Vietnam Bike Tour: Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City (Day 1)

May 31st, 2014 § Comments Off § permalink

Day: 01Screenshot from 2014-05-31 21:53:03
Distance: 169km
Origin: Hanoi
Endpoint: Mai Chao
Today’s Author: Zach
Summary:
Left Hanoi for first day’s ride.  Some pretty photos, and Felix has a crash.
Screenshot from 2014-05-31 21:53:10

About 170km on day one. Mostly on highway and up/over a mountain.

 

Felix and I got up fairly early with the intention of getting on the road before lunch. We met a friend of Felix’s that he knew from his Wharton MBA program at a fancy breakfast cafe. The cafe was really rather nice by any standard and was still reasonably priced. I think we all ate perhaps a bit too much — sadly we forgot pictures of that meal. Just imagine a giant fruit salad, an egg sandwich thing and smoothies.

The one piece of riding gear we couldn’t get from the rental place was gloves for me. So, we set out to try and find proper motorcycle gloves for sale in Hanoi. Turns out there is one motorcycle gear shop pretty much in the whole city, even though the interwebs told us there were two — the first one only sold snow gloves. With the help of Felix’s friend (a native Vietnamese) we found the shop and got some gloves — I paid an american price for them, but safety’s worth it!

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The bikes all saddled up for the first time!

Alright, no more lollygagging, time to get on the road! We packed up the room and took all our stuff downstairs (it took three trips in the elevator, with saddle bags etc.) and got ready to load up the bikes. The first time we put all our gear on it was around noon. In the sun. In front of the hotel. Strapping down bags. Sweating buckets. It took us about twenty minutes to finally get it all secure and roped up; hopefully we get better at this! We then went back inside to the AC to look at the map and plan our day 1 trip one last time.

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We figured trying to follow any real preset route to get out of the city would be hopeless, so we set off heading vaguely in the direction of the highway (south east). Turns out this was a pretty good strategy and we ended up doing pretty well and got remarkably close to the highway when we stopped to check the GPS. Felix and I both have years of motorcycle riding experience and didn’t have any trouble blending into the unashamedly chaotic streets of Hanoi, though for a novice I can imagine it would’ve been way too much. I can only describe the experience as organic; unmolested by the vampiric fun-hating health and safety people that would dare to add rules to a traffic system. Street lines? None of those. Traffic lights? We found maybe two of them. And, I’m going to get flak for this I know, but I feel like the system works rather well. There are millions of motorbikes on the street, and I’m certain in the city there are hundreds of accidents a day, but since in the city everybody is doing maybe 10-15mph max at all times, they’re all extremely minor. And the upside is there is almost no standing still, traffic flows rather well and you get where you’re going quickly. Even for the full size cars, they’re almost never standing still and can make their way through pretty well, though admittedly there are not many four wheeled vehicles in the city.

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I lost my first pair of $2 sunglasses. Picked up a new $2 pair on the way out of Hanoi.

It took us about 45 minutes to get out of the major city area, though we never really left civilization. All along the roads there were buildings or huts of some sort. People living in some way most of the way. About 30 mins out of Hanoi we stopped in some shade to get water. We bought a pineapple from a vendor (which is really a charitable description of what this was) which we watched them cut up right infront of us. $1 for 2 pineapples! A great road snack.

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A lady cutting up a fresh pineapple for us. This is the entire extent of her store. We’re maybe 30 miles outside Hanoi, and he only civilization (if you can call it that) is this one road.

After our short water/pineapple break we got back underway. We used a bit of a “stop and go” navigation technique. We’de ride for maybe 45 minutes or so, or until we hit a major fork in the road, and check GPS there. Look at what the next few turns where and then keep riding until we forgot what the turns were. Check GPS again, rinse and repeat. Seemed to work fairly well all in all.  On some of our stops we simply had to stop and take photos.

