretty interesting. It was a booth for a new program called Roll With It which pairs up people that bike to work and people that want to learn to bike to work. They had a map of LA with pushpins marking the start and end of various peoples' bicycle commutes. Each pair of pushpins was connected by a string of yarn. It was a nice visual display of where the bicycle commuting traffic was concentrated in LA. This gave me the idea that an online application could be written for people to input their commute paths and the aggregate commuting routes could be depicted on Google Maps. Something like this could really give the city of LA an idea about where they should try to improve bicycle conditions. I told one of the Roll With It organizers that I'd see if I could figure out how to do something like this.

A little hungry, I left the event early and headed to Little Tokyo to have dinner at one of my favorite restaurants there, Sohoju. Dolsot Bibimbop - yum.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Cycling Friendly Cities

This video, Cycling Friendly, showcases cities Copenhagen (Denmark), Amsterdam and Houten (Netherlands), and Bogotá (Colombia) and how they have promoted the use of bicycling over cars for transportation in urban areas. My dream would be for Los Angeles and other American cities to head in that direction.

According to this source, the scenario for Cycling Friendly Cities came from Enrique Peñalosa, former mayor of Bogotá, who used the Dutch and Danish policies for urban transport planning as a model to create a social model for his city.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Bryce and Zion Mountain Biking Trip

I spent all of last week mountain biking on an Escape Adventures tour. This year I went with a friend of mine on the Bryce and Zion National Parks tour. It was awesome: great trails, great food, amazing scenery, and a fun group of people. There were 8 guests (husband and wife from Toronto, two women from Boston, two men from Denver, me and a friend of mine from LA) and 2 guides (Erik and Nancy).

I had been trying to get in shape for this trip, but even after riding to work every day for the past few weeks, I was still the worst athlete in the group. I had about as much technique as most of the other riders, but I usually wound up finishing rides last due to having less stamina. It was the worst on the first day as I hadn't yet been acclimated to the high elevation. My heart would beat really fast just after peddling uphill for one minute! It definitely got better throughout the week as I adjusted.

I rode my 1996 Trek Singletrack on the trip. As I expected, everyone was telling me I was crazy to ride a "hardtail" (no rear suspension) bike. I have been thinking about buying a bike with full suspension, but the good ones cost around $3000 and I didn't think I was a serious enough mountain biker to spend that much. I borrowed my friend's Santa Cruz Superlight on the last ride which was on slick rock. Riding this dual suspension bike was amazing. I couldn't believe what a difference it made. Suddenly, I was able to ride as well as all the others in the group. It was so smooth compared to my bike. At the end of the trip, the guides gave out awards to each guest. I won The Enlightened One award because they thought I had seen the light when I tried the dual suspension bike and that I was like a totally different rider.

Visiting Bryce and Zion again reminded me how amazing those parks are - especially Zion. I was glad we had a chance to do some hiking in the parks. The Narrows hike is incredible.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Sunset Ranch Dinner Ride

For my friend's 40th birthday, a group of 4 of us went to Sunset Ranch to go on one of their famous dinner rides. From their website,
Our most famous event is our Sunset Dinner Ride. It consists of a 90 minute ride through Griffith Park over to Burbank and to the delicious Viva Fresh Mexican Restaurant. After eating a great meal, enjoy a relaxing ride back through the park, under the moon and stars, arriving to the ranch no later then 10:30 pm. All rides are accompanied by an experienced wrangler.
They do these rides every night, but Friday is the only night when you can show up without a reservation. We left work at 3:30 PM so that we'd have a good chance at getting a spot on the ride before it booked up. Fortunately it all worked out and we were able to join the group of about 15 riders for the evening. The ride cost $60 a person + tips for the guides at the end.

This was my second time on a horse, the first being in Big Beara few years ago. I'm not a huge fan of horseback riding, but I'll go with the flow when others want to go. I don't completely trust animals so I get scared since, to me, the horse is the one in control. My horse on this ride was named Mouse. On the way to dinner, he was pretty slow and remained in the back of the group. On the way back, however, he transformed into a mighty mouse and wanted to race toward the front. He also would run up to the butt of another horse and give it a peck which was a cross between a kiss and a bite. Other people on the ride seemed to be getting annoyed at my horse saying "Watch out for the mouse bite!".

To control the horse, you are supposed to kick it to go faster, pull back on the reigns to slow down, and pull the reigns right or left to turn. Mouse obeyed the reigns, but never really responded to the kicking. Maybe I just wasn't kicking hard enough. Mouse would speed up when one of the guides came by making a clicking sound with her mouth.

The ride was a lot of fun and the views from the top of the Hollywood Hills were amazing. At different points we could see LA from downtown to the west side and on the valley side from Glendale to North Hollywood and beyond. The only annoying thing about the ride was that there was a lot of dust being kicked up by the horses. I recommend bringing or buying one of their $2 bandanas to wrap over your mouth so you don't inhale all the dust.

It is amazing how short I felt after dismounting a horse I've been on for 90 minutes. It was really wierd.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Capital of Late Night Biking

The number of regular evening and late-night bike ride opportunities is rapidly increasing in Los Angeles. We have 2 Critical Mass rides, the Midnight Ridazz rides, and as I discovered Friday night, the RIDE-Arc ride.

