In Stitches

I’ve really been getting into photo-stitching lately.  I’m not sure what it is that draws me to it.  Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve been too many places that left me with the “I can’t fit this all into the viewfinder” feeling.  Case in point…the Grand Canyon.  Either you take a photo from a mile up, you use an expensive rig that includes a lens that can, in fact, fit it all in…or you stitch.  And, lately, I’ve been drawn to the stitches that don’t stitch cleanly.  I like the odd corners and bent photos that the software had to warp in order to include that photo into the overall composite image.  Anyways, here are a few of my stitches from over the years.  I’ve used a variety of programs to accomplish this, but the one I’ve been most impressed with is Microsoft ICE, which ties in nicely with Live Photo Gallery, and right-click menus.  So, here are some of my favorites from the past 10 years or so…each one links to an album with quite a few more. (Depending on your monitor size the photos may be a little ways down the page, due to their width).

Underway Replenishment…somewhere in the Indian Ocean.  Sometime in early 2004, I believe.

Brother Kevin standing in front of one of the glaciers we saw on our Alaskan Cruise.  2004?

Somewhere on the Oregon or Californian Coast.  July 2006

 

Grand Canyon…can’t remember which visit this was from.

 

Sydney…David Teves looking grumpy.  Spring 2004

 

Redwoods.  July 2009

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Three Years Hence

Three years ago today I was spending a relaxing day in West Yellowstone, with Kit, Warren and Matt, getting ready for the final push home after spending roughly 35 days and 7,700 miles on the road.  The time has flown by since, and I can’t begin to recount how different my life is now, PMT (Post Motorcycle Trip).  I’m married, for starters.  I have a job that I wasn’t planning on, and have been working there basically since I got back.  I’ve started a business, (mostly) remodeled a house, dealt with the great unknowns of health issues (mine and my wife’s), experienced God’s grace and mercy through friends, family, acquaintances and strangers like you wouldn’t believe and it’s all brought me to…well, today.  And, I’ve found that today is good.  It’s a good place to be.  It seems to be filled with hope, possibility and direction…all three of which I have felt absent over the last few years.  I’m genuinely excited for the next three years…and beyond.

Anyways, I saw something on TV the other day that caught my eye…figured I would p ass it on.  I don’t know how many of you are familiar with the History Channel show “Ice Road Truckers”, but it’s a series that was filmed in northern Canada, up until this season.  This season has the truckers riding up and back on the Dalton Highway, the road I (cursed) drove from Fairbanks, AK, up to Deadhorse, and back.  Given the show’s title, I’m sure you can guess that they are not traveling on the road during the summer months, as I was, but it still gives a good idea of the scenery, conditions, etc.  Take a look…it’s brought back some good memories for me.

Ice Road Truckers

By the way, Tisha and I just got back from a a pretty decent road-trip this last week…no motocompy this go-round, but we did have a great time and will be posting it about it on our blog, shortly.  Till next time…

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Part 2: More Confusion…

Yeah, yeah, yeah…so my timeliness is a bit lacking.  I mean well, trust me.  Ok, so on to Part 2, a follow-on to my original post which highlighted some of the basic differences between Apple and MS, as I see them.  This post is all about MS, and why they drive me nuts.  It all comes down to communication or, more appropriately, miscommunication: between MS and its consumer and, from an outsider’s perspective, between the different silos internal to the company itself.  Having no real knowledge of the internal workings of the company I can really only make judgments based upon the fruit, that which an end-user such as myself gathers from the base of the MS tree.  So, off we go on my fruit tour…please keep your hands and legs inside the ride at all times.

