Monday, December 31, 2007

Parallel Play for Adults

You've probably heard about the concept of parallel play which is when 2-3 year-old children play side by side with little or no interaction. Well today, I think I have experienced adult parallel play.

My wife and son and I met up with another couple who have 2 young children. As we sat at Nichol's, a local diner, for breakfast, each parent was fully occupied attending to the children: feeding them, containing them, and preventing them from grabbing and spilling the food and drink on the table.

I think we were at breakfast for about an hour and probably got 15 minutes of conversation in among the adults. And 10 of those fifteen minutes were talking about the kids! The other 45 minutes: adult parallel play.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

We Read Reaches 200 Users

As of today, We Read has 201 users that have added at least one book. There are also 1301 books among those 201 users. The app hasn't exactly gone viral as I had hoped it would, but I'm proud to have accumulated 201 users nonetheless.

Most of the users have arrived organically, but I did experiment with advertising at one point using the Social Media Facebook ad platform. It ended up costing me about $.70 per new user, and I thought that was too much to spend considering the fact that I haven't really made any money from Amazon affiliate commissions yet.

One cool thing is that I seem to have many loyal, repeat users. I see a lot of the same people adding and managing their books from week to week. I also have users from all around the world including Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

Even if the app fails to expand exponentially, I still enjoy maintaining it and reading the positive things that users say like this message from someone named Anthony:
...Ken, it's an excellent app. The most useful I've found yet, well done.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Spinning Lady

My mom sent me this picture of a spinning lady. If you see her spinning clockwise, you are supposedly right-brained (random, intuitive, subjective, etc). If you see her spinning counter clockwise, you are supposedly left-brained (logical, analytical, objective, etc).

Although I know I'm more of a left-brained person, I saw her spinning clockwise at first and I couldn't get her to switch to counter-clockwise no matter how hard I tried.

I called my wife in and she also saw her spinning clockwise. I almost concluded that this thing was a hoax, but then I squinted my eyes, and voila!, she switched to counter clockwise. After a few minutes, my wife also saw her switch.

Being the skeptic that I am, I started concluding that the lady really does switch directions, but that anyone would only see it one way. To prove this, I asked my wife to stare at the image with me and announce when the lady switched directions. The thinking was that we'd both see her switch at the exact same time. We found that at any given point in time, we saw it either the same way or different ways. And the more we stared, the more she kept suddenly switching direction. Therefore, it is true, it really is an interesting optical illusion!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

What's Your Walk Score?

I punched my address into the Walk Score web site, and found out that my neighborhood, which is in Del Rey, CA, isn't too bad, but could be better. My Walk Score was 68 out of 100 which falls into the following range:

50 - 70 = Some Walkable Locations: Some stores and amenities are within walking distance, but many everyday trips still require a bike, public transportation, or car.

This seems like a cool web site to consult before you book a hotel or choose a place to live.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Suite Deal in Vegas

I am in Las Vegas right now for a 2-day Leadership Training Camp that my boss wanted me to attend. I am staying at Bally's.

I was supposed to get a $110/night special rate for people attending the training, but I ended up booking a room directly from Bally's web site for only $59/night. When I arrived at Bally's they told me that they didn't have any rooms left at that rate and gave me a complimentary upgrade to a Grand Suite (check out the virtual tour on their web site), their deluxe guest room. It is probably the nicest hotel room I've ever stayed at in Vegas. It is huge and has a king bed and whirlpool tub. Too bad I have to enjoy it all by myself :(

Monday, November 12, 2007

My First Facebook App

I have been working on writing a Facebook application since September, and I'm excited to say that today, it has been approved by Facebook and is now listed in their Application Directory.

My application is called We Read and is for Facebook users to share books with their friends. It lets you comment on and discuss books and display them in your profile for your friends to see. I used Amazon Web Services and since I joined Amazon associates, I can earn a commission whenever a user clicks on one of my books and buys it on Amazon.

Please try installing We Read and let me know what you think. I plan to enhance it with new features every week or so.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Ubuntu Baby

Originally uploaded by kweiner
From early on, Max is learning to love Ubuntu!

A good friend of mine made this onesie with his computer and Iron On printer paper. It was definitely the most original baby gift we received.

When Max is old enough to start using a computer, he will start off with Edubuntu, a version of Ubuntu geared towards kids. The Edubuntu website calls it " Linux for Young Human Beings".

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Infant Inventions

Last week, my first kid was born. As my wife and I have been learning how to care for a newborn, I couldn't help but wish the following solutions existed to make the job easier. Maybe someone has already made these products. If not, there's gotta be a market for them out there. Let me know if you have other solutions.
  • Diaper Window
A little see-through plastic section on the bottom of the diaper so we can easily look and see if there is any poop deposited without having to take the diaper off or stick a finger in. Checking a diaper always irritates my baby, and we end up checking many times a day - whenever the baby is crying.
  • Changing Table Stirrups
My baby always cries and wriggles around while we change his diaper. It is really hard to keep his legs up and spread apart so we can clean his bottom and scrotum without getting his feet or changing table dirty. If we could only insert his feet into stirrups during his changing, it would be so much easier.
  • Pee Catcher
Baby boys are known to spray their pee straight up in the middle of a diaper change. Pee gets everywhere: on the floor, on the wall, on your hands, on the new diaper, and on his clothes. I know there are some pee guards you can buy and some books recommend putting a wipe or diaper over the penis until the new diaper is on. These might prevent pee from getting on the walls and floor, but not necessarily from getting all over the changing table and the baby's clothes. There needs to be a Pee Catcher that wraps around the baby's penis and collects the urine into a plastic bag.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Reverse SSH Tunnel For Facebook Application Development

I have been playing around with developing Facebook applications recently, and I have found it difficult to setup a development environment because to test my application, Facebook needs to access it on a remote server. If my application is running on my workstation which is behind a firewall, then Facebook has no way to access it.