A few friends and I were coming home from the Santa Monica Critical Mass ride Friday night - going south on Walgrove Ave just north of Venice Blvd. All of a sudden, a whole swarm of cyclists started passing us. We thought that a contingent of the earlier critical mass ride was going for a second spin, although we didn't recognize a lot of the people. A little confused, we asked some people where they were going and what ride they were on. To our surprise, it was a completely separate LA bike ride that meets on the same night as the Santa Monica Critical Mass ride each month. They call their ride RIDE-Arc. According to their website:
RIDE-Arc is a monthly social bicycle ride in the cool evening air with a loose, vaguely referenced Architectural theme, mixed with some Urban Anthropology and your own personal sense of adventure and discovery. Awesome rides, good vibes taking you to places that shape the Los Angeles urban landscape.
Apparently they were on a rare ride on the westside of town. Normally the rides start and end closer to downtown LA. Excited to learn about this group, my friend and I joined them for the next 30 minutes or so as they stopped at the McKinley Residence near Abbott Kinney, walked through the Venice Canals, and visited the giant binoculars on Main St. At each point of interest, the group stops and a person speaks to the group about the architectural significance of the building or house. Pretty cool! What a great idea for a bike ride.

I would like to go on another one of these, but it can be difficult to get to their starting point on the eastside of town. Also, it would be almost impossible to go on the Santa Monica Critical Mass ride and the RIDE-Arc ride in the same night. Anyway, it is nice to know there are so many choices for group bike rides in LA. I hope a few more pop up on the westside.

Do other American cities have this many late night rides?

Friday, August 25, 2006

LaserTag Team Building

A few months ago, the sales and marketing part of my company got to spend the day at Catalina Island for "team building". This week, the tech part of the company, which I'm in, got to go on our own team building field trip. We went to Ultrazone in Sherman Oaks to play Laser Tag!

This was my first time playing laser tag and I had no idea what to expect. The way it works is that everyone gets divided up into small teams of about 5 people per team. 3 teams or 15 people play at a time. Everyone wears a vest with several light-up targets and a laser gun. The object is to point the last gun at other people's targets and if the laser hits the target, you earn points and the other person's gun gets disabled for a few seconds. You also score points by attacking an opponent's "base" which is a room with a special target that requires a few seconds of repeated shooting before it gets "hit". When it gets hit, a strobe light comes on. It was pretty fun, but not something I'd enjoy doing more than about once a year.

After laser tag, we were all given free tokens to play video games, etc. I spent all mine on Dance Dance Revolution which is a lot of fun and verey tiring. I played 3 times against 3 other people and beat all of them!

I would have much preferred to go to Catalina, but still had fun playing Laser Tag for the first time.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Daryl Hannah Videos

Daryl Hannah has been making short videos that she releases weekly on her website They seem to be about a lot of the things that interest me like bike riding, farmers markets, and caring for the environment. The latest movie (might be at this url after this week) is about bicycle culture and has many scenes from Los Angeles and its Critical Mass rides. I guess she went on one of the recent rides.

Maybe I'll see Daryl some day on one of the Santa Monica Critical Mass rides!

Monday, August 14, 2006

Commuting By Bike

My plan of commuting to work by bicycle began today. I decided I should try biking to work everyday to prepare for an upcoming bike vacation in late September. I have always thought about biking to work since it is less than 5 miles away from home.

I hesitated because I didn't want to get to work all sweaty. Most of the ride is flat, but there is one long hill as I pass the Santa Monica Airport on Walgrove Ave. It is hard to get up that hill without breaking a sweat. To address this, I joined the gym that is in the office complex I work in. They have nice showers with towel service. It is great to be able to shower and not have to carry a wet towel around afterwards. As an added bonus, I might add a short workout to my morning. The gym membership will set me back $55 a month, but I can save $58 a month if I stop purchasing the EZ transit pass. I'll just keep a debit card handy for the few times I may take the bus instead of riding.

There are a few things I am thinking about buying to help with the commute. First is a new bike. I have a mountain bike and a beach cruiser, but I think it would be a lot nicer to have a bike with skinny tires for road riding. Perhaps I'll get a hybrid bike. I also want to get some panniers to carry my clothes and occasionally a laptop or notebook.

There is plenty to read about concerning bike commuting:

Sunday, August 13, 2006

2006 LA Tofu Festival

We attended the LA Tofu Festival yesterday in Little Tokyo. It was hot and crowded and there was a lot of good food to eat. My wife and I split 20 festival script tickets which cost $1 each. They can be traded at each booth for small portions of food, most of them consisting at least partly of tofu. There was tofu pizza, tofu skewers, tofu tostadas, tofu with noodles, tofu desserts, etc. etc.. The items ranged from 1 to 3 tickets, with most of them being 2. This is a little cheaper than I remember the food being (I went to the festival a few years ago). We got more than enough tickets. We were totally full with 4 tickets each to spare. We spent the remaining 4 on bottled water and a boba drink.

I wish we could have spent more time there and in Little Tokyo in general. However we were kind of in a rush because we had to get home to pick up friends to go to Cinespia. Last night's movie was the original Psycho.

Here is a blurry picture of me at the festival entrance taken with my cell phone:

By the way, I love tofu!