1.  Windows and My Media

On my Dell Laptop (running Win7 Beta), my HP Media Center (running Vista Home Premium) and my hodge-podge desktop (running Windows XP Media Center Edition) I have three Microsoft programs to play my music and videos (Windows Media Player, Windows Media Center, and the Zune Software), and two that will show me my pictures (Media Center and Live Gallery).  Is the integration/consolidation any different between Windows XP, Windows Vista, and Windows 7?  Nope.  Now there’s progress…  So where do you buy your digital music?  iTunes, right?  Does your Mom know what iTunes is?  Probably.  Can you name another online music store that’s worth much of anything?  Did you know that you can buy music in the Zune marketplace…even if you don’t own a Zune?  Yeah, I didn’t think so.  Why isn’t there one Microsoft music/video store/player?  Why don’t my Windows Mobile phones have the Zune media player built into them?  (Apparently we’re getting there.  But why so late?) Why doesn’t Zune record my TV…or why don’t they ditch the Zune moniker and make Windows Media Center the cross-platform media player, store, etc.?  (Oh, by the way, did you know that Windows Media Center can hook up to your TV and Cable and record your TV shows like Tivo or your Cable company’s DVR service…except for free?  Didn’t t hink so…  Why? because MS hasn’t done a good job of telling you about that.)

2.  Interoperability

Hotmail…ugh.  I like where Windows Live is going, but there’s such a disconnect between Hotmail (Live Mail), Outlook, Windows Mobile, Mesh, Skydrive, etc.  I get 5GB of storage on Hotmail.  I get 5GB of storage on Mesh.  I get 25GB of storage on Skydrive!  And all for free!  (Did you know that?  Never mind.)  Why isn’t Skydrive just part of Mesh?  Why doesn’t Microsoft just give me 35GB of MS Storage to be used across the board?  My 35GB of pictures and music could be accessible from my Hotmail account and I could attach Powerpoint presentations to my email that came straight from my Mesh account’s Live Desktop.  I could post a blog on my Microsoft Live Spaces Space and pull pictures from my 35GB drive.  And why isn’t Outlook’s functionality spread throughout Mesh, Windows Live Mail, etc?  Why do I have to use things like Remember the Milk and Evernote just to get the functionality out of my WinMo device that it should already have had right out of the box?

3.  Purchasing Points

Microsoft Points.  Zune points.  X-box points.  What?  How do I buy them?  Ok…I guess I can figure that out.  Doesn’t really make a ton of sense, but I can deal.  Ok, so now can I buy points for someone else?  I can’t?  Are you serious?  I have to go to a Circuit City or a Best Buy to buy them a gift card and mail it to them?  That’s just plain dumb.  Why can’t I just go onto the Zune Marketplace (or Media Center Marketplace, or Microsoft Jimmy’s Media Bazaar…whatever you want to call it) and buy you some MS points?  You could use them with your Xbox, Zune or whatever else you wanted to.  Nope…can’t do it.  (Dang…where are the stamps again?)

4. Mapping and Modeling

  Photosynth. Microsoft ICEMapCruncher.  Virtual Earth.  Live Maps.  Man, what a great opportunity to totally blow Google and Apple out of the water.  Check out all of the cool stuff you can do with each of these FREE programs.  Amazing, amazing stuff.  I use each of them extensively at work (I’m a Facilities Manager at a K-12 school and I’ve been doing a lot of campus modeling, mapping, etc, lately) and if I weren’t already bald I would have pulled my hair out long ago.  Why don’t these programs interface? Why do I have to hack my way through things to get them to display the stuff I want them to?  Live Maps is better than Google Maps, in its functionality…not its ease of use.  Virtual Earth is incredible, once you get into the SDK and start messing around with things.  Google Earth, however, is fun…and easy to use.  I can create custom map layers in MapCruncher that will kinda display how I want them to in Live Maps…sorta.  I can sorta get a Live Maps collection to display on a custom webpage…sorta.  Could a Live Maps/VE programmer get it to work?  Absolutely!  That’s not the point…remember with me what Apple does well?  Oh yeah…  My Mom could make a movie and post it to her own website if she wanted to.

