Wednesday, January 30, 2008

All Quiet On The Western Front

... largely because I'm not there. I'm in Texas - Austin, to be exact - grabbing some PC time in the hotel prior to a set of customer meetings.

Spring looks like it has already arrived here. It's in the 70s and clear, and so in other words an order of magnitude better than, say, Chicago, where one of our party was try to leave from to get here by last night. They ended up on a train instead of a plane, heading to Saint Louis from where they did manage to get as far as Dallas at least. This latest storm has literally frozen solid much of the mid-west.

In the background, I have MSNBC running on the TV. They were just reporting from Minnesota and apologising for not shooting the interview from a prettier place. It seems their camera lens has frozen solid and they can't now zoom it in or out ....

Sunday, January 27, 2008

New Mini In The Works?

Caught here going through early road tests at a secret Birmingham facility. Note that it's clearly a convertible and, judging by the handling demonstration, must have very good seat belt anchors. Nice to see the British car industry can still flourish even in these challenging times.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Caption Contest

Credits: Sukree Sukplang, by way of Reuters

I mean really, talk about a set-up for any true blooded Englishman .... a frog on a bike: classic.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

A 4x4 Kind Of Day

Apologies for the quality - or rather, the lack thereof - of this shot but I was trying to drive with one hand and take a picture with the other, in poor light, and inside a bouncy truck. And as you can see from the conditions, it was anyway a bit challenging, what with the whole slipping-and-sliding thing going on.

Woke up this morning and big, fat, wet snow flakes were falling, so decided to take the pick-up. This turned out to be the right decision because wet snow fell pretty much all day in our area. The above view was on the way home and, as I'm sure you can sympathise with, this wasn't any day to be driving a brand new, rear wheel drive car running 18" low profile rubber ....

Normal service is supposed to be resumed tomorrow when it's back to just rain, albeit seven inches worth promised between now and Sunday.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Snow? Rain? Who Knows?

But whatever comes our way tomorrow through Saturday, it's imminent approach is certainly producing some spectacular sunsets. The above shot doesn't begin to do justice to the view tonight. I'll do some more work on these to see if I can bring things out a little better but underlying the rim-lit cloud formations the fog in the intervening valley was turning pink along with the changing light from the setting sun.

The prettier the sky, the wetter the storm? Dunno, but depending on where the storm ends up sitting off the coast we could be in for something over four inches before Saturday gives up the ghost. (Anyone know why this blog is turning into a weather forecast review? Beats me, and I write it.)

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Snow? Kind Of ....

We did indeed get some snow here in the Santa Cruz mountains yesterday, but not actually at the house.

On the drive home from the office, I climb up to around 2,100 feet before heading back down to the 1,300 foot level where we live. Snow was falling last night at the higher elevations, but the snow level never really dropped below 2,000 feet, at least during the storm through here last night.

However, Thursday evening the NWS predicts snow levels dropping down to 1,000 feet and a much wetter - read "snowier" - system than just hit. Friday may yet be a "snow day" holiday!

(Alas, I found my pocket camera battery was flat so apologies for not having a shot of my own. The one posted above is where Highway 9 meets Skyline Boulevard and was featured on the Channel 2 KTVU website.)

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Better Flashing

Despite what the title might make you think, this isn't anything to do with either roof design or what's practiced in the park by weird blokes in long raincoats.

Spent Saturday at a seminar run by the man behind the Strobist blog, David Hobby. He's a very experienced pro photographer on the Baltimore Sun, but specialises in lighting scenes with not much more than two or three flashguns. The blog has become so successful that David has taken a sabbatical to do his own thing for a year, one bit of which is doing these day-long sessions.

Main thing I got out of it was to learn about the control you can have to balance the flash output against the background light, raising or lowering each independently. Interesting stuff that I'll have to play with, though, in order to make it stick. Will pull my (single) flash out of the cupboard and run some experiments. Highly recommended.

Meanwhile, here are some fake cows eyeing real grass.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Darwin Awards 2007

Yes, it's time again for the annual Darwin Awards, aka: THINNING THE HERD" 2007
(And thanks to Howard S. for the update)

Eighth Place: In Detroit, a 41-year-old man got stuck and drowned in two feet of water after squeezing head first through an 18-inch-wide sewer grate while trying to retrieve his car keys.

Seventh Place: A 49-year-old San Francisco stockbroker -- who often bragged he was "totally-zoned when he ran" -- accidentally jogged off a 100-foot high cliff on his daily workout.

Sixth Place: While at the beach, Daniel Jones, 21, dug an 8-foot hole for protection from the wind and had been sitting in a beach chair at the bottom when it collapsed, burying him beneath 5 feet of sand. People on the beach used their hands and shovels trying to get him out but could not reach him. It took rescue workers using heavy equipment almost an hour to free him. Jones was pronounced dead at a local hospital.

