Jun 282005

(All photos for this entry are posted here)

Friday afternoon I had my right eye touched up with Wavefront LASIK. I had previously had both eyes done last Oct. While my left eye was better than 20/20, my right eye was slightly worse. My vision was fine, but I’m a perfectionist. I wanted a touchup on the right eye to match them up. I had it done at the same place (Custom Laser Center) and by the same doc (Zdenek). Both are great. This time was a bit different than last. Because I had already had a flap cut for the first surgery, they didn’t have to suction my eyeball and re-slice. The doc just numbed my eye and used a magnifier and a thin tool to reopen the flap. He said his record is 7 years for reopening the flap, but he was going to be doing one this weekend that was 10 years. Interesting to know that just the surface heals together, rather than the whole slice. After that they put me under the machine, cleaned up the surface (if they leave cells in there they can start to grow and mess up the correction), and zapped away.

Vicodin + valium and I slept from 4pm to 8am. So far everything seems pretty good. I still have the standard light bleeding (think over exposed picture), but that goes away in a little bit. On paper it was a minor change, but my vision seems much better (keep in mind it wasn’t bad before). I especially notice the change at night. My night vision is much better than it was. In fact, I think it is quite close to my night vision before LASIK, which was extremely good. Probably thanks to my 8mm pupils. I’m not sure if the change is just the update on the prescription, or if they did a wider spread (normally 6mm, blended out to 10ish). I’ll have to ask at my next appointment.

I have a DVD of the close up view on my eye during the surgery. If anyone is morbidly interested I will encode it down to a web viewable size and post it.

Jun 282005

La Paloma Theatre
Last night Anna and I went to watch The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill at the La Paloma theatre in Encinitas. Great movie, great theatre. We snuck some spring rolls from Siamese Basil into the show, but the concessions prices were quite reasonable. I love the building. It is sort of a roaring 20’s spanish style with a good mix of rustic wood and tile.

What about the parrots? While the movie sometimes has a “home movie” feel (the footage spans a number of years and different sources), it works quite well. It details the flock of wild parrots that live around Telegraph Hill in San Francisco, mainly a few different birds by showing their different personalities and quirks. It also focuses on Mark Bittner. Mark is one of those people that is uncompromising in their time. He took odd jobs or lived on the streets for years rather than settle into something he didn’t like. He ended up living in telegraph hill and following the parrot flock for many years. Making friends with some of them, caring for them, and eventually logging and researching their activities. This became almost a full time job, and eventually something had to give. You will probably come out of the movie with a little more compassion for animals, and people.

We also watched The Story of the Weeping Camel. Done with the help of National Geographic World Films, it is a documentary that takes the shape of a great story. In the harsh Gobi desert of Mongolia, a family of herders is faced with a problem. One of their camels has had a hard delivery and rejects the white calf. While they try to feed the calf on their own, the family needs the mother to take the calf for it to survive. The family is desperate and sends for a violin player to take part in a ceremony to try to get the mother to take the calf. The movie is well filmed and shows a lot of the modern day changes that traditional peoples are going through. We both enjoyed it the movie a lot.

SD Housing

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Jun 272005

I’ve been meaning to write on San Diego and housing, but so many other people already are:

The Professor Piggington’s Econo-Almanac deals with the San Diego market and has some really good analysis with their Bubble Primer:

Conventional wisdom goes that San Diego is experiencing a severe housing crisis with no end in sight. The recent run-up in home prices is completely appropriate due to the supply and demand imbalance caused by a lack of developable land, years of underbuilding, and a huge surge in population due to San Diego’s desirability as a place to live. Adding fuel to the fire is the fact that San Diego’s wealth has grown significantly due to its robust and diverse economy… Sounds pretty convincing! The only problem is that it’s entirely false. There is no housing crisis. There has been no population boom. Local incomes have not even kept pace with inflation. And while San Diego may be a nice place to live, it was also nice 5 years ago, when homes cost half as much as they do today.

Professor Piggington shows that San Diego real estate is utterly dependent on the health of the San Diego economy�which is in turn dependent on further explosive growth in both home prices and sale volumes. It is even more dependent on the indefinite continuance of lifetime-low mortgage rates and underwriting standards. In other words, SD doesn’t even have to hit a recession to have a wrench thrown in the works.

