New car stereo

This weekend we went strawberry picking and I also got a new car stereo for my Prius. Mainly I was looking for better iPhone integration. My 2005 Prius had pretty limited options for that. Mostly I wanted something that would charge my iPhone and play music, other features would be nice to have, but not a requirement. Another factor is that the navigation on my Prius sucks badly, it has a number of annoying traits, bad UI, and bad directions. A friend recommended All Pro Audio in Santa Clara, and the owner Jim Lee is a nice, knowledgeable guy. He recommended two options. If I was just looking for iPhone integration, the Parrot MKi9200 which had all the basics, bluetooth phone, ipod music, small display mounted separately wherever I wanted. If I wanted to add in a navigation system, then he had the Pioneer AVIC-7010 which was a full replacement for the existing car stereo and navigation system but would leave some of the features on the existing display(climate control, trip computer, engine/battery monitors).

I opted for the Pioneer and got it installed overnight. I’m pretty happy with the system so far, but it has a few issues. I have to go back for a second install because they didn’t have the parts do the dashboard finishing and they disconnected the old display features like the climate control system. The unit itself is pretty good, but a couple of the controls I had to look at the manual for. The nav system is pretty good. The ipod controls are good. The Bluetooth phone seems fine but I’ve only used it minimally and I don’t really expect to use it much. Among the less expected features, a USB jack, an auxiliary RCA jack, a mini SD card jack, voice recognition for playing albums, software upgradeability, HD Radio ready. It cost about $1k installed(the Parrot would’ve cost about half that), but I now have the audio flexibility I wanted.

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Back from vacation

I haven’t blogged that much lately because I’m using twitter a bit more. It’s bad because twitter’s short messages discourage well thought out writing. I’ll try to do a bit better.

We’re back from our 1 week vacation in Cabo San Lucas. Lucas liked to call it Cabo San Me. We met Tracy’s family there and we spent a lot of time in the sun at the pool and on the beach. The great thing about Cabo is the location, it’s less than a 5 hour flight from almost everywhere in the US. While at the airport coming in, we were roped into getting a timeshare presentation in exchange for a bunch of discounts on activities.

The timeshare presentation was actually mildly interesting. I’d never had one before, so it was an experience to learn how they sell it. They had deals from about $15-30k for a 1-2 bedroom unit for a week. Doing a full purchase of the 2br unit would cost over $2 million. The timeshare program was more flexible than I’d realized. You can use it at any of several different properties, you can bank your weeks or take an advance on them. There’s also a full 3rd party timeshare exchange program in case you don’t feel like using those properties. Not that I was really interested. I guess it’s my parents influence that I’d prefer real ownership, though not at that price. Two of the ridiculous things they did in the presentation were to project out the cost of your future vacations with an inflation rate of 6-9% and to charge 15% interest if you financed the purchase.

We took a bunch of pictures and they are at http://tierneychen.shutterfly.com/. We stayed at the Puerto Bonito Blanco and it was pretty nice. Not the nicest hotel around, but all the rooms had ocean views and it was conveniently located. We ate a bunch of local restaurants, Casanova, Alexanders, Mi Casa, Sweet Bistro, Peacocks, Arts and Sushi. Mi Casa had really good carnitas, I had a good sea bass at both Casanova and Peacocks. The prices were a bit more than I expected, probably about comparable to what you’d pay in the US. One thing about the restaurants in Cabo is the different speed of service. They were all extremely slow compared to typical American restaurants. I think every meal out lasted more than an hour and a half.

The whole area was the emptiest I’ve ever seen a tourist town. Several nights there were only 1-2 other parties at the restaurants. It’s a combination of the swine flu aftermath, the economy, and the slow season, but I couldn’t see how any place we went was making money. One of the restaurant owners talked to us a bit and he said that the Mexican government was offering businesses super low interest rate loans so that they could keep people employed for a bit while they suffered through the downturn. Things did seem to be picking up when we were leaving.

We went on a glass bottom boat tour and I played a very bad round of golf at the Cabo San Lucas Country Club(I shot around 120 I’m pretty sure). Lauren didn’t sleep very well and that prevented us from sleeping really well. At the airport on the way home, she had an epic vomit. She must have projectile vomitted 12-16 ounces of curdled milk. It was pretty nasty. Thankfully it didn’t happen in the airplane, so Tracy was able to get something different to wear that didn’t smell.

Good fun all in all. I highly recommend it. I hear they are having great deals on hotel and air. And the location was convenient for everyone that went.

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Gaming the golf action

We were down in Big Sur for the weekend for a bachelor party. The highlight of the weekend was a round of golf at the Pacific Grove Municipal course. I’ve only played a full round maybe 6 times in my life and this is the only course I’ve played twice. It’s a beautiful course with holes near the ocean with spectacular views. Because we’re all pretty bad, when we’d played before it took forever and was exhausting. To make things suck less, the 5 of us decided to play best ball, with the me and Kojo playing against the trio. We learned later that what we called Best Ball is actually Scramble, and Best Ball really means Best Hole. We all knew what we wanted, so it wasn’t a problem. The main bet was a simple stroke count which we agreed was fair because Kojo was the best player. I also ran side bets with two of the players in the trio about the percentage of balls that they would play. I would have to make 40% of the shots in my round and the two best players in the trio needed to make 40% and 35% of the shots respectively.

My round was the best I’ve ever played, we shot an 87 with me taking 40 and Kojo 47. On the first hole I hit a tee shot within 8 feet of the hole and then sank the putt. That was the only birdie I’ve ever made in my life. I only had a complete whiff once, and I only shanked 1 or 2 other tee shots. All my other drives were clean and my putting was very good as well. My short game is pretty bad though, I can’t hit a sand wedge at all. There was one hole where I hit it onto a different fairway and Kojo hit it onto the correct fairway, but my shot was actually closer to the pin, but Kojo insisted on using his ball. The tee off #12 will forever be known as “the shot that Kojo stole”.