A friend at work told me about The RFacebook Tunnel which allows Facebook to connect to a port on a remote server which tunnels its traffic to a local computer. That is exactly what I need, except that I'm using Java instead of Ruby to develop my application. I started looking into doing this reverse tunneling myself just using the command line and found out that it is very easy!

All I needed to do was to issue this command from my workstation:

ssh -gNR 8888:localhost:8080

This creates the tunnel so that any requests to are forwarded to my workstation on port 8080. Voila! Now Facebook can easily access the web application I'm running locally behind a firewall.

There was one little thing I left out. In order to get the tunneling to forward traffic from machines other than, I had to edit /etc/ssh/sshd_config and add the following line:

GatewayPorts yes

This site has some more information on why I had to do that.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Quicken Online Beta

There have been some articles talking about the advent of Intuit's new Quicken Online product. It is supposed to be available this winter with beta testing beginning this month.

I have been using Quicken religiously for over 10 years. I track everything - even the cash that goes in and out of my wallet. The last few years, I have been using Linux, and Intuit does not make a version of Quicken for Linux. Therefore, I've had to keep a Windows laptop around just for the purpose of running Quicken. With Quicken Online, I should be able to dump Windows forever!

Just now I did a Google search for Quicken Online Beta, and found out that they have already begun the beta testing. You can sign up to be a beta tester or to get notified when Quicken Online is available. I signed up for both and am anxiously awaiting an email telling me I can login.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

New Hard Drive Camcorder

With a new baby on the way, I thought it would be a good idea to get a camcorder. There aren't any videos of me growing up, and I always wished there were some. I decided not to spend a lot of money for the latest and greatest camcorder because I am not yet familiar with camcorders and I don't really know what features I want.

Out of the different storage medias, I went for a Hard Drive camcorder. I plan to edit and archive all the videos on my computer, and a Hard Drive camcorder makes it really easy to transfer the videos. There is no need to playback the video while capturing as is necessary with other storage formats. It is just like having a digital camera: Take the video, connect the camera to the computer via a USB connection, and drag and drop the files over.

I was comparing various camcorders from JVC and Sony and ended up with the Sony DCR-SR62 after reading various Amazon reviews and playing with both of them at Best Buy. The Sony had simple-to-use touch screen which I really liked.

The camcorder comes with software for Windows, but my computer runs Ubuntu Linux, so it doesn't do me any good. Luckily, there really isn't any need to have software since the computer just sees the camcorder as a USB drive.

The camcorder stores the video in MPEG-2 format which are instantly viewable with Totem Movie Player which comes with Ubuntu. There are several video editors available for Linux, but so far I've only played around wtih Kino. Kino first converts the files to DV format, but after that it is pretty easy to cut up clips and then stitch them together.

I have filmed and edited one video so far of me and my wife talking our dog for a stroll around the neighborhood. It was a lot of fun.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Shanghai vs LA: Building a Subway

An article in the LA Times today, Shanghai's Booming Subway, talks about the success Shanghai is having with the building of their public transportation infrastructure. Shanghai started in 1990, 4 years after LA started building the Red Line, and they're already on track to have one of the world's best systems.

It takes so long in LA and other American cities because so many proposals have to be vetted before so many people before anything gets approved. Most of the time, the NIMBYism takes over and no progress is made. By contrast, according to the article, this is what happens in Chinese cities:
At the risk of only slight oversimplification, the system works like this: Planners draw subway lines on a map. Party officials approve them. Construction begins. If anything is in the way, it is moved. If they need to, Chinese planners "just move 10,000 people out of the way," said Lee Schipper, a transport planner who has worked with several Chinese cities in his role as director of research for EMBARQ, a Washington-based transportation think tank. "They don't have hearings."

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Miro To The Rescue

This weekend I discovered Miro, an open source Internet tv and video player that can be installed on Linux [1]. I have been looking for an application like this for a long time. I am now using it (instead of iTunes) to manage my video podcasts.

I first added TeXtra, Geekbrief, and TikiBar as "channels", and then I discovered a few more video podcasts using Miro's "Miro Guide". I now plan to watch Google's engEDU series which features presentations made at Google about various tech topics.

It seems like I'm starting to watch a lot more video on the Internet. I would much rather be sitting on my family room couch while watching these videos instead of being at my computer desk in the office. I think I'm soon going to need a solution that will let me play these videos on my TV - preferably a Linux-friendly solution.

[1] There is an Ubuntu repository from which you can install and update Miro. Click here for details.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Arrested Development on the Pier

We went to see Arrested Development on the Santa Monica Pier this evening. It was a free concert that was a part of the Santa Monica Twilight Dance Series. They played a lot of hits, e.g. "Tennessee," "People Everyday" and "Mr. Wendal", from their early 90's album 3 Years 5 Months & 2 Days in the Life of....

Speech, the lead singer, thanked the crowd for supporting the band for 17 years. It is hard to believe they've been around that long. They didn't seem that old. I guess that's because I'm getting old.

I really liked Speech's voice and phrasing. I miss the time when bands like Arrested Development and Digable Planets were more prominent. I much prefer that brand of hip-hop (lighter, more rhythmic, and full of insightful social commentary) to what you hear on the radio today.