Fifth Place: Santiago Alvarado, 24, was killed as he fell through the ceiling of a bicycle shop he was burglarizing. Death was caused when the long flashlight he had placed in his mouth to keep his hands free rammed into the base of his skull as he hit the floor.

Fourth Place: Sylvester Briddell, Jr., 26, was killed as he won a bet with friends who said he would not put a revolver loaded with four cartridges into his mouth and pull the trigger.

Third Place: After stepping around a marked police patrol car parked at the front door, a man walked into H & J Leather & Firearms intent on robbing the store. The shop was full of customers and a uniformed officer was standing at the counter. Upon seeing the officer, the would-be robber announced a hold-up, and fired a few wild shots from a target pistol. The officer and a clerk promptly returned fire, and several customers also drew their guns and fired. The robber was pronounced dead at the scene by paramedics. Crime scene investigators located 47 expended cartridge cases in the shop. The subsequent autopsy revealed 23 gunshot wounds. Ballistics identified rounds from seven different weapons. No one else was hurt.

HONORABLE MENTION: Paul Stiller, 47, and his wife Bonnie were bored just driving around at 2 A.M. so they lit a quarter stick of dynamite to toss out the window to create some excitement. Apparently they failed to notice the window was closed.

RUNNER UP: Kerry Bingham had been drinking with several friends when one of them said they knew a person who had bungee-jumped from a local bridge in the middle of traffic. The conversation grew more heated and at least 10 men trooped along the walkway of the bridge at 4:30 AM. Upon arrival at the midpoint of the bridge, they discovered that no one had brought a bungee rope. Bingham, who had continued drinking, volunteered and pointed out that a coil of lineman's cable lay nearby. They secured one end around Bingham' s leg and tied the other to the bridge. His fall lasted 40 feet before the cable tightened and tore his foot off at the ankle. He miraculously survived his fall into the icy water and was rescued by two nearby fishermen. Bingham's foot was never located.

AND THE 2007 WINNER IS... Zookeeper Friedrich Riesfeldt (Paderborn , Germany) fed his constipated elephant 22 doses of a animal laxative and more than a bushel of berries, figs and prunes, before the plugged-up pachyderm finally got relief. Investigators say ill-fated Friedrich, 46, was attempting to give the ailing elephant an olive oil enema when the beast suddenly unloaded. The sheer force of the elephant's unexpected defecation knocked Mr. Riesfeldt to the ground where he struck his head on a rock as the elephant continued to evacuate 200 pounds of dung on top of him. It seems to be just one of those freak accidents that once again proves..."Shit happens!"

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Fancy A New Car - Slightly Scratched .. ?

No, not mine, but from the same stable. Seems a BMW delivery ship had a bit of a mishap in New Jersey, resulting in damage to 470 new cars, including 120 complete write-offs. This is set to screw up the launch of both the new M3 and the 1 series, cutting the supply of dealer demos. Seems it's also done a bit of a number on customer cars ordered via the European Delivery option (get to drive the car around Europe straight from the factory and then it's shipped into the USA) and subsequently on their way to their eagerly-anticipatory new owners.

Glad I'm not the one receiving a call from the dealer that goes along the lines of "Sir, we have some good news and some bad news on your new car. The good news is that it's arrived and is sitting on the dock in New Jersey; the bad news is .... we're sending it to the crusher."

Apple Slice

As was widely rumoured, the main announcement today at Macworld was the Apple Air, Apple's first foray into the sub-notebook category. Steve Jobs opened by saying they were, in effect, out-Sonying Sony by offering a product even more anorexic than theirs. However, in digging deeper, it turns out that whilst it may be thinner than the Vaio, it still weighs a bit more. Think Kate Moss in diver's boots, that should set the stage.

Anyway, for me the most interesting thing is that Apple is also going out with an option for a solid-state drive instead of bits of whirling recording tape. Hopefully, this spurs along the rest of the industry to follow suit and in parallel drives prices down. This has to be the way forwards and with price really being the only downside (for a hard drive of equivalent size anyway) then the more demand for these capabilities the better. Though having said all that, Apple is really pushing out the boat here in charging an additional $1,300 bucks for the model with the SS drive (64 Gb) vs. the mechanical one (80 Gb), though they do chuck in the slightly faster process (1.8 Ghz instead of 1.6 Ghz) just to sweeten the deal a little.

About time Apple had an offering in this category for two reasons: a) it was the whole reason they moved off the Power architecture in the first place and frankly this has been a long time coming, and b) it offers them a chance to capture the executive market - i.e. me! For the first time ever, I'll be giving this member of the Apple family serious consideration, though the premium for the SS drive, seeing as how it pushes the list price to $3,000, is a non-starter.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Fund Raising

This is going to be a long, hard 1Q. In addition to all the usual fun associated with running a smaller company, we need to close an additional round of funding in order to keep moving ahead. Although our existing investors believe strongly in what we are doing (and we've moved the business forwards a long way over the past three years) it's always hard to find investors who really "get" what it is we do and why they should care.

