August 24, 2009

Pandora vs. CDs

I've been using Pandora for streaming music on-line for a while now. I enjoy it so much that I pay the roughly $5-$6 per month for a higher quality stream and because I want to do my part to make sure they stay viable as a business.

What's so great about it?

Pandora is unobtrusive, easy to use, and really good at finding similar and related music that I'm likely to enjoy. I'm always amazed at how good it is when I create a new station.

Just a few weeks back, I told Pandora to create a "U2" station. A few hours later, I realized that I'd been listening to an excellent selection of tunes.

I never get bored of the music on Pandora. It's just a part of my day, always playing good music to keep me happy while I'm coding or fixing things.

I feel like an idiot for the thousands of dollars I spent on CDs years ago, not to mention all the time and effort that went into digitizing that library multiple times (my own code, iTunes, WinAmp, etc.).

If I thought I could get any real money for my 550 CDs, I'd just sell 'em all and send the Pandora crew a nice check with a note: "Keep up the great work."

If you've not yet used Pandora, I highly recommend it. You'll be surprised by how often it plays music you like, even with the most minimal input from you.

Posted by jzawodn at 06:43 AM

August 10, 2009

Firefox vs. Google Chrome Revisited

Last week, in Google Chrome is the New Firefox, and Firefox the new IE, I ranted a bit about how slow Firefox 3 (notably tab switching and the "awesome" bar") was on my Ubuntu 9.04 machine. Needless to say, I got some good feedback from that post and it prompted it me to do a few things.

I've since been running both Firefox 3.5 as well as the Firefox 3.6 trunk code and can say that both are notably faster than Firefox 3.0.xx. The difference between 3.0.xx and 3.5 was substantial and really helped to close the gap with Chrome. Going to the 3.6 alpha nightly builds made it even faster in some places and slower in others--not surprising since it's still in development. Scrolling was drastically worse, but I'm told that's currently in flux.

I have to hand it to the Firefox team. They're not taking Chrome lying down. I've found no real issues with running 3.5 so far and it's a bit of mystery to me (which is to say "I haven't researched at all...") why Ubuntu 9.04 isn't upgrading folks to it. I'm really looking forward to seeing 3.6 stabilize. The Javascript and layout performance seems really good in my use so far.

Posted by jzawodn at 06:33 AM

August 03, 2009

Google Chrome is the New Firefox, and Firefox the new IE

I spent too long on Friday screwing around with stuff on my work laptop in an effort to make Firefox's apparent performance not SUCK ASS. Ever since I upgraded to Ubuntu 9.04 I've been somewhat unhappy, mostly as a result of the well publicized issues with Intel Video on Ubuntu 9.04.

I read about possible hope with upgrading the driver which also required a kernel upgrade, so I did both and rebooted. And, as I hoped, video seemed a bit snappier.

But Firefox still SUCKED ASS.

At this point I was REALLY PISSED. Sure my new video was nice and all but making new tabs (or switching between them) was still slow, and the disaster known as the "awesome bar" (how to disable) still sucked.

So on a whim I went and installed Google Chrome. It totally rocks on my Samsung NC10 netbook (running WinXP), so I figured what not give it a try.

It turns out that Chrome on Linux is DRAMATICALLY FASTER THAN FIREFOX!.

It's been quite stable on Windows, so I'm hoping the same is true on Linux and I can just switch over to it. As of now, Firefox is my primary browser on only half my computers. Chrome seems to be slowly displacing it, just like Firefox replaced the bloated pig known as Mozilla years ago (and the long since stagnant IE on Windows).

It's funny. Browsers seem to be like Internet companies. Every few years a new, small, faster one comes along to kill off some (or all) of the previous generation. I guess this is just the latest in that constant evolution.

It'll be interesting to see how this new competition really affects Mozilla Firefox.

I spend most of my day in gnome-terminal (to screen, mutt, irssi, etc.), GNU Emacs, and a browser. When they're not fast and stable, my life sucks.

