As I mentioned in my last post, (over two months ago!) I went to Portugal for a trip towards the end of July. I was attending the SECRYPT conference and presenting my paper there. All I knew about Porto, was what I read on Wikipedia and other places online. I was looking forward to a cute historic European city and that’s exactly what I got.
I reached there on a Friday afternoon, quite jet-lagged. The hotel (Hotel Melia Gaia Porto) was in the area south of the Douro river called Vila Nova De Gaia. That evening I got food at a nearby place and explored about a mile around the hotel, partly in search of a wall adapter for my laptop power cord. Walking around Gaia reminded me of India, especially my maternal grandma’s neighborhood in Delhi. The streets are narrow. The cars are small. Old rustic architecture is mixed with modern glassy facades.
The conference was at the hotel and ran from Saturday thru Tuesday. Each day, I would attend sessions until about 6pm and then head out to explore the city. On Saturday I took a leisurely photowalk towards the city center. As I got closer to the river, historic buildings appeared and this time I was reminded of Bombay, which has a heavy Portugese influence. The extent of that influence was more than I realized. I rediscovered words that I thought were of Indian origin, only to find that they were in fact Portugese. In Bombay, the word for bread is ‘pao’ and the word for potato is ‘batata’. Both of those are Portugese words. This discovery surprised my friends and family too.
Over the next few days I explored several areas around the Porto city center. The metro was very convenient. On my last day there I went to Casa da Música. It is an interesting building with non-perpendicular corners and a variety of unique rooms. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that it was completely open to the public for free. You could just walk into and all around its various rooms, even into the main auditorium. You could sit at a Steinway grand piano and play to your heart’s content and no one would bother. I didn’t because I don’t know how but a guy was doing just that.
Overall the trip was productive and pleasant, definitely whetting my appetite to explore more of Europe. My photos from the trip are in the slideshow below. You can follow it to the photos on flickr where you can view their location on a map.
My sister and her daughter came by to visit me from India last month. They were here for about a week and we all had a great time going around the Portland metro area and nearby to the gorge and coast. Here they are at Cannon Beach.
Around the end of May, my landlord and I had a disagreement on the terms for a lease renewal at my current place. So, I decided to move out and started looking for a new place. I found a nice two bedroom condo right by the river in NW Portland and will be moving there this weekend.
I got a paper accepted to a conference called SECRYPT. I will be going to present it at Porto, Portugal during the last few days of July. I just applied for a Visa and am looking forward to my first trip to Europe.
Ignite Portland 3 happened last night. This time Liz was a speaker. She spoke about her experiences of traveling to Afghanistan. She has a ton of stories and did an excellent job of squeezing a five minute rapid fire inspirational talk from them. There was a good variety of topics, just like at the last Ignite Portland, which made the evening quite entertaining. This time we went to the after party at Imbibe and had a great time with friends, old and new. You can see her slides and video right here. They go quite well together.
And lastly for now, Liz and I decided to start a blog together to document our adventures. I kicked it off tonight with a basic theme and a first post about how we met. Check it out and subscribe for more stories in the future.
About three months after its initial launch, I’m happy to announce a new version of LazyEngine. I have moved it off my domain and onto the recently launched Google App Engine. This involved a rewrite of the code from the original PHP into the new Python version. This does not mean that it is any less lazy ;-)
I had wanted to add a feature to remember a user’s past searches but was too lazy to implement that in PHP. With the new version, I get user logins automatically. You can use your Google accounts to log into LazyEngine and have it remember your searches from visit to visit. Give it a shot right now at http://lazyengine.appspot.com/. Enjoy!
When I was a kid, I enjoyed tapping on tables in the style of a Tabla player. The sounds were fun. My mom used to say that I should learn the instrument. I never did. I think that was for the best since I don't seem to have any talent in playing a musical instrument.
Even in those young days I had heard of the music of Ustad Zakir Hussain. Zakir is regarded as the foremost player of the Tabla in the world. He has achieved unparalleled recognition and mastery with the Tabla and is a household name in India. Last night, Liz and I went to the Schnitz for a concert by Zakir Hussain and the Masters of Percussion. It is an annual event hosted by Kalakendra. The group does a tour each year and the musicians change regularly. It was such beautiful and wide ranging music from a dozen different instruments of various Indian Classical schools. I was enthralled by the solo and group performances, especially the Tabla, the Sarangi and the Sitar.