If you haven't been to any of the Twilight Dance Series events, I recommend you check it out. It is so nice to walk out onto the pier, watch the sun set, and then enjoy an open-air, free concert from a great band like Arrested Development. Good times.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Disappointed With Little Blue Card

As of the beginning of this month, the Santa Monica Blue Blue Bus changed the format of their debit card known as the Little Blue Card. I am not very happy with it because
  1. It doesn't work on the Culver City Bus like its predecessor
  2. It requires me to insert it twice if I want a transfer. The first insertion deducts $0.75 and the second an additional $0.50 for the transfer.
  3. It has to be replaced with another so-called Value Card when it runs out of room on the back side where its remaining balance is printed
I discovered the latter this morning as I inserted my card into the machine and it popped out a new Value Card with the balance transferred onto it.

The Value Card is the exact same format as the cards used for transfers - a flimsy white card. It is really easy to mistake it for a transfer. If that happens, and I accidentally hand it to a bus driver, I could lose as much as $20, the value I typically add to my card each time it runs dry.

I think they should have just kept things the way they were. I would much rather reuse the same blue card even if it meant not seeing the balance printed on the back each time. With the old cards, the balance just appeared on the machine's display each time the card was inserted. That's good enough.

These Value Cards are also a big waste of paper since they need to be replaced so often. I thought Santa Monica was an environmentally minded city. They should know better.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

8th Win on Blingo

I just won another prize on Blingo. This time I wasn't even the one using Blingo for search. A friend of mine was searching and won, and since I referred him, I won too. Gotta love that.

This is my 8th win and the 2nd this year. The last time I won was in March which I wrote about here.

In the past, all I've won are free movie tickets, but this time, I was given the choice of a free Fandango movie ticket or an gift certificate. This time I chose the certificate which is good for $10 off my next purchase.

Do me a favor: If you decide to sign up for Blingo, please use this link which has a code in it so I will win when you win!

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Kwik-E-Mart on Venice Blvd

We drove by one of the 7-Eleven turned Kwik-E-Marts on the way back from a party last night. It was on the northeast corner of Venice Blvd and Sepulveda. It's one of a dozen 7-Elevens across the country to transform itself into a Kwik-E-Mart, the fictitious grocery store featured on the Simpsons. This is all to promote the upcoming Simpsons Movie which opens at the end of this month.

There were 4 spotlights and a long line of people out front waiting to get in to buy products like Buzz Cola and Krustyo's cereal. We didn't feel like waiting in line, so we just passed by and went home.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Hot Chocolate in Mar Vista

Last night we had dinner with some friends at La Dijonaise in Culver City. Afterward, around 10:15 PM, we felt like going somewhere for some hot chocolate.

We first tried to go to Starbucks (which our friends call "Corporate Coffee") on National and Barrington since it was close to where they live. To our disappointment, it was closed. Next, we headed to the Venice Grind on Venice Blvd. It too was closed. Finally, we drove to the Rumor Mill on Washington Blvd. Again, closed! We gave up. No hot chocolate for us.

How can all these coffee shops be closed at 10:15 PM on a Saturday night? It was so pathetic. Mar Vista, and most of the Westside for that matter, needs to stop pretending it is a suburb and keep places open later, especially on a Saturday night.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Venice Sign Rebirth

We rode the bus to the Venice Fest today. Venice was celebrating the rebirth of the lighted sign that used to hang over Windward Ave in the early 1900's. They had a lineup of bands including the band Venice.

Back in college I played in a saxophone quartet. Some guys from the Venice (the band) saw us playing on the 3rd Street Promenade and asked us if we would open for them at one of their concerts at the Mayfair Theater. We did, and it was a lot of fun. It was cool to see them today after all these years.

We also spent some time today hanging out at the beach near the dancing rollerskating area. I love to watch those people dance and skate - there are so many talented people there.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Patio Furniture

After living in my house for almost 7 years, we finally decided to buy some patio furniture. This morning we went to Ikea in Burbank looking for a table and chairs. We ended up buying an oval glass table, 6 chairs, a bench, and 30 wood squares that can be used to create a pseudo-deck on our cement patio.

We ignorantly thought that we could fit all that in our Honda Accord, but we were way off. In fact, the only things that fit were the wooden squares. We ended up having to pay $49 to ship everything else to our house - not such a bad price for shipping from Burbank to the Westside of LA.

I setup the wood squares right when I got home. I laid them out in a 6 X 5 rectangle, alternating the direction of the wood with each consecutive square. It looks pretty good, kind of like a wooden rug. I think it is the type of thing that some people will love and some will think is strange. Once the table and chairs arrive, I will place them on top of the wooden rectangle. Finally we'll be able to hang out on our patio.

Sunday, May 13, 2007


A friend of mine once dreamed of making a website that made it easy for people to create polls that would gage how the public felt about many different topics. So-called Web 2.0 sites are popping up all over the place now, and today I discovered one on social polling called BuzzDash. I think it is along the lines of what my friend wanted to build.

I wonder how much money sites like this make off of advertising. I am constantly kicking myself for not building a site like this myself. I keep telling myself I am going to make some website after I get better at developing with Ruby On Rails. I am one chapter away from finishing Ruby for Rails, and after that I will likely try one of my many crazy ideas.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Audio CD Creation on Ubuntu

My wife asked me to make a compilation of R.E.M. songs for her father and burn them to a CD that he could play at home or in his car. Believe it or not, I have never tried to make an audio CD before. I hardly knew where to start.