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All along the road, there were many obstacles. Trucks trying to overtake each other forcing traffic off onto the side of the road, cows crossing the road, children in the road playing badminton, more cows crossing the road, people with crazy stuff on their bikes taking up more than a whole lane’s width etc.

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Unfortunately this picture came from Google Images, as we didn’t actually have a camera mounted on the bikes. But it’s fairly accurate.

As we continued on, there continued to be people living pretty much all along the main road so far. We found a really gorgeous clearing somewhere around 5PM. Took a bunch of photos. Even there though, there were locals nearby. Everybody knows the word “hello” even little Vietnamese children!

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Kids by the side of the road that knew “Hello”. Literally in the middle of nowhere Vietnam countryside.

We kept going, though now we were somewhat racing the sun. Felix didn’t want to ride in the dark, which is understandable. I was in the lead and was going at a fairly good pace. Went up a big mountain for some of the best riding I’ve ever had. Stellar views, well paved roads, windy twisty bits, straight bits, up bits, down bits, you name it! There is nothing like the thrill of a good ride on a motorcycle.

We got to the bottom of the mountain for our last intersection and Felix took the lead for the last 10km or so. About 2km into the stint we came across a left hand bend in the road. I guess it tightened up a bit more than expected, I had a thought myself that it was quick and I guess Felix did too. He must’ve just lost concentration for a split second and went wide, road in the gravel for a few seconds, kept it together and would’ve been fine had it not been for that stupid wooden mile marker. He hit it going maybe 25mph or so. His bike did a complete cartwheel.  Or three.  Felix super-manned over the handlebars and tumbled into a ditch, ending up on his back.

I parked and got off my bike as fast as I could without also falling over. He was moaning, so definitely not dead. That’s a good sign. I got his helmet off as quickly as I could, had him move all his limbs. No problems so far. He was calming down a bit, I made sure for him to not move. After a minute or so he calmed down and it was clear there were no serious injuries. So, I took that opportunity to take a photo. He promptly gave me the finger. After another minute or two I helped him up, and he could stand no problem.. Yay for high quality safety gear!

2014-05-13 17.54.36

He’s clearly in intense agony.

So, now for the bike. It was about halfway into the ditch, thankfully it stopped well short of landing on top of Felix. With the help of a local we managed to get it out of the ditch for an inspection. Bent clutch pedal, broken luggage rack, bent wheel. It did start up just fine though.

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This guy is just awesome.

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Bit of a ragid shop.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The local guy that helped us pull the bike from the ditch gave us a lift to a local mechanic shop.   I guess shop is the right word for it, more like flat area with some tools. There they fixed the clutch and luggage rack with some of the most clever mechanical techniques I’ve ever seen.They even gave unbending the wheel a solid effort, but ultimately it wasn’t going to happen. The dudes were really amazing, incredibly kind and unbelievably clever as mechanics. Much better than me or anybody else I’ve ever seen work on a vehicle. We called the bike rental place and they arranged for a wheel to be sent down to arrive the next day. Not so bad for middle of nowhere Vietnam!

From there we paid the mechanics, what we found out was a fairly generous amount (10$), and limped the bike the last 7km to the home stay. Glad just to no longer be riding and to have arrived safely, we dropped our stuff and were about to go to bed when we realized we were both starving and hadn’t had lunch or dinner. The home stay made us a MAMOUTH home cooked dinner. 5 peoples worth of food for 2 people. It was delicious, but also hugely wasteful.

The room itself is basically just a bamboo hut. Kind’ve a nifty place to stay really. I almost didn’t mind the lack of AC. Almost.  We both passed out sometime north of midnight looking forward to fixing the bike and getting on the road again for day 2!

Vietnam Bike Tour: Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City (Prologue)

May 13th, 2014 § Comments Off § permalink

image

About to get on our bikes for the first time to leave Hanoi. 100 degrees, 100% humidity, multiple layers of protective bike gear and we’re jazzed!