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Mar Vista Farmers Market Kickoff

This morning was the very first Mar Vista Farmers Market. It is going to be held every Sunday from 9 AM to 1 PM on Grand View Blvd just south of Venice Blvd. Like other farmers markets, they had stands selling organically grown produce. Vendors were also selling Mexican food, crepes, and desserts. The desserts were sold by the two woman who run Hotcakes Bakes, the French bakery around the corner from me.

I went to the farmers market just after finishing breakfast with some friends at Pepe's Galley, an old-school diner within the Mar Vista Lanes bowling ally. I got there just as Bill Rosendahl was presenting a $100,000 check to the Mar Vista Community Council which would go toward beautifying Venice Blvd. I'm glad to see some effort put into making the Mar Vista "main street" a little bit nicer. I think it has a lot of potential.

While leaving the farmers market, a guy from Soaptopia, a soap vendor on Venice Blvd., handed us a free soap sample. We decided to walk down to Soaptopia to see what else they sold. There was a sign inside the store saying that all their stuff was made locally in their kitchen in Venice, California. I asked the guy behind the counter where their kitchen in Venice was. He said, "right here in this store". It is amazing how many people have no idea where they are in LA. This store was clearly in Mar Vista and not in Venice. For some reason I refrained from correcting the guy as I normally would. I was hoping my apparent confusion would be a hint for him.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Big Turnout at Critical Mass

Tonight's Santa Monica Critical Mass was one of the best I've been on. For some reason, more people showed up tonight than ever before. Maybe it was the fact that the weather has been perfect recently. It usually gets cold at night on the west side of LA, but recently it has been nice and warm. It is so nice to ride the streets of LA with hundreds of other cyclists. The streets feel so much safer that way.

Tonight's ride went through many of the usual favorite areas such as Main St., Abbott Kinney, the Venice Canals, and the Venice Circle. For the first time, though, the ride headed east on Rose Ave to preview the new bike lane that has been striped between Lincoln and Walgrove. It is so great to see new bike lanes showing up on the west side. It makes a big difference for cyclists in my opinion.

Usually I don't like when people bring loud sound systems on the ride, but tonight, it was okay since they played some mellow music that seemed to put everyone in a good mood. In fact, when some car drivers got frustrated with us, most of us just waved at them. It was such a better reaction than some times in the past where cyclists yelled back at the drivers.

The ride ended at an outdoor party at 10th and Michigan in Santa Monica. It was held in someone's mostly empty yard and there was plenty of tamales and beer.

My wife came on the ride tonight - her very first critical mass ride. She had a great time and was lucky to have chosen one of the largest rides as her first one. While some old-school funk music was playing from someone's bike stereo, she told me that she felt like we were in some kind of Quentin Tarantino bike gang.

Here is a picture from last month's ride. I am in there riding with a friend of mine. Can you find me?

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Compost Pail Gift

Yesterday I received a belated birthday gift from my parents-in-law. It was something I've been wanting for over a year: a kitchen compost pail, some odor-blocking filters, and 100 biodegradable compost pail lining bags.

This new pail will replace a small ceramic jar we've been using that tends to get pretty gross if you don't wash it all the time. The new pail has holes in the top to let air in, and a slot to place filters in to make sure no odor gets out. It's also bigger which means I won't have to empty it as often. The new bags are made out of cornstarch and are really cool. I will no longer have to carry the whole pail out to the compost bin. When the pail fills up, all I have to do is take the filled bag out and throw the whole thing in the compost bin.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Bathroom Remodel Standstill

For more than a year now, we've been wanting to remodel our master bathroom. I only call it a master bathroom because it is closest to our bedroom. Otherwise it is a pretty modest bathroom that was built in the 70's by the owners before us as part of an addition to the original house.

Here are the reasons we want to remodel:
  • We don't find the blank and yellow tile appealing
  • The tiled linoleum floor is pretty ugly and doesn't match anything else
  • The shower door is cracked and leaking
  • The shower base and door is pretty dirty and really hard to clean
  • We want to upgrade from 1 to 2 sinks
  • We want to raise the shower head
  • We want to have 2 electrical outlets instead of 1
We first approached this remodel like we did our kitchen remodel which we did successfully a few years ago. We got an estimate on cabinets from a local kitchen store and then got a quote from a contractor that the store referred us to. The estimate was $7500. All we had to do was select and order all the parts, e.g. tile, mirrors, faucets, toilet, etc. and this guy would come and install everything. The problem is that we suck at picking out parts. We went to a few stores and couldn't really decide on what we wanted. We kind of forgot about the bathroom for a while.

Then a few months ago, our interest in the bathroom returned since it is so hard to clean. We decided that it might be worth paying more for someone to design and manage the whole thing since we are usually busy at work and can't be home to manage contractors. While shopping at the Great Indoors, we found that they offered such a service. We began the process with them which included a designer and a project manager that came to our house to talk it over with us and take measurements. For some reason, it took them several weeks to get the designs final and we grew frustrated. It didn't help that their quote was over $22,000. That was more than we wanted to spend. We ended up not following through.

Since then I've called two other contractors to get quotes. One I found as spam in my email box and the other I found in the local paper. The first one told me on the phone that the cost would be $30,000 to $80,000 depending on how nice I wanted it. I quickly told the guy that it was above my budget. The other person came to my house to do an estimate. This morning, he came back to explain his proposal and to give me his quote which was around $30,000. I don't get it. Why does it cost $30,000 to do a modest bathroom remodel?