I could keep going here… Synctoy, Microsoft Pro Photo, Microsoft HD View, Office Live, Office Accounting just to name a few.  All great…all free.  So many incredible products that if they weren’t built in silos and could just interact I wouldn’t have to constantly hack my way through things…outputting a file from one program…inputting it into another…uploading it to one website…emailing it to another.  Until they figure out how to have all things “Microsoft” look, feel, and talk similar I fear the wonderful products they make will only be enjoyed by those with the know-how and patience to work with them.  And really, what choice do I have?  I love the fact that I can build a computer out of a stack of components and load it up with a bunch of free software put out by Microsoft and the thousands and thousands of software developers out there, and mount it to my motorcycle’s gas tank.  (I even considered a Mac Mini, by the way, but there would have been too many software limitations).  But I think I’m probably in the minority here.  Most people, should they have the money to buy shiny and white, are just going to borrow a line from Billy Joel and tell Microsoft to “Keep it to yourself, it’s my iLife.”

***UPDATE***  So, I saw something about Windows MyPhone a few days back and have been playing around with it since…and I gotta say, this is yet another shining example of Microsoft’s apparent silo development strategy. The concept is a good one…it allows you to mirror files (photos, documents, text messages, contacts, tasks and calendar items) that are located on your phone to a website for archiving, viewing, editing and general safe keeping should you drop your phone in the toilet or let your kid play with it…in the toilet.  So, why do I have a problem with this?  A few reas ons.  1.  I can already do a good portion of this with Windows Live Mesh.  2.  They’re giving me an abysmal 200MB of storage.  3.  Let me take a breath and crack my knuckles…this is the most frustrating part.  Do a quick search on the following and see what you get:  “Windows Mobile OTA sync”.  The results will show you a couple of things…it will show you that Windows Mobile users have long been clamoring for an ability to sync their contacts, tasks and calendars with Outlook and/or Windows Live over the air (OTA, meaning mobile sync whilst one is out and about and not connected to their home computers).  And it will also show you that because of Microsoft’s unwillingness/inability to provide that capability there is a giganto mass of third-party, cumbersome, partial and/or not-free solutions out there to do this for you.  It shows that MS has too long thought of their WinMo devices as tools of the corporate world while ignoring the large (and growing) group of users who purchased a Windows Mobile device to run their own personal lives or small businesses.  “People don’t need OTA sync capabilities because their companies already have Microsoft Exchange Servers and their phones will sync with them.”  Dumb.  So, my excitement at MyPhone’s ability to sync my contacts, calendar items and tasks over the air quickly turned to frustration at MS for not simply completing the obvious loop and having those same aforementioned tasks, calendar items and contacts sync straight into Windows Live Mail and/or Office Live.  ArrgggHHGGGHhhgh!!!!  It can’t be that hard!  Seriously!  If MyPhone did nothing besides sync my calendar, tasks and contacts to my Live Account it would be a total victory.  It doesn’t.

Ok, so that’s off my chest.  Nothing left to do but leave you with yet another piece of inspiring MS ad space I saw on the MyPhone site:

Who makes this phone?  Where can I get one?  Wait…do all Windows Mobile 6.1 devices have 5.0MP cameras built into them?  I’ll have to hurry out to a Microsoft Store and buy one…oh, wait…never mind.

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Soul-Junk Show

Sunday Sunday Sunday…this Sunday only!  Soul-Junk is playing a show this Sunday at the Casbah, here in San Diego.  If you live in San Diego, come watch the rock.  Should be legendary.

(Don’t worry…Part 2 of my previous post is still coming…it’s almost here…you can almost taste its well-seasoned bytes.)

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Part 1: Stop it, Microsoft. You Are Confusing Me!

It’s a love/hate relationship, me and ol’ Microsoft.  Goodness knows I’ll never leave her, but sometimes she can be so aggravating!  I could never bring myself to jump ship for the pretty, glitzy, expensive, exclusive (pretentious?) alternative of Apple, but MS could certainly learn a thing or two about clear messaging, marketing and cohesive software and hardware products from their thorn-in-the-side competitor.  So, sold as I am on the idea that Microsoft may one day get it’s act together, I will comfort myself in a bit of griping about the way things otta be in the meantime.  This is going to be a two-part post…the first focusing on some key differences, as I see them, between the two companies, and the second focusing on some of the challenges I’ve had while trying to traverse the wide spectrum of awesome products MS puts out.