Welcome to the start of mine and Felix Pomerantz’s motorcycle journey from North to South Vietnam!  I’m Zach and I’ll be your narrator.  Felix is a friend of mine going back to when I used to live in NYC.  I live in China now a days, Felix lives in Philadelphia.

The basic plan was to meetup in Bangkok (much cheaper to fly from the east coast USA to Bangkok than Vietnam).  There we would do some planning, ensure visas for all the places we wanted to go were in order, do some tourism and then head to Hanoi, Vietnam.  From there, we’ll rent motorcycles and spend twelve days traveling south, stopping at all the major cities along the way, SCUBA diving, having adventures etc.  After nearly two weeks on the road we will then relax in HCMC for a few days before stopping briefly in Siem Riep, Cambodia and then to Myanmar for some quick spots of nature tourism before Felix heads back to the US through Bangkok and I back to China. I’m going to try and publish the blog everyday, but my only typing apparatus is my phone and cell coverage/available time will vary.  Please forgive me if there are some lapses at first.

Tips on visas for those interested:  As Americans you just get a stamp at Thailand.  You need an invitation letter and $45 cash in person at Vietnam to get a Visa on Arrival (letters can be found online for 25$ or so), same for Cambodia (prices may vary slightly) and for Myanmar we went to the Myanmar consulate in Bangkok and filled out paperwork in person there.  Note that it takes at least 6 hours to get that done!

Bangkok

Bangkok frankly was a bit of a letdown from a tourism perspective for me.  It’s a giant city and all the tourism stuff seemed more about the tourists than about the locals.  There is a tipping point in tourism, in my opinion, where it’s no longer the tourists exploring the local environment and being amongst locals and instead it’s the locals creating a tourist environment.  The more popular and well developed the tourist location the more likely I’ve felt that way in my travels so far.  I’m sure it’s still possible to have an amazing and properly local experience in Bangkok, just not by naively following Lonely Planet.  So, given that this was the quality of our Bangkok trip, please forgive me for instead jumping straight to Hanoi, where we are definitely living in the local’s world.

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While delicious, this omlette from a restaurant across the street from our Bangkok “guest house” was decidedly not thai-authentic.

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Journey number one — a flight from Bangkok to Hanoi.

Hanoi

We landed in Hanoi and went through the visa process without issue.  We spent an hour or so in the airport deciding what we would do for the day, getting sim cards etc ($15 for unlimited 3G for a month!).  Took a cab to downtown where we got our first taste of the developing world in Vietnam.  Triangle hats, and motorbikes.  Holy hell motorbikes.  Everywhere.  They come by the thousands.  And there are no rules on the road other than fear and bravery dictate right of way.

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A normal intersection in Hanoi — beautifully lit through some trees you’ll see motorcyclists going in every which direction, completely without any official sense of order. Surprisingly though, we only saw one accident the whole time, and it was basicaly a non-incident. No damage, nobody got hurt, everybody continued about their business.

Our cab driver was very nice and stuck with us as we struggled to find the exact location of the hostel.  The hostel is in this extremely narrow building with a ton of service folk.  There was even a bellman to open the door.  At an 8$ a night hostel there was a man whose job it was to open the door.  Imagine that!  We checked into a large room with six full size beds that they called a dorm.  At first it was just us but some other travelers showed up later that night, including a nice French lady who made fun of a shirt I bought.  Well, it is a ridiculous shirt, more on that later.  We then went to checkout the motorcycles… And on the way had our first meal, proper Vietnamese food!

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Pho Bo. Or, Beef Pho. Delicious, and it cost about $1.50.

After checking out the bikes we went to the Hanoi Military Museum.  I won’t say too much about this, other than there are a lot of profound thoughts to be had about visiting a war museum for a country that celebrates victory against one’s home nation.