Posted by jzawodn at 06:44 AM

August 02, 2009

Flying an Ultralight Trike or Weight Shift Control Aircraft

On Saturday Kathleen and I took advantage of the chance to take a short class in Trike flying and then go up for introductory rides.

This was an event organized by AreoDynamic Aviation (formerly Amelia Reid Aviation) at the Reid-Hillview Airport in San Jose.

We arrived to find Pete Marsh's Antares MA-34 R912 Ranger with an 80 horsepower Rotax 912 engine sitting outside the hangar. So I took several photos of the engine, cockpit, and wing while we got a good look at it.

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A view of the cockpit.

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Beefy landing gear!

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The Rotax 912 Engine

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Glass Cockpit

After checking it out, Pete spent about an hour telling our class about Trike flying in Alaska, answering our questions about the sport and the machines, and giving us a little bit of an idea what to expect.

For the record, this Trike has electric trim and will cruise at about 70-75mph while burning 2.5 gallons of high octane auto gas per hour. So mileage is comparable to most cars. But the ride is a hell of a lot more fun! And with a 15 gallon fuel supply, you can fly a lot longer than your bladder will let you.

Several of us had reserved times to fly 1 hour $99 introductory rides with Pete, and before I knew it my time had arrived. I was really looking forward to the experience.

Pete helped me get strapped in and I took a few pictures and a vide as we taxied over to the run-up area for runway 31R.

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My turn!

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Strapped in and ready!

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View out the front.

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Engine running and we're taxiing!

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We sit close together.

Here's a short taxi video:

After a couple other departures, we were cleared to take off!

Takeoff video:

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Check out that view!

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Look, Ma. I'm flying the Trike!

And before I knew it we were in the air and flying.

The first few seconds were kid of freaky, given how open the cockpit is. But that quickly faded away and I began to really enjoy the flying. We headed a bit south and then over the first ridge toward the Lick Observatory on Mount Hamilton where we could play around a bit and I could get a better feel for flying the Trike.

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Heading for the hills...

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Me again.

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All those houses...

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Another great view.

Back there I got to try various flight maneuvers, really get a feel for the air, and even did some soaring in thermals. I was really impressed by how well we could feel the air as the wing tried to move and the distinct changes in temperature as we flew into different pockets.

Turns were easy once I got over the idea of forcing them. We also performed a few stalls (though they hardly compare to stalls in a larger airplane or glider)--very benign. I was impressed by how stable the aircraft was too. Let go and it'll pretty much fly straight and level if you're in calm air.

The view was, of course, amazing. And being able "feel" the air more directly makes you feel a lot more connected to the atmosphere you're flying in.

All in all it was a much more "raw" experience then the glider flying I'm used to. I really enjoyed it.

After almost an hour of flying, it was time to head back in and land.

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Heading in to land.

Landing video:

After landing, we taxied back to the hangar so that Pete could pick up his next victim passenger.

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Next up was Kathleen...

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Strapped in.

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Ready to go!

The took for for a similarly fun 1-hour flight.

Takeoff video:

I was there to grab a few pictures as the taxied back to the hangar area.

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Thumbs Up!

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What a blast!!!

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Time to let someone else play...


We both had an absolute blast flying the trike. It's a little like flying a power plane and a little like flying a glider, but it's a very different experience from both. It's a very raw and natural form of flying that really puts you in touch with your surroundings and gives you an amazing view of the area you're flying in.

Thanks again to AeroDynamic Aviation for organizing this event. Not only do they provide excellent flight training and aircraft maintenance, Owner Zdravko Podolski has consistently organized events to help pilots expand our flying horizons.

We're both very tempted to get a weight-shift control add-on for our pilot certificates. It's worth noting that many Trikes make it easy to swap out the wheels on the landing gear for floats (land on lakes!) or skis (land on snow/ice).

Pictures and Video

I have the whole set in this Picasa album: Trike Flying at RHV

Or you can see a subset in my Trike Flying album on Flickr.

The videos are in my YouTube channel as well.

Posted by jzawodn at 08:22 AM