My parents and even some neighbors have told me that it should cost around $6000-$7500. I would feel stupid if I spent $30,000 and then found out later that I really could have had the same work done for much less. We didn't even spend $15,000 to remodel our kitchen.

So as of now, I don't know what I'll be doing. It may be a long time before we get the bathroom remodel we want.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Ann Arbor Getaway

We just got back from a 4 day trip to Ann Arbor, MI to visit some good friends and to check out the annual Art Fair. We stayed at our friends' house in a quiet neighborhood between Almendinger Park and the University of Michigan football stadium.

We spent most of Day 1 and Day 2 walking around the streets of downtown Ann Arbor looking at Art Fair art. Most of the art was photography, paintings, and sculptures from artists that came from all over the country. In addition to art, there were quite a few politically-oriented booths, most of which were left-leaning. Impeach Bush! signs were all over the place and many of them could also be found in people's yards. I didn't see a single conservative or Republican booth or sign. Maybe this explains why I've always liked Ann Arbor :)

After the Art Fair, we took our friends' dog for a walk along the Huron River at Nichols Arboretum commonly called The Arb. The Arb is one of the most scenic places in Ann Arbor and I make sure to go there at least once every time I'm in town.

On Day 3 we took a day trip to Lake Michigan and spent time at the beaches near Grand Haven. We also did some hiking in the Sand Dune parks adjacent to the beach and finished off with an ice cream treat at Whippy Dip. It was a fun day.

On Day 4 we ate at the famous deli Zingerman's and then cruised around town looking at real estate. Most of the houses were selling for between $250-300K. I, of course, couldn't help but think that the smart thing to do would be to sell our house in CA and move to a place like Ann Arbor where we could practically retire since the housing prices are so much cheaper.

When we got back to LA, we learned that the weather here was pretty awful while we were gone. Ironically, it had been hot and humid here, while the weather was almost perfect in Michigan.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Losing Patience With Gentoo

I installed Gentoo Linux on my desktop at work over a year ago because I wanted to learn Linux and a co-worker recommended Gentoo since it requires you to learn a lot of lower-level configuration and doesn't have as much hand-holding as other distributions. It also uses Portage as its package management system which installs most things from source code, allowing you to heavily customize software according to your environment. Portage also is supposed to make the management of dependencies easy. With my co-worker by my side, it has been pretty easy to maintain, since if I ran into a problem, he would help me out.

Well my Gentoo-expert co-worker has recently left and I am now all alone with Gentoo. I have been able to survive okay until just a few days ago when I tried to update my X windows (xorg-x11 package) installation from version 6.8 to 7.0. I followed Gentoo's wiki page on performing the upgrade, but afterwards, my system won't boot into X. I am totally stuck. It complains about not finding some nvidia driver module.

Now I don't know if I should spend time trying to fix it by experimentation and posting on the Gentoo forums, or if I should say screw it and reinstall another Linux distribution like Ubuntu that is easier to maintain. So far 2 other people at work have been using Ubuntu and have had no problems. I have to decide soon because, without being able to bring up X, I won't be able to use the tools I need for work such as Eclipse, OpenOffice, and Evolution.

I have a feeling I will end up starting over from Ubuntu. I may even go into work this evening (Sunday), install Ubuntu, and try to get my development environment ready for tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Washington/Centinela Redevelopment Part 2

This morning, the construction workers finished removing the entire blacktop that served as the foundation of the old gas station. The whole lot is now dirt. The area already feels cleaner because the lot used to be overrun with litter and weeds and that has all been removed with the asphalt.

As I waited for the bus this morning, I watched the tractor break up the asphalt and lift big chunks of it into a giant pile. I wonder what they will be doing next.

I took the picture shown here with my cell phone. In the future, I may bring a camera with me so I can get a better looking photo.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Compost Heats Up

Back in April, I got 2 new compost bins so that I could work on speeding up the process to make compost. The plan was to add new material to one of them, and when full, to transfer the full bin's contents to another bin. In this other bin, no new material would be added and I would turn the pile about once a week and add enough water to keep the pile as moist as a wrung-out sponge.

Yesterday, after raking and shredding the fallen leaves from my neighbor's magnolia tree, my bin filled up for the first time! I transferred the whole pile to an empty bin and added some water after transferring each third of the pile.

Today, I took a look at my compost thermometer, and it read 148 degrees Fahrenheit! I have never seen it that high before. That means the microorganisms have kicked in and the pile is cooking. I am anxious to see how long it will take before the whole pile is black gold.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Washington/Centinela Redevelopment Part 1

Today, they bulldozed the Shell gas station and Michael's Flowers, two long-time vacant buildings on the northeast corner of Washington Blvd and Centinela Ave. This is just down the street from where I live and directly behind the bus stop I use every morning to catch the Santa Monica Big Blue Bus, Line 14, to work.

Culver City plans to build a new mixed-use structure on that corner where there will be commercial units on the ground level and residential units on top. The project is described here.

I was happy to see work begin this morning. I have been looking forward to having something new on that corner since I moved to this neighborhood over 5 years ago. The empty buildings have been somewhat of an eye sore, collecting graffiti and trash. I'm not sure what will go in there when it's done, but I'm hoping for any of the following: a cafe, bar, restaurant, cleaners, haircut store, gym, market, or movie theater.

