Thursday, January 21, 2010

Wireless Headphones

My wireless (Bluetooth) headphones just came in today. They are Sony's DR-BT160AS model and they worked with my iPhone out of the box, almost. Along with having to pair these with the iPhone (not a big deal), I had to learn a couple more acronyms: A2DP (Advanced Audio Distribution Profile) and AVRCP (Audio Video Remote Control Profile), both profiles of the Bluetooth networking standard, as far as I understand it, along with the HFP (Hands Free Profile). What these mean: HFP means you can use the headphones in "headset" mode, for talking on the phone. HFP, as I found out by pairing with my workstation, is lower quality audio (monoaural) than when using the headphones in "headphones" mode. Presumably, then, A2DP basically means transmission of a higher quality stereo signal via bluetooth. So what's AVRCP? This would allow the headphones to control playback of the iPhone's iPod with the next/previous buttons beyond just the volume up/down and play/stop. Which just means that while I can play/stop music and adjust volume, I can't skip tracks. Why only this limited AVRCP support I don't know, but as it often happens, hopefully Apple will add this in in the next software for me, the next evolution of skiing with music is here: no more wires, woo hoo! Can't wait to try this sounds good but it also means that I have to haul around yet another charger!

January Forest Walk

This past weekend was unseasonably warm, reaching 70 F at one point. Almost like spring making an early appearance. It was short-lived unfortunately as it's dropping back down to the 40s today, accompanied by rain. While somewhat unpleasant, we need the rain to fill up the lake. As you see in the pics, right now the water is down again. Although this prevents canoeing, it does allow excursions over the beaver dam to the spit of land between what we call the boat and the tree channels. The tree channel, what Harley is looking at in the pic at right, is much deeper than the the boat channel, which is at present pretty much dry. It's amazing to think that we were able to take our power boat down this channel one year (and one year only). To get to the spit of land, we first cross a small creek into which someone has dumped logs that Harley used to cross in the first pic. In the middle you can just make out Sidney climbing a tree located in the spit of land. I think they sometimes use these trees to get an overview of the land below as this is the "land of the tall grasses", wherein they're forced to hop over taller sections or weave through tunnels presumably made by the beaver. At bottom you can see both cats making their way back towards the beaver dam. Sidney is behind Harley somewhere; she's usually more difficult to spot as she blends in better with her surroundings.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

New Garage Door Motor

Time to do some handyman stuff today. Our old garage door motor (still hanging from the ceiling in the pic) crapped out this weekend (a holiday weekend—I suppose that's good as it gave me an extra day to do this, although I really didn't want to as I had just replaced the printed circuit boards a couple of years ago to be able to use our vehicles' built-in HomeLink garage door buttons). If your vehicle is equipped with HomeLink then you likely have garage door buttons built in to your rear-view mirror (like in our car) or overhead console (like in our truck). So when buying a new one (lying in the box on the floor) I made sure it supported HomeLink.

The new motor with its rail and direct drive assembled on the floor. Our old one was a chain-drive unit. At the store they had three types of units: chain drive (cheapest), direct (screw) drive (middle-of-the-road), and belt drive (top-of-the-line). I'm not sure why belt drive was the most expensive. I'm pretty sure that belt drive is better than chain drive, but I also thought that direct drive topped them all. At least that's how I think it is with motorbikes (my first bike was a chain drive, my Harley has belt). The main reason for my thinking of direct drive's superiority is that it does not need tensioning—both chains and belts will need to be tensioned somehow. The screw, on the other hand, just turns in place while the little carriage attached to the door gets pushed/pulled as the screw turns. What was interesting about this setup was how it got connected—via this coupling and sleeve. Not very hard to assemble at all.

Ok, here are two shots, one from when I thought I had hung the new motor correctly, and the next from its final position. See the difference? I botched my first attempt because I followed the instructions to the letter—install the motor and rail lined up with the door center. Wrong...the door center lacks bracket supports to which the door J-arm needs to connect to. Just off-center, however, there is a metal bracket that even has pre-drilled holes for various garage door motor manufacturers. Sure enough, when I looked more closely there were holes pre-drilled for Genie brackets. The center of the door is quite flimsy and after I had first screwed in the bracket I was really afraid that I could rip out the screws by hand. So I was quite relieved to find the metal support, even though it was off-center. And that's how it was set up initially, so it made sense. But, that meant that I had to reposition the whole damn thing a second time. Oh well, once I had that metal cross-member hung from the ceiling at the right distance, repositioning the head unit a couple of inches wasn't a big deal. So at right you see the final installation. Now of course, the HomeLink still doesn't work! So I'm back to square one—how to reprogram the vehicles so they can actually use the stupid garage door opener? I'll try tomorrow...

