Thursday, December 17, 2009

Call Me Windows, Call Me Nuts!

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Let me first state that I'm impressed and generally satisfied with my Windows 7 64-bit experience. It is indeed a much better operating system than we've seen from Microsoft since DOS....

Now that the honeymoon is over, I see some of the same unstable behaviors of Windows past. I'm convinced Windows has multiple personality disorder. Has the constant inbreeding finally caught up? (All in good fun, folks)!

  • A little over a week ago after a reboot forced by an OS update, my media card reader went belly up. The infamous error 43. Though it is well discussed in forum after forum, I was unable to solve this problem. I spent over two hours working through solutions found on forums and Microsoft's support site. No joy. I had accepted the fact that the 7 media card reader built into my PC had been rendered useless and that I would have to purchase an external reader and burn another USB port. Hold on this this thought...
  • About 3 or 4 weeks ago my system experienced grey screens of death. Nothing on the screen but a dark grey color and no response from the system. The only solution was a hard off and reboot. This problem only happened twice during a week period.
  • About 3 or 4 weeks ago I started experiencing a problem where my network connections would fail after about 3 days of uptime. Disabling or diagnosing the network adapter would not revive connections. Even command line updates to the connections were of no use. A reboot was always required to clear up the problem. 
  • This morning the network connection issue occurred and I restarted Windows. Well, I tried to restart - it hung shutting down. I was patient, waited 10 minutes, then did a hard kill. Here is the crazy part.... while it was booting Windows now decided "hey, you have a media reader. let me install device drivers for that"! So after almost 2 weeks of having a disabled media reader Windows has decided that it might be a device that was important to me. I plugged in a media card and, holy cow, it worked!
The media card issue is puzzling since it had been working for months in Windows 7. I can't say it was a MS problem but the USB device stopped working after a recent Windows update. During the time it was disabled, I've booted 6 or 7 times but it was not until this morning during a failed shutdown, hard kill, and reboot that Windows 7 decided to reinstall drivers.

If I acted this way around friends, family, and colleagues they would have me locked up for being nuts and rightly so. As a developer, I understand the complexity of the systems we work on but these behaviors puzzle me. Especially the inconsistency of it all. Again, I'm relatively happy with Windows 7. The types of applications I run are wonderful under a 64-bit OS.

When you're around nuts it is best to grin, bear it, and enjoy the ride.

(photo by Pink Sherbet Photography)

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Droid and iTunes

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Just watched this video and learned a few things about copying iTunes music over to the Droid. Watch the video for more details but here are some things I learned:

  • Add the "Kind" column to a view to quickly determine what in your library is protected by DRM. If you see Protected AAC then you know it will not play on the Droid. Note: There are illegal ways to unprotect but another is shown below.
  • Once you connect your Droid to your computer, you can drag songs directly from iTunes into the music directory on your Droid. Didn't know about that one...
  • iTunes has an option for removing DRM from music you purchased from iTunes. If you click iTunes Store, then on the top right click iTunes Plus, that will open up a page that will provide you with the cost for iTunes to remove DRM. I knew you could purchase non-protected music but I was not aware you could purchase an option to remove protection from an existing collection.


Saturday, December 05, 2009

How My Droid Does

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A number of friends that are considering buying a Droid have been asking me about the applications that I use and would recommend. To save myself some time I thought I would just create a blog post on what I'm using rather than repeat the discussion over and over. How's that for efficient collaboration!

Weather

I spent some time with weather widgets/applications from both The Weather Channel and Weather Bug and I've gone with WeatherBug. I think WeatherBug has the best UI of the bunch and the widget is awesome. It is free and more information can be found here.



Blog Reading (RSS)

I use Google Reader for all my blog aggregation and though Google Reader works perfectly in the Android browser I found one particular UI issue to be troubling. You can read about that experience in my earlier blog post "Uh Oh, Bad UI Design?"

I found an Android application that provides blog aggregation and does so by hooking into your existing Google Reader account. Perfect! It provides an Android tuned UI while interacting while keeping Google Reader in sync. It is called NewsRob and is free.



Facebook

Again, the built in Facebook application is fine for most but it is lacking in some areas. It seems that most people are very happy with an application called Bloo and I gave it a whirl. It is working very well for me and I'm amazed at how frequently the application is updated. Especially being that this is also a free application.