About Me

First off, I should tell you a little bit about myself.  I see myself as an advanced technology end-user.  I’m not a developer but I can generally navigate myself through the ins and outs of computer-land pretty danged well, if I do say so myself.  As many of you will remember, I felt a strange need to build a small computer and mount it to my motorcycle for a short jaunt up to the Arctic.  Computer guts don’t scare me.


San Diego to Alaska wi th a blog, a camera, and two wheels.

Motocompy 1 Screen with shade FJR1300 rear

A brief description of my techno-stable: I have a dedicated server machine with a virtual server running my DHCP, etc.  I have a gigabit switch, 802.11n router, Skype phone (actually called the iPhone, ironically enough), network hard drive, and six other computers in my house that get decently routine use for different, unique purposes (four of which I built).  I have two Pocket PC’s, a Zune, a digital camera that shoots HD video, a Wii, and and old school Xbox.  I use Microsoft Live Mesh, Writer, Maps and whatever new free product that comes out…from MS, Google, or anyone else that can put out a good free product.    Writing all of this out shouldn’t be taken as boasting, mind you…more of an admission.  I’m fascinated by technology, probably to a point.  I’m pretty sure that all of the above, though meant to simplify life, has actually had the opposite affect…but I can’t help it, my mind is wired this way.  Ok, enough about me…back to the topic…

About Apple

Product Placement

Let’s look at what Apple does right.  Apple sells good, pretty, reliable hardware (albeit at a premium) that just plain works.  They tightly control the software that runs on that hardware which minimizes conflicts and, in turn, keeps thinks working.  Because they make all of their own hardware everything works together exceptionally well.  Files look, sound, open, save and close the same on everything Apple puts out.  And, finally, Apple flat out markets, markets, markets.  Think about it…if you don’t own an iPod, what do you own?  What do you call it?  It’s like people calling soda “Coke”, or facial tissue “Kleenex”.  For all intents and purposes,  iPod = MP3 player and digital media player.  Watch TV or movies?  What kinds of computers and iPods…um, MP3 Players, do you see people using?  It’s always Applealways.  It’s not just a product or brand, it’s a symbol.  Oh, you work in graphics, music, video or any other kind of media field?…you have a Mac, right?  Why?  Because Mac’s are better at media applications.  Wait…really?  Ask Average Joe about this and they will be quick to tell you that Macs are indeed better at media applications and slow at telling you what actu ally makes a Mac better…it just is…everyone knows that.  Mac’s may have been better a while back but no longer.  Are the media applications on a Mac easy to use and “sexy”?  Heck yes!  Intuitive, easy and fun to use.  Bingo!  Apple wins.  I mean, come on…their stores are even pretty! (And I can’t seem to get those catchy iPod commercial songs out of my head!)  All this isn’t to say that Macs are all looks and no brains or brawn…far from it, they are exceptional machines that can crank out a wonderful, creative product.  But could you put out an equally quality product from a Windows or Linux machine for a much smaller investment?  Of course!…and you would have the freedom to use whatever piece of software you wanted in the process.  Ok, before I spend the entire post talking about Apple, let me get back to Microsoft…

About Microsoft

ZuneWhat does Microsoft do well?  They create great products for developers and advanced users.  They create great products for entry level po’ folks that can’t pony up for an Apple, even though they would really like to.  And, here’s a little secret…they make great products (through third-party companies like Sony, Dell, Gateway, etc.) for everyone else in between.  They even make iPods…um, MP3 players.  They’re called Zunes, and in many reviews they’ve been rated higher than iPods…you didn’t know that?  Strange…  Which gets me to something that Microsoft does extremely poorly.  Marketing…actually, let’s just say communication in general.  They’re the applicant that has an incredible resume that you never end up reading because they have ketchup on their tie and haven’t shaved or showered in a few days…(and the next applicant over looks professional, interesting, exciting and new…who cares what they know or can do…they’re hired!).  Had the average consumer heard of 3G before the iPhone?  I’ve had 3G Windows Mobile devices for quite a few years.  (Again, I’m not bragging about this…just showing how poorly Microsoft and AT&T did with communicating their product and how well Apple did with communicating theirs).  Why does MS have such problems making they’re products sexy…alluring…desirable?  And don’t tell me about the Mojave Experiment…sure, it’s clever, but it doesn’t make me want to pop Microsoft headphones in my ears and cruise the New York Metro in my indie-wear.  (Although, as a result of the Mojave Experiment, I now know that I can control my kid’s tv and internet viewing hours…I guess I just need a kid now.)

