Business trip to Jersey City, NJ

Posted by steve | General Commentary | Sunday 7 September 2014 9:36 am

I recently returned from a business trip to Jersey City, New Jersey. For those that do not know this is literally a river’s width from the lower tip of Manhattan. The hotel I stayed in (with a whopper of a +$1,700 bill) had million dollar views. Here are some photos I took while there. These were taken using my iPhone 4S, so the resolution is not as good as it would be if I were using an iPhone 5.

Click on the photos to see the full sized versions in a new browser view.

View from my hotel room
From my hotel room. My laptop was reflecting on the glass.

Outside of the hotel
Outside of the hotel

World Trade Center from Jersey shore
World Trade Center from Jersey shore

View while eating lunch
View from the hotel restaurant

This last photo is a panoramic I took from the Jersey shore line. The photo is large.
Panorama
Panorama

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Obsessed by the idea of owning a Porsche again

Posted by steve | General Commentary | Monday 7 July 2014 7:56 pm

hood_crest

I’ve been a long time Porsche enthusiast. I’ve been fortunate enough to have owned 4 Porsches in my life. The engineering and little details that are in these sports cars have always impressed me. Some folks own Porsches for other reasons, but for me it was always about the engineering and driving experience.

The last Porsche I owned was a 1991 Porsche 911 Carrera 4 Targa. Here are a few pictures I still have from that car.

c4_7

c4_b

That was by far the most amazing Porsche I’d ever driven and owned. The Carrera 4 means it has 4 wheel drive. You could literally feel the front wheels pulling you through the curves when you stepped on the accelerator. It had acceleration on tap, seemingly, at any speed. In fact that was one of the challenges when driving the car. It just seemed to feel most happy when doing 85 MPH or more. Always watching the speed with that car. Other driving features that amazed where the cornering, of course, and how steadily and quickly it could stop. Awesome car.

I had this car back when I met my future wife and she loved to borrow and drive that car often. With the extra seats in the back, which of course could barely support an adult, it was a simple matter to attach a child seat. We often heard “Kick it mom.” from the back seat when she was driving. I also learned the hard way that kids can be distracting and sometimes you can forget to complete a task because of interruptions. I once forgot to fasten that Targa top down when we had the three of us in the car. Just as I began to accelerate onto the freeway the top flew off and away from the car. Fortunately it did not hit anyone but it did get damaged and I had to have it replace. We still talk about that time the roof flew off the car.

The thing about that 911 was that it was “a house payment on wheels”. We eventually sold it and later that year had enough money for a downpayment on our own home. Looking back, especially considering how much trouble that house became and the enormous loss we had to take when selling it, we probably would have been better off keeping the Porsche.

Here I am 16 years later and I’m thinking I’d like to own a Porsche once again. I’ve been really fascinated with the new Porsche Cayman models. Porsche made a pretty significant update to the car design in 2013 with the 981 model series of Cayman. Here are some photos I’ve found around the Internet.

2014-porsche-cayman-s-photo-489159-s-1280x782

dsc_3113

I’m even grooving on the interesting interior options available (like this grey and orange combination).

2014-porsche-cayman-s-interior-photo-501893-s-1280x782

There are currently 3 models of Cayman available. The base Cayman, Cayman S & Cayman GTS. The auto press is all excited about the Cayman S and GTS. They are pretty cool cars. Goodness I’ve spent hours on YouTube watching Cayman auto reviews. It’s pretty easy to get all tangled up in the emotion and conclude the Cayman S is the right car to choose. And if money were no object (when does that ever happen?) it would be. Or even the GTS, since it’s the most expensive of the three but comes standard with all the interesting performance options you would add to a Cayman S plus a little more horsepower.

But I find myself thinking about the base Cayman and I realized a couple interesting facts.

The 911 Carrera 4 I had (also known as a model 964) came with a 3.6 liter flat 6 engine producing 247 HP. I’ve already mentioned that it seemed to have horsepower to spare at any speed. It had a curb weight of over 3,300 lbs because of the 4 wheel drive and that extra large rear glass that’s part of the Targa design. It could do 0-60 MPH in 5.5 seconds.

When I evaluate the base Cayman, the engine is a 2.7 liter flat 6 producing 275 HP. Acceleration from 0-60 in 5.4 seconds. So you can see performance in engines and efficiency have come a long way. The car is lighter, coming in at 2,888 lbs. So really, it would be a nearly equivalent performer, perhaps even better since it’s a mid-engine design.

The base price of a Cayman is $52,600 and the Cayman S, with an impressive 325 HP, is $63,800. Pushing over $50K on a car is a bit much for me. But it gets worse. One you start to add options, and there are many very cool performance and driving experience options, the price starts going up fast. Porsche has a reputation for making a lot of options available but at quite a cost. It’s not unusual to add $15,000 or even $25,000 in options.

