General reviews

Quick review: Flip Video Ultra

I went to costco today to pick up some snacks for the office.  While there, I saw that they had a much wider variety of items than usual.  A LowePro camera bag for a great price, some new cameras, etc.  And…a Flip Video Ultra unit.  I’ve been wanting one of these for a year at least, and it’s something we legitimately want to try out at work so I got it.  Sure, I’ll use it a bit for my own stuff to “test it” but it is for work, and I have good reasons to try it out.  So I grabbed it.

Now…a few months later, while at Educause, I am seeing how I could have used it had I thought for about it for a second and brought it along.  A small but not-too-small form factor, very good video quality, and the easiest darn controls out there.  It’s a really impressive unit.

The only thing I wish I could do is hack is for 2 hours of recording.  Go back to the lower quality compression used in the original Flip that gave 1 hour in half the capacity.  Then, we could roll these out as set-it-up-yourself video recording for classes.  Think about that – short of a major infrastructure installation for recording, we just hand one of these to a professor and voila.  Our classes are all more than 60 minutes so we’d need that hack.

Great product.  Wish it had that one feature, though..

Alaska Excursions: The Misty Fjords of Ketchikan


Originally uploaded by kaiyen

Perhaps more so than on a cruise to, say, the Caribbean or around Europe, an Alaskan cruise really requires booking a few excursions. Most of the ports of call are tiny cities – Ketchikan does not even have roads leading to it – so getting away from the city to see the surrounding areas is a good idea. In comparison, walking around a city in Europe or lying on the beach in the Caribbean does not require special bookings.

The first excursion that I did on my trip to Alaska was in our first port of call – Ketchikan. As alluded to above, one cannot get to this city by road. Plane or boat only. That tells you that it’s pretty remote, though it’s also a big, big fishing city. So interesting place.

We decided to go on an excursion that took us by floatplane to a ‘dock’ then on a boat through the ‘Misty Fjords.’ Photos can be found throughout our Alaska flickr set , and this one and this one are among my favorites so far (we took a lot of photos’).

This is a short review, but click on ‘more’ to read the rest.


Review: Calero County Park, Los Cerritos Trail, McKean Rd entrance

This afternoon I decided to try a new park and went to Calero County Park, in San Jose.  It’s about 30 minutes south of my home in Santa Clara to the entrance just a bit past the intersection of McKean and Bailey Roads.  Unlike most of the parks in the area, Calero is equestrian and hiking only – no bikes – which means it’s pretty quiet, and you don’t run into a lot of people whizzing by.  It’s also probably why it’s simply not as crowded, even on a nice Sunday.  Since the quiet is a big part of why I like to go hiking, I thought this might be a good start.


Lucas Hall (Santa Clara U. School of Business), Quick Review

Just some random observations while walking the halls here before class…

  • Seriously, why are there no doors on the group study rooms?
  • Apparently groups are all too big to meet in these rooms.  They’re only about 5-7 people but they’re all forced to stand.  The rooms and tables are just too small.
  • No one uses the RoomWizard system.  Even just to list it as blocked off for the time.
  • I really want to walk into a room in use and say “oh, it says ‘available’ outside…”
  • They really need to put up real signs and get rid of these paper ones…

Review: TomTom One GPS Navigation system

So I’ve had the TomTom One GPS unit (link is for the latest version – mine is the original one) for a while now. I bought it technically for getting around to and from weddings. I was worried when I first got it because it used the European mapping information, rather than the US-based one that, for instance, Google utilizes.

Now, we all know that GPS units are getting more and more common as built-in systems in cars. However, if you look at costs, it makes a lot of sense to get a system separately. You can get a great system for $250-$500, depending on the features you want. Or you can spend $2000 on an integrated system for your car. I know that a system built into the audio system, etc is nice, but I also like setting everything up in my home before leaving, even for a multi-point trip, then having it ready. Something to think about.

There are a lot of things I like about the TomTom One, many of which have been taken out of the 3rd edition which really bothers me. Overall, if you’re looking for a solid, easy to use, easy to configure GPS unit that is very affordable (~$200), the One is a good deal. I am getting a more expensive (~$450) Garmin soon and will compare the two eventually. See more for the details.