Alright, so I think this concludes the rant section of my two-part post.  I hope you’ll come back and finish up the rest of it, when it’s posted, as the second part is why I started typing all of this in the first place.  I’m going to get back to noodling around with Windows 7 now…

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Fuelly.com

I’m fascinated by technology and, specifically, mobile technolog y.  Fuelly.com is a cool combination of many of my interests, including mobile tech.  It lets you track your fuel economy by uploading your fueling data, either on the website or on your web-enabled phone.  Here are the two vehicles that I drive.  (Oh, and it let me import all of my historical data, including everything from the motorcycle trip, that I had already been recording using a program on my phone…)

Share and compare MPG at Fuelly

Share and compare MPG at Fuelly]]>

Be a Bit Bigger

Something that’s rattled around in my brain over the last several years is my (our) propensity to cling to things that will make us feel a bit bigger.  This election has yet again brought this concept to the forefront of my thinking.  It’s certainly not something unique to politics, elections, the economy, social issues, etc…it finds its way into sports, TV, movies, music, religion, geography, nationality, vocation…and on and on.  If I tell you that my name is Brian and leave it at that you may think, “Myeh…there’s probably at least 13 or 14 other Brians out there…this one isn’t all that impressive”…or at least my fear is that’s what you’ll think.  It’s a fear we all have, regardless of whether or not you are named Brian.  But if I tell you that my name is Brian and I’m an American, Canadian, Republican, Democrat, Christian, Hindu, Weezer Fan, Days of our Lives watcher, technology freak, musician, veteran, hippy, kung fu master, bi-linguist, professional, social servant…I start to build up clout, in my own eyes and hopefully in yours, too.  I think that’s why we get as fanatical as we do come election time.  “I’m a supporter of _____ candidate.  I will vote yes, no, yes, yes, no on propositions __, __, __, __, __, respectively.”  I’ve suddenly given myself greater worth, importance and value because I’ve tacked some descriptors on to the end of my name.  If my candidate wins, so have I.  Now, I’m not saying that all political beliefs are born out of this thought process…far from it.  All of these areas of belief are important and need to be explored, furthered, voted on, ratified, enacted, followed and believed in…but are they really what I want to define me?  Do I want you to know me as Brian or as a collection of things, beliefs and codes that Brian has signed allegiance to…to support and defend till the bitter end, and even further.  I see the division it causes in my own heart and I don’t like it.  I don’t want to make judgments based upon what you eat or which baseball team you root for.  Is it possible to express our hearts apart from aligning ourselves to movements, beliefs and groups?  I have no general answer to this question, but I do know that I need to think long and hard when it comes to what I put in the blank following “Hi, I’m Brian the _____”.  (Maybe I’ll start with “plumber”….that has a nice ring to it.)

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Back in Black

Gadzooks!  It’s been over a year since my last real post.  I never intended such a sabbatical from the bloggery but a sabbatical was taken nonetheless.  I have had t o be quite strategic with my time and writing these little sweet nothings was quickly placed upon the back burner as I began to learn the intricacies of married life, remodeling a house, remodeling a house while learning the intricacies of married life (two things that should never be mixed), starting a business while working full time, and the oddities of trying to live as close to normally while dealing with poor health.

Diving back into the blog, my intention is to find an outlet for my thoughts.  I have many interests (from technology to woodworking to motorcycling to life in a modern world) and I enjoy cataloging these things as they flit around in my brain.  Interspersed will be thoughts on life in general, and my life in specific.  Ok, so here goes…

Hawaii dive
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