Boom town, San Diego – Something strange happens when real estate makes everybody rich. Is this where your town is headed?

Jim Johnston remembers San Diego housing history.

NYT looks at rent ratios (similar to price to earnings ratios for stocks). “In places like the Bay Area, south Florida and much of the Northeast, though, the two parts of the housing market have become unhinged. Even in Las Vegas and in Riverside, Calif., where rents have risen, home prices have gone up so much more quickly that local rent ratios have soared above 23, from less than 12 in 2000.” How about SD’s rent ratio? San Diego 1Q 2000 13.5, 1Q 2005 28.9

Rents have not kept pace with the price of housing, and in many cases, it makes economic sense to rent rather than buy in San Diego, according to analyses by the Wall Street Journal and Voice of San Diego.

The CS Monitor weighs in: “For rent signs are increasingly showing up in tiny bedroom communities, condos, and exclusive resort areas around the country. They are one more sign of the magnitude of the real-estate boom in the US. Eager to cash in on one of the strongest housing markets in the postwar era, speculators and even average investors are buying homes and renting them out until they decide to sell them at presumably far higher prices.” There are a *lot* of for rent signs in my neck of the woods right now.

Would a real estate crash really matter to the country as a whole? Yes. To understand why, first look at how pervasive the effects of real estate are throughout the economy.

Call it cheap credit’s revenge. “We seem to have arrived at the curious juncture where the low interest rates that rescued us from the last recession might be the cause of the next — or, at any rate, might be the cause of some serious economic or financial unpleasantness. It turns out (not surprisingly) that cheap credit, when continued too long, inspires suspect and speculative borrowing. It becomes a formula for its own undoing.”

“It’s pretty clear that it’s an unsustainable underlying pattern,” Greenspan said. “People are reaching to be able to pay the prices to be able to move into a home.” “There are a few things that suggest, at a minimum, there’s a little froth in this market,” Greenspan said. While “we don’t perceive that there is a national bubble,” he said that “it’s hard not to see that there are a lot of local bubbles.” Even head-in-the-sand Greenspan sees some issues.

Practitioners get creative to help first-time buyers in a state where median-priced homes are unaffordable for most households. How about a 40 year loan? Doesn’t that sound fun?

Lastly, an online exchange called HedgeStreet.com offers hedging contracts in six of the nation’s largest cities (Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Miami, San Francisco and San Diego) and plans ultimately to extend them to other areas. You buy “hedgelets,” the equivalent of options contracts that will either pay off if median local prices rise or decline, depending on the hedge.

Jun 212005

Great urban exploration site: Russian photos and text of abandoned soviet infrastructure

Long-Lost Da Vinci Masterpiece Found Behind Palazzo Walls

“A high-tech art sleuth finds a hollow space behind an Italian palazzo’s murals, and believes he may have discovered a Da Vinci masterpiece not seen since 1563. In a case of life imitating art, Maurizio Seracini, an internationally recognized expert in high-technology art analysis, has done just that – and, in an odd twist, he does indeed appear, as himself, in Dan Brown’s popular bestseller about secrets hidden in Leonardo’s work – the book’s only non-fictional character… Seracini, 55, an alumnus of the University of California, San Diego and a native Florentine, thinks he may be close to finding the lost fresco “Battle of Anghiari” behind murals by Giorgio Vasari in Florence’s Palazzo Vecchio. Using radar, x-rays and other devices, he discovered a narrow cavity behind the Vasari fresco “Battle of Marciano,” and believes that the latter artist, an admirer of the great Leonardo, intentionally created the space to preserve the master’s work.”

“Archaeologists have discovered Europe’s oldest civilization, a network of dozens of temples, 2,000 years older than Stonehenge and the Pyramids. More than 150 gigantic monuments have been located beneath the fields and cities of modern-day Germany, Austria and Slovakia. They were built 7,000 years ago, between 4800BC and 4600BC. Their discovery, revealed today by The Independent, will revolutionize the study of prehistoric Europe, where an appetite for monumental architecture was thought to have developed later than in Mesopotamia and Egypt.”

Interesting book review from the NYT – Forget the Founding Fathers.