The first thing I checked was what programs came with Ubuntu that might help me. In the Applications --> Sound & Video menu, I found Sound Juicer CD Extractor and Serpentine Audio CD Creator.

Sound Juicer pops up when I put an audio CD in my computer. It was very easy to see how to rip the music off the CD, but I didn't know what format I should rip it in so that it could be burned onto a CD-R and played in a normal CD player. I figured that if I created MP3 or OGG files, only special, modern CD players could read the data. After some Googling, I found that I was right - I would need to rip the music as .wav (WAVE) files if I wanted to support normal CD players.

Unfortunately, Sound Juicer did not contain a gstreamer audio profile for the lossless .wav format. I had to add one using these instructions. After that, I was able to easily rip music into the .wav format and then setup a playlist of music to burn onto a CD using Serpentine. With Serpentine, it was as easy as opening the audio files, ordering them, and clicking one button to burn them to a CD. Serpentine also kept track of the time taken up by the playlist, letting me know how much more room was left on the CD. Easy as pie.

The resulting CD, however, was not perfect. It plays fine on Ubuntu Linux, Windows XP, and in my new car CD player, but it fails to play in my portable Sony CD player and an old Toshiba DVD player.

I assume there is something special about newer CD players and computers that give them the capability to play an audio CD created on a computer, but I have no idea what it is. I am wondering if there was some different CD-R type or some way I could have burned the music so that it would play on the oldest of CD players. If you know anything about this, please share.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Del Rey Arts District

At the Del Rey Planning and Land Use Committee and Transportation Committee meeting tonight, a representative from the Sugarman Communications Group came to speak about the naming of the Glencoe-Maxella area where they're developing a lot of new lofts-style condos like Del Rey Lofts.

The rep said that they were considering naming the area bounded by Del Rey Ave on the west, Beach Ave on the north, Redwood Ave on the east, and Maxella Ave on the south. If the area had a name, he argued, it would make it easier for the developers and surrounding businesses to advertise and attract people.

There were two names that were under consideration:
  1. Marina Arts District
  2. Del Rey Arts District
The term Arts was chosen to reflect the fact that many of the new units under development are live/work lofts in which they expect a lot of artist-type people (graphic designers, media producers, and others that can work out of their home).

It probably isn't a surprise that the people at the meeting unanimously voted for the latter option, Del Rey Arts District, since the area is technically within the Del Rey boundaries and it would greatly help the neighborhood council's effort of establishing a Del Rey identity. A motion was made for the joint committees to endorse the naming of this district as the Del Rey Arts District.

I think it would be cool if this name is chosen and the area becomes well-known by that name. I am generally in favor of establishing a sense of place, and I think the artsy image being associated with Del Rey will favorably help the home values in the surrounding areas.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Easy Upgrade to Ubuntu Feisty Fawn

Last Thursday, April 19, Ubuntu released its latest version, 7.04 (Feisty Fawn). The announcement is here. I decided to wait a few days before upgrading my operating system at home from 6.10 (Edgy Eft) to 7.04 just in case there were any bugs in the upgrade process that would get fixed immediately after the release. Even though a fair amount of people were reporting various problems with the upgrade process on the Ubuntu Forums, I decided to give it a go.

I didn't customize my installation very much so I figured the upgrade process had a good chance of succeeding. Ubuntu's upgrade instructions recommend upgrading via the network, but since many people were reporting that the upgrade servers were getting hammered due to the recent release, I decided to upgrade using the "Alternate CD". I downloaded the ISO using Azureus, my favorite BitTorrent client. It took a while to download, so I just let it go overnight. Then I burned it to a CD and popped it it. Ubuntu immediately popped up a window asking me if I wanted to upgrade to 7.04. I clicked "Upgrade", followed the instructions, and everything went smoothly! In less than an hour later, I was fully upgraded to Feisty Fawn.

I haven't really noticed any major differences between Edgy and Feisty yet other than the fact that the "Hibernate" feature of my computer is working now and it never worked with Edgy. That is pretty exciting for me actually, since I had been completely shutting down the computer before, and now I can let it go to sleep. I think it works now because Feisty has a new version of the Kernel, 2.6.20, which probably contains recently added support for newer hardware. The rest of the new features in Feisty are listed here. There are also two new games included with Feisty: Sudoku and Chess.

I can't decide whether or not to try the upgrade at work. I can't afford any downtime at work, so if it doesn't go as smoothly, I would be screwed. I will probably wait until things at work slow down a bit, and then try the upgrade on a Friday. That way, if I end up having to reinstall, I can do it over the weekend.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Poppy Day

The Theodore Payne Foundation held their annual Poppy Day today. I arrived there just after noon, in time to attend one of the workshops about native plant propagation by cuttings. It was given by a very nice English woman volunteer whose name I failed to catch. I learned a lot in the workshop -- before I had no knowledge of how to propagate plants. These are the steps (roughly) involved in propagation:
  • Cut off a few inches of a plant's stem.
  • Strip off all the leaves and flowers except for one or two. The cutting can lose too much moisture if too many leaves are left on. You don't want to leave any flowers because they use up the plants energy which you want to be spent on making new roots.
  • Immerse the bottoms of the cuttings in water if it is going to be a while before you transfer them into their medium.
  • Prepare 2 inch high trays or small pots with a medium consisting of perlite and sand. Other types of mediums can be used, but in general, you want something sterile with no nutrition that can absorb water.
  • Add the cuttings to the medium, keep them out of direct sun light, keep them moist, and wait about a month or so until they produce roots.
  • Transfer the cuttings to a 4 inch pot with a soil mixture such as SuperSoil once they have rooted.
  • When the roots reach the bottom of the 4 inch pot, the cuttings can be planted in the ground.
After the workshop, I browsed through the plants in the nursery which were all on sale today. I ended up buying 10 plants:
The Bush Poppy is going to go in the front yard and serve as a hedge near the front door. Surrounding it will be the Hearst Ceanothus. The blue flowers from the ceanothus should contrast nicely with the bright yellow flowers of the bush poppy.