UPDATE: The next day I google'd for the solution and found it (how did we live without google before? Or the internet for that matter—a large number of manufacturers' manuals can be found online these days). The trick is to press buttons 2 and 3 simultaneously and hold for a few seconds. The lights flash and what I think happens is that the HomeLink unit either resets itself or gets put into learn mode. I guess it doesn't reset itself because button 1 still worked and all I wanted to do was program button 2. After pressing 2 and 3 simultaneously, press and hold 2. Wait for that to blink. Then go up to the motor head unit and press its button. Then press (and hold? I don't remember now!) button 2 in the vehicle. The slow blink turns to a rapid blink, I guess to let you know that it's detected the motor head's signal. Of course the best part is when button 2 is pressed again and the damn door actually starts moving! Anyway, both doors are working once again and hopefully this post will remind me how to install the replacement motor unit for when the other old chain-drive unit conks out.

Monday, January 11, 2010


I took some pics on the way back to Leidseplein last night. At left is the Grasshopper where I had dinner a couple of nights ago—the rather dismal T-bone. The place is a large three-story building with the restaurant on the top floor and bars on the two floors below. I wouldn't really recommend this place. I should have stuck to pub grub.

Beyond the Grasshopper is a maze of little streets with numerous bars and Amsterdam's famous coffee shops, like the one you see here. I had tea there the other day. Looking on the map, I think this maze of streets extends out quite a bit. Behind it (east of it maybe) is the red-light district. While I was waiting for my brother to show up at the train station (his train either to or from Frankfurt was delayed, I don't recall which now, in any case I think his return trip was much better: the combination of ICE (Inter-City Express) to Frankfurt followed by the TGV to Saarbrucken), I walked around this maze of streets and almost got lost. Good to have a GPS handy. In my case I used OffMaps on my iPhone which doesn't cost me anything to use so long as I remember to pre-load the right map tiles at the right resolution.

Leidseplein is a small area with bars and restaurants that's slightly farther away from the main downtown area that is close to the central rail station. Both the Paradiso and Bourbon Street are in this area. The pic shows the Irish pub where I had the salmon. Behind me is where the Bourbon Street is located.

Last night a three-piece band played at Bourbon Street. They were pretty good, with excellent drumming on a couple of Santana numbers. Kind of reminded me of Sparkling Apple that we used to see in Delta, back in the day. I had a couple of pints here and then decided to pack it in around midnight. The bar I think was open till about 4, so I thought that all the trams would also be running as late. Oops! Turns out I missed the last tram by about 20 minutes and had to hike it back to the hotel on foot. Only about a 20-30 minute walk, so it wasn't too bad. Just before I left I noticed this rather funny piece of artwork on the bar wall that I don't remember seeing the night before. It's the Rolling Stones Geriatric Tour poster :)

Sunday, January 10, 2010


Saturday morning I hopped on an SAS flight to Amsterdam. I booked myself a room at a fairly inexpensive hotel (Hotel Bellevue) that is right across the street from the central train station (the blue dot in the GPS map shows approximately where I am—I got upgraded to a double room that is quite nice). Last time I was in Amsterdam we only had a couple of hours to walk around—only enough time for a pint, and then it was back on the train to Schiphol. So this time I decided I wanted a slightly longer layover so that I could explore more of the city and also finally get to gaze at the paintings of the Dutch masters. Saturday night my brother came in on the train and we went to a place called the Paradiso, where we took in a pretty good blues show (the Paradiso is supposed to be one of the best places around here for live music—kind of like Greenville's Handlebar or Vancouver's Orpheum I think it was called, or was it the Roxy, I don't recall now, but it's the place with the bouncy wooden floor where I saw Jeff Healey—it was the Commodore Ballroom, thanks M!). Afterward we went to Bourbon Street, another live blues place, where I intend to return to tonight (it's just a tram ride away, so getting to and back is quite convenient). Tonight, as in Copenhagen, I had dinner at a pub and ordered salmon (both times). And both times the salmon was excellent. Some kind of gastro pub thing going on. Meanwhile last night's T-bone steak here was rather dismal (my brother's right on this point: don't order steak in Europe :) (I'm looking forward to Austin, TX in a couple of months, I wonder if McClusky's is still there.) I have a couple of hours to go before they open up Bourbon Street so I think I'll walk around and take some pictures of the area around here, the party zone...

