I'm looking for my old friend from junior high: Adam Starr. We both grew up in the East Bay. We were both part of the Jewish Youth Group up there. I've looked for him on facebook and google to no avail. If you're around man, shoot me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org
I took some photos of a beautiful sunset behind some of the Windmills near Palm Springs a few weeks ago. Here is the resulting HDR image:
Thanks to an unfortunate functionality change at the speech-to-text service Jott, I recently switched to reQall. Current generation speech-to-text (S2T) services allow you to call a toll-free number, record a short message and then actual humans transcribe your speech into text.
On my commute to and from work, I frequently think of new ideas for projects or tasks that I need to complete. I simply hit the S2T autodial and record whatever is on my mind. The S2T service then emails me the transcribed text.
OmniFocus, which I wrote about recently, has a nifty feature in which it grabs an email from Apple Mail with a predetermined sender and subject. It then adds the subject, which has the note in it, to my todo inbox. I think that S2T is one of my favorite tools of all time.
When I first heard of Jott, I was a bit skeptical. I didn't like the idea of a random person in some random country being paid a pittance to sit in a call center to listen to my thoughts and transcribe them. As I thought more about it, I realized that I would rarely if ever say anything confidential to the S2T service. So I started using Jott six months ago and I loved it. It was in beta and totally free.
Jott had some features that I rarely used, like the ability to send messages to any of my contacts. It also had features that I used every day, including its core function, speech-to-text. Once my note had been transcribed, an email with the note in the subject appeared in my inbox.
Recently, Jott stopped its beta program. In doing so it created a free plan, called Jott Express, which still allowed you to do S2T. The deal-killer was the fact that you now had to visit their website to retrieve the transcribed text.
That change broke my OmniFocus script. OmniFocus was expecting the transcribed text to show up in the email. There went the value of the service for me. I initially considered paying for the service, but decided to sleep on it.
ReQall has the same basic functionality as Jott, but it's free. So far I have been very impressed with reQall. Its voice interface is slicker and more responsive than Jott's. ReQall also does a better job of transcribing my voice notes than Jott did.
All in all I'm very happy with reQall. If they end becoming a paid service I would choose them over Jott in a heartbeat.
Vera Gordon, 1912-2008
Many of my favorite childhood memories involve food. The smell of dinner fresh from the oven; the flavor of delicious home-baked goods; the joy that fills a happy kitchen. These visceral patterns were imprinted in my mind frequently during my youth and are still with me today.
At the center of many of my epicurean memories stands my beloved Grandmother, Vera Gordon. Clad in her apron, a smile on her face, a wooden spoon stirring a pot of bubbling borscht. Her food was not just made with love, it was love. And I loved every bite.
For my Grandmother's 90th birthday, my loving mother Rhoda created an amazing book honoring her cooking. Entitled "Vera's Table" this wonderful tome contained Grandma's best recipes. Each recipe was presented with a story written by a family member. I now, more than ever treasure this book and the recipes and stories it contains.
From pickles, to potato salad, from apple pie to poppy seed cookies I could never get enough of the wonderful delights she made. The pies she baked from the apples her loving husband Murray grew in their backyard were magical to me. It is something I will never forget, the time in her kitchen at her beautiful house by the sea in Santa Barbara.
My Grandmother also never forgot those joyful times, and one of her favorite stories was one that I don't actually remember experiencing. I was only nine months old on this particular visit to Grandma's house. On her table she had a big bowl of freshly made guacamole. To her great surprise and amusement I pointed at the bowl at the table and demanded "Taste 'em 'cados." ... see, even then I enjoyed eating.
My brother Dan and I always enjoyed our family trips to visit Grandma and Grandpa. Climbing the trees in the yard, eating (of course), causing mischief like little boys tend to do. I recall one time my Grandparents had just installed a brand new redwood fence around their yard. My brother and I were playing in the yard when I decided it would be fun to knock out the knots from their knot-holes with a metal bar. I encouraged my brother to join in and pretty soon we had turned the nice new fence into a wooden version of swiss cheese. That was the only time I saw my Grandmother truly upset, and looking back on the situation I don't blame her.
As Jewish Grandmothers tend to do, Vera always had advice for me. In my teenage years, this wasn't always easy to hear. No teenage boy wants to be told what to do, especially not by his Grandmother. Now that I think about it though, everything she told me was true, I was just to stubborn to listen.
Now that I've grown up, for the most part, I can reflect on the knowledge my Grandmother imparted to me. She told me about what it means to be a mensch and encouraged me to do the right things in life. To have a family and to raise them well. She didn't just tell me these things, she showed me by example.
I like to think I inherited some of my best qualities from my Grandmother: my humor, my wit, and of course my modesty, but most importantly my love of food and family.
Vera Gordon was a strong woman, a loving mother, a caring Grandmother, a powerful wordsmith, an amazing cook and a lifelong inspiration to me and many others. She will live on forever in our memories.
I just recently recieved one of The Great Internet Migratory Box(es) of Electronics Junk (TGIMBOEJ). The TGIMBOEJ is an awesome box of random electronics that various geeks send to each other. The idea was started by Lenore over at Evil Mad Scientist Labs.