Friday, June 16, 2006


When I told a friend of mine how I wish there were more than two parties, he pointed out that there is an effort underway for the '08 election to run an alternative ticket with a President and Vice President candidate that can be independent or from any party including Democrat and Republican. It is called Unity08. The process to choose 2 people to run on a Unity ticket will be entirely online. Sounds interesting. I hope they can gain enough attention to make their ticket competitive. I have never liked how we have a 2 party system in the US. If you have interest in supporting their effort, I encourage you to sign up for their mailing list so you can be informed about their voting process as we get closer to the '08 election.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Voting Green

This morning I went to my local polling place to vote in the 2006 primaries. I am registered in the Green Party, so I could only vote for the Green candidates that were running against each other. It turns out that the only office where more than one Green was running was for the California Senate. There were 3 candidates and I voted for Tian Harter, a guy from Mountain View, CA who listed more bike lanes and transit improvements as two of is main priorities. I also voted for Peter Camejo for California Governor. He ran against Arnold in the last election, and he really impressed me in the debates.

The staff at my polling place was unprepared and disorganized. I was asked to sign next to my name in a book listing my name, address, and political party. When the woman saw that my party affiliation was GRN (Green), she had no idea what that meant. She said, "GRN - what's that? Are you Democrat? Republican? I don't understand this GRN." I explained that it was my party and she said, "That can't be. I only have ballots for these parties (she pointed to ballots for Democrat, Republican, and few smaller parties like American Independent and Libertarian)".

Even the lady working next to her looked at me like I was crazy and felt that there was no such thing as a Green party. By this time, other staff members overheard her and came over to try to help. One of them, who must have known the Green party existed, said that they needed to look for the Green Party ballots. Finally, they found them deep in some box behind the counter and I was happy that I would be able to vote this morning.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Eritrean Food and Jazz

I was browsing earlier today to see who was playing in LA tonight. I came across a jazz club I hadn't heard of before called Industry Cafe & Jazz which is on Washington Blvd in Culver City a little bit east of the Jazz Bakery. The description said they had jazz music, Ethiopian food, and no cover. I decided to check it out.

The band this evening was called M.v.A. Quartet. I'm not sure what it stands for. They were a pretty good jazz quartet consisting of drums, bass, guitar, and keyboards. They pretty much stuck to standards you'd find in the Real Book. My only complaint was that the keyboardist was playing a keyboard and not a real piano. I think the music would have sounded much better with a real piano. Also, the keyboardist and guitarist were playing pretty loud, especially for a small room. This, of course, led to the drummer and bass player playing loud as well. When two guest singers sat in, they were each drowned out by the band. I wish bands like this would just go completely acoustic and listen to each other more.

The food was pretty good too. We first ordered a vegetarian plate and a non-vegetarian plate, but then our server relayed a message from the chef saying that we ordered way too much food. He said he would cut both plates in half and serve it to us on smaller plates. He was right. We had plenty of food even with the smaller portions. After dinner, we shared a yummy Tiramisu.

I asked our server how long the place has been there. She said 6 months. She went on to tell me that they are fortunate that another Eritrean restaurant located down the street had recently closed which was good for their business. I had never heard of Eritrea before, so I asked her to repeat what she had said. I thought I was at an Ethiopian restaurant. "We're all from Eritrea" she said referring to the staff and most of the clientele. I apologized for my ignorance and asked her what Eritrea was. She explained that in the early 90's the people of Eritrea, a province in Ethiopia, won a civil war and gained independence and sovereignty. I felt lame for not knowing about the country of Eritrea, but then again, how many American's do? Eritrea and the rest of Ethiopia have similar cuisine it turns out, so what we ate is still considered Ethiopian food.

I really like this place, so I'll definitely be going back soon. On Wednesday nights, they have a jazz jam session, which is probably what I'll check out next. If the musicians are near my level, I may break out the sax after several years and bring it down there. I kind of miss playing. We'll see.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Angelyne Sighting

On our way back from seeing The Invasion of The Body Snatchers at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery (part of Cinespia), we were driving west on Santa Monica Blvd and while we were passing the Troubadour, we saw a pink corvette driving to the right of us with a license plate that read ANGLYNE. Jill said, "hey, that's the Angelyne, the one from the billboards. To get a glimpse of her, I slowed down a little so I'd be right next to her, and we looked through her window. She had the sun shade folded back to the left so that people couldn't see her whole face, but it was definitely a blonde woman. Curious to see where she was going, I got behind her and we followed her as far as Wilshire where she made a right turn and we kept straight.

When I got home, I went to the web and searched for "Angelyne pink corvette" to see if that was really her. Sure enough, a few web sites turned up, one which is specifically about the act of spotting Angelyne driving in LA called The Angelyne Sightings Report.

As we passed under the 405 overpass, things got even more interesting. A young woman that was waiting in the left lane to get on the freeway opened her sunroof, stood up in her car facing the car behind her with her body sticking through the sunroof, and then, wham, she lifted her top off, flashing the cars behind her! This was the first car flashing I've ever seen. Very entertaining.

Al Gore and Global Warming

I saw Al Gore's new movie, An Inconvenient Truth, at the Laemmle's Monica Fourplex in Santa Monica last Wednesday night. It was opening night. I really enjoyed it. The movie is mostly clips from a presentation that Al Gore apparently travels around the world giving frequently. Some people might find this boring, but clips of the presentation are mixed with humorous cartoons, stories about Al Gore's life, and pictures of areas of the world affected by the recently changing climate. I thought the combination of all of those things made the movie more entertaining.