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After the museum we signed up for a boat cruise to a place called Ha Lon Bay — about a 4 hour drive east of Hanoi on the ocean.  We booked the boat to leave the following morning; I’ll skip blogging about the boat cruise for now, and simply leave a couple photos here to summarize that part of the journey.

We got back from the cruise around dinner time on Monday.  We went to a place that was super highly reviewed on trip advisor and was conveniently about a block from where we were staying.  We were a bit confused when they didn’t really have a menu.  The had one thing, noodles.  And if you don’t like noodles, too bad!  They were like Pho, but not: less soup, more sauce, thinner noodles, more peanut and tons of delicious, and still about $2.  The restaurant is apparently one of the highest rates in all of Hanoi — which is amusing because the facility itself is really, by any western standard, a dump.  But in that way, it’s local and charming — it was about half tourists half locals, and felt authentic and awesome to me.  A well spent $2.

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Pulseaudio crash with A2DP, Bug #641

April 25th, 2014 § 1 comment § permalink

This is just a milemarker for those who may also be having an issue similar to what I experienced lately.  Hopefully the below summary is useful to somebody.

Problem #1: Bluetooth speakers connect to Ubuntu Linux just fine, but audio quality is crap.

Solution #1: Some BT speakers somehow get auto-identified as bluetooth headsets (aka for making phone calls) instead of speakers (primarily for music), and thus use a lower quality bluetooth profile.   Pulseaudio (On ubuntu in the sound settings -> hardware tab) allows you to easily toggle between profiles.

Problem #2: Switching between the standard profile and the A2DP higher quality profile causes pulseaudio to crash.  The crash output is something along the lines of:

E: sink.c: Assertion 'pa_frame_aligned(length, &s->sample_spec)' failed at
 pulsecore/sink.c:939, function pa_sink_render_full(). Aborting.

Semi-Solution #2: I don’t know of any proper solutions to the problem as of yet.  Googling gets you to to places like this,  http://comments.gmane.org/gmane.comp.audio.pulseaudio.bugs/2317 which only suggest a workaround of changing the default-sample-channel setting in daemon.conf to 2 instead of the default of 6.  This fix worked for me (I only have 2 BT speakers), but obviously may be problematic for more complicated setups.

I haven’t tried using a more modern build of Pulseaudio/Pulseaudio modules yet, totally plausible that its fixed in trunk.  It’s not exactly trivial to get a fully updated version of Pulse in a 12.04 Ubuntu LTS release, however.  For now, it’s working so I’ll save poking that bear for another time.

Life v2.0

November 6th, 2013 § Comments Off § permalink

My Story

When asked what I wanted to be when I grew up I would say a firefighter, and later, I’d say an accountant. It turns out I’m not very good with a firehose or with numbers, and so by the time I was in college I changed my mind and decided I wanted to be an entrepreneur and start my own company.

Given that, I was very excited when, In my junior year of college, I was invited to visit a local start up (little did I know ‘stop by for a visit’ means ‘come do some interviews’). I arrived and was shown into a small room with a table and a few chairs. As I was sitting there alone, awkwardly twiddling my thumbs wondering what I’d gotten myself into, in walked this tall, somewhat pale guy whose face I recognized but couldn’t quite figure out why. Halfway through the interview I realized it was a student in one of the classes I was teaching. After the interview he asked if I wouldn’t mind grading the latest homework assignment so he didn’t have to walk to campus to turn it in!

And so began my internship and eventually full time work with Invite Media while also in school. I’d schedule my classes to have Fridays off, so I’d spend evenings M-Th at work (5-11 or so) and all day Friday in the office. I remember Tuesday and Thursdays I would have a class that ended at 1PM, but I would run out at 12:59PM because there was a 1:02PM bus to the office that I could just make if I ran.

Somehow though, this never felt exhausting. I loved all of it. I never complained about working too much, or being tired, or hating my job or my boss, or that the work was too hard (and it was hard). It was an unforgettable and highly educational experience. Invite was acquired in May 2010 by Google where I stayed, first as a tech lead at Google/Invite and later as an APM in ads/cloud before finally jumping ship to start a new company, WiFast, in late 2011.

