Monthly Archives: August 2008

Yay To Freedom – July 4 2008

Sign on the way to Coronado Now that the 4th of August has passed, it’s probably time to write about the 4th of July. Photos here. Cassie came down to SD with Gordon, and we went across town to Coronado, where her brother Don and his family had rented a marina house, complete with yacht, waverunners, terrace and all mod cons! Pretty amazing, really.

During the weekend we spent some time on the Dog Beach at Coronado, which was packed with people and dogs. Those retrievers really love to retrieve, and they don’t care how big the waves are – they have to grab that orange floating dog toy that looks like it might have uses in the bedroom, if you catch my drift.

On the 4th itself had a very nice BBQ at the holiday house, with Cassie’s famous potato salad, her Mum’s amazing BBQ beans, and of course delicious homemade burgers and franks. Cassie’s Dad was kind enough to explain the reason for Independence Day. He told me about an evil empire that oppressed its people, and how a small colony of this empire broke away and fought for its freedom against the angered oppressors. Sounds exciting, I wonder who wrote it.

July 4th Yacht Trip The whole gang took a ride on the yacht, a 30-ish-foot speed cruiser type thing, all bow, with built-in ice bucket and white leather seats. We cruised around SD Bay, past the maritime museum with HMS Surprise, the naval base with the USS Ronald Reagan, and into the marina. This was packed with people and their boats, all moored up, all different sizes, BBQing on the back, kids playing in dinghys and inner tubes. It was really nice – everyone flying the flag and having themselves a time.

Waverunners Cassie and I had a zoom around on the Waverunners – they were amazing fun. I managed to hit 45mph on mine, while Cassie was a demon at over 50! You really feel the speed when you’re bouncing over the waves, with the wind bashing you as you go. My waverunner kept cutting out if I got too much “air”, but 45 was quite fast enough, thanks very much. I let out a few involuntary woops as we zipped up and down.

On the evening of the 4th, Cassie and I sat on the terrace by the fire pit and made S’mores. My first time. Definitely not my last, even if Hershey’s chocolate is rank.

Labor Day is next!

Rolling In My 1.2

One thing I really can’t get away from now is the need for a car. I can have all sorts of noble intentions about trimming the fat, running a tight ship and reducing consumption, but in the end I would starve if I didn’t have in my possession the keys to a ton and a half of metal with an engine.

My Landlady has kindly rented me a car until I get sorted out with a lease. It’s a Volvo S70, several orders of magnitude bigger than the Nissan Micra I sold in London. They don’t have Micras here – they have the novelty small cars like the Smart, or the German yuppie fashion statement Minis, but regular day-to-day small stuff like the Fiat Uno (like the one I wrote off in 2000 by driving it under a Toyota Landcruiser) or my old Nissan don’t get a look in. I had to send a picture of what a Micra looks like to get my Landlady to understand what I was talking about. For comparison, here’s me in a dodgem in the mid-1970’s…

bumper car.jpg  

…and here’s a 2000-ish Nissan Micra. Spot the difference.

Of course, as I always say, given a choice, I would like a 1972 Citroen DS20 with a backfitted electric or hybrid power plant. Or a Mr Fusion. And around here in San Diego there are some pretty good American muscle car classics, El Caminos, Chargers, Mustangs and the like, as well as the weird long flat stuff like the Lincoln Mark VIII. Lots of trucks, especially Fords – I think it’s the proximity to Mexico. There’s also a nice smattering of 70’s and 80’s cop show cars as well – both cops and gansters nicely represented. Of course, the vast majority of cars are modern, efficient, small(er than tanks), and pretty dull. Dull can be good though.

I have driven Cassie’s Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo, and my Landlady’s Ford Blazer V8, but I just don’t like the driving position, or the ride. These Jeeps and other SUVs don’t just bounce up and down, they go from side to side and they twist and yaw as well. There are some nasty dips and bumps in hilly downtown San Diego, and I find that driving over them in a sedan/saloon is simply more comfortable (unless you’re going too fast, then you lose the sump cover).

But in the end, a Swedish tank, followed by a leased understated Audi or something will do me fine. Gas/petrol is coming down, so there’s no need to get a small car any more. That’s a relief.

How Are We Doing So Far, Y’all?

In a couple of days time, I will have been living in the US for two months. Every time people ask me in emails or on the phone (thanks Si), “How’s it going?”, I have to tell them that I’m still settling in. Lots to do. Forms to fill in (or “out”).

This chap has been living in San Francisco for a good few years, and his post the other day got me thinking about my own experience so far. He’s also one of the founding members of ORG, which does vital work in the UK, and which you should join. In fact, I think it was his pledge that started it. Anyway.

I’ve been having a good time, no question. Visiting LA, receiving visitors in SD, enjoying a national holiday or two. But all of this is against a background noise of “settling in”. Phone, internet, cable, driving license, parking permit. Driving on the right, automatic, air conditioning, remote garage door opener.

The mundane stuff like grocery shopping is a new adventure. I think I’ve figured out that 1% milk is the same as the semi-skimmed I liked in the UK. I have enough Typhoo to last me a while, and then after that, what do I do? Should I keep trying to drink tea in the British way? Should I succumb to the caffeine-drink snobbery that pervades the middle classes here (“let the bag steep for exactly two minutes, not a second more or you have ruined your tea”, “if you don’t roast and grind your own beans, you are ignorant scum”)? Maybe I’ll just buy a filter machine and swill venti until I sweat.

More to come. In the meantime, I’m fine, settling in, lots to do.