The California Fushia will be planted in the parkway area between my house and my neighbor's house. It will replace the dead grass that has been there since I moved in.

I bought the red fescue to plant as an experiment. I want to see if it is something that will work well as a lawn substitute that my dog can relax on. If it works, I'll buy more in the future and cover a large area with it.

The Island Snapdragon is going to go with 2 others I bought last fall. I just needed an extra one to cover the large area behind by garage surrounding my compost bins.

By the way, the California Poppies I planted in the fall are blooming like crazy now. It is quite a display. I'll try to remember to post a picture of it soon.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Novell Linux, Mac, PC

A friend at work pointed out these YouTube videos to me a few days ago.

The world could use more Linux users like her :)

I wish Novell would put these on TV!

Monday, March 26, 2007

Win on Blingo

Just a few minutes ago, I won a free movie ticket on Blingo, a Google-powered search engine that gives away prizes to people who use their site to search the web. I signed up for this site a few years ago, and when it was new, it was pretty easy to win.

When someone wins, the person who originally referred them to Blingo wins the same prize. Between April 2005 and 2006, I won 6 times - 4 of the 6 resulting from when someone I referred won. All 6 times, the prize has been a free movie ticket. I have never won an iPod or something more valuable.

Until just now - my 7th win, I hadn't won anything for over a year. I was beginning to think that Blingo had made the odds of winning so tough that I was never going to win again. I guess I was wrong. I will continue to use Blingo since the search results are exactly the same as Google and there is that slight chance of winning something.

Do me a favor: If you decide to sign up for Blingo, please use this link which has a code in it so I will win when you win!

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Vibez Audio Player Supports Linux

The most recent episode (#29) of the Fresh Ubuntu podcast introduced me to the Vibez MP3 Player which supports the Linux operating system as well as the open Ogg Vorbis audio format.

I kind of wish I had one of these instead of my iPod Nano. Use of the iPod requires iTunes which doesn't run on Linux. Also, the iPod won't play music in the ogg vorbis format. The day my iPod stops working, I will probably buy one of these Vibez players - unless, of course, there are better alternatives for Linux by then.

You can buy the Vibez, which currently comes in 8 GB and 12 GB models, at Detailed tech specs are available at TrekStor.

Washington/Centinela Redevelopment Part 6

A few weeks ago, I saw some people pouring cement in the middle of the lot. I thought that maybe they were finally going to start constructing whatever is going to be built at the corner of Washington and Centinela. The new cement rectangle sat there for a few days and then, to my disappointment, on top of the cement they placed some ugly machinery that was hooked up to a bunch of tubes leading to holes in the ground. Around the cement rectangle, they placed a chain link fence.

I suppose this is all to either measure the levels of chemicals in the ground or to actually clean up whatever is in the ground. I hope this phase doesn't last long since it is ugly and I'm anxious to see what is going to be built on this corner. This neighborhood could really use a nice restaurant, cafe, gym, or bar.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Kurt Elling at Catalina Bar and Grill

Last night I saw Kurt Elling at Catalina Bar & Grill in Hollywood. His band featured Willie Jones III on drums, Robert Amster on bass, Lawrence Hobgood on piano and Bob Sheppard on tenor sax. They were promoting their upcoming album Nightmoves:

I had never seen Kurt Elling live before. I have one of his albums, The Messenger. I also have the Charlie Hunter album Songs from the Analog Playground that has Elling on two tracks: Desert Way and Close Your Eyes.

It was a great show. I really like Elling's voice. His pitch and timing are near perfect and he really swings. His set last night featured many styles of music. My favorite was "Soul Food" which was a politically incorrect humorous swingin' duet between Elling and bassist Amster. It was reminiscent of Jon Hendricks, another one of my favorite jazz singers.

Another thing I liked about the show was that not everyone soloed on every song and solos were kept short enough to hold the interest of the audience. This kept the set flowing nicely.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Done With 2006 Taxes

I just finished up doing my taxes for 2006. This was the 10th year in a row that I've used TurboTax to file my federal and state tax forms. I actually use their online version of the software each year. It works in a standard web browser like Firefox so there is no need to install anything. It saves your information on their servers so you don't have to re-enter stuff that doesn't change each year.

Each year, TurboTax offers a discount if you enter via's Tax Center. I used TurboTax Deluxe which ended up costing just under $50 for filing federal and state forms.

This year was the first year I've used TurboTax on Linux. I was worried at first because when I first signed in, TurboTax displayed a page with the warning
Your operating system and/or Web browser do not meet the TurboTax Online system requirements.
Intuit supports Firefox on Windows and Mac OS X, but not Firefox on Linux. I continued anyway despite their warning that I should have "upgraded" my operating system or browser:
If you continue without upgrading, we may not be able to assist you with any issues you might encounter.
It turned out that I had absolutely NO problems using TurboTax online with Ubuntu Linux 6.10 and Firefox 2.0. They might as well just support it.

