Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Thanksgiving in Photos

Thanksgiving was at my folks' house in Clearwater, Florida this year. It was exhausting, but good. It almost seems like we're getting comfortable spending time as a family, something I wouldn't have guessed possible just a couple of years ago. Except for the pre-race photo, all of these pictures are from my new camera (and the pre-race photo is from Kathy's new camera). Generally i was quite pleased with the pictures I got, chalking up the ones that didn't come out right to user error.

Kathy reading to nieces Leynie and Lauren and nephew Hunter as my sister Shari looks on

Luke, Emelia's younger (by three months) cousin




Most of us before the Thanksgiving Morning 5K (we walked)

My brother Josh with Emelia

My brother-in-law John with Leynie (his daughter)

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007


Looks like Amazon is taking a stab at selling a new and improved e-book, called Kindle. It looks very cool -- the two big selling points are its size (about the size and weight of a paperback) and its readability (no backlighting, very easy on the eyes). The fact that you can get your reading materials (not just books, but magazines and books as well) wirelessly via free data connections is really cool as well.

That being said, at $400 I think it’s at way too high a price point, especially since that only gets you the reader (for that price they could at least throw in a couple of free downloads!). For $400 it's possible to get a laptop that can do all the things that Kindle can do, and then some. In essence, you're trading the versatility of a laptop for the size and readability of the Kindle. Apple showed with the iPod that it's possible to charge a premium for size, but the iPod offers features that are comparable, not inferior, to the competition.

There's also the risk that the market for these devices doesn't develop, so you've put a good chunk of money down for an item that won't be supported in the future (this wasn't such a risk in the early days of portable mp3 players, since mp3s were already being made and used en masse by the time portable players showed up). Then you have to pay for the content. At $10/book, the price is about the same as for a paperback, except you can't share it or sell it. There are also monthly subscriptions available, e.g., $0.99 for blogsites, and more for magazine and newspaper subscriptions, though the content for almost all of these subscriptions is already available for free online (I believe it actually costs more for the Kindle version of the Washington Post than the paper version does, without the coupons!).

The fact that Amazon is also using a proprietary file system is also troubling. Apparently it's possible to convert pdf files (the format previous e-books have used, and the standard for home computing) to a version that can be read with the Kindle, but why should you have to?

So I guess I'm pretty skeptical that sales of Kindle will be able to catch fire. I do, however, think that they could make it work in one of two ways.

The first way would be to, in addition to lowering the price of the unit, ditch the per item approach and follow the music subscription approach -- have a $14.99/month (or something like that) subscription to unlimited content that's tied to the particular device, and whose access is contingent on maintaining one’s subscription. I admit that I have no idea how such an approach can work as far as splitting the subscription fee among all the authors and publishers whose works would be used, but I'm looking at it from the consumer side, and this seems like a service that could have some appeal.

Another way that it could succeed is if they're able to make all textbooks available (something that doesn't appear to be the case right now). Given how much a semester's worth of books weigh (and cost), college students would be delighted to have access to a light (and hopefully more affordable) way to have all their books. And once college students have the device, they could conclude that purchasing additional reading material wouldn't be such a big deal, particularly if they grow to appreciate the format.

It should be interesting to see if the Kindle takes off. I think it can, but not unless Amazon makes some significant changes.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

MLS Cup 2007 was at RFK, so I went to Brooklyn

My sport is soccer, and I have a third row midfield season ticket to DC United. United had the best record during the regular season, but got eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. I had already purchased a ticket in my usual seat for this year's MLS Cup, which was being held here, but I didn't go.

My cousin Jeff has been a stage manager for various off-Broadway theater productions, and while someone might mistake that fact for his occupation (it isn't -- he's a high school English teacher in Brooklyn, a challenging task to say the least), it's much more accurate to say that role perfectly describes him. He's the guy behind the scenes who gets things done. That wasn't why I asked him to be my best man (technically he was also the maid-of-honor), but when I got sick the Friday before my Sunday wedding, that talent came to the fore when he and Kathy took care of the last-minute details. As it also did when little things needed taking care of at the wedding.

It's been a tough couple of months for Jeff. His father (my Dad's brother, Paul) died in September after a four-year battle with cancer. And for the last few months of his father's life and also during the aftermath, Jeff was shuttling down to Brevard, North Carolina, missing work to be there, helping his stepmom and being there for his sister. Both my Dad and I encouraged him to grieve for himself rather than continue his role as stage manager even then, but for Jeff that was easier said than done. There was a memorial service in Brevard at the end of October, to which Kathy, Emelia, and I went. As Kathy put it so succinctly, he's always been there for us, we should be there for him. During the ceremony, Jeff broke down when he was supposed to recite something, but later recovered in order to give an incredibly moving, eloquent, funny, and wholly spontaneous reflection on his father.