Twitter

There are a number of good twitter applications such as twidroid and the new Android application from Seesmic. I tried twidroid first and gave Seesmic a try but my personal tastes lean toward twidroid and I'm very happy with it as an application. It also provides a fast pace of updates including new features and fixes.



Those are my list of go to applications and are used most frequently. Others that I use and would recommend include:
  • TripIt - if you have a TripIt account this is a very nice application for travelers.
  • Google Sky - a lot of fun for the wow factor!
  • Quickpedia - An application that provides wikipedia in a more Android friendly format.
  • ShopSavvy - too cool! Just scan a bar code of something you are thinking about purchasing and it will provide you a listing of best prices either locally or on the internet. For local finds you can then use Google Navigation to take you there :-)
  • Places Directory - uses your location to help you find places such as coffee shops, banks, places to eat, etc.
  • Pandora - for those of you that use Pandora for music listening this will hook you up on the Android.
  • WiFi Buddy - to manage your WiFi connections
  • PhoneFlicks - manager your Netflix queue on the Android

I'll update this over time and provide more details on some of those other applications.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Uh Oh, Bad UI Design?

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I'll admit to being a Google fan boy but a recent experience with the Google Reader UI on my Droid has my scratching my head. First off, for those of you not using Google Reader... why not? Just do it. I currently have over 150 blogs in my read list and none of this would be possible without a RSS feedreader and Google Reader is my reader of choice. It can be used on most any device and I use it on any desktop PC, my BlackBerry, and my Droid. The navigation using the keyboard is super convenient and allows you to quickly churn through your items.

Now, on to my complaint. On an Android device, maybe an issue on others but I can't speak to those, the Refresh button is perilously close to the "Mark all as read" link. The Refresh button is used to refresh the items in your view. I have my reader set up so that only unread items appear. Any item that has been read will disappear from the view when you hit Refresh, it will also bring into the view any new items. If you click the "Mark all as read" link it will cause every item in the list to be marked as read which means they will disappear from the view....



Yep, since the button and link are so close together when I went to refresh the view my "shot" was a bit off and my finger hit the "Mark all as read" link. Every item that I had not yet read disappeared from view. Bad design especially when you learn there is no undo with that action :-(  Below is a screen shot of the opportunity.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

MINI Clock

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The fun factor of the MINI brand is the best. I never tire of the fun things they come up with either from their YouTube channel or on the MINI USA site. They just came out with a MINI clock that will reside on your computer's desktop. Looks like the speedometer but instead of speed it represents the face of a clock. Some cool items:

  • At the stroke of each hour a small MINI comes out of a "garage" and depending upon the hour does a variety of interesting things. I won't spoil it for you. Get the clock and behold.
  • Once it starts to get dark the "dash" lights up. Just wonderful attention to detail.
You can get the MINI Clock here and below is a quick shot of it on my desktop.


Thursday, October 22, 2009

My Next MINI, Who Will NOT Get My Money

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This is a tale of two MINI dealers and differences in attitude that can make or break an organization. In the new world created by Web 2.0 technologies, a world where the customers are in control it would be wise to remember the importance of customer service. Those that do not will be left wondering where all the people have gone...

A recent experience triggered this post and brought back memories of a prior experience that did not go well. Back in 2005 my wife and I ordered a MINI Cooper from Global Imports in Atlanta for our daughter. It was our desire that this arrive in time for her birthday. For that to happen, we ordered the car nine months prior to her birthday. It was confirmed by the sales manager that this would be no problem, no problem at all.

Spin forward to a week before her birthday in April of 2006. The sales person contacted us to let us know that the car would arrive about six weeks after her birthday. Okay, nine months.... nine months ago it was ordered with a promise that this car would arrive in time. Now, one week before delivery.... it's not coming for another six weeks? This sales manager acted as though this were no big deal even though he knew from the start that arriving in time for her birthday was important to us. Unsatisfied with the way this was handled we asked for a deposit refund and looked elsewhere. Luckily, we found a one year old, better equipped MINI the next day. A deal was struck and we were able to give it to our daughter on her birthday.