This year I am getting a federal refund, but I owe twice as much state tax. For some reason, not enough state tax is taken out of my paychecks. I still need to figure out why.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

L.A. Bike Tour 2007

I went on my 5th consecutive Los Angeles Bike Tour this morning. I woke up at 3:50 AM, picked up a friend at 4:15 AM and then met 2 more friends at 4:30 PM in order to get to USC for the 5:50 AM start time. I tried to park in my normal spot on King Blvd just east of the 110 freeway, but there was no parking allowed there this time because the route changed this year and the first part of the ride was along King. I ended up paying $10 to park in a lot.

I was really happy they changed the route this year. It was an opportunity to see new Los Angeles neighborhoods. The ride started and ended at USC again, but the majority of the ride was east of downtown this time. We rode as far as Boyle Heights and took in some awesome views of the downtown skyline as we crossed the LA River coming back west. Riding within downtown was also nice. A lot of downtown reminds me of New York.

The new route flowed a lot better this year. There were very few narrow streets which ended up being bottle necks in years past. That being said, there seemed to be more accidents this year. I saw at least 5 cyclists on the ground getting help from security. I also saw one road biker whose front wheel got stuck in a narrow rut in the street.

Every year, I'm amazed at how many people show up for the ride. It is rumored to be the biggest organized bike ride in the USA at about 15,000 cyclists. It is one of the few events that brings the people of LA together for a day.

We finished the ride at 8 AM and then picked up our medal, water, gatorade, fresh apples, and cookies that were being handed out in front of the Natural History Museum. Finally, we headed back near home to have some coffee and bagels at the Rumor Mill.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Walking L.A. #7 - UCLA Campus

No one joined us for today's walk through UCLA. It was the first walk where it was just the two of us since Walk #3 in Southeast Santa Monica. No one wanted to see where I worked and apparently no one wants to see where I went to college.

Before the walk, we grabbed coffee and bagels at the Rumor Mill. We waited around for a few minutes just to see if anyone would show up at the last minute. No one did.

We drove to the start point of the walk at the corner of Hilgard and Sunset Bvld. There was no street parking, so we drove down Comstock and found parking on a small side street Lomond Ave.

The walk started in the Murphy Sculpture Garden, passed through Dickson Plaza, continued through the main quad passed Royce Hall and Powell Library, and then headed down Bruin Walk to Bruin Plaza. It then went back up Bruin Walk turning right at Kerckhoff Hall. I stopped at Kerckhoff and reminisced about the days I used to perform jazz there.

From Kerckhoff, we walked through south campus to the Mathias Botanical Gardens. I looked for California Native Plants in the gardens, but couldn't find any. It had been many years since I was there. I was one of the few UCLA Orientation Counselors that took my tour groups through the gardens. I used to feel like I was letting them in on a special secret since not that many people knew about the Botanical Gardens or how to get there.

After the walk, we ate at Thai Fresh on Westwood Blvd since we felt like trying something new. The food was good but not great. I doubt we'll ever end up there again unless we happen to be on Westwood Blvd craving Thai food.

The next walk is North Culver City.

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

Washington/Centinela Redevelopment Part 5

On Thursday morning, there was some more work being done on the northeast corner of Washington and Centinela. A few guys from Blaine Tech Services were laying out blue pipes and feeding skinny white tubes into holes in the middle of cement squares in the ground.

Blaine Tech Services are groundwater sampling specialists according to their web site.

I don't know where groundwater sampling falls in the process of preparing for construction, but it is good to see some more activity on that corner.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Santa Barbara Botanic Garden

I had the day off today and decided to take a trip to Santa Barbara to visit the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden which is dedicated to California native plants.

We got up early and made it to Maxwell's just in time for its half price omelettes which they serve until 7 AM. I got the Garbage omelette.

By 8 AM, we were on the road to Santa Barbara. It was raining for most of the trip, but the skies cleared just as we arrived at the gardens. The weather was almost perfect for the rest of the day - just a little chilly at times.

We arrived at about 9:30 AM. The botanic gardens were awesome! Almost all the native plants I was interested in were on display. The garden was divided up into sections like the meadow, the dessert, and the woodlands. There were also sections showcasing plant families like ceanothus and manzanita.

We spend the first 3 hours walking around and saw almost all of the gardens. We then took a break for lunch at The Daily Grind near the Santa Barbara Mission. After lunch, we returned to the gardens for a walk through the Ceanothus Section. This was one of my favorite sections as it showcased many of the plants that I planted in my garden at home, e.g. California Buckwheat, White Sage, and California Poppy.

At 2 PM we went on a guided tour which was led by a nice old lady from Washington who fell in love with California natives and settled in Santa Barbara. The tour lasted about an hour. It was okay, but nothing special. The guide basically took us through a few sections and pointed out a few of her favorite plants.

Before leaving, I stopped by the gift shop and nursery and purchased seeds for the Giant coreopsis and a 1 gallon Monkeyflower to replace one that I planted a few months ago that didn't survive. The Giant coreopsis was a very peculiar looking plant that reminded me of something you'd see in a Dr. Seuss movie. I thought it would be fun to plant somewhere in my yard.

A few California Poppies were in bloom today, but I plan to go back to the Santa Barbara Botanic Gardens in the spring when many more wildflowers are in full bloom.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Walking L.A. #6 - Playa Vista and the Ballona Wetlands

Today's walk was supposed to start at the Playa Vista Visitor Center, but we started at the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf instead so that we could begin as usual with some coffee and bagels.