You can get totally absorbed for hours using Porsche’s automobile configurator found here:
Porsche Car Configurator

The 3D mode on that tool is addicting.

If you want to find a used Porsche, and for Caymans (and it’s convertible brother the Boxster) I’d not consider any before 2009. The reliability just went up quite a bit since then. For me the 981 model series of Cayman is the best and those began in 2013. The good news is now that 2015 cars are starting to arrive at the dealers, they are motivated to provide better discounts on their existing 2014 inventory on the lot. Porsche provides a really cool search tool to find the used Porsche you seek here:
Porsche Pre-Owned Vehicle Search

New cars that were demo models show up on this list too and you’d end up owning a car with a new title as the first owner if you find one of those.

From that link you can search the inventory at all the US Porsche dealers and see pictures and descriptions as well as prices. The smart choice is to select a car that has what Porsche calls “Certified Pre-Owned Vehicle”, aka CPO. This means the dealer has done an extensive inspection on the vehicle and in some cases brought it up to spec, so that Porsche can offer a 100,000 mile, 6 year warranty on the car. That’s pretty cool. You’d still have to pay for maintenance service but that warrants the car as if it were new. Actually, even better than the new car warranty does. Amazing.

So I’m currently dreaming about owning a Porsche again. It might be a while before I have the economic ability to “pull the trigger” but I’m learning a lot about the cars and studying reports and reviews. Unless I have some changes to my economics (like maybe adding $20K per year) it is only a fantasy right now. But I’ve got my eyes open and working to one day maybe make this possible and purchase my last Porsche before too long. I figure whatever Porsche I select I’ll probably hang onto it for a long time. The VW I’m driving right now, which I actually enjoy quite a bit, is 13 years old and has almost 140K miles on it.

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Yes Music Early In The Morning

Posted by steve | General Commentary,Music | Thursday 29 May 2014 4:06 am

I woke up early this morning and decided I had not listened to music from my favorite progressive rock band, “Yes”, in a long time. So I made a quick playlist in iTunes of about a CD-length of music, put my headphones on, and listed to some wonderful music. I remember, when selecting songs for the quick playlist, that I wanted to hear some of their best but out-of-the-way music.

Listening, I remembered why I love this band so much. The music and vocals are outstanding and moving.

Here is the playlist.

  1. Cinema
  2. Leave It (vocal)
  3. Take The Water To The Mountain
  4. Nine Voices (Longwalker)
  5. Mind Drive
  6. That, That Is
  7. Order Of The Universe [Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, Howe]
  8. Change We Must [Jon Anderson]
  9. New New World [Jon Anderson]

When I got to the end I looked back over the playlist song titles once again and noticed a theme running through these which is striking. My subconscious was talking to me this morning?

It is interesting that my mind often seems to work on design and coding problems while I sleep. I’ve written about that behavior before. And it happened again. This morning when I first awoke, before deciding to listen to some music, sure enough I realized a possible solution to a technical problem at work. When I get in this morning I’ll check it out.

This is the first time in a long time when I awoke also thinking about music though.

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Pair Programming With a 3 Year Old

Posted by steve | General Commentary | Saturday 24 May 2014 8:33 pm

I found this old photograph recently. It was taken back when Melissa and I had just met. That’s Nicholas back when he was 3 years old sitting next to me. He was watching me code from my Den back when we lived at One Lytle Place on the Ohio River. In those days, 1997, I was working on an internet banking framework as part of a small team. We were developing a prototype for some banks in South America.

pairprogrammingat3smaller

The picture is very cute with Nicholas sitting there watching me code. You can also make out the old stuffed “Dogbert” perched on my monitor — I wonder whatever happened to that? — and there’s even a tiny model Porsche on top of my monitor.

Good memories.

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Gave up one of my registered domains recently…

Posted by steve | General Commentary | Monday 30 September 2013 1:34 pm

Recently I decided not to renew one of my domains: www.befuddledminds.com

I initially used it as a testing ground for learning about server-side-includes and CSS. The site was merely operating as a “placeholder” for future work. It was full of interesting quotes I’d collected over the years. I should probably resurrect that page just because it’s still interesting.

Who knows, watch this space and I may do that.

You may be curious about the name “Befuddled Minds”. It was a name my wife shared with me when she tells a story about a university professor offering commentary on what a bunch of young people were doing. I think, if I get the story right, there were a bunch of folks all gathering in some public place to celebrate the “Harmonic Convergence” of the planets. Or something like that. Anyway the professor referred to them as a bunch of befuddled minds.