Move forward 3 1/2 years to last week. Our daughter's MINI failed an emissions test and it was determined by our trusted shop, Way Motor Works, that the O2 sensor had failed. It also turns out that we had received a letter from MINI about a O2 sensor recall and that MINI would replace it free of charge. So, daughter scheduled a visit to the dealer to have it repaired.... uh, oh. Guess what dealer she picked? Yep, the dealer that fumbled the car order 3 1/2 years ago. Guess how this worked out?

With great confidence, they determined the sensor was not faulty and when confronted by the report from Way at Way Motor Works, they indicated he didn't know what he was talking about. But.... they did have a expensive list of repairs needed to resolve the issue. My daughter called me and I asked that she take leave of Global Imports MINI and get to MINI of South Atlanta (MOSA).

Why MOSA? Because of my experiences with MOSA and my MINI. They have been top notch in all respects I always felt they were looking out for me, the customer. I have no doubt they want to create happy and loyal customers - loyal as in long term customers. So, today she visited MOSA. Well, what the heck, the O2 sensor is faulty!!! Imagine that? There was no argument, no push for additional repairs, no resistance at all. MOSA stepped in and did what was right for the customer. They didn't try to take advantage of my daughter and suggest other more expensive repairs. They got right to correcting the problem reported by the customer and did it quickly. Don't forget that they did this for a customer that has not purchased a MINI from them --- yet. Guess who just got my loyalty?

This is what having a customer focus means for MOSA. We are over the top MINI fans. We have two MINIS in the family and will eventually have three since my wife wants one. As much as it pains me to say this, MINIHERO (my MINI) will one day be replaced. That makes two MINI sales in the future. Oh, our daughter will do the same one day so let's take that to three MINI sales.

Where will I take my business? To a dealer that ignores the needs of their customers? A dealer that puts profits above customer loyalty? A dealer that tries to take advantage of customers?

I will choose to go to the dealer that is customer focused, that undertands that a customer relationship is at play, and that represents the spirit that is MINI. Yep, MINI of South Atlanta, you got my back and you'll get my business.

Companies must remember that the power of the crowds has and continues to create a new world order. Ignore it at your peril.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

My Photography Site

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After much prodding from Cher, I've finally made a commitment to my photography hobby and now have a photography website. Check out my site which is http://www.differentduckphotos.com




Though I've been posting lots of photos through the years on my Flickr site, this feels different and is begging to make me be a bit more serious about this hobby. On top of that, for the first time ever, I'm showing some of my photography at an internal company sponsored art event. That's really got me a bit nervous but I'm learning a lot and in addition to slicing my finger open, I've learned how to matte and frame photographs! Of course, being married to a wonderful and successful artist has made that journey a bit easier.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Tilting and Shifting

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I've been intrigued by the look of a tilt shift lens and though I don't have one, it is possible to recreate it effect using Photoshop. Or at least approximate the effect. There are a number of sites that provide instructions on how to do this and I'll provide links below. In my case, as a rabid member of the AtlantaMINIS club I've been wanting to take a photo of our gatherings from afar. Last Sunday we had an event that ended up at Brasstown Bald which is the highest peak in Georgia. I decided to get a shot from the observation tower to try this effect. Unfortunately, I could have used another 100 mm reach on my lens but had to make do with the 200 mm I had at my disposal.

The steps I took are:

  1. After doing my "normal thing" in Lightroom I brought the image into Photoshop - note I cropped a bit in Lightroom as required by my lack of reach with my 200 mm lens.
  2. At this point I duplicated the layer - always protecting myself from frequent disaster.
  3. On the duplicated layer I created a mask by clicking the create mask icon at the bottom of the layers palette:





  4.  Next click the Quick Mask icon at the bottom of the Tools palette so you can see your masking:





  5. Now you will paint in a mask which will be used to limit the areas that a lens blur will be used. I created a gradient that has white where the blur will occur and black where the blur will be blocked. The gradient I created looks like this in the gradient editor dialog:





  6. With the quick mask turned on and the gradient selected you will drag across the image making sure the "red" mask is in alignment with the portion of your image you want to be in focus. I tried this numerous times until I got the right look. Important: Make sure the mask is selected and not the image. You'll know because there will be a little white outline around the mask in your layer. See below.