We lost the main bet due to a minor meltdown double bogie on 18th where the other team parred. We pushed on the side bets because every person made their required stroker percentage I needed 40% and made 45%, the other two made their requirements by less than 2%. This is either a clear sign of cheating or brilliant odds making by me. You choose.

All in all, Scramble is a super fun format. It’s much better for us beginners because it prevents the meltdown +4 holes that are so frustrating. I hope to someday play as well as I did.

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Not much new going on

Sorry, been slow updating here. Been busy taking care of kids and life and such. Tracy has been running a lot, and I’m really proud of her. She’s lost a lot of weight and she’s running a lot faster than I am now. Lauren is almost a year and and doing great, she’s crawling well, but can’t stand up on her own yet. Lucas is quite a talkative little 3 year old.

We went out to Phoenix a couple of weeks ago to visit Tracy’s brother and dad. That was good, it’s nice out there. It wouldn’t be a bad place to retire, but the summer heat can be tough.

We also spent a weekend up at Yosemite. There was some drama because we were totally unprepared for snow and it dropped more than a foot on us overnight. We got stuck for a bit, but it wasn’t too bad once the sun came up and melted some of it away.

More pictures at: http://tierneychen.shutterfly.com/

Work is fine, working on some interesting projects that I can’t really talk about. Tracy’s work is fine. The economy is making life interesting, there’s lots of opportunities for making money I think. I wish there was a way I could invest in the toxic asset purchase plan or PPIP as it’s called.

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SSDs of the future

I admit I get overly excited about new solid state drive technology. But I think this OCZ Vertex 2 is the future of high speed storage for gamers. Getting 550 MB/s reads and 480MB/s writes is quite a feat. It’s essentially 4 SSDs in a RAID 0 with an onboard raid controller. SSDs are great candidates for RAID because they get a nearly linear speed increase when you add them to a RAID 0. A regular spinning disk RAID will only be able to approach the average seek time of the drives for random access.

What’s interesting to me about the article is that they have to show their performance as a simulation. The reason is that the SSD RAID outruns the SATA 2 interface that all current motherboards use. To get the performance they show in their simulation, you’ll have to have to buy a new SATA 3 motherboard which can run at the required 600MB/s. Probably the better alternative is for them to to just build their drive onto a PCI-e card and bypass the limitations of all the SATA interfaces.

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New Bailout

This article brought up some interesting ideas to me in how we bailout consumers from the ongoing financial crisis.

When I think about it, having the government continually lower borrowing costs to push mortgage rates down and having Fannie and Freddie continue to buy up mortgages at these low rates seems like one of the best solutions to the overall problems. Surely it is better than bailing out the Big 3 automakers. By encouraging affordable refinancing, it will help spur home buying and refinancing. It rewards people who are continuing to pay their mortgages because it lets them refinance. It helps people who may be facing a large ARM reset. Those two things will help keep people in their homes without rewarding people who over-leveraged themselves during the housing bubble. And fewer foreclosures will slow the down spiral of home values. Maybe it even keeps a few more real estate people employed. Refinancing also helps resolve problems where mortgages are tied up in sliced and diced into derivatives and can’t be modified.

Lenders have already learned their lesson and are much more selective about making loans, and the collateralized debt market has already imploded and won’t recover for quite a while. So the largest systemic dangers have already been scared away.

If the government is actively pushing down mortgage rates at least it seems like the right way to go about re-inflating the markets. Plus, I want to save some money.

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Eve Online

I’ve been playing Eve online for a month and I am impressed. I’ve signed up for a few more months. It is the most complex game I’ve ever played. I haven’t played much WoW, so it’s possible that in total WoW is more complex. But I’m sure that from the perspective of any one individual character, Eve is more complex. Wow skill trees are confined to specific classes, while Eve doesn’t have that restriction, though it does make certain things easier for certain classes and races.

I have just been flying around and blowing things up. I haven’t done much of the mining, manufacturing, corporation management types of things. The economy is supposedly one of the most interesting in an MMO, and I look forward to investigating it some more.

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Christmas fun

The Tracy’s family all came over for the past few days to celebrate Christmas. Nothing too exciting really. We opened some presents and mostly just hung around the house. Tracy got me a running jacket, even though I said I didn’t need anything. Lucas got a small basketball hoop which he and his uncle Ed had fun with. Tracy got some clothes. Overall, not too exciting it was nice for the kids to get to spend time with the family.

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Mocha, big cat

Last week our dear cat Mocha died. She’d been sick for a few weeks, not eating well, avoiding us and generally not being her happy self. We may not have taken her to the vet soon enough, and I feel a bit guilty about it. They diagnosed it as probably cancer and probably incurable, but I don’t know if there would have been more options if we had noticed it earlier. She was big and brown and furry and we miss her.

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Eve and Left 4 Dead

A couple of weeks ago I bought Left 4 Dead. It’s pretty good, but I guess it’s not my kind of game. For one thing I’m not really good at it, so that makes it less fun. Also the zombies are our friends, so I feel bad about killing them. It is a really well conceived game though and the graphics are very good, so I applaud it for what it is, it’s just not my style.

I started playing a bit of Eve Online. It’s possibly one of the deepest games I’ve ever seen. There’s many different play styles, a vast number of skills and options, and active developers and community members making constant improvements. It’s not for the faint of heart though. I don’t know if I will stick with it, because of the amount of time that it could require.

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