It had not taken all that long, but I was living my dream. Over the next 18 months we raised money from a group of incredible investors, hired 15 of the smartest people ever known from all over the USA and built technology that still makes my head spin. I had an amazing time working with incredible people and loved every minute of it.

And so we come to now. I left WiFast this summer and have had a lot of time to reflect upon having had my ‘dream jobs’. I’d worked for somebody else’s startup, a hugely successful and large tech company, and finally run my own start-up. I didn’t know what to do next, so instead I have basically lived the life of a retired 25 year old gear-head for a few months. I built a new engine from scratch for my 1985 sports car, helped some friends strip down and build a racing 1978 Volkswagen rabbit, raced outdoor go-karts, indoor go-karts, conquered every windy mountain road within 100 miles and spent countless hours just shooting the breeze with professional race car drivers and mechanics. All the while I’d been looking for what I wanted to do next with my life.


Purpose built VW Rabbit Race Car (left).
Me building a new engine for a 1985 Porsche 944 (right)

The future

And so now it comes time to explain why I’m not starting a company in 2014. Even though I had a blast all along the way in my career so far, there is still something missing. The following anecdote may help explain things:

In college I was privileged to be lectured to by Tom Cassel; he told a story that I will always remember of a company he ran and sold. He describes the feeling in the office the day after the sale was completed.

After years and years of dedication, of nearly going bankrupt, of having to sell everything and start over, to the highs of owning multiple properties and employing hundreds if not thousands of people, of having a change in regulations turn their business upside down overnight, he walked into the office and looked at the faces of all of the people that worked there. There were no balloons, no streamers, no loud music, barely any smiles. In fact, the office was quieter, almost to the point of somber.

What he realized is that it wasn’t the dream of selling the company that kept people going. It was enjoying the journey along the way.

“The journey is the reward.” — Tom Cassel

I feel as if starting another company now, after having just been with three american tech companies in various forms would simply be continuing an unconsciously guided journey; simply doing what feels natural. I want to be in control of my journey and spend what time I have enjoying and doing things in a deliberate way.

I have decided to accept an offer to work in China. The job is pretty cool, I’ll be an Entrepreneur in Residence at Tencent, one of China’s largest tech companies. Let’s be clear here though, Tencent is awesome, but the chance to live in China, literally the opposite side of the world from where I grew up both geographically and culturally, and to spend time exploring southeast Asia is REALLY awesome. I do not know exactly how long I’ll be there, but I do know my goal is to have different kinds of goals. To spend time exploring myself, exploring a new world around me, exploring how different cultures work and enjoying every moment of every day.

From Aerosmith’s “Amazing”:

Life’s a journey, not a destination
And I just can’t tell just what tomorrow brings

Epilogue

Since this is kind of my farewell-and-thanks-for-all-the-fish-USA letter for a while, I might as well take this time to thank some of the folks who have really made the difference in the past few years. My co-founders at WiFast: Alexey Komissarouk and Scott Kyle, as well as advisers, friends and family: Jack Abraham, Dr. Jonathan Rosenfeld, Omar Koukaz, Jessica (Jecca) Conard and Bruce Goldberg, and my immediate family, the Goldberg’s and Greenbergs.

Cheers,
-Zach

Consumer operating systems in 2013

June 21st, 2013 § Comments Off § permalink

<geek-rant> We’re halfway through 2013 and it just took me nearly 3 hours to get my brand new Lenovo laptop to dual boot Linux and win 8. (Story about needing win8 comes later). What the crap? Don’t worry, equal hate for both platforms in this rant.