Today I went to the Rijksmuseum where the Dutch masters' works are shown, in particular Rembrandt and Vermeer's famous paintings (e.g., The Nightwatch and the Kitchen Maid; the former is huge, reminding me of Matejko's Battle of Grunwald). Their painting style (along with the Vedutismo, e.g., Canaletto) is my favorite. Rubens is also quite good (and the collection in Munich is worth seeing). Unfortunately, they don't let you take pictures in the museums I visited, with the second being the Van Gogh. I honestly don't see why Van Gogh was exulted to such high status—personally I think his paintings are rubbish. He lathered on the paint so that some of it was so crusty, it looked like some kid had squeezed out colored toothpaste onto canvas. One or two of his paintings were ok, and they certainly were more "vibrant" than the realists' (e.g., looking at them the paintings had a type of moving quality to them, akin to a scintillating grid type of illusion). The museum background on the artist stated that Van Gogh resisted and refused formal training. Not that I'm an expert, but having now walked through several art galleries, I would have to say that in general the lack of training is quite evident in Van Gogh's work. He didn't seem to have a good grasp of lighting, nor were any of his portraits really convincing. In my view my guess as to why he was so "troubled" in life is because he was a failure—as far as I could tell from the paintings' descriptions hardly any really sold well, until perhaps after he shot himself in the chest and died two days later. Maybe that was the only way he could get the paintings to sell? :) The best portrait of Van Gogh that I saw there was not a self-portrait but rather by one of his friends. The best part of the Van Gogh museum (for me) was the Alfred Stevens exhibition. I've never heard of Alfred Stevens before, but his paintings are superb, mainly of well-to-do femmes fragiles in luxurious outfits. And the way he painted those outfits, the various types of cloth and materials was truly remarkable. Check out the two pics below from the museum's website—notice how he painted the cloth folds for example. The only disappointment was the incomplete panorama of "The History of the Century", with portraits of French artists and authors, painted by Stevens with Henri Gervex. There were only two sections of it on display whereas I think originally it was a 360 degree painting that was done for some world exhibition. I don't recall all the facts about it now, only that I wished the whole thing would have survived for us to see.

ITU Copenhagen

On Friday I visited the IT University in Copenhagen and acted as one of three opponents to a PhD candidate. He gave an hour long talk and then I and the other two opponents posed questions for about another two hours. After the defense, we deliberated in that little hanging room to the right of the pic. Afterward we went out for dinner followed by a couple of drinks.

The day before I walked around Copenhagen and visited the National Museum of Fine Art and the National Museum of Denmark. The art museum was quite good, with a large collection of realist paintings, my preferred type of art. The national museum was also excellent with Denmark's history dating back to the stone age! There were oak coffins with skeletons that still had holes in skulls from trepanning operations, a large number of flint ax heads, then going up through bronze, iron, all the way up to 2000. Great stuff. Of course I felt obliged to go find the little mermaid as well—kind of a Copenhagen must-see, I think.

When I wasn't walking I got around town via the metro. Coincidentally enough, it's very similar to Vancouver's SkyTrain, on which I was just on a week or two before Copenhagen. Copenhagen's metro is similar in size with just two lines, and it too pops up from underground like at this station at the ITU. My hotel in Copenhagen was close to one of the central downtown stations and the morning when I left I also took the metro to the airport. Most convenient, especially since it runs 24 hrs a day, which I think Vancouver's SkyTrain should do as well.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010


Højbro Plads. Looking at The Dubliner, an Irish pub (what else? :)

Monday, January 4, 2010

New Shoes

New set of Contis...not cheap :P I should make a note of the exact model so that I can order them myself next time. They are: Continental ContiProContact SSR 225/45 R17, same tire all the way around.