To try and accelerate the process, we're looking at outside companies to support the process. In the Valley, most of the large banking companies have departments who act as brokers and agents for these kinds of deals and there are a plethora of independent boutique companies offering very similar services.

After looking at a few options, the one we favoured actually declined to work with us in the first instance, with a message that said, in effect, "this will be too hard"! By various means (mostly fair) we got a second meeting and figured out that they had taken a very narrow view of what the company does and had stuck us into a bucket marked "not interesting". Anyway, long story short, we now at least have a proposal letter to review and all things being equal we'll move forwards with them.

Ultimately, unless you are in a space that the Silicon Valley money-men immediately recognise and what to get in on the action, then this whole process is long, painful and so hit and miss that sometimes you still come up broke even after many months of doing the rounds and countless meetings on Sand Hill and downwards.

There has to be a better way, but I'm not sure robbing a betting shop with a vibrator would get the job done either, so perhaps I'll stick to the more tried-and-tested approach, despite its shortcomings. Plus, 600 quid won't get us very far.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Oh Yes They Did

All that's left to hope for is that these are banned before they reach any degree of market penetration outside of LA drug gangs. Yes, someone has figured out how to embed multi-coloured LEDs into the spokes of a custom set of SUV or truck rims and have them therefore become mobile notepads or billboards. Throw a wireless connection and laptop-based configuration software into the mix and before you know it you can now display fully-synchronized images, of your personal chosing, that sit in the centre of the wheels on your pimp-mobile whilst cruisin' the streets. Niiiiccce!

The photo above gives some kind of impression just how awful this will be, but the video here, from the friendly folks at PimpStar, gives full rein to just what exactly will be coming to a freeway/motorway/McDonalds car park near you soon. From what they show, it's apparently a very good way of picking up high-class floozies who happen to be driving a Ferrari 430 convertible through Malibu on the Pacific Coast Highway.
Watch and weep, dear reader, watch and weep.

Monday, January 7, 2008

We're Back!

Online, that is. The storms started here Thursday evening and built to hurricane force at times by Friday. No surprises: we lost power. Lights went out at 9 am on Friday and we just now got the electricity restored at 5 pm on Monday. Our wind gauge gave up but two nearby locations - Boulder Creek and Los Gatos - recorded gusts of 56 mph and 89 mph respectively.

Rain? Got plenty of that. When all was said and done, we collected 10.2 inches over the three days/three storms that blew through.

Damage? We had a small roof leak that I'll have to investigate at the weekend and after a quick look around there is a lot of tree debris lying around the place. Still, we did better than one of our neighbours. Their daughter's SUV was parked under a redwood and quite literally was speared by a tree branch that came straight down from near the top of what's a 70 foot tree. The limb went clear though the windscreen, demolished the dashboard and dented the roof. It's likely a write off at this stage.

Other travails? There's a mudslide on a road leading to our house that brought it down to one lane but really we look to have got off lightly considering the strength of the winds.

Anyway, we are just grateful to now have power back, especially as they are threatening another storm here tomorrow (though thankfully nothing to compare with what we just had).

2008 is starting off with a bang, at least weather-wise!

Thursday, January 3, 2008

One Down, Two To Go

One storm - the first and smallest of the three forecasted - has now passed. The NOAA Los Gatos meteorological site showed a wind gust of 60 mph; own own weather set up (nailed to the chimney) said that we saw a much more modest 13 mph! To be fair, our anemometer is not that accurate and only samples every few seconds, plus we are lower down and a bit more sheltered when the winds are blowing primarily from the south. Rain so far at our house has totalled 0.71 inches.

The main blow-job ... if that's the right phraseology ... is set to start at 4 am tomorrow morning. The news just promised us 100 mph gusts in higher elevations, but again hopefully we'll experience wind speeds somewhat lower than those being predicted for the more exposed locations.

More news tomorrow, hopefully. Though if history is any guide, we'll lose power somewhere between 4 and 6 am, which will make posting the results somewhat difficult to saw the least. Not to mention that this will mean getting dressed in the dark, having very low water pressure and a garage door that won't any longer open at the press of a button. Think I'll work from home in that case. I mean, at least I can do e-mail via my PDA!

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

2008 Starts With A Roar

Sunset Before The Storm

Despite what everyone might think, California's winter weather can get quite nasty. Although where we live snow is rare (though not unheard of) wind and rain can be served up in abundance. Last year was relatively quiet; 2008 looks like it may break some records.

Here's a look at what's being forecasted for the end of the week. This is an extract from a special bulletin issued by the National Weather Service describing the second of a series of three storms slated to hit us between Thursday and Sunday next (their caps, not mine):


Yes, we face directly southwest and yes, we live in the coastal mountain ranges. This could get ugly ...