Followup: Almaden-Quicksilver Park hiking (Mockingbird Trailhead)

One thing I forgot to mention in my earlier post on one of the Almaden-Quicksilver hiking trails is that you come upon some interesting old mining facilities along the way.  In particular, there remains the foundation of what was one of the deepest water pumping stations that helped keep the mines usable in the area.  Not much left, but kind of interesting nonetheless.
old silver mine foundation

Review: Royal Caribbean Cruise to Alaska, August-September 2008

Just this past week (August 29-September 5), my wife and I went on a 7 night cruise to Alaska on Royal Caribbean.  The cruise left from Vancouver and headed north, and we were aboard the Radiance of the Seas.  The ever-growing flickr set has the photos that my wife and I took during our trip.  Our itinerary was:

It’s kind of hard to break this review up into usable chunks but I’ll do my best.  I’ll likely followup with some separate articles about specific topics, too.


Review: Epson RX680 Multifunction

So about a month ago I bought an Epson RX680 multifunction.  Epson can’t quite decide where it wants its multifunction printers to go. One model has an auto-feeder, which seems really nice, but no CD/DVD printing. I needed the latter, but didn’t really need the ‘photo’ multifunction printer, but so be it, and I got the 680. It was a good deal at the time.

Let me tell you – avoid this machine. It just flat out stinks. Let me list the ways:

  • Slow start up time. I have a Canon MP830 at work which is, admittedly, about 2x the price (slightly more, actually), with a feeder, and gets going in about 2 seconds. The 680 takes a solid 7-8 seconds before it starts to feed. Printing itself is fine and fast, but start up time is slow.
  • There are two paper trays, but you can’t switch between then in mid-stream. So if you run out of paper in the back, you have to put more paper in back to keep printing. I guess the idea is that you have one type of stock in the bottom tray and another in the rear tray but it’s nice on the Canon that I can just hit a button, switch trays, and keep printing. I keep both stocked as often as I can.
  • CD/DVD printing is way off. I have to adjust by several mm in both directions to get the print centered. It worked flawlessly with Nero Cover Designer on my 4 year old Epson Photo 960.
  • Settings get stuck. I print once to CD/DVD, and it tries to print to it everytime. So I have to go in and reset all settings (even on/off doesn’t work) to get it back to regular printing. In general, this would not seem a problem, except that if you make a copy while it says CD/DVD you get it stuck in just the upper corner (where’the blank CD/DVD would be).

The printer looks cool, but it’s junk for any kind of office-like environment. And I do believe that Epson is pitching it that way, even though Epson is mostly a photo printer company. My mistake.

Hiking: Almaden-Quicksilver Park, New Almaden Trail, Mockingbird Hill Entrance

Well, this took a bit longer than expected. My first “major” hike through Almaden-Quicksilver Park in San Jose (location of trailhead) was via the Mockingbird Hill Entrance, from which I took the New Almaden Trail. The park map is very useful and detailed.

My actual path was to head southeast along the New Almaden trail, then south onto the Buena Vista trail, bearing left onto one of the branches that eventually led to the Randol Trail, then the Hacienda Trail back to the trail head. Total of about 4 miles. Most of my hikes are about this long, at least partly because I stop so often to take photos that I take a long time to cover those 4 miles. Trunk Stripped Bare.

This is a nice hike. There is alternating shaded and brightly lit areas (for example), which makes for a nice combination of hot and cool, which means you can go most anytime of day. The trails are not very steep. I chose the New Almaden trail specifically because it’s a hiking-only trail – mixed use trails, in my opinion, tend to be a bit too soft, even on inclines and declines, making it harder on the legs than if there were at least some rocks upon which to really get some traction. Actually, on the way back, along the Hacienda trail, which is mixed-use, I had a hard time dealing with what felt almost like loose sand as the path material. Next time, I’ll go the other way on the trail, heading over to the Norton trail instead. It’ll be about the same distance.

The only weird part is the Buena Vista trail. It?s narrow, very rocky, and sufficiently undeveloped (and therefore unhiked) that it felt like I had taken a wrong turn. I actually went back to make sure. The tree limbs were literally coming right over my head and wrapping around the trail. Very strange. By comparison, going through the “Capehorn Pass” off of the Randol trail didn’t seem like much of a pass. Buena Vista felt like it was creating a whole new path.

I intend to take this trail combination again, except going to the Norton trail at the end. I liked it much, and it was nice not going to the main Hacienda entrance that is most popular for this park. The photo ops abound all along the way, even in the harsh, dry middle-of-the-summer time of year . So keep some film or memory space left up until the end.