I have never doubted that we humans are affecting our environment in not-so-good ways, but seeing this movie really makes you think about the fact that conditions have worsened exponentially in recent years and that we probably need to start doing something about it or else we're going to be facing big problems.

One of the most dramatic examples was that if ice on top of land melts, then the water level around the world could rise as much as 20 feet. This would put millions of people in cities all around the world under water. My house is only about 4 or 5 feet above see level, so I would definitely be affected here in Los Angeles.

At the end of the movie, the credits were interspersed with textual advice about what people could do to help stop or at least slow down global warming. Conserving energy and demanding action from politicians was the common thread among most of the suggestions. It made me think about how people are always saying that to conserve energy and decrease our dependence on foreign oil, people should buy hybrid cars. I agree that it would help, but I wish more people would suggest driving less altogether. I want to hear more people promote walking, bicycling, and using public transportation.

Anyway, go see this movie and tell me what you thought of it. Think about how different our world would be right now if Al Gore was president rather than you know who. I really respect Al Gore. I feel like he really cares about public service and he doesn't have ulterior motives.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Verizon DSL Hell

The worst customer service I've ever had has been with Verizon Online DSL. I have been without an Internet connection at home for the past week. Each day, I have called Verizon's tech support to try to resolve my broken connection.

When I first signed up with Verizon about 6 months ago, I had many problems with installation as I wrote about last February. They had sent me the wrong modem for my area and it took many phone calls to finally figure this out. The result was that I was asked to use, not the Westell 6100 modem that they sent me, but an old Fujitsu modem that I had from my previous DSL provider. That worked fine until last week when the modem stopped syncing up with the central office.

The fist tech support person told me that I'd need to call their billing department the next day to ask for a modem replacement. When I called the next day, the billing person told me that they could send a replacement for the Westell modem since it was still under warranty, but for them to send me a Fujitsu modem, I'd have to pay them $99. I told them that it is unacceptable for me to pay for a modem when it is supposed to come with the service. They told me that the Westell should work anyway and that I should open a trouble ticket to find out why it isn't working. That began the string of phone calls to Verizon.

Every time I called, it was as if the person had no idea what was communicated in the previous calls. Each person made me go through the same troubleshooting steps of checking multiple lines and ensuring all phone in the house had the proper filters. Even though I told them each time that I've been through that, they still made me go through it because it was their procedure. Several times, they concluded I had a real problem and that it wasn't just that I was too lame to figure out how to connect my modem properly. The next step was that the next day, I was supposed to expect someone to call me to setup an appointment to have a technician come to my house to troubleshoot. The next day I would either not get a call, or I would get a message on my voice mail that said I should call them back. When I called back, they said that my ticket was closed because they couldn't get a hold of me, and I had to start all over! Can you believe that?!

Finally today, I was able to answer the phone when they called. It was around 3 PM and the guy said they need to send someone to my house to troubleshoot the problem. I asked if they could wait until the evening and they said that normally they can't schedule anything for after 5 PM. I said, could you make an exception today and come at 6 PM? The guy said okay, so I made arrangements at work to leave early and got home at 6:15 PM. Worried that I missed the technician, I called Verizon to make sure they were still coming. The lady told me that I should just be patient and wait because sometimes they are late. I didn't find that hard to believe. I insisted that she find out of they were still coming and she transferred me to another department.

The guy I got transferred to told me that he had no record of anyone scheduled to come out to my house! I couldn't believe it. I had to miss some meetings at work just to rush home for them, and they didn't even plan to meet me at all! I was furious. I layed into the guy a little and told him that I needed to explain to someone else how upset I was. He transferred me again to someone new.

This person sounded more senior and empathetic and identified himself as Ray from the London T-Set Group also known as the supervisory escalation team. Ray apologized to me and said he would try to find out what my problem was. He then put me on hold for like 30 minutes while he phoned the Verizon central office in my area to ask questions. When he transferred back to me, he told me that the central office was swamped today and that he would need some more time to track down the right person. He said he would call me back in a few minutes. I figured it was unlikely that he would call back, but he kept his promise and called about 20 minutes later. Guess what? He said that he learned that I was sent the wrong modem and that I really needed a Fujitsu rather than a Westell 6100. Surprise surprise. I was back to where I started. He told me to call their billing department tomorrow and request a new Fujitsu modem be mailed to me. I told him I already asked for one a week ago and he said that he was writing extensive notes in my file and that I shouldn't have any problems. Not feeling like I had any other options, I agreed to call tomorrow to request the new modem.

On a whim, I decided to walk to my computer, unplug the Westell 6100 and try the old Fujitsu modem again. Lo an behold, it actually synced up. 3 green lights! It was working again! I have no idea why. I have a feeling the modem never broke, but actually the connection was severed and when this guy Ray called the central office, they must have noticed and reconnected it. Of course I know little about DSL technology so I don't know if this is really plausible.

Anyway, I am back online now, but I am still going to call tomorrow to ask for the Fujitsu replacement. If I don't, I'm afraid this will happen again in the future and they will tell me to use the Westell modem they originally sent me.