The web site was created to be a place to share stories of some of the really dumb things we see companies / management do sometimes. The problem is, even if you post a story that’s not about the place you work, people will think it is. I’m not Scott Adams posting Dilbert. So the idea was interesting but required more courage than I was willing to invest, even if the stories were about places from my past or places where people I know have worked. So it ended up being a placeholder.

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A more recent example of clever marketing at Target

Posted by steve | General Commentary | Friday 12 April 2013 7:58 pm

We have a local Super Target store very close to where we live and because of the convenience I visit the store probably two or three times in a week. It’s commonplace for me to receive a message on my iPhone from my wife, by the time I’ve left the office and begun my trip home, to pickup milk, butter, soda pop, that sort of thing, on the way home. Since I have to drive past the store to get home, and since they always have good prices and selection, I shop there.

To be perfectly clear, I really like Target stores. They are attractive, have good products, competitive prices and often carry exactly what I’m seeking.

Thursday evening this week I had an interesting experience at my local Super Target store. In case you do not know, a Super Target is a regular Target department store with a groceries section added on. The groceries section is about a third the size of the overall store and always appears to be busy with customers. As described above, I got a request to stop in and pick up butter and some soda pop for the family on the way home Thursday. I remembered I needed cereal and mentally added that to the list of what I was going to purchase. When I purchase soda pop for the family I usually get 3 or more cartons at a time, especially if they are on sale, so I grabbed a shopping cart when entering the store. Since I go to this particular store quite frequently I knew exactly which aisles and locations to head towards to pick up the needed items.

Quite impulsively, after picking up the groceries, I decided it might be nice to purchase a new dress shirt. So I pushed the cart over to the other end of the store, towards the back, where the Men’s Clothing section can be found. And I picked up a few shirts, looked them over, put them back on the racks or hangers. After browsing shirts for around 10 minutes I decided there really was not anything that particularly interested me, and decided to abandon the idea of purchasing a new men’s shirt. In the past I’d only ever purchased socks, underwear, and that sort of thing; I had yet to purchase an actual shirt at Target.

When I arrived back at the front of the store with my shopping cart I could see that since I was shopping at a time when most people were likely home preparing or having dinner, the store was not very busy. There were a few open cashier checkout lines available to choose from and I grabbed the nearest one.

In the past I’ve written about the checkout process at Target and how they do a very good job at selective marketing with on-demand coupons during the checkout. So after I loaded the few groceries on the conveyor belt and swiped my debit card across the electronic reader (and at that point identifying myself to the computers belonging to the store), sure enough some coupons immediately printed out.

And one of them was a 15% off coupon on Men’s Shirts.

The coincidence really surprised me.

Okay, what the heck was that all about? I figure there are several possible explanations and it made for entertaining discussion amongst my friends as we thought about what may have happened. Here are the possibilities, no matter how creepy they may seem.

  1. Just a coincidence? This would be the simplest.
  2. My purchasing habits are really predictable by some clever shopping algorithm that Target has developed?
  3. It’s the season when people in my demographics evidently think about buying a shirt?
  4. Subliminal messages inside the store triggered an interest in buying a new shirt?
  5. Some well-meaning employee watching security cameras watched me browsing and decided to send me a coupon when they saw which checkout line I picked?
  6. Facial recognition software monitoring the security cameras (not too far-fetched since that’s how shoplifters get “black-listed” in some department stores) had advanced software that noticed I was shopping in the Men’s Clothing department and triggered the automatic on-demand coupon when it detected my face in a checkout line?

Stop me before I get too carried away with this…

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The Häagen-Dazs / Target Conspiracy

Posted by steve | General Commentary | Monday 24 September 2012 10:03 pm

I’m good with targeted marketing in practice. It is much better to get coupons or notices of sales for items you regularly buy. The Target stores do a pretty good job at this. Invariably, when I buy groceries at my friendly local Super Target store, during the checkout process, their computer system prints out coupons just for me to be used next time shopping. Targeted marketing done right. They track me by the credit/debit card I use and on-the-spot create coupons for things I have either just purchased or have purchased in the past. As a Systems Architect, I admire how the design is working and respect it.

There is a clever little marketing game I’ve noticed however. This has to do with those smaller 14 Oz. containers of ice cream made by Häagen-Dazs and others. It’s great ice cream and I quite enjoy the quality and the size of the container. It’s not meant to be a “single serving” container. But it often is.

Now here’s the pattern, no, conspiracy I’ve picked up on. Months ago I purchased one container of
Häagen-Dazs ice cream. Just one. During the checkout Target prints out a little coupon for me to use on a future shopping trip. I’m sure I’ve forgotten the exact coupon discount, but it said something like “Buy two Häagen-Dazs next time and get $1.00 off”.