Basically you put your name and contact info on a Wiki page devoted to perspective TGIMBOEJ recipients. Then someone finds your name on said list, and either creates a new box to send you or forwards on the box they currently possess.
The rules are simple, take what you want from the box, add some cool stuff, and then send it on to someone else in the list. You can see the status of the various boxes on this wiki page.
I will be mailing the box off on monday to Logan from Binary Tide.
I picked out a few cool parts including some LEDs, a giant buzzer and some zip-ties. I added a giant LED, a potentiometer and some other cool parts including a 1GB SD card.
The TGIMBOEJ project is awesome, I'm looking forward to receiving another box some time soon!
One of the items I kept from the TGIMBOEJ was the big red buzzer (upper left). I haven't hooked it up yet, but I bet it's loud!
My text list system has not been the most efficient implementation. I decided it was time for a standalone application. After reading this GTD application comparison and watching a screencast about OmniFocus I decided to download the trial and give it a shot.
OmniFocus is a slick application. Thanks to its Cocoa goodness, it integrates perfectly with OS X. It has an easy-to-use interface, but its plethora of features takes some getting used to.
The hardest part was manually importing my several hundred tasks and projects. I had to copy and paste these one by one. It would be a nice feature if OmniFocus could parse plain text files and import each line as a task.
Once my tasks were imported I created projects and folders as you can see in the screenshot below. I then created contexts, some of which you can see in the right hand column of the screenshot.
When I was using my text lists I didn't fully utilize contexts properly, but OmniFocus makes them easy to implement. You can switch to Context mode, select a context like "Office" and see all the tasks that can be done in your office.
OmniFocus has a nice feature called Perspectives, where you can save a predetermined view of your tasks. I have one which I use to implement Zen Habits MITs (Most Important Tasks). Every night before I go to bed I review my Next Actions perspective and flag the tasks I want to complete the next day. The MITs perspective shows my flagged items, which I then (in theory) do.
I also have the iPhone app installed. It's not cheap: $20, but it works fairly well apart from the syncing speed. It takes a very long time (5-10 minutes) to sync changes over the EDGE network, which basically make it close to useless for quick entry. If I know I'm going to be using is I can let it sync for a few minutes.
OmniFocus is supposed to sync to a WebDAV server, but it fails on my FreeBSD server running Apache 2.2.3. I am forced to sync using Apple's buggy Mobile Me. I hope they fix the WebDAV sync issues before my Mobile Me free trial runs out!
OmniFocus: The Good
- Feature rich GTD management.
- Contexts rock for doing what you can, where you can.
- Perspectives make reviewing, viewing and doing fun and easy.
- Simple, system-wide quick-entry is only a keystroke away.
- Due-dates and start-dates make planning and remember tasks easier.
- Automated email parsing pulls tasks from Jott and other email based note taking systems.
- SneakyPeak version with syncing is still in beta and thus is free.
OmniFocus: The Bad
- WebDAV export and syncing is broken.
- Syncing to iPhone app over EDGE takes over 5 minutes, making the app nearly worthless for quick entry.
- iPhone app is expensive: $20
- Desktop app is even more expensive: $80 ($120 for family pack)
Despite the imperfections and relatively high price, I really like OmniFocus. As soon as they fix the syncing (or they stop extending the free trial) I will be purchasing a license.
We have been training every weekend for this backpacking trip by taking nice long day hikes. The difference between our day hikes and the San Gorgonio summit was its 24 mile length compared to the 6 mile trips and of course the fact that we were carrying heavy packs.
We started out early Friday morning and drove up the 38 and then seven miles on a dirt road. This road took us to the Fish Creek trailhead where we parked and started our ascent.
The trail was beautiful and green with a nice gentle climb of about 1,800 feet in six miles. We didn't see another person the whole day we were hiking. Fish Creek trail is definitely less crowded than the other routes to the top.
Once we got to Mine Shaft Saddle we headed down to our campsite at Mine Shaft Flat about a mile and 600 vertical feet downhill. We set up camp and cooked up some dinner, which was quite good despite consisting of various types of ramen noodles and a package of spicy salmon.
The next morning we headed about a half-mile down the trail towards Big Tree camp to fill our water bottles. The water was flowing nicely and was icy cold and fresh. We filled up our containers and then used an MSR MIOX to purify the water.
What I failed to notice was that the test strips which detect the level of chlorine ions made by the MIOX were expired by two years. This caused us to keep adding the MIOX solution and our water tasted like it was fresh from a pool. It ended up being ok to drink, but not the most pleasant experience. Better than being dehydrated or getting Giardia!
The next morning we ate breakfast, broke down camp and headed up to the trailhead where Fish Creek trail intersects with the trail to the summit: Sky High View trail. Once at the intersection we unloaded our packs and stashed our gear, bringing only food, water, first aid and emergency supplies, my ham radio and the SPOT messenger.
The SPOT was nice to have, it allowed us to send our family our position throughout our trip. If there was an emergency we could have also used it to ask for help of request a rescue.