1) For starters, win8 boots *awfully* slowly, even before I started messing with things (like, 3x longer than ubuntu on the same machine). Also, thoroughly not enjoying win8 in the half hour I’ve used it so far today (McAfee? Authorization dialogs that take over the entire screen? Every 10 seconds? And, goodness does it feel sluggish doing basic things)

2) Why does the ubuntu liveusb not have working graphics? I had to manually edit the kernel boot params to disable modesetting to even get to the installer!

3) And of course, once the installer was done it broke the ability to boot into windows (it actually wrote a grub config with an invalid command AND using the wrong partition AND using the wrong chainloader directive??!?).

4) Finally, it didn’t even install itself correctly! VESA was broken and it didn’t download FGLRX during install, so I had to setup the proprietary AMD drivers by hand, from VT1, with 80 columns of white-on black text.

Granted, the machine is running hardware that’s less than a year old, but that’s not an excuse anymore. If it were 2005 this would be alright, but it’s absolutely unacceptable in 2013.

Clearly something is systemically wrong here — but what, and how does the ecosystem need to change to fix this? Consumer operating systems are painfully simple compared to what’s running state of the art in the datacenter (I know this from first hand experience), we as a collective geekdom should be able to solve this.

</rant>

Broadcasting audio from ubuntu via HTTP (aka stream audio out to sonos on ubuntu)

March 5th, 2012 § 7 comments § permalink

This post is for all the folks who, like me, have tried (and failed out of frustration) 20 different times to stream local audio from an ubuntu machine to some other thing on the network via HTTP.  Today my goal was to get the Sonos in the office to stream from my machine — aka whatever was playing on my machine should come out of sonos.  I finally sat down and got it done with icecast and darkice today.  The basics for this article come from here.

OK, so without further ado, the basics:

sudo apt-get install icecast2 darkice
sudo nano /etc/default/icecast2

Change ENABLE=false to ENABLE=true.  The reason this is false by default is that icecast is actually a community radio streaming thing that is intended for multiple people to use.  Therefore it has some passwords in the default configuration file (/etc/icecast2/icecast.xml) that they want you to change before turning the thing on at first.  Since this is just us using icecast and we’re all on the local network, I chose to go with simplicity and defaults here.

Now, create a new config file someplace you like (perhaps ~/.darkice.cfg) which contains the following:

[general]
duration = 0 # duration of encoding, in seconds. 0 means forever
bufferSecs = 1 # size of internal slip buffer, in seconds
reconnect = yes # reconnect to the server(s) if disconnected
[input]
device = pulse
sampleRate = 44100 # sample rate in Hz. try 11025, 22050 or 44100
bitsPerSample = 16 # bits per sample. try 16
channel = 2 # channels. 1 = mono, 2 = stereo
[icecast2-0]
bitrateMode = vbr # variable bit rate (cbr for constant)
quality = 1.0 # 1.0 is best quality
format = mp3
bitrate = 256 # bitrate
server = localhost # or IP
port = 8000 # port for IceCast2 
accesspassword = hackme # source password to the IceCast2 
servermountPoint = mystream.mp3 # mount point on the IceCast2 server or any name
name = mystream

Now bootup icecast

sudo /etc/init.d/icecast2 start

Now start darkice (the thing which actually reads pulse and sends it to icecast. Icecast then provides an HTTP URI you can use to give out to others)

darkice -c ~/.darkice.cfg

Now head on over to your consuming device and give it the url http://MY_IP:8000/mystream.mp3 (replacing MY_IP with your machines ip, aka 192.168.1.105).  In sonos you go to the “Radio” tab, hit “Add” then type in that url and a fancy-shamancy name.  Click the radio you created and shazam, good to go!

Note: there is a 3-4 second delay using icecast.  I’m not sure how much of that is icecast vs. sonos, but for just audio streaming its great.  That is, until I decide I really want to watch a youtube video with the audio coming out of sonos and I spend a few hours putting jack in the system…

Note: this was all done on Ubuntu 11.10 using standard repo versions of icecast, darkice, pulseaudio etc.