Our book describes Playa Vista and the Ballona Wetlands as a carefully engineered slice of nature. One of my friends who was seeing Playa Vista for the first time commented that she felt like she was in the Truman Show. Everything in Playa Vista seemed a little too perfect to her. I can see what she means. The developers of Playa Vista tried to create a perfect neighborhood where one could easily walk or bike to get coffee, visit the bank, or pick up clothes at the dry cleaners. In doing so, they managed to create something contrived like The Grove, instead of something more organic like the 3rd Street Promenade and the rest of downtown Santa Monica.

Anyway, we passed by "Bark Park" after leaving the Coffee Bean. We took our dog in for a quick off-leash experience. Unfortunately, no other dogs were there for her to play with which is unusual since throughout Playa Vista there were many people taking their dogs for a stroll.

Next we walked over to the Ballona Wetlands nature trail which heads west and south from the corner of Lincoln Blvd and Jefferson Blvd. The trail is nice as long as you're looking toward the marsh, but as soon as you turn the other way, all you see is automobile traffic. The traffic is pretty loud which for me ruins the otherwise tranquil walk along a well-preserved marsh. It would have been so much better if they had built a trail that circled the marsh which would allow one to walk inland away from the noisy thoroughfares. Today, the most southern portion of the trail was closed due to the supposed danger of bees. We didn't see any bees, but we heeded the warning and turned around nonetheless.

One the way back we walked through the southern section of Playa Vista, passing a neat park with giant bird-shaped plant sculptures and a giant bird house structure. We stopped there to give our dog a chance to drink some water. After that, we passed the Playa Vista Library which had some beautiful trees blooming with vibrant white flowers. We were all wondering what kind of trees they were since we've been seeing them all around the west side of LA lately.

Finally, we took a tour of some model homes called Icon. All over $1 million dollars, these homes were pretty impressive. It is fun to wonder around homes you can't afford just to dream a little and get decorating ideas. That concluded our walk. Afterward, we stopped at the shopping center at Lincoln and Maxella where some of us got lunch at Rubio's and the rest got dessert at Pinkberry which just opened recently.

The next walk is the UCLA Campus.

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

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

No More Starbucks Shareholder's Card

I received my 2006 annual report from Starbucks yesterday and I opened it right away because I was anxious to see what this year's special shareholder Starbucks Card looked like. I was so disappointed to find out that they have stopped issuing such a card as of this year. Instead, they just include a coupon for two tall (12 oz.) brewed coffees - not nearly as rewarding as a card exclusively for shareholders.

The coupon contained this notice:
For several years now, we've invited shareholders to visit their favorite Starbucks by including a Starbucks Card in out annual shareholder mailings. We viewed it as a good way to introduce this innovative Card program to our investors. Over the years, the Starbucks Card has become an old favorite with our shareholders, thanks to the experiences they've enjoyed as they used it to visit their Starbucks.

This year, we'd like to offer you a new kind of invitation - one that will allow you to share the exceptional coffee and warm hospitality you enjoy at your Starbucks. So get together with someone you care about and drop in for coffee. Our treat. Then visit us online at to tell us how you used this invitation to share your Starbucks with a friend.

They didn't really say why they discontinued the card. I suppose it is more environmentally friendly to send out a cardboard coupon instead of a plastic card. I went to to find out if anyone was discussing the discontinuation of the card, but the site didn't work with Firefox on Linux :( I did find some people talking about it on a site dedicated to collecting Starbucks Cards,

I will continue to use my shareholder card from 2006:

I liked the design better than the one from 2007:

Monday, February 12, 2007

Green Line Coalition

It looks like some momentum is building behind the effort to extend the Green Line to LAX. Government officials from the west side of LA have started the Green Line Coalition, according to a newsletter emailed out today from the office of my councilman Bill Rosendahl.

According to the Background section of the GLC website, the green line was originally planned to extend north on Lincoln Blvd from LAX to Santa Monica, but 1990s funding constraints prevented that from happening. I dream that one day this line will be extended as originally planned. The formation of the GLC gets us one step closer.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

SCaLE 5x 2007 - Linux in LA

I attended the 5th annual Southern California Linux Expo (SCaLE 5x) this weekend at the Westin hotel on Century Blvd near LAX. It was the first Linux conference I'd ever been to. I heard about it on several of the Linux podcasts I listen to. They were offering a discount with a promo code mentioned in the podcast ad. It only ended up costing me 30-something bucks to attend - not a bad price.

Overall the conference was pretty good. There were a lot of good presentations and an exhibit floor with vendors and projects represented. I attended the following sessions:
  • How to Heard Cats and Influence People - Jono Bacon
  • Open Source Business Applications - David Uhlman
  • The State of Linux Systems Management - Simon Bennett
  • Samba For Beginners - Mike Maki
  • Wireless Networking for Beginners - Dennis Rax
  • Open Source Licenses, a Review with Corner Cases - Chris Dibona
  • Web Applications: What is your Backup/Recovery Plan? - Paddy Sreenivasan
I also attended the following BOFs:
  • Building a Linux Home Entertainment System - Cecil Waton
  • Ubuntu - Jono Bacon
The conference had en email room where there were several computers set up, all running Linux. The computers and monitors were very stylish. They were made by the company Shuttle. Each of them had an instance of Knoppix running.

I love that Los Angeles has a Linux conference. I am surprised I hadn't heard of it until this year. I will probably go every year if I can.

