My MacBook Air

I bought a 13″ MacBook Air just a little over 2 years.  Coincidentally, my MacBook is called the the mid-2012 model – quite appropriate!  At the time I was traveling back and forth every month between Paris & San Diego.  That’s quite a commute don’t you think?  I also made the occasional trip to Saigon, Vietnam.  I really didn’t have a notebook before that and was really either using my iPhone or iPad.  I had owned a Dell XPS m1330 at one point and thought that was small & light.  But looking back now, that was a bulky thing and other Windows notebooks were even worse.

In any case, with all the traveling I was doing, I decided it was time to get a new notebook.  After looking around and deciding that weight was of paramount importance, it was down to either a MacBook Air or an ultra book as they were known at the time.  The MacBook Pro was out of the question; that extra pound was too much.  I read a lot and finally settled on the MacBook Air as I already had a foot in the ecosystem with my iPhone and iPad.  But which Air?  The diminutive 11″ or the 13″ inch?  (Remember, weight & portability was my main concern).  I realize that the kind of work I wanted to do on my computer would require a lot of screen real estate.  I do the occasional development but a lot of photography work.  So the 13″ was it.

A lot of people poo poo’d the MacBook Air for photography work and I had my concerns.  But after using it for quite some time now with both Adobe PhotoShop and LightRoom, I can say it handles both without any issues.  I also worried about the amount of RAM and if I should have opted for the 8GB upgrade.  I can say without a doubt that for my needs 4GB was plenty.  Of course it would be nice to have the extra RAM but I really didn’t miss it.  As for processor speed, the mobile Intel i5 is plenty fast enough.  I only notice the performance lag when I transcode videos which I don’t do enough of on the MacBook Air to make a difference.  But for photo editing and even light games like Starcraft 2 or World of Warcraft (all on light graphics settings) it was fine.

So now after 2 years, I can say that this really is the perfect notebook.  Even now the design is fresh and it still competes with the newest notebooks on weight & portability.  Some things have improved, noticeably the longer battery usage in the newest MacBook Air and the marginal bump in processor speed but this MacBook Air is remarkably up to date even now.  I wouldn’t be surprise if I get another 2-3 years out of this.  Who would have thought that you can get 5 years out of a computer, let alone a notebook?  I strongly believe that the SSD makes a huge difference in that regard.  The computer seems to run really quick with it.  With boot ups and shutdowns taking almost no time, it’s just a joy.  My MacBook has travelled the world yet looks brand new.  If anyone’s in the market, I can’t recommend it enough.  You’re going to be happy and the switching I do between my Mac and Windows machine is a non-issue.

My Panasonic LX5

I bought my Panasonic LX5 in September of 2010.  It’s been nearly 4 years and I’ve taken over 2,100 photos with it.  That camera has been with me everywhere, across the country and across the world.  Although it has a small 1/1.63″ sensor (8.07 x 5.56 mm) compared to my m4/3 cameras or my big full frame Canon, it takes very nice photos.  The best thing about it is how small it is.  I can put this camera in my jacket pocket if required.  It’s perfect in a briefcase or small backpack.  When you want to be discrete, it’s the one.

The styling is classic as well and has received many compliments.  Battery life is phenomenal, even after 4 years.  It takes excellent videos as well.  Besides my phone, it’s pretty much the camera I always have with me.  Although my iPhone 4S does a very admirable job, it doesn’t come close to the quality of the LX5, especially in low light situations.  You can just tell immediately that there’s huge quality difference.  It’s hard to miss.

Panasonic has released an update to this camera in 2012, the Panasonic LX7.  Reports are that it’s just quite as good as the LX5 and better in some respects such as camera operation.  It has a slightly inferior sensor but a slightly better lens so it balances out for most users.  If you’re buying now, no reason not to get the latest unless you can get a steal on a gently used LX5.  I really enjoy my LX5 and would recommend it heartily.  Here’s one I took the other day of a gorgeous pink sunset:

Gorgeous pink sunset from downtown La Mesa, CA

Web Search Algorithms

Google is the undisputed king of search. Microsoft’s Bing is a distant second. At the end of 2013, Google handled 67.5% of web searches. Bing was at 18.2% and growing very slowly. I remember when Google first came out as a no-frills search engine only. No apps, no AdWords, etc. Who knew they would be where they are today? Bing is Microsoft’s later entry into the arena and by all accounts has done remarkably well. How it’ll compete with Google going forward will be an interesting development to watch.

However, I have a lot of questions on how the actual algorithms behind these popular search engines work. They are opaque on purpose as the results give them their specific competitive advantage. Everyone knows about how Google’s PageRank came about as a research project from Page and Brin when they were at Stanford. This in combination with other algorithms comprise the bulk of Google’s magic. How Bing works I don’t really know and need to do some research before commenting further.