    Mask is selected


  7. Click the Quick Mask button again to turn off quick mask mode. You'll now see the "marching ants" around the selected areas.
  8. Use the Lens Blur filter and play around with the settings until you get a look you like. For the MINI image I used Radius: 39, Brightness: 6, Threshold: 237. Mix to taste.
  9. If I didn't like the "blur" when I had the lens blur filter dialog up, I would escape and then redo steps 6 and 7 until I got a look I like. If you redrag a gradient in quick mask mode then the one you had created is just replaced.





  10. To complete the look put in a curves adjustment layer and increase the contrast. You can go the, um, cheap route and just use a contrast adjustment layer and bump up the contrast to around 30. You lose fine tuning if you do that rather than a curves adjustment.
  11. Top it all off with a saturation adjustment and bump up the saturation. I went up to about 40 on this image. These last two steps start to give the image that "plastic" look.
  12. The final result for this test image:


For more examples go to these sites:

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Jason's Glass Blowing

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Our son, Jason, is following in mom's footsteps and has started down a path of creating art. After just a few glass blowing lessons he is creating some wonderful work. Just a couple of examples below. I expect this to be just the tip of the iceberg!


and


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

MINIHERO - The Disappearing Bonnet

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Played around with a technique last night where you can "see" through the bonnet, that would be hood for the non-MINI crowd, into the engine bay. You take an exposure with the bonnet closed, another with the bonnet open, and then do a bit of work in Photoshop to get this effect.

Easy to do as long as you know how to do masking. I just put the bonnet down version on top, created a mask, painted in black on the mask where I wanted to see through the bonnet. Best to use a soft edged brush with the opacity and flow set in the 30% - 40% range. I also used a mask to hide the surrounding garage area.

This was a quick test and I'm not 100% happy with the lighting or the environment. As a test it accomplished my goal. For lighting, I used a Nikon SB-600 shot through a 45" umbrella. Next time I'll probably do something similar but control the light a little better. It was a challenge keeping specular highlights from blowing out.

Later.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Gigging

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We had a short gig last night at Smith's Olde Bar for a fund raising event for Morningside Elementary School. It is always a blast for us as performers and as audience members. The night is filled with a large number of bands playing 30 minute sets. It is cool to see how quickly some of these bands have come together as many of them were created from parents just for this event. It truly shows you how much talent is out there.

Great job to the organizers, great job by my band members, and a special call out to our drummer, Mack Brown, as he performed with grueling pain from a kidney stone.

Rock on!

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

The MINI Dirty Butt Problem

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If you happen to own a MINI Cooper then you are certainly aware of what I call the "MINI dirty butt problem".

The aerodynamics of our favorite little car are such that it scoops everything it can find off the road and dumps it onto the back of the car. My goodness, how frustrating it is to get MINIHERO all shined up and on the way out of the neighborhood find that someone's grass clippings have been deposited onto the back of my car....

There is one particular component of the car that also acts as a shelf where road material just stacks up. That would be the rear window wiper. Many people find the rear window wiper to be of great value, I don't. That little wiper collects road trash like moths to a light. If you've ever pulled back a wiper on a MINI that is over 3 years old, you'll find that it, and the collected grit, act like sandpaper. There is probably a set of nice "scratches" on the glass underneath. That wiper also results in doom to the stickers I have on the back window. All of this leads me to the decision to remove the wiper.

Simple procedure, just remove the nut and soak the wiper connection in WD40, and soak, and soak, and soak. If the wiper has been on for any amount of time then it is almost fused and it will take a few days of soaking before you will be able to pull it off. Next step is to removed the wiper motor which requires removing the inside panel from the boot. To remove the panel, just remove the screws and forcefully pull off. There are clips that hold the panel on and you will certainly feel that you are pulling too hard - you are not.

The motor is held on with 3 bolts, just remove, unplug the wiring harness, washer supply line, and slide the motor out. Make sure to plug the washer supply line or you'll have a bit of dripping... You now have a small hole that needs to be plugged. You can order a special plug for this purpose but an article on NAMM noted that a bicycle headset cap can be used to plug the hole.

What's cool about a headset cap is how many different styles and colors exist. You are sure to find something to add that special "bling" to your MINI. You can get these at a local bicycle shop, though choices may be limited. Do a Google search and you will find many choices such as here.