All I can say is, Verizon Online DSL support SUCKS - but I'm thrilled to be back online... for the moment at least.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Zen Grill Neighborhood

Last night we took a friend who was visiting from Ann Arbor, Michigan to one of our favorite restaurants, Zen Grill - the one on 3rd St near La Cienega. He asked what part of LA it was in, and I wasn't sure. I knew it was near West Hollywood and Beverly Hills, but that it was definitely in the city of Los Angeles (you can tell by the dark blue street signs).

I was curious to see if the people who worked at Zen Grill knew what neighborhood they were working in, so I asked the hostess and our waitress. The hostess had no idea what I was talking about and just said "We're in Los Angeles". The waitress said the same thing that I told my friend: "We're near West Hollywood and Beverly Hills, but there is no name for the neighborhood. It is just Los Angeles." I knew there had to be a name for the neighborhood because there usually is and it is typical for people not to know what it is. There aren't really any clear neighborhood borders in LA in most places.

This morning I looked at my Thomas Guide wall map, and the area appeared to be in Park La Brea. Park La Brea, though, is usually associated with a specific apartment housing complex, so I thought I'd better check the internet for more information. I started with the web page for the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (DONE). From there I looked at some of their maps and found out that the Neighborhood Council for the area Zen Grill is located in is called Mid-City West Community Council. So is that what the neighborhood is called? Mid-City West? I have never heard anyone mention that name before, so I doubt that term refers to a Los Angeles neighborhood. Unfortunately, their web site didn't have any more information on the areas within the Mid-City West boundaries. I guess it will be an ongoing search for the name of the neighborhood that contains Zen Grill...

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Walk for the Underdog

Last Sunday we took our dog Nikki and my inlaws' dog Molly on a walk to raise money for animal rescue organizations. It was called Walk for the Underdog. It was the 2nd annual event and this year it was held at the La Brea Tar Pits (last year it was at Venice Beach). The walk started and ended at the tar pits and meandered through the nearby neighborhoods.

There were hundreds of dogs and Nikki seemed excited to be there. Nikki and Molly made it the whole way, but were pretty exhausted by the end. When we got home, she dropped to the floor and took a long nap.

There were plenty of dog-related vendors at the event. One of them called Tazlab, sold me an innovative dog leash that had a snap-together loop at the end which makes it possible to attach the leash to my waist or a pole. I thought this would be really useful for when we walk Nikki to a shopping area and need to go into a store for a few minutes. It would be really easy to attach her leash to a poll or post. It would also be nice for when we want to hang out on our front porch with Nikki. We could attach her to one of the porch posts.

I never realized how nice the neighborhoods were in the Miracle Mile/Carthay Circle area. Almost every house was architecturally interesting and had good landscaping.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Sony Reader Rocks

Recently, I downloaded an early access copy of a technical book which was only available in eBook form. Bascially it is just a PDF file. I love the fact you can easily search an eBook for specific words or phrases, but I have a really hard time reading one on a desktop or laptop screen. When reading a book, I prefer to be relaxed on the couch or sitting on a bus. I starting thinking that I should look and see if there are any portable eBook readers available that are small, light, bigger than a Palm Pilot and smaller than a computer monitor.

Last weekend at the Los Angeles Times Book Fair at UCLA, I came across a Sony booth where they were demonstrating the yet-to-be-released Sony Reader. It was exactly what I have been looking for! The screen looked amazingly like real paper. It was small and light and totally legible in bright sunlight. It is supposed to cost $300-400 when it comes out. I was ready to buy one right then and there. Unfortunately I'll have to wait until they release it.

Sunday, April 23, 2006


I went to one of LA's composting education sessions on Saturday in Griffith Park. The main reason I went was because following the 1/2 hour session, they sell compost bins at discount prices. I have been wanting to get 1 or 2 extra compost bins because my current method of adding to the top and taking from the bottom was just unworkable. First of all, it takes forever to make the compost - over a year! Second, it is hard to separate the finished compost from the material that isn't done decaying. With more than one bin, I can add to a pile until it fills up, then transfer the whole pile to an empty bin, freeing up the 1st one for new material. Then I can take care of the 2nd bin by mixing it regularly and keeping it the right moisture level. This way, the entire 2nd bin will turn into good compost all at the same time. I should be able to get a full batch of compost this way every 4 to 6 months.

I ended up buying 2 BIO-STACK bins at $45 each. The regular price is supposed to be $90. The bin is layered in 3 sections, which makes it easy to turn the pile. I just have to take off one layer at a time, restacking them next to the original pile. As I stack the layers to form the second bin, I scoop material out of the first one into the second one. To get my new bin started, I took all the unfinished compost from my original Rubbermaid bin. I used a strainer made of a 1/4 inch mesh to separate it from the finished compost. The finished compost ended up filling 2 Avon boxes which is just in time for spring planting.

