Archive for October, 2007

Earthquake!

Wednesday, October 31st, 2007

Last night, shortly after 8 pm, there was an earthquake near San Jose. I’d just made it home after a particularly ugly BART delay, due to an apparent suicide at Powell Street station around 6 pm:

BART’s Powell Street station in San Francisco was reopened just before 8 p.m. tonight after authories shut it down for two hours to investigate a death on the tracks.

Up in San Francisco, the quake was fairly mild. I mistook the shaking for vehicles on the street at first, until I realized there was no noise and the shaking was continuing for much longer than I expected.

I was the first to fill out the shaking report from my ZIP code in San Francisco. (At the time I write this, there are now almost 250 reports.) Magnitude is an important measurement of earthquakes, but the Mercalli intensity scale is a more useful answer to the “how did it feel?” question. In the USGS map, brighter colors (yellow/orange/red) correspond to higher intensities:

October 30, 2007 quake intensity map (cropped)
(Click through for a full map with the color code.)

Most of the Bay Area reported intensity III (“Slight”), described as: “Felt quite noticeably by persons indoors, especially on the upper floors of buildings. Many do not recognize it as an earthquake. Standing motor cars may rock slightly. Vibration similar to the passing of a truck. Duration estimated.” In other words, it’s only slightly more than a non-event. Pay no attention to the breathless media news briefs squeezed into the gaps between TV shows.

New TV furniture has yet to catch up with new TVs

Monday, October 29th, 2007

One of the reasons why I’ve delayed buying a big-screen TV is trying to figure out how to store it. I’ve yet to find a way to store a big-screen TV that meets my requirements:

  1. Material and construction. No metal-and-glass here in earthquake country! The furniture should be made of wood. I’d strongly prefer that it not be a particle-board veneer, but that’s because most veneers are cheap. A high-quality real wood veneer, as opposed to a “wood-esque” plastic coating might work. Wall-mount brackets are a strong plus near to the Pacific Subduction Zone, too.
  2. Color. If we’re talking wood, I like dark colors. A deep red cherry stain is ideal, but that seems impossible unless I build the thing myself and pick out the stain color.
  3. Doors. It’d be nice to be able to close the doors on the TV and hide it from the world. Even with the existing small (20 inch!) set, it feels like the room is built around it. That feeling is only going to be worse with a large set.
  4. TV Size. I keep dancing around which TV to get, but I’m leaning towards the Sony SXRD line. I don’t need the ninja-rific space-savings of LCD or plasma, so I’d rather get an RPTV at half the price. In the Sony SXRD lineup, there are variety of TVs available in the 50″ to 60″ range. As much as I’d like to get an XBR-series TV, the only one in the current model lineup is a 70″ TV, set to come out next spring. I’m going to draw the line at a TV that has a diagonal that is almost my size. (I am 74 inches tall.) There’s a minor constraint here, in that the TV shelf needs to support about 80 pounds and have a shelf depth of about 16 inches, but most furniture easily accomodates that.
  5. Home Theater and Audio/Visual component size. This seems to be the biggest problem I have. Two of my components require a very deep shelf of about twenty inches, and they’re both vital components. One is the Yamaha A/V receiver, and the other is a home theater PC running MythTV. If they were unimportant components, I’d let it go and consider using a small rack of components to the side of the TV. However, the receiver is the hub of the system, and it’s pretty rare to use the TV without pulling the signal from the MythTV machine (whether live TV, time-shifted HDTV recordings, or DVDs). Both of the problematic components need to be accomodated in my storage unit.
  6. Reasonable ventilation. Stereo components hate heat. Computers hate it even worse. If the MythTV computer is getting stored in an enclosure, it’s going to have to stay ventilated to avoid disk failure. (Thankfully, I can use lm_sensors to monitor temperatures.)
  7. Cost. Oh, and in addition to being demanding on what I want, I don’t want to pay a lot, either. Preferably, it doesn’t cost more than the TV that it’s holding. Between the changes in TV, and the changes in video technology, I can’t feel comfortable buying a really expensive piece of furniture that will hold today’s technology. Any TV furniture that’s more than a few years old is great for 4:3 aspect ratio TVs, but I find that nearly everything I watch these days is letterboxed to 16:9. I wouldn’t want to bet on technology staying the same, so I’d like to feel comfortable replacing it.

Word of the day: pleonasm

Monday, October 29th, 2007

This blog is brought to you today by the word pleonasm.

It’s a fancy word that refers to redundant words in an expression. I’ve always been annoyed by the phrase “NIC card,” since the acronym “NIC” stands for “network interface card.” Technically, when you say “NIC card,” you’re saying “network interface card card,” and that just makes you sound silly.

After my recent visit to Los Angeles, a colleague pointed out that referring to “the La Brea Tar Pits” is even worse, since “la brea” means “the tar” in Spanish; technically, “the La Brea Tar Pits” translates as “the the tar tar pits.” Somehow, it doesn’t seem as silly when the phrase is a mix of different languages, though.

Life of AAA Eneloop batteries in remote control: 2 months

Saturday, October 27th, 2007

A couple of months ago, I purchased a set of eneloop low-discharge rechargeable batteries for use in my programmable remote control. On August 19, I installed the first pack of four, promising to follow up when they needed replacement. I finally needed to do so last Thursday, for a lifetime of one day shy of two months.

The batteries that I installed were not fully charged. I pulled them directly from the packaging as they arrived at the house, and had whatever charge they had from the factory. (eneloops are shipped to retailers fully charged because they have such a low self-discharge rate.) I’ll continue to monitor my experiences and post further updates as I continue to gain experience.

No place like home?

Saturday, October 27th, 2007

I was in Helsinki for an IEEE ad hoc meeting recently. On my last night in Helsinki, I went out for a walk after night, and took this picture of the statue of Kaarlo Juho Ståhlberg, the first President of Finland, in front of the Eduskuntatalo (house of the Finnish Parliament).

Kaarlo Juho Ståhlberg statue

What I found remarkable about the experience is that the statue is only the width of a driveway across from the front steps of the building. I pulled out my tripod and proceeded to fiddle with my camera to set everything up. Nobody approached me and told me that photography was forbidden, or that mysterious security rules dictated that I move along, even though I was only a few meters from the entrance to the building. The parliament may not have been in session, but I can’t imagine that I’d be allowed to set up my tripod anywhere I wanted to on the U.S. Capitol grounds.

More photos from Helsinki are in the Helsinki gallery here.

I’m a travelin’ man

Saturday, October 27th, 2007

Since September, I’ve been traveling a lot and posting has been light. A few days ago, I logged in to the American web site, and I was greeted with a new elite status:

Executive Platinum status

(This month, I also re-gained elite status on United, due to a two-week period where I took four trans-Pacific flights.)

I’ve never been an Executive Platinum before. I’ve had lousy luck on using first-class upgrades most of the year, so I’m curious to see if my new status helps out my low percentage.