A couple of weeks after the memorial, Jeff's mom (my Aunt Faith) fell, shattering her left ankle, tearing all the ligaments and breaking her leg. As her only child, Jeff immediately dropped everything to be with her in New Jersey (Uncle Paul and Aunt Faith divorced when Jeff was a child), once again missing school, even though he had already fallen quite behind. After Aunt Faith's surgery, Jeff sent out an update to his friends, which said, among other things,
Beyond that my freaking birthday is next saturday and I could really really use time to see a bunch of people. I was just adjusting to my dad's death and trying to get myself back together this past weekend when i got the call about my mom.
It may not sound significant, but those two sentences were remarkable in that Jeff asked for help, rather than giving it. I gave my MLS ticket to a friend in the hope that he could sell it, and e-mailed Jeff's old roommate and best friend, Tony. I set it up with Tony to stay with him and his wife, and didn't tell Jeff I was coming. Tony suggested Jeff come over early to go out for dinner before heading to the bar where everyone was to meet up. Jeff's double take expression when he saw me was priceless, and the entire evening, from dinner on, was great. Tony observed that it was the most relaxed he had seen Jeff in about a year.

As for me, it was great to know that I was able to give something to him, and I didn't miss the game at all.

Jeff with Emelia in North Carolina

Friday, November 16, 2007

An Obsession Renewed

In the original Star Trek, the character Spock is a Vulcan, a species that prides itself on logic and rationality. Still, a Vulcan's logic and rationality must bend to erratic behavior every seven years, as part of a mating season. I'm pretty rational and fairly logical, but it goes without saying that I'm not a Vulcan. First, I can't wait seven years between matings. Second, my rationality apparently goes out the window much more often, at least every 2.5 - 3 years. But rather than being tied to mating, my temporary leave of my senses takes place because I go camera crazy.

I've been happy with my camera -- it's given me lots of great shots, and it shows no sign of falling apart. But it's got a weakness, and that weakness is the action shot. The action shot wasn't so important to me the last time I bought a camera because at that time I didn't have in my life a certain little girl who has trouble staying still. No matter that it has image stabilization, even that can only do so much -- virtually any point & shoot digital camera is going to have the same difficulties, given the little lag between clicking and the camera taking the shot. The alternative to a point & shoot is taking the plunge and buy a dSLR. Making the decision to buy one was easy -- picking which one was much harder.

While I like the idea of getting a camera that I can grow with, an opportunity that a dSLR affords, I knew I wouldn't be looking to become a serious photographer, and I don't have an interest in buying several different lenses. So it seemed that a "low-end" dSLR would be fine. The nominees were the Canon Rebels (XT and XTi), the Nikon D40x, the Pentax K100D, and the Olympus E-510. All of these are highly regarded, so in many ways I couldn't go wrong. Unfortunately, because all of these are highly regarded, I had a lot of trouble picking among them. The choice boiled down to picking between a less-popular brand with good quality, a ton of features, and a great price (either the Pentax or the Olympus), the popular camera (the Canons), or the ugly stepchild of the photographer's brand (the Nikon D40x).

Blah blah blah -- no one but a techno/camera geek would want to hear about how I chose among these options, so I'll skip that part of the tale and tell you that I went with the Olympus E-510. The price was great, and the camera has image stabilization inside the camera, mucho megapixels (10.1), a dust reduction system, and a mediocre live view (this isn't bad -- the other dSLRs don't have live view at all). Plus, the kit I went with comes with two well-regarded lightweight lenses that give me a huge range (28-300mm equivalent). I just got the shipping notice that it's expected to arrive on Tuesday, so if all goes according to plan I'll have it when I head down to Florida the next day for Thanksgiving. Hopefully my family will understand if I'm somewhat preoccupied with playing with my new toy instead of hanging with them (don't worry Mom and Dad, I'm kidding (mostly)).

For what it's worth, over the Thanksgiving holiday I won't be the only one with a new toy. Whether the decision was made as a salve to the guilt I'm feeling from my big purchase, or simply because she's been looking into getting a tiny camera with image stabilization, Kathy's new toy is scheduled to arrive on Monday -- it's a PowerShot SD850 IS, a seriously updated version of the camera she's had for nearly three years. At around $250, it's ridiculously inexpensive compared to what that price got you three years ago.

One of Emelia's favorite words is "cheese" -- I have a feeling that we're going to be asking her to say it more often than she already does, even though she might get disappointed when after she says it, her parents don't give her one of her favorite foods.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

About That Birthday...

Emelia turned 1 on Wednesday (damn did that year go by quick!), and while I feel quite behind in posting about other things that I've done or thought about, or that have happened in the past few weeks, I figured the birthday photos needed to be posted regardless. We didn't have a party by any stretch -- the people with whom we share the nanny, as well as Tom, came over to sing happy birthday, and to eat the chocolate-frosted muffins Kathy made, but that was it. We hadn't initially planned on doing anything, but what kind of first birthday would it be without chocolate frosting (which Emelia thoroughly enjoyed)?

Many thanks to Tom for taking these great photos!