I found one at a local shop that is of the carbon fiber line which looked very cool on MINIHERO as noted in the photo. So, there you go, another "mod" to MINIHERO. Though some would question the removal of the rear wiper, I find it much easier to keep the trash off the rear and I like the cleaner lines.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Social Media Changing Our World

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See what you think.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Lightroom Love

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Bless those Lightroom developers and product managers!!! Just discovered a behavior in Lightroom that surprised and delighted me. I use a collection for all of the images we put on my wife's art site. We've decided to create a "current work" page and an "archived work" page since the number of images had gotten to be so high. I made a copy of the collection of images which will represent current work and the original set for archived work.

We went through the current work and removed all of the images that should be archived. The next task was to go find and remove from the archive collection all of the images that are in the current collection. One would think you would flip back and forth between the sets until the deed was done and it would be a visual activity. Here's where the fun begins.

I'm in the current set. I click on an image. When I move to the archive set, the image I had selected in the current set is already highlighted in the archive set!!! All I have to do is delete the highlighted item from the archived list. Brilliant, what a time saver.

Lightroom's behavior is designed so that any image selected in a collection will be automatically selected in another collection if present. I did not expect this but it was most helpful for this particular task.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

MINIHERO Flyer

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I've noticed a lot of folks that participate in car shows create auto show signs for their car. Since I usually enter MINIHERO into show events I decided it was bad form for MINIHERO to not have a sign as well. So, firing up Photoshop and Lightroom, I dug through some of my shots of MINIHERO and put one together. I designed it for 11 x 17 and have not had a chance to print it out but here is a scaled down version. My plan is to print it when I have a chance and then see about having it laminated.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Upcoming Class Reunion

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It has been 30 years since I graduated from high school. Seems a lifetime ago, well, I guess it has been. I'm pretty excited about seeing classmates and seeing the journeys our lives have taken.

My graduating class was very small with only 18 seniors. That should give you an indication of how small our private school was. The whole student body, from kindergarten to 12th grade, was somewhere around 200 people. When I note that to my colleagues and friends in Atlanta, they just shake their heads. Most of them had more students in their graduating class than we had in our whole school.

I'm looking forward to seeing everyone and catching up, though a quick reunion will never allow us to recapture the time that has passed.

Here's to you, classmates of 1979, see you in September!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

MINI Tow Hook

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I've purchased a number of products for my MINI from Outmotoring.com and have been very happy with their prices, speed of delivery and quality of products. One exception is the red anodized tow hook. Apparently there seems to be a wide variance in quality with anodized tow hooks. After about 60 days my red tow hook turned an interesting shade of pink. Now, I'm not scared of pink.... I just wanted red on MINIHERO.

I spoke with the owner of outmotoring.com at MOTD 2009 and though he was happy to swap out the tow hook he did indicate that there had been issues with the red, well, staying red.

At that point I decided to take the thing apart, sand it down, and paint it myself. Turned out great and as it gets nicks I'll just take it off and repeat the process. So, if any of you are having trouble with the color of your anodized tow hook then think about painting it.

There are a couple of steps to remove the part you would paint.

  1. Take a hex wrench and unscrew the hex bolt from each end, the end that the hook swings on.
  2. Take a very small hex wrench and loosen the hex nut that holds the center piece in.
  3. Slide out the center piece and the two hook will then just fall off.
  4. I used a coat hanger and built a "stand" from which to paint the hook.
  5. Prior to painting I cleaned and then sanded the tow hook.
  6. I put about 5 coats of caliper paint. Any red paint will do, I just happen to have a can of caliper paint on the shelf.
  7. Once dried just reverse the process. Take the hook and put in place and slide the center piece back in.
  8. Make sure the center piece is centered and then tighten the small hex nut.
  9. Put the large hex nuts back into the ends and tighten.
  10. Enjoy your new shiny tow hook!

About Me

My photo

Software development professional with a passion for the people side of the equation. Yep, technology is fun but it is people that deliver.

Steering committee member of the AtlantaMINIS which is a side effect of my maniacal passion for MINIS :)

Musician performing in an alternative rock band doing all original music.

Photography is yet another passion which I participate in every day. I have to, I'm in a photo of the day club :)

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