December 2003 Archives

December 15, 2003

Philadelphia: a short visit and a few pictures

I went to Philadelphia last week for an off-site meeting for work. (Philadelphia was chosen to be away from everyone's home base.)

I've never been to Philadelphia, and I haven't given it much regard as a place to visit. For that matter, I have the typical lack of knowledge of someone raised on the opposite coast: I had no idea that Philadelphia was at the junction of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware.

But I was fascinated. Philly is of course the home of Ben Franklin. It was the capital of the US from 1791 until 1800. Not only was the Declaration of Independence written here, and the constitution, but the congress, the Supreme Court, and the president were all based there before they moved to DC. The first public hospital, the first insurance company, first public grammar school, first public library, first botanical gardens .. there's a whole list of firsts. I was impressed. I'd go back again.

At any rate, here are a few picture from Philadelphia. Most of my pictures that would be identifiably from Philly didn't come out, so most of what I've put up are detail shots.

December 13, 2003

Christmas Music in the Hotel

Now that I have a reasonable pair of speakers I can listen to while I'm away from home, it's time to use them.

Last night I listened to number of my Christmas favorites - Carols from the Old and New Worlds, Robert Shaw's Songs of Angels, The Proarte Singers Traditional and Modern Carols, and especially, Anonymous 4's On Yoolis Night. Wonderful.

(See what I was listening to last Christmas eve.)

Speakers for my laptop: the Creature saves me

Over the last few months, I've spent a lot of nights in a extended stay hotel here in Pasadena in service of my job with Earthlink in Pasadena. (The family is still in Atlanta.)

The arrangement has been a mixed bag in the entertainment department. I've been to more movies than usual. I brought books by the hundred-pound. But without our Tivo and HBO, I've missed some of my favorite shows.

I've also been musically impoverished. I do have a laptop with some music on it; I even have a pretty nice pair of Grado headphones. But headphones share the twin disadvantages of tying you to the laptop, and in the case of the Grados, some discomfort.

So I've been looking for a set of speakers that I could plug into the laptop. A few months back when I was in Atlanta, I bought a setup from Logitech that was pretty good. I was going to buy the same speakers again for the laptop, but the particular model I bought seems to have been discontinued.

I looked at various reviews, and I went to the local Best Buy to listen to some of the choices. The night I went, their lineup of demo speakers was out of commission, but I went ahead and picked up the Altec Lansing VS4121, which had been fairly well reviewed. But I was disappointed when I got them back to the hotel. Even sitting right in front of them, the sounded weak and tinny, not even as good as the cheaper Logitechs to me. (A strong caveat: I have a pretty serious high-frequency hearing loss from a childhood infection, so I may not be the best judge.) I took the Altecs back and kept looking.

At CompUSA, I ran across the JBL Creature. The Creature is unusual looking: the subwoofer and the two satellites do indeed remind you a mama critter and two little twin critters. (You've probably seen them with a Mac; the funky design fits in better with the curves of the Mac.) The gotcha was the price - I was hoping to pay no more than $75-100, and CompUSA wanted $130 for the Creature.

Amazon to the rescue. Amazon had the Creature for $83. It arrived this week. The three pods are lovely to listen to and to look at. The sound good when you sit right in front of them, but just as important, they sound decent when I walk around. I'm very happy with them.

December 4, 2003

My kids get into photography.

Seems like everyone in our house has been taking pictures recently. Our 13-year old son Matt went on a trip to North Georgia with his Montessori class, and took some pretty good waterfall pictures. (Unfortunately, he accidentally put the camera into a mode where it took 640x480 pixel shots, instead of the normal 2272 x 1704 shots that my Canon G2 takes. But they still look pretty good on the computer screen ...)

We - and Matt - discovered his photography interest almost by accident. My dad gave Matt and his brother a cheap HP digital camera for Christmas a couple of years ago. Matt took it to New Mexico to visit his grandparents in the Summer of '02. They went around Mesa Verde, and he took some shots, but after the trip was over, the camera went back into Matt's room, and we never downloaded the pictures he took.

We didn't actually get around to looking at pictures until this year. When we did, I was amazed - our then 11-year-old had got some shots that weren't always technically pretty - cheap camera, after all - but showed a pretty darned fine eye for an 11 year old, or really for most 21-90 year-olds. His best pictures were of Mesa Verde. We especially liked one shot through a doorway of stone steps. We asked what made he decide to take that picture, and he said that he noticed that I always tried to take shots from odd places and angles, so he though that shot looked like something I might try. I guess some things do rub off, even if you don't try.

So now Matt's trying to save for his own camera. He did some research, and decided the Canon A70 was probably the best bet. (If I was choosing for him, I'd be taking with the A80 - 4 megapixels vs 3, and it has the swing out screen like the G2. But it's more like $400 vs $300 for the A70. Either amount is a pretty big stretch for a young teen.)

In the mean time, he's been making good use of my G2. He did some photos for My Atlanta, an event promoting photography in Atlanta held back in October. Three of his photos won prizes! (Here's one of Matt's prize winners; unfortunately, they awarded the other two after we left, and so we don't know which other two pictures they liked.

And if want to see what else Matt has been up to, check out the rest of Matt's pictures.

And our 10-year-old daughter Katie has been at it, too. Katie's pictures are interesting because she's been watching both Matt and me, and so her choice of subjects is somewhat derivative of what we're taking. But that's arguably the best way to learn - try to reproduce what you like that others do, and then push it in your own direction.