This Is A Life

That was a nice weekend. After a scare about Cassie’s car (a drunk driving an SUV and swigging from a bottle of Jim Beam knocked the mirror off, then parked down the road. She had to get it fixed before driving anywhere.) she drove down with Gordon late on Friday. Saturday morning we leapt up, packed the beach bags and drove to OB, planning to grab a free parking spot while they were still available. Once parked, we went to a dog-friendly outdoor cafe for breakfast while the marine layer cloud cleared.

Then a nice stroll past the beachfront property. This varies wildly between rundown shacks with quite a lot of charm (shells hanging from the porch), characterless beige hotel-style condos (STUCCO), and over-designed under-thought-through expensive prestige pads.

We got to the beach and walked over the soft sand to the calm waters near the jetty. We wanted to get Gordon in the water to see if he remembered his lesson from last time, and we didn’t want waves to freak him out. That would come later.

We set up camp (i.e. put the bag down on the sand) then got ready for the water. I picked Gordon up and waded into the (a bit cold) water. Straightaway Gordon started swimming in the air, which was very funny. I lowered him in, and he struck out for shore. After that he seemed happy to follow us into the water, chase and retrieve tennis balls (but not bring them back) and swim around. Very cue indeed, with his look of intense concentration as he paddles. Shuggie never liked the English sea, when he got near it. I wonder how he would cope with warmer water. Gordon got very sandy of course, so we took him for a dog bath before heading home for a nap.

In the evening we chose a nice restaurant from the trusty Zagats. Rainwater’s is downtown, close to the bay and the railway station. It was an excellent dinner, starting with cocktails*, and ending with a dessert of rich cheescake and “chocolate lasagne” which was amazing, even though it bore a remarkable resemblance to a Vienetta. I was sad to see they didn’t have Arctic Roll.

* I’ve never been a big cocktail fan, living in the UK with not much money. In the US, cocktails, and the necessary skilled bar staff, are much more prevalent. After some research, my cocktail of choice is a Vodka Gimlet, as recommended by Cassie’s, and now my, friend Alex, the bartender at the Edendale in LA. A quick check of the recipe for a Gimlet tells me there is a certain snobbery surrounding the recipe, with people saying that a “real” Gimlet only contains gin and lime juice, not vodka. Well then, call me a faker, because I like it with vodka. Also, naff off. OK, I can’t call it a Gimlet. I hereby name this cocktail a, “Pedantic Cocktail Snob”.

Sunday was a bit more relaxed, but not much. We went for breakfast, then to stock up on beach equipment at Target (pron. tar-ZHAY). I resisted buying a wheeled cooler with room for 8 slabs of Bud. If they had a motorised one, it would have been even harder to resist.

After Cassie left, taking a very fluffy Gordon with her, I didn’t feel like unpacking the last few boxes of stuff. They make such good footrests while watching TV and snoozing.

QR Code Jiggery-Pokery

 QRcode for my website QR Codes seem to be a bit of a geeky hot topic at the moment, with people pasting them on walls to give a link to Wikipedia, or a local amenities listing. People are also printing tshirts with a link to their site, or wherever.

QR Codes aren’t the only standard for 2-dimensional graphical codes – there is also Data Matrix, which looks slightly different but has the same funtionality. QR seems to be the leader because of it’s common usage in Japan, and the number of devices supporting it out of the box. In my line of work I have come across Data Matrix readers in the style of barcode guns which connect to a laptop via USB, and allow quick entry of data from codes into a spreadsheet or database. This is very useful for asset maintenance tasks and configuration management – each component can have a code intstead of a serial number. Barcodes were used, but QR holds more data.

The above link to Boing Boing makes it look like they only work with an Apple iPhone, but that is of course not the case. Palm OS, Symbian and other phones and PDAs have had them for ages. When the iPhone code reader finally gets released (no hurry in the walled garden), it may mean there is an upsurge in usage – it should be interesting to see whether it takes off in the US like it did in Japan.

They’ve been popular in Japan for a long time, because most people’s cellphones already have a QR Code reader built in to the phone camera. Reading the tag then sends the phone web browser to the correct information.

The image at the top is a QR Code which is the encoded address of a specific page on this site. But you can’t tell what the link is until your reader reads it. In the case of my reader, Beetagg, it asks for confirmation of the URL before it opens it, so there is a way to check if you’re opening a malicious or prank site, e.g. Rickrolling.

Wouldn’t it be nice if there was some way to make the QRCode look like what it was linking to, or give some kind of hint as to the destination? It would be a crude pixelated image, but it would be a cool thing to be able to do. All the QRCode generators that are available start with the text or URL, and generate the QRCode from that. What we need is to be able to draw a QRCode in a grid, and have the generator tell us what code that would make. It would have to start with a template containing all the necessary markers and corner blocks to ensure it was a valid code.

Well, as it turns out, there is a way (Google translation). Due to the robust errorchecking and redundancy in the code, it is possible to embed logos and images in the code, either pixellated at the same resolution as the code, or as an image simply stuck in the middle, so that the code is generated around it.

Fun, but I was thinking more along the lines of manually drawing a code and seeing what comes out, similar to the process of making music, or more likely noise, used by the Aphex Twin amongst others. As long as the code you drew created a valid URL, you could register that domain and create the necessary page. Worth it? Probably not.

The coolest would be a code generated in the usual way, by entering a URL into a generator, which ended up looking like the thing that the URL linked to – for example the code for the URL of an image of a duck looking like a little pixellated duck itself. It’s only a matter of time before a QR Code is created to link to an online Bible, which has the image of Jesus in the code. Then again, if you’re looking, you can see whatever you want.