Afterwards, we got to meet and chat with Zakir. He had such a jovial and warm demeanor. This was my first time at the event and I hope to go again.
On March 21st, I asked Liz to marry me and she said yes. She was elated that I asked her on a full-moon vernal equinox ;-)
We are both very happy and excited. I don’t know who all read my blog, so probably you’ve already seen me mention this on Flickr or Twitter or in an email. The wedding will be on December 10th, in New Delhi, India. We’re really looking forward to it.
The last time I bought a gaming console was in November, 2001. It was an Xbox. For the last six years, I’ve used it exclusively as a DVD player.
I bought a Nintendo Wii today. They are still in short supply. The local Fred Meyer does a raffle when they get some stock. Last night they got twelve units. The raffle was scheduled for 6:45am today, fifteen minutes before opening time. I was first in line. Eleven people showed up. Everyone got a Wii.
Steve Novick is running a really cool campaign for U.S. Senate here in Oreon and it’s great that Liz is part of it. They just released a campaign beer called “Left Hook Lager”. Liz made the label for that and wrote about it here. You can buy some for yourself. Also, check out this beer themed ad they came out with earlier this year.
On the subject of voting in general, I get the impression that people are so casual about counting the votes. It’s great to see The Onion impart its inimitable style to the issue. Attacks on voting machines can range from the sophisticated to the cleverly simple. Check out Black Box Voting for more info.
Oh, and here’s another yummy smoothie recipe:
Some Blueberries, some raspberries (little more than the blueberries), one banana, vanilla extract (to taste), two glasses of rice milk. Blend. Serves two. It’s really nice. In fact I’m going to make it right now.
There was some discussion today on Twitter regarding the first website made by people. That got me to look into my archives for the first one that I made. It was on Geocities and it doesn’t exist anymore, not even on the Wayback Machine. But the second one that I made was hosted on the servers at PSU and still exists on the aforementioned machine here. It was almost identical to the previous site and looked like this.
Click on the image to go to flickr and see it with notes describing the content. Share your first site.
For the last few weeks, I’ve had a new personal assistant, Sandy. I came to her after trying Backpack, Remember the Milk, Stikkit and others that I don’t even remember any more. She’s the best one I’ve had so far. She makes me want her more. So far my girlfriend is cool with that, even though Sandy lives right here in Portland.
This weekend I saw Helvetica. I got excited when I noticed that Movie Madness had it on their list but it was never in stock when I got there. On Saturday it wasn’t on the shelves either, but Liz suggested that I peruse the un-shelved DVDs and there it was. I’ve never thought about the history behind types. This film was enjoyable just for that. And there’s a lot more about typography and graphic design in there. To top it all, the film is set to a really cool soundtrack.
Yesterday, I hung out with Beer and Blog peeps at the Lucky Lab on Hawthorne. The meeting was great. We touched on several topics and Justin has nicely summarized them. I’m looking forward to more such interactions. See photos here.
Lastly, if you’ve noticed an increase in my blog posts over the last few days, it can be attributed to some extent to the wonderful MarsEdit. It is a joy to compose and manage blog posts in it. I’m still trying it out but at this point is looks like I’ll be buying it well before the trial period runs out in about a month.
LazyEngine is a lazy search engine. If you want to do a search, consider for a moment if you need the results immediately. If not, then this is the search engine for you. This is probably a silly web application.
That’s the idea behind my new web app LazyEngine. Give it a shot. I hope you like it.
I tried Movable Type over the last two months and didn’t like it much at all. So, I’ve migrated the blog to use Wordpress. Wordpress has a lot of community support and plugins that make it a great choice. It also seems simpler to use and maintain. I continue to support OpenID for comments.
I’m gonna work on tweaking the look and feel of the website over the next few days so come back to check it out later. I’ll also be expanding its focus.
It was heavier than I expected. I had ignored my cardinal law in purchasing a camera, “Hold it in your hands to see how it feels”. One year has gone by with me using the Bessa exclusively, and I love it.