The next time I go shopping I remember the coupon and purchase two. Targeted marketing worked. And when I got to the checkout a new coupon prints out. It says something like “Buy three and get $1.00 off”. I probably have the amount remembered incorrectly, but I’m certain the count on the coupon was three.

You can see where this is heading. Sure enough, next time I buy three little cups, remembering the coupon, and at checkout time I get an automated coupon printed out that says something like “Buy four and get $1.50 off”.

Next trip I buy four, using my coupon, and I’m not kidding, I get a coupon that says “Buy five for $2.00 off”.

They’re on to me.

So I wait a while. I didn’t buy five. It takes a while to consume four! A few weeks pass and I decide to do a little experiment. I buy just one.

At checkout I get a coupon that says “Buy two and get $1.00 off”. They got me figured out. It’s an ice cream conspiracy between Häagen-Dazs and Target.

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MacBook Pro died

Posted by steve | Apple Software and Hardware,General Commentary | Thursday 19 July 2012 7:34 am

The apple notebook computer I use for developing iOS software had some kind of graphics and network failure a few days ago. I was just in the process of installing the latest iOS SDK beta when the display changed to a repeating pattern of tiny splats of color. And for some reason the network capability, at least the wireless 802.11n, also failed. The system thinks there is no more wireless hardware installed. Very strange.

I shouldn’t complain much. The computer was one of the first Intel MacBook Pro models and is about 6 years old. There’s consistently been an issue where the computer ran unreasonably hot and I guess that is what eventually led to failure. The hard drive in the computer was upgraded to a 750GB capacity internal drive about 18 months ago and I will obviously want to extract the drive and install it in an external enclosure. But I’ve tried a number of troubleshooting techniques and diagnostic runs and it appears to be a pretty messy problem to resolve. It also appears to be a real hardware problem, not software.

I’ve looked, using my trusty iPad, at used models and it looks like the least expensive resolution is to purchase an identical 6-year old model for between $350 and $600. It may also be possible to get it repaired and I need to write to one of those Mac repair sites for an estimate.

It’s weird. When your “daily driver” computer fails, it can be really disruptive in your life. I never realized how much the use of the computer, especially programming activities, are part of my regular day. The only thing that has kept this issue from being a high priority for me right now, I think, is that that I’m currently on vacation from work and enjoying playing board games with my friends and family for quite a bit these past few days.

My usual routine of getting up early and coding some iOS software before everyone else gets up has been disrupted. I seem to get this unbalanced feeling for most of the morning these past few days and I think it is my mind being confused about not doing any coding in the morning.

Oh well. I do seem to have more time for reading and writing Blog posts right now.

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Prometheus

Posted by steve | General Commentary | Sunday 8 July 2012 7:15 pm

I saw the new science fiction film from Ridley Scott, Prometheus this week.

From when I first heard about it and after watching every trailer and reading every interview I could find about the film, I was pretty excited to go see it. My expectations were pretty high. I knew Ridley Scott would do a great science fiction film, the Alien movie series is still one of my favorites, and when I heard Damon Lindeloff was writing for the movie, those were all very positive signs for me.

Let me just get this said. I really liked the movie.

Now, I also admit that there were high points and low points. The way the movie began was a very interesting story line and I thought quite creative and full of mystery and questions. A great start for the film. There were numerous places in the movie when I found myself wondering where they were going with the story. There were also a few places where it felt very formulaic — as if the studio paying the bills pushed to have certain parts thrown in. And there were a few spots in the film where I thought, “What the hell?”

A few days after seeing the film I wanted more. More story. More movie. More answers and I had even more questions. Thinking back over the film I realize now I want to see it again. I was originally a little disappointed when leaving the theater. But now with reflection I began to realize that I really dig what Ridley and Damon are doing with this idea. The movie has an interesting story to tell which hopefully will lead to more sequels. The one thing I will say is that it was not a scary movie, the way Alien was. And I expected that. But it’s real science fiction with some of that “suspension of disbelief”.

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Funny note from a former co-worker

Posted by steve | General Commentary | Monday 4 June 2012 11:54 am

Today, someone sent me a note that made me laugh out loud.

About 12 years ago, when I was a technical manager in a fairly large software development shop, I became pretty close friends with a number of other managers there. We still keep in touch. Well today, one of my former co-worker wrote to me that he was just talking about me. Here is what he wrote…

I was just talking about you yesterday! Had a VP yelling at me and was replying back with clear, logical answers. I learned that from watching you :-)

Yea. I remember those days. Evidently I had gained a reputation of staying pretty cool in the storm.

And what’s the deal with managers yelling at their fellow employees? I have little respect for that kind of behavior. Surely there are more creative ways to motivate or express frustration. I can remember raising my voice to emphasize a point a few times when I was a manager. But it was a rare event. And the team members knew it. Yelling at co-workers was never an option.

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