California Native Plant Garden Design Course - Part 3

Yesterday, we finished the 3 part class on designing a garden with native plants at Theodore Payne. In this last class, each student presented his/her design to the rest of the class. We were nervous because we didn't think that our design was that good, but our presentation went pretty well. The instructors said we did a good job :)

Although we sketched our whole property to scale, we only finalized a design for the front yard. It is pretty simple: blue fescue in the parkway and the very front of the yard followed by a section of white sage, and then a section of wooly blue curls on one side and desert lavender on the other. We also want a tree on the left side. We're thinking either a palo verde or chitalpa.

The only hardscape change is a series of cement slabs leading from the front porch to the sidewalk in the center of the yard. Right now we only have a path going south to the driveway, but we usually head away from the house to the north when leaving by foot.

The instructor made a few good suggestions after reviewing our plan. She suggested a few curves in places we had straight lines. She also suggested switching the sections of white sage and wooly blue curls since the sage tends to grow taller and should be closer to the house so as not to block the view of the wooly blue curls from the street. She also suggested that we substitute eriogonum gigantea for the desert lavender in case the desert lavender doesn't grow well in our area. Other than that, she just suggested adding a low flowering accent plant in the corner of the yard. We'll probably go with some kind of monkey flower.

I guess we're ready to start working on the front yard now. We just have to decide if we're going to rip out the existing landscape ourselves or if we're going to hire someone to do it. We know we definitely want to do the planting ourselves. Native plants have to be planted before April so we don't have much time...

Friday, February 09, 2007

Washington/Centinela Redevelopment Part 4

Not much has happened in the past few months on either vacant corner of Washington Blvd and Centinela Ave. The northwest corner was used as a Christmas tree lot in December, but there has been no visible progress on the construction of new buildings.

Yesterday and today morning, however, I saw some activity. A few men were taking measurements and drilling a big hole in the ground. I did't know what it was for, but the label on their truck read:
Test America
Drilling Corporation
System 4000
Denver, CO

A little googling turned up some information on Test America and their System 4000 vehicle. Test America does environmental testing. Their Vacmasters System 4000 truck is described as the world's most powerful air-vacuum excavation system. It can be used to locate underground utilities without damaging them.

This all makes sense since this corner is the former site of a gas station. There is probably a lot of environmental testing that needs to happen before anything can be built and existing utility lines need to be located. I hope that this is all a sign that construction won't be too far off in the future. I am tired of looking at a dirt lot on the corner.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Del Rey in the News

I've lived in Del Rey for over 6 years now. It is one of those "adjacent to" communities that no one has ever heard of, even most of the people that live or work here. I am pretty familiar with Del Rey's identity (or lack of identity, actually) since I was involved with the Del Rey Neighborhood Council a few years ago.

In Del Rey, we have Mar Vista Gardens, Marina Del Rey Middle School, Playa Del Rey Elementary School, the Culver City Median Bicycle Path, and the Venice Japanese Community Center just to name a few of the places including one of the "adjacent to" monikers in their names. If that's not proof of a lack of identity, I don't know what is.

This weekend, to my surprise and delight, the Los Angeles Times ran a blurb about Del Rey in their Real Estate section's Neighborly Advice column Ready to Step Out of the Shadows. I found it interesting that the area was known as a good place to grow celery. I guess I should try that in my vegetable garden.

Maybe this article will help raise the awareness that Del Rey actually exists. One day I may be able to tell a cab driver "Take me to Del Rey" and he/she won't look at me like I'm a clueless person trying to get to Marina Del Rey or Playa Del Rey.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Walking L.A. #5 - Mar Vista

This walk is the closet to our home of any of the walks. Since the official walk was only 3/4 of a mile, we decided to extend it by starting and ending at the Mar Vista Farmers Market. This turned out to be a perfect starting place because 13 people came on this walk, our biggest group yet. There wouldn't have been enough room at the Rumor Mill, where we've met before the previous walks. At the farmers market, people could order omelettes or crepes and also get some coffee from the booth operated by the Venice Grind which was just down the street.

Although we met at 9:00 AM, the walk didn't get started until close to 10:00 AM. A few people were late because the map on the eVite we sent out confused the corner of Venice and Grand View with another one in Downtown LA. I guess next time, we need to put an actual address instead of an intersection.

We were going to head west on Venice Blvd, but one of our friends suggested we head up Grand View to get a view of the ocean. We informed the non-locals that there were 3 parallel "view" roads on the hill: Ocean View (a view of the ocean), Mountain View (a view of the mountains), and Grand View (where you could see both the ocean and the mountains). From Grand View, we turned left on Palms Blvd and took in the ocean view as we descended into the west part of Mar Vista.

The official walk started on Marco Pl and Meier St which was in a residential neighborhood. It took us down Meier St and Moore St between Marco Pl and Palms Blvd. This neighborhood was described by the book as a utopian vision of modern living. The houses there were built by 1940s architect Gregory Ain. This two-block housing project of 52 homes was marketed as the "Modernique Homes" when it was completed in 1948.

We must have looked pretty funny walking through the neighborhood staring at the homes. A lot of ladies stared out at us from their kitchen windows. We looked at them and waved as we passed by.

We took Venice Blvd back to the starting point. A few of us stopped at Anonymous to buy some clothing. I had a 15%-off coupon that I was able to share. After parting with the group, I stopped along Centinela Blvd to find my 17th geocache, the Headless Horse (GCTJYE).

The next walk is Playa Vista and the Ballona Wetlands.

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