“Observed from across the Atlantic, the story of the Revolution looks very different from the one every American child grows up with. To see that story through British eyes, as Stanley Weintraub’s ”Iron Tears: America’s Battle for Freedom, Britain’s Quagmire: 1775-1783” enables us to do, is to see an all-too-familiar tale reinvigorated. Weintraub reminds us that justice did not necessarily reside with the rebels, that the past can always be viewed from multiple perspectives. And he confronts us with the fact that an American triumph was anything but inevitable. History of course belongs to the victors. If Britain’s generals had been more enterprising, if the French had failed to supply vital military and financial assistance, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton and the rest would be known to us not as political and philosophical giants but as reckless (and hanged) losers, supporting players in a single act of Britain’s imperial drama. We would all be Canadians now, with lower prescription drug costs and an inordinate fondness for winter sports.”

Turn On, Tune In, Veg Out – Neal Stephenson (I like his books by the way) has some great thoughts on the new Star Wars and geek culture.

“All such content – as well as the long, beautiful, uncluttered shots of desert, sky, jungle and mountain that filled the early episodes – was banished in the first of the prequels (“Episode I: The Phantom Menace,” 1999). In the 16 years that separated it from the initial trilogy, a new universe of ancillary media had come into existence. These had made it possible to take the geek material offline so that the movies could consist of pure, uncut veg-out content, steeped in day-care-center ambience. These newer films don’t even pretend to tell the whole story; they are akin to PowerPoint presentations that summarize the main bullet points from a much more comprehensive body of work developed by and for a geek subculture.”

Careful Google.. power corrupts: Google plans pay service to rival PayPal

Jun 192005

Most of these are older links, but I just haven’t had the time to post them.

In case you missed it: A White House official who once led the oil industry’s fight against limits on greenhouse gases has repeatedly edited government climate reports in ways that play down links between such emissions and global warming. Oh, right after this came out he took at job at ExxonMobil. Classy.

“An accelerating Arctic warming trend over the past quarter of a century has dramatically dried up more than a thousand large lakes in Siberia, probably because the permafrost beneath them has begun to thaw, according to a paper to be published today in the journal Science”. Most people don’t know this, but permafrost is very important in the north. Without it, a lot of the land would be bogs, and the buildings would sink.

The CS Monitor takes a look at hybrids & demand.

A wind map of the world. It is interesting to note that the US looks pretty good for wind potential.

Unlimited energy. Fast-growing fruit. Free air-conditioning. John Pi�a Craven says we can have it all by tapping the icy waters of the deep.

Biomass vs. Corn – Producing ethanol from corn grain generates about 1.4 times as much energy as the process consumes, when pesticides and fossil fuels are factored in, she said. “The energy yield from cellulosic materials is like 10-to-1.” enzymes to break down the cellulose found in the leaves, stalks and walls of plants into simple sugars that are then converted into ethanol. Can’t help but think this will be a fight in the midwest, even though they could benifit.

Wired takes a look at peak oil – Petroleum Joyride Almost Over.

Want more Peak Oil? The Oil Drum – “We are in the process of putting together a community of bloggers to facilitate frank discussions on ideas related to Hubbert’s Peak/Peak Oil, sustainable development and growth, etc., as well as the implications of these ideas on politics, economics, and our daily lives”

An interesting read from Robert Bryce on Salon:

America is such a major energy user and the energy market is so complex that we can never be independent. America simply sucks up too much oil (25 percent of world production), too much natural gas, and too much coal to ever cut itself off from the global market. The price for these commodities is set by global market forces like booming economies in China and India, and by the ever-increasing energy needs of citizens everywhere to power their cars, fax machines, computers and air conditioners. In short, there’s no silver bullet when it comes to energy. Pretending that there is only obscures the magnitude of the problem.

Salon interviews James Howard Kunstler on his new book, The Long Emergency. As you can read bellow, he is pretty drastic in his conclusions, but still interesting.

“Suburbs will collapse into slums. Farmhand will be a more viable career choice than public relations executive. And avoiding starvation will replace avoiding boredom as the national pastime… In Kunstler’s world, a teenager will be better off learning how to yoke up a horse-drawn buggy than how to change the oil in a car. Woodshop will be more important than computer literacy… The South will devolve into agricultural feudalism and the Pacific Northwest will be beset by a plague of pirates from Asia. Forget about sleek hydrogen-powered cars coming to the rescue. For that matter, quit tilting your hopes toward wind power.”