I bought it along with a 50mm Nokton f/1.5 lens and an adapter. The camera has an M mount, whereas the lens is a screw mount, so I needed an adapter. My plan was that if I liked this enough I could get an M mount Leica lens in the future and it would fit just fine with the camera. I still plan on doing that. Perhaps a 35mm lens, but more on that later. I bought this Bessa at CameraQuest, a website that I haven’t visited since then. I never planned on buying more of this system and I never had any issues.
My early experience with a rangefinder camera was in 2006 when I borrowed a Canonet QL17 G-III from my friend Doug. At the end of that month I was hooked and understood why the rangefinder is the best camera for street photography. A sentiment expressed by many a famous street photographers of the last century. My favorite part about a rangefinder is that since I can see the frame lines, I can see the things that I’m not including in the frame. You can never do that with an SLR. That allows me to frame the shot best, especially on the street when I have only a fraction of a second to frame and shoot a photo. I don’t have to worry about focusing because I pre-focus and set a high depth-of-field. When I bring the camera to my eye, all I have to do is frame and click. And I love it when the camera goes “click”. The Bessa has a quick sharp sound that is barely noticeable as compared to the extended louder sound of the DSLR.
Another characteristic of the rangefinder is that you can see the photo at the moment of exposure, while in the SLR you just see nothing. As a result, at the beginning, my timing was a bit off with this camera, but not only did I get used to it, I started to love it. Most of the time I take a photo, I just click one frame. No second chance. So it helps to know if I got what I was going for, even though the suspense remains until I actually get the film processed.
Over the last year I’ve put up 193 photos taken with this camera on my Flickr photostream, about 76% of all my uploaded photos for 2007. That’s not an immense number and probably would’ve been even smaller had I not made the trips to Burning Man and to India. I put up 481 photos in 2006 and 807 photos in 2005. I think the trend is down because the cost of using film has made me frugal.
I like using film because of the texture that it imparts to a photograph. I haven’t experimented a whole lot with different films, and settled quite early with Tri-X. Most of the time I push it to ISO 1600 and gives me just the right kind of contrast I like. It also helps to push the film in Portland, since most days are overcast and higher ISO films cost more ;-) Having said that, more and more manufacturers of are moving out of the 35mm film market. That trend has me thinking of digital rangefinders for the future. We’ll see how that goes.
I think I’ve spent enough time with the 50mm lens to now explore more primes. I would prefer to go wider, as that’s what I find lacking sometimes when I frame a shot. Also, I think it would help me get closer while out on the street. So, sometime this year, I’ll get a 35mm M mount lens, hopefully a Leica one. After all, that was the plan :-)
Ever since I heard “Lawyers, Guns and Money”, I’ve wanted to hear more of Warren Zevon’s music. So this week I bought “The Best Of Warren Zevon” at Amazon’s MP3 store. I’ve listened to it twice and now there are a few more of his songs that I really like.
A new favorite song is Lily Allen’s “Alfie” which I first heard way back, and then again recently on the podcast of the wonderful NPR show, All Songs Considered. It’s quite pop-ish.
Recipe for a smoothie: Two Frozen Bananas, Three Frozen Strawberries, One Frozen Peach, Vanilla extract (to taste), Two glasses rice milk. Blend. Serves two. Experiment with quantities!
I just moved this blog here from it’s previous incarnation at http://samgrover.wordpress.com/. I’m quite impressed at the ease with which I was able to export the previous blog and import it here intact with the entries and the comments. My thanks to the folks behind Wordpress and Movable Type. Subscribe to the new feed!
That move was simple. Now I have to move to my new place in real space this weekend. Unfortunately, that will involve some more work! Portland has five quadrants. Yea, five. Portland is weird. I used to live in the Southwest and then I was in the Southeast for the last 18 months and now I will be moving into a small house in the Northeast. It will increase my daily commute, but overall it will be great! By the way, the fifth quadrant is North, in case you were wondering.
I’ve been sharing this video with friends since I first saw it some months ago. It’s informative and elegant and the music is cool too. It provokes my curiosity, especially with the way it ends. Take a look!
It’s been a while since I updated this blog. About ten months. I’ve been an intern at Intel during that period and I recently joined as an employee.