The problem isn’t piracy, it’s your product and publisher.

January 15th, 2012 § 8 comments § permalink

<provocative opening statement> A common saying you hear now a days in arguments about piracy is “I think people should get paid for their creative work”.    Yeah, well I don’t. </end troll-bait>

I think you should get paid for how well the free market likes you and decides to pay you.  It is your job to figure out how to be a businessmen and make money.

But I’m just an author and don’t understand business!

Then hire the person who is supposed to understand these things — a publisher!  It’s their responsibility, it is why you hire them, to make money in the marketplace with your creative work.  Historically they’ve been quite good at this.  Now that the market has been made more competitive (piracy is, after all, just a competitor to the work a publisher traditionally does) guess who are the ones complaining loudest?  That’s right, the folks who are supposed to be competing in the marketplace — the publishers.  Rather than compete against a competitor they are complaining for regulation to help keep their business afloat.

To paraphrase Gabe Newell’s Piracy is a service problem:  If you are being pirated, it means there’s something wrong with the service to begin with.  Somebody finds it more enjoyable or values more the experience of pirating your work than to get it via the channels you are offering.  Therefore you need to find a way to make your product more valuable than the pirated one.  Let me repeat that: It is your responsibility, as the person who wants to make money, to find a way to make your users happy enough that they want to pay you.

I don’t know of any other example of a business where I can launch my business, make money, have a competitor come in and then beg the government to make them go away.

Anybody who is complaining that piracy hurts their business is simply avoiding the problem that they aren’t providing a product that the marketplace likes enough to make money. Sure, piracy is incredible efficient so it makes your problem harder but that’s not the marketplace’s fault. Technology’s job is to make life more efficient and better for end users, I like to call it progress.

So rather than legislate to defend the old business models of a sector which was supposed to be market savvy to begin with, why don’t we let the market be efficient and have people innovate and let the businesses or technology that can provide the most end-user value win?

Discuss.

What are you doing, Boxee Box?

November 11th, 2011 § Comments Off § permalink

<rant>Its been almost a year since I started using my Boxee Box. Here are the new features I have noticed

  • Spotify Support
  • Grooveshark Support
  • Netflix Support

Things they made WORSE

  • Pandora — used to have an awesome visualizer and play for hours, now has a terrible visualizer and the darn thing freezes up after an hour or so due to (presumably) some kind of memory leak
  • The YouTube app inexplicably stopped working last week.

Things that are STILL broken

  • UPnP Support — Trying to find other UPnP devices simply does not work.
  • Random crashes — At random times it’ll reboot the UI or even the whole machine.
  • SDCard reading doesn’t work.  Insert an SD card into the boxee box, it says “SD Card inserted” but never shows up for me to browse as the documentation says it should.

Things they for there-must-be-some-reason but is INEXCUSABLE to have not done yet

  • Amazon Video on Demand!  Rokus had this for eons!
  • Better social integrations and sharing.  Why can’t I share immediately what im watching or listening to with somebody else?  I want to connect with other couch potatos using boxee and interact with them!  Maybe a chat app?  Video camera integration?
  • UI Speed and Polish — I shouldn’t be waiting 10 seconds everytime I start an app!  It also takes an INCREDIBLE number of button presses and clicks to get anything done.  From bootup to pandora playing I have to push at minimum 6 buttons.  That’s simply a user experience nightmare.
Overall though I don’t hate the Boxee Box.  It’s Pretty Good.  That said, they’ve had a year to go from Pretty Good to Excellent and have completely let me down in that respect.  </rant>

Track Racing on the East Coast

August 28th, 2011 § Comments Off § permalink

I finally made it to a track this weekend., and had an amazing time!  There are a bunch of things I learned in general about track racing through this experience, as far as logistics of how to actually do it.