Today I went to the nursery and picked up some new seedlings: soybeans, roma tomatoes, jalapeno peppers, and a marigold plant. I also planted some onions and cucumbers from some seeds I already had. I added the potent mixture of fresh compost, peat moss, and vermiculite, which was suggested in Square Foot Gardening, so I'm expecting some good crops this year.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Zunafish Trading

A friend recently told me about the web site Zunafish which makes it easy to trade old books, CD's and other forms of media with other people. I signed up and listed a few old computer books and then entered a few books that I wanted. About 15 minutes later, I got an email saying that someone wanted to trade with me. They were willing to send me their copy of Learning the vi Editor for my copy of Enterprise Javabeans. To complete the transaction, I had to pay Zunafish a $1 commission and now I just have to ship my book to the person I'm trading with. The whole thing is kind of neat. I have been trying to sell that EJB book on Amazon for years. I have so many old books laying around that I'd love to get rid of so when I get some more time, I'm going to enter them into Zunafish.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Thank You for Smoking

We saw the movie Thank You for Smoking last night at the Bridge. I thought it was a good movie - one that feels refreshingly out of the ordinary. The movie was described as a satire about the tobacco industry and I was wondering before I went whether or not the movie would carry an anti-smoking or pro-smoking message. Now having seen it, my opinion is that the message was definitely anti-smoking. However, my wife didn't think it leaned one way or the other. If you've seen the movie, please comment on what you thought.

The weakest part of the movie for me was Katie Holmes cast as Heather Holloway, a blood-sucking reporter that sleeps with the main character in order to squeeze secret information out of him. Her character was described by some other characters as extremely attractive and with "big tits". I felt that Katie Holmes was too young and Dawson's Creekish, and although she is attractive, she didn't match the "big tits" description.

Katie (Dawson's Creek) is cursed with the same problem as Neve Campbell (Party of Five) and Jennifer Aniston (Friends). All of them were great in the TV show that made them famous, but in movies they don't have the ability to act well enough to make you see past their former TV show characters.

One final thought on Thank You for Smoking: As I was leaving the theater I realized that there wasn't a single scene in the movie where a person was smoking. My wife said that she read somewhere that it was intentional. I thought that was interesting.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Green at The Palmer Room

I checked out the open mic night called Green this evening at The Palmer Room in Palms. It was hosted by Ratpack Slim, DJ Jedi, and Joshua Silverstein. They do it every Monday apparently. I had seen the Palmer Room advertised in some LA jazz newspapers before, but this is the first time I've made it out there. It is a pretty nice room not too far from where I live with a laid back vibe, no cover charge, and good food.

A lot of the same poets I saw at Highways were in the audience tonight. Usually open mic nights are filled with performers that have no talent, but Green seems to be the exception. Tonight's Green show along with the recent shows at Highways has given me a feel for the LA poetry scene and I am happy that I know about it now. I plan to go back to The Palmer Room again, hopefully bringing new people next time. I also hope to go there for some jazz too. I need to figure out when someone good is playing there next.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Ratpack Slim Bests the Rest

Saturday night I went back to the poetry festival at Highways Performance Space in Santa Monica. The first act was Ratpack Slim, a poet that performed with Joshua Silverstein, an amazingly talented beat boxer. It was the first time I had heard of these guys. I was really impressed. I wish they had more time to perform, because none of the acts that followed were as enjoyable. Slim announced that he and Joshua host an open mike night called Green every Monday in Culver City. I am definitely going to check it out. I have always been impressed by really good beat boxers and Joshua was awesome.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Ocean View Farms Turns 30

One of the largest community gardens in Los Angeles, Ocean View Farms (OVF), celebrated its 30th anniversary today with a gala that included tours of the garden, a potluck lunch, and speeches by councilman Bill Rosendahl and others.

These gardens are in Mar Vista just east of Centinela Ave at Rose Ave. Each garden plot has a view of the Santa Monica Bay on a clear day. For only $30 something dollars a year, anyone can rent a garden plot. Members get access to compost and steer manure. It is perfect for people who like to garden, but live in apartments without yards.

Even though I live in a house with a big yard and can have my own private garden at home, I still think it would be fun to join OVF and be part of the gardening community. I think it would be a nice thing to share with friends. It would be a place to meet on the weekends and spend some time outside. The only problem is that I don't have any friends that like to garden. Someday if I ever make any friends that live nearby and like to garden, I will propose that we sign up for a plot at OVF together.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Slam Poetry Night

This weekend is the 2nd Annual Poetry and Performance festival at the Highways Performance Space in Santa Monica. Last night I went to the opening event which was a Slam Poetry contest. About 8 slam poets did their thing and 5 members of the audience acted as judges, giving them a score from 1 to 10. After a few rounds, the scores were totaled and the poet with the highest score won the chance to perform in next year's festival for a whole evening. It was the first slam poetry event I've ever attended and it was a lot of fun. I think I will go back for the 3rd night when some of LA's finest slam poets like Shihan are expected to perform.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Lava Lamp Build Indicators

At work, we have been putting together a continuous integration environment for all of our software projects. Using Cruise Control, we compile, run JUnit tests, and generate reports like JavaDoc and code coverage, for each of the projects. The build is kicked off every time any file in any of the projects changes. The result has been that an email is sent out to each developer every time a build occurs to indicate whether or not the build was successful. If the a build fails, then we try to find out why, and fix the problem as soon as possible.

Inspired by this Pragmatic Automation web page, and to raise awareness of the importance of keeping the builds successful, and also just to add a little fun into our jobs, we have tied the success of the builds to the operation of some lava lamps. We have a red lava lamp that turns on whenever any project fails to build. When all the builds are passing, the green lava lamp turns on.

This little system was built with about $50 worth of X10 components and two $9.99 lava lamps that we got from Aahs on Wilshire Blvd. Next, we are looking into buying an electric marquee that would scroll the name of any developer who breaks the build.