Also, now it’s been one year since I moved to the SE Portland. I like it here. I have a hour-or-so long commute each way on TriMet, which isn’t terribly bad as it gives me time to read. However, public transit doesn’t work too well when there are more things to do in a day, especially in different parts of town. Even though my schedule at work is quite flexible, public transit can become a bottleneck. That occurs when I want to do more than go to work in the morning and return home in the evening. I thought that was sufficient excuse for me to go in for a car ;-) and placed an order for a new Mini Cooper S in April. I expect to have delivery within a month and am looking forward to that. It will be my first car.
My photography has been up and down during this time. In January, I sold off my Nikon D70S digital SLR and bought a Voigtländer Bessa R2A film rangefinder. After playing with cameras and photography for a couple of years I had come to realize just the kind of camera that would work best for me. The Bessa fit that bill quite well. It was also quite affordable as compared to another option. My previous experience with a rangefinder was definitely a motivating factor. I will write more about my experiences with this camera in a future post.
Russ wanted to recreate the cover of The Beatles' Abbey Road album cover along with his wife, Patty and son, Riley. He planned the shot and scouted for locations, narrowing them down to two. So, on a Sunday morning we went out to take the shot. We were a bit early for the chosen locations. The light wasn’t right. After a brief time looking around, we decided to go get breakfast and then return to take the shots.
On our way to LaurelThirst, we spotted an intersection on Stark Street and as fate would have it, it was better than the others and just right for the shot. Russ parked his Bug on the wrong side of the road and we started taking shots. They walked through the intersection once and I took some sample shots. After correcting their spacing and rhythm, I took shots of a few more passes with digital and film cameras. About fifteen minutes later, accomodating for light traffic, we were done and headed for a tasty breakfast. I had never tried to recreate a photo before. This was fun, and hopefully I’ll do more in the future. We left out some details, like Paul’s cigarette, Ringo, etc.
After going through the photos, Russ and family selected this shot as their favorite. Click on the image to see the larger version on flickr. There you will also find a link to the exact location on a map.
Amazon started offering downloadable movies a couple of weeks ago. That’s great, especially since they offer rentals. I prefer to rent movies since I usually only see a movie once. If I feel like watching it again and again, I would buy it. In that case, I wouldn’t buy a restricted downloadable file and wouldn’t recommend it either, especially with draconian agreements. I’d rather just buy the physical DVD at an affordable price. You can’t just give a restricted file to a friend and say, “Hey, check this out. It’s cool”. The same is true for restricted music.
The hassle of maintaining my own digital store and backing up stuff is another deterrent. Hard disks will fail, so one needs a more comprehensive backup policy than just saving the data onto a second disk. With movies, that’s a lot of data. There’s no way I’m going to put money into a backup system for that.
Amazon’s videos won’t play on the Mac, so I can’t even rent it if I wanted to. That’s another side-effect of the restrictions. Apple is also offering movie downloads through their iTunes store, but they don’t offer rentals. So, I’m off to Movie Madness these days. If someone figures out a convenient way to offer downloadable movie rentals, I’ll sign on.
I was on my short commute today when I got a text message from my father in India. It said, " ... All ok in Mumbai. You may not be able to contact them as lines jammed ...". He was referring to my sister and her family. I didn't know what to make of this. I thought that perhaps the Sunday incident had flared up. I hadn't read the news this morning, so I called him and he told me about the bomb blasts. Seven bombs went off on board various trains of the western lines within one hour (Mapped locations). For more info and details from the blogosphere, see Ultrabrown, Vantage Point, Sepia Mutiny, MumbaiHelp, and Metroblogging Mumbai. Unfortunately, this isn't the first time this beloved city has been a target.
Just the other day, in conversation with friends, I was reminiscing my experiences with riding the trains in Bombay. I grew up there through most of the nineties, mid-teens to early twenties. Rush hour travel is the kind of thing you'd remember fondly only if you were nostalgic. The train cars are sometimes packed so tight, one could travel upright without either foot on the floor. 4.5 million people commute on the trains everyday. With that in mind, the horror of these events is inescapable. Emotions will run high, we'll all mourn, but the people of Mumbai will not be terrorized.