General Info

  • Tracks rent out in time intervals, at the rate of thousands of dollars per hour.
  • “Groups” (aka BMW Club, Porsche Club, SSCA, EMRA) rent out the track for a few hours or a whole weekend.
  • Every group runs the day differently, and some are much more serious and competitive than others.
  • I went with EMRA, which is not super competitive and whose rules are a bit more relaxed.  They allow stock cars, stock seatbelts to race.  You need to tape up any glass (sunroofs, headlights), and have a proper racing helmet (snell rated), but that’s about it!
  • SSCA is much stricter about cars — everybody needs a rollcage etc.  Don’t expect to bring a stock M3 here generally.
  • No matter what you’ll pay several hundred $ for a track day.
  • HPDE — High performance Driver Education Event.
  • HPDE Insurance is a great idea — usually you can get this either at the track or buy it online ahead of time.  I paid about $115 for insurance for the day.
  • There are several tracks within 3-4 hours of NYC — to find a track day you can either pick a car club and look at their schedule, or pick a track and look at the track’s schedule.
    • Lime Rock Park
    • Watkin’s Glen
    • Pocinos Raceway
    • New Jersey Motorstate Park (NJMSP)
    • Summit Point Circuit
  • Unlike Autocross you usually get a LOT of time on the track at an event like this.  Anywhere from 1.5 -> 3 hours!
Bring to the track:
  • Your own Snell 2005 or 2010 rated FULL FACE helmet!  (Expect to pay $300+ for a good one)
  • Blue masking tape — the stuff that doesn’t leave residue
  • Zip Ties (to tie on a timing transponder)
  • A Razor / Sizzor (to cut the zip ties at the end of the day)
  • An EMPTY car — nothing in the trunk, etc.
  • Fresh break pads!  (You eat these guys up at the track!)

HID Kits, Xenon Bulbs and Halogen headlamps — The Story

August 28th, 2011 § Comments Off § permalink

So I’ve done a handful of research lately on halogen and Xenon lights.  Below is a basic summary of my findings when investigating (and eventually buying) replacements for my stock Halogen headlamps in my 2006 Mercedes C55 AMG.

Disclaimer: I pulled this together from bits and pieces here and there.  I do not claim to be an authority on lighting, but I think most of this is reasonably accurate.

Info about Xenons

  • HID = High-Intensity Discharge (for purposes of this doc, HID == Xenons)
  • HID Kit == Xenon Bulb (mine are size ‘D2S’ for low beam, H7 for high beam) + Ballast + Wiring.
  • If you already have headlamps with HIDs or are replacing the bulbs in an existing HID with a different color / temperature you do NOT need a whole new kit, just new bulbs.
  • Higher temperature == more color and less light
  • Stock color / temp is 4300Kelvin.  5000Kelvin is a brighter white, 6000K starts to look a bit blue and 8000K is getting fairly blue.  I went with 8000K :)
  • HID kits are generally a bit flaky, but are very cheap
  • Stock halogens are 35W, and to avoid complications its not a bad idea to stick with 35W if your upgrading to Xenon.  If the ECU notices a different power draw from the headlights it might throw errors.
  • Mercedes should be coded from Xenons (via STAR / ODBII computer systems) to avoid error codes.
Info about upgrading from Halogens to Xenons
  • If you have halogen lamps you can take out the halogens, buy an HID kit and be good to go, total cost of upgrade on the order of a couple hundred bucks (2-300) TOPS.
  • HOWEVER — You could also replace the whole headlamp assembly, which has several advantages:
    • Stock halogen headlamps do not use projector lenses.  Projector lenses look significantly better with Xenons than the traditional ones.
    • OEM Xenon headlamp kits come with their own ballast etc. which is generally more reliable than a HID Kit.
    • Mercedes OEM Xenon lamps have leveling motors etc, which is a nice to have but a bit gimmicky.
    •  I bought a used OEM Xenon assembly from a friend on mbworld.org — going to install them later this week.  Hoping for the best!