Some more good stuff from Salon – Email exchange between James Howard Kunster, doomsayer of the oil age and alternative energy guru Amory Lovins, CEO of the Rocky Mountain Institute. JHK had sassed Lovins for promoting the Institute’s ultralight Hypercar as a panacea for the coming oil crunch.

Jun 182005

I’ve been recording some shows from This American Life. Why? Well, I seem to always forget to tune in on a Sunday, and streaming is just a pain in the ass. When I’m not using the audio on my computer, I play a show stream (RealAudio, but I use MPC with the Real Alternative 1.41 plug-in. I can not stand RealOne Player or whatever piece of shit/bloat/spyware Real are putting out these days) and record the output using OpD2D – Direct to disk audio recorder. I use the mp3 plug-in and find that the max record time of 54 mb at 128k is just the right length for a show. Start the show, start recording, and leave it alone for an hour. Streaming isn’t the best quality, and the solution is not exactly elegant, but it gets the job done.

MakeZine reviews the Super Tangent (shuffle clone, but with recording, radio, and cheap). Ipodlounge has a reader give it bad marks on a review, but I suspect it is tainted with a bit of fanboyitis. I’m tempted to buy one. 1 GB, drag and drop USB, FM, and decent recording for 100 bucks.

HOW-TO: Add an auxiliary jack to your car. I am quite surprised a jack hasn’t been standard on car decks for many years. It seems like it would be such a simple thing to add, but really distinguish your product from others.

HOW-TO: Run homebrew apps on your PSP. If they can get this to work with v1.51-1.53, and get a keyboard working with it all, I’m sold.

Running with the homebrew PSP theme, we move onto DRM news:

Intel quietly adds DRM to new chips. “Microsoft and the entertainment industry’s holy grail of controlling copyright through the motherboard has moved a step closer with Intel Corp. now embedding digital rights management within in its latest dual-core processor Pentium D and accompanying 945 chipset”. As if I needed another reason to use AMD.

BMG Cracks Piracy Whip. Supposedly DRM on CDs. I expect it to be hacked soon.

Anand takes a look at HDMI. “The weakest link narrows down to the user’s ability to transcode on demand media on the PC into something more portable, or the user’s ability to digitally rip the signal off the DVI interface! With Intel’s HDCP tied into the HDMI specification so tightly, manufacturers and content providers would be insane not to push HDMI out the door to replace DVI. The additional perks for HDMI are still there: it’s a smaller cable, can run longer distances without issues, and obviously, the integrated ability to transfer audio too. However, when a tier 1 OEM decides to build their next HTPC, they will certainly come under considerable scrutiny to provide a secure platform if they expect backing from the content providers. The fact that HDMI protects video and audio signaling is enough for content providers to lean on PC manufacturers to adopt the standard over DVI”.

Hollywood foots bill for LAPD spy cams in Santee Alley. More here, and here.

Jun 182005

I’ve been MIA for a while. Lots of commitments at home and work have me just vegging when I finally get some spare time. Also, GTA: San Andreas is addictive. I love exploring the game world.

Yesterday and today are not much fun. Anna had a lot of stomach pain throughout Friday. We figured it was a bad meal or something. But the pain didn’t go away, so we called up the 24 hour nurse at UCSD in Hillcrest. By the way, the 800-688-6161 number listed on their website now goes to a “Call now to make friends!” number. You have to call the main hospital number (619-543-6222) and get routed to them that way. No more direct line. Update your page people! Fast forward to midnight and we were headed into the ER so they could check her out. Anna went in back and I sat in the waiting room. They had Married with Children playing a full volume, much to the delight of drugged/drunk up folks. Unfortunately, I the only influence I was under was sleep deprivation, so I booked it out to the car.

Four hours and a blood test later they told her she probably had gastritis (an inflammation of the stomach). Gave her some meds, a prescription and sent her on her way. But seven AM rolled around this morning and Anna was in a lot of pain as the meds had wore off. The prescription they gave doesn’t kick in for two days. Google to the rescue. Using it I found the over the counter meds she could use to keep acid levels down, and that she was not supposed to be taking certain pain relievers for the symptoms. She had been taking Advil, which is a no-no for this type of stomach issue. The ER didn’t make mention of any of that information. It only took me a couple of minutes to find it on the net.