In 1993, in the days after the thirteen serial bomb blasts in two hours, there were billboards proclaiming that the city got back on it's feet within 24 hours. In memory of those who died, I hope that spirit prevails, that the aftermath is peaceful, and that the perpetrators are brought to justice.
I've set up a personal domain at samgrover.com. It is quite simple for now. I've also set up a photoblog there called "As It Is". It is about street photography and will have some of the photos I put up on flickr. Other sections remain to be filled and imagined.
I will move this blog to that domain when I've figured out a simple way to migrate it with all posts and comments intact.
P.S. I'm using DreamHost for hosting. Check them out and if you like their services, use the promo code SAMG to sign up with a large discount. Depending on the plan you get upto $97 off making this a really cool deal. I'm paying only $30 for an entire year using their Level1 plan.
I don't have any major need for spreadsheets, so I'm definitely not inclined to buy some software for it. But there are a few little things for which I could use one and that is why it's great to see a free web application from Google that provides it.
I started to use Google Spreadsheets yesterday and found it very convenient and simple to use. It offers some basic functionality for now but that's ok since it's only a limited test. It can import and export XLS and CSV files at the moment, so I converted my few files from a simple text format into CSV and they were smoothly imported. The application looks quite slick. This is the first application from Google that looks a lot like a desktop application. It has menus near the top with similar items as a standard desktop application. There are buttons for the usual suspects; Cut, Copy, Paste, Undo and Redo. It has collaborative features to let multiple users edit the same file and provides a chat interface too. I haven't tried that yet. I'm looking forward to more such applications. I'm guessing that I'll use some of them while others I won't, picking and choosing depending on usage, usability and desktop alternative availability.
And now for the idle speculation part, which kinda builds on what I first read a long time ago. This new product makes me wonder that with the known and unknown components below their web applications, Google probably has a development platform for hosting applications on their infrastructure. I wonder if they would make it available to developers too. Let's call it the environment for Google Developers, or eGoD ;-). They could potentially let eGoD applications reside on the developer's own hardware, but they can't really fulfill their "mission to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful" if it's not on their own infrastructure*. A reason for developers to let Google host their eGoD applications may be to guarantee good performance by utilizing a large scale distributed system that is managed and maintained by Google. Another reason would be that all eGoD applications would be "local" to each other and to Google services so if they wish to exchange information, they would be able to do so very efficiently. I've read time and again that infrastructure is one of Google's main strengths and I think that is absolutely true.
A Google branded word processor based on Writely will surely come out soon. I don't know if these applications are the beginning of a challenge to Microsoft Office, at least not until the technologies and interfaces are more mature. However they demonstrate the capability of this imaginary eGoD platform. Such a development and hosting environment is bound to be disruptive in the desktop application ecosphere. Google may go after a big slice of the pie with Office, leaving the niche products to the small developers. Just like Microsoft did with their platform, Windows.
I borrowed a rangefinder camera from a friend a couple of weeks ago. The camera is a Canonet QL17 G-III. I've gone through one roll on it and it's been fun to use so far. I had been using SLR cameras until now and the rangefinder is quite different in operation. The major difference being that the image viewed through the viewfinder is not the same as the one that is seen by the lens. In an SLR you see through the lens, so it's more of a WYSIWYG interface. Here are some of my impressions with using this camera.
It's a little bizzare to see the lens through the viewfinder, but I got over that pretty soon.
It is well known that rangefinders are quiet because they don't have a moving mirror. Even so, I was surprised by the quietness of the mechanism.
The shutter priority operation threw me off for a while because I'm used to shooting with aperture priority. It makes me think in terms of time, while I'm used to thinking in terms of depth of field, or rather not thinking much in terms of either by setting the parameters once and not messing with it unless really needed.
The hardest thing to do was the focusing. The viewfinder has a very small area to check the focus accurately, and its not something I could manage to do quickly. I found myself pre-focusing most of the time by reading the distance marking on the lens. So, I used the viewfinder only for framing, just before taking the picture. I like the speed of such operation, but have been reluctant to do pre-focusing before now. This camera kinda forced it upon me and I'll try to do it more often. I think it is a good skill to have for street photography, especially when using a manual focus mechanism. There is usually no time to focus.
It's been raining again for the last week, so I haven't had any chance to shoot more with this camera. Hopefully things will clear up next week!