Once we had unloaded our packs, the four and a half mile 3,500' elevation gain hike was actually pretty easy. We made it up in roughly two hours despite Penelope feeling a little tired at the end, probably from low blood sugar.
At the peak we rested, took some photos and ate lunch. We chatted with some boy scouts and their troop leader. I then made contact with someone in Huntington Beach via the Catalina amateur radio repeater.
We also met a nice Israeli astrophysicist named Amri Wandel. Amri happened to be in the LA area teaching a class at UCLA called "Astrophysics and life in the Universe." He hiked down with us and we had a very interesting conversation about Black Holes, Quasars, Pulsars, Unified Field Theory and much more. He has some interesting papers about to come out that I will likely cover for Wired.com.
On the way down we made good time, only stopping once to grab our stashed gear. We made it down the mountain in about four and a half hours from the peak to the trail head. In all we hiked 17 miles on Saturday and about 24 miles total.
We had a great time and we are looking forward to backpacking again soon. We plan on bagging Mount Whitney around this time next year and Half Dome some time before that.
San Jacinto stands tall in the distance as seen from San Gorgonio peak at 11,500 feet last Saturday.
Last weekend my lovely wife Penelope and I hiked to the top of Gaviota Peak. We have been training for a backpacking trip this coming weekend to the top of Southern California's tallest mountain: San Gorgonio.
Gaviota Peak is located about 20 minutes north of Santa Barbara a few miles in from the coast. The trail is fairly popular, but most people opt to hit the hot springs instead of hiking to the peak. The springs are less than a mile from the trailhead.
We started our hike in the early afternoon and made it to the top in under 2 hours. The trail is an old fire road in mediocre condition. The hike takes your from about 300 feet above sea-level to 2,458 feet.
I decided to bring my camera gear and tripod to shoot some panoramas at the peak. You can see one frame of the panorama below. Unfortunately the sky was quite hazy so you can't see very far. Ideally I would like to do this hike again after a good rain.
The hike was strenuous, but the enjoyable. I look forward to doing it again some time soon. I am excited about our San Gorgonio backpacking trip this weekend.
My wife and I stand on top of Gaviota Peak near Santa Barbara last Sunday after a nice 3 mile hike with over 2000' of elevation gain.
Recently I picked up a new-to-me Selmer CL-200 clarinet. I love the warm sound it produces thanks to its all-wood construction. I have been practicing every day and enjoying it greatly.
I started playing clarinet in elementary school and played it through middle school. Sadly I stopped playing in high school, perhaps having to do with not wanting to be a band geek. A few years ago I bought a cheap plastic clarinet which I played once and put away.
Several weeks ago I had an urge to play again so I pulled my old clarinet out of storage and started practicing again. Surprisingly I hadn't completely forgotten my old skills and within a few days I was reading and playing music again.
I found a cool site created by a klezmer band in Manchester that had tons of klezmer PDF sheet music and MIDI files to download. I downloaded and printed every single song on their site and choose about a dozen to start practicing.
After deciding I really wanted to get into playing clarinet again, I started to yearn for a better instrument. When I played in junior high I had a nice old wood clarinet. It had beautiful tone and the grain was lovely.
I started to look around for a good deal on a nicely serviced wood clarinet online. I ended up finding the Clarinet Closet. The Clarinet Closet services used clarinets and sells them at a reasonable price. I certainly could have found a cheaper clarinet on ebay, but I wanted to buy from someone who actually spent the time to service and play the clarinet.
I opted for the cheapest wood clarinet they had for sale, a Selmer CL-200. It set me back about $260 plus shipping. I paid via paypal and the clarinet arrived in the mail just 2 days later. It's amazing that you can ship something through the USPS and it arrives twice as fast compared to UPS for half the price.
I love the clarinet. The SL-200 has a beautiful tone and feels great, especially for a student level / intermediate instrument. At some point I may upgrade to a higher level clarinet, but the CL-200 will suit me perfectly for some time.
Once I master a few dozen klezmer tunes I'm going to look for a violinist, organist and perhaps a DJ / producer to start a modern klezmer dubstep / drum'n'bass group. That should be interesting!
A close-up of the bell of my new wood clarinet shows the Selmer logo.
Last weekend I covered Defcon 16, the world's largest hacker convention for Wired.com's Threat Level blog. Like last year, I was paired with Kim Zetter, one of Wired's best writers and an all around cool person.
Zetter wrote all the serious articles, which I provided pictures for. These articles included:
- E-Passports Signed, Sealed, Delivered -- But Not Like You May Think
- Researchers Crack Medeco High-Security Locks With Plastic Keys
- French Reporters at Black Hat Booted from Conference for Hacking Fellow Reporters
- Federal Judge in DefCon Case Equates Speech with Hacking -- Updated with Recording from Hearing
I did end up writing a few features that weren't hard news, but were still fun to write and shoot:
- A First Ever Look Inside The Defcon Network Operations Center
- Exclusive Defcon 16 Badge Sneak Peek
- The DefCon 16 Mystery Challenge
- Images From the 16th Annual DefCon
I had a great time this year at Defcon, it was my 8th Defcon and I can't wait for next year. I'm looking forward to working with Zetter again and getting another tour of the NOC!