What strikes me as interesting though are the results from these algorithms. Take my blog for example. It uses the most popular top level domain (TLD) – .com. And it’s also one word: a popular male name in Vietnamese. You’d think that this would have boosted its ranking in search results right? For years this was true at Google. If you searched for just “Phuoc”, my site came up first. Now you get the Wikipedia entry for the name as the first result. Ok – that makes sense. But what’s interesting is that phuoc.com is no where in the first 10 pages of Google’s search result! Something has clearly changed. Over at Bing, the results make more sense. Searching for “Phuoc” on Bing will return phuoc.com as the 3rd result, with the Wikipedia entry being first again. This would be as if there was a site named “sex.com” and when you searched for “sex” on Google, you won’t see that site at all! You’d think that whatever the algorithm is, that it’s assumed that a site with a TLD of .com with the term you’re searching for would show up at least on the first page! Maybe that’s not always an accurate assumption but I’m willing to bet that a vast majority of the time this is in fact the case.

The only other thing I can think of is that when I swapped my blog over to WordPress I had less control of the meta data for my site. Now it’s essentially just the title of the blog and that may have something to do with how Google finds it. I’ve changed that a bit on my end and we’ll see if that makes a difference. Stay tuned!

BO-Beau Kitchen + Garden

My wife and I went to BO-Beau Kitchen + Garden last Friday for dinner. We wanted to try something new and something more local to us. It being in downtown La Mesa was perfect! We didn’t even have to get on the freeway. What more can you ask for on a lovely Friday evening?

We didn’t have reservations so we put our name on the list and wander downtown La Mesa taking photos while we waited. The wait wasn’t very long at all when they texted us that our table was available. The restaurant itself was lovely and had 3 rough areas: the downstairs seating, the loft seating and the garden seating. We were seated in the loft as that was available. Had we made a reservation, we could have requested the garden seating which would have been perfect for a summer evening.

The atmosphere of the entire place was very nice. The loft seating had a lot less of that atmosphere than the other areas but it was also a lot more quiet so depending on what you’re looking for, that could be the perfect area. Cuisine wise, it’s a French/Mediterranean fusion type. Part of the Cohn Restaurants Group, it’s from the same family as The Prado, Indigo Grill, Corvette Diner & Blue Point so the food is going to be at least decent. We had high expectations though as the reviews were glowing from Yelp, Google, etc.

The menu itself was simple with not a lot of choices (that’s a good thing!) with plenty of beers & wines from all over the world, not just France & the Mediterranean. We selected a Crasseux Frites or dirty fries to start. It came with duck confit soaked in a port gravy with melted white cheddar on top. The dirty fries were just OK – I’d give it a 3/5. The concept was nice but the execution/result was lacking as the port gravy made the fries soggy. However, I can tell that if this is their regular house frites, we have a winner. Next came the porcini flat bread. That was essentially a pizza with porcini & cremini mushrooms, truffle oil and fontina cheese. Delicious! Easily a 4/5. Our entree we shared – the slow roasted pork shank. That came on a bed of garlic mashed potatoes and bacon date chutney. That was also pretty decent at 3.5/5.

Overall, it wasn’t quite as good as I was expecting but a very strong above-average at a total of 3.5/5. As it was our first time, we will have to come back and try the other dishes before rendering a final decision. From our initial impression though, it’s a solid choice for dining in La Mesa!

PBS Radio

I often tune into my local PBS radio station on my daily commute.  The programming is often very good and I like the in-depth reporting it offers on a  variety of news & other stories. However, I do have a big gripe: PBS radio often sounds amateurish.  I’m from San Diego so I listen to the local affiliate here in town – KPBS.

What do I mean by amateurish? Well, very often I hear the flubbing of lines or going to a segment that’s often not available or restarting a segment after it has already started.  Most radio stations will experience this to some degree and that’s completely understandable.  I hear technical difficulties on other radio stations too.  I only call KPBS out here because it happens on a very regular basis – to the point that I notice it enough to actually write a post about it.  Almost daily I’ll get one or all of the above in my listening and I would say I probably listen to just about an hour total.  In my book, that’s too many mistakes and hence the charge of amateurism.  I call this out specifically because it’s different than reporting in an informal sense; I actually like that.  What I’m referring to is a lack of professionalism and more akin to what I can put out if I had my own podcast.

I’m not sure if this is something just local to me or if it’s widespread within the public radio world.  I suspect the latter.  It’s such a turn off to an otherwise excellent service.  Don’t get me wrong, they’re still mostly excellent but the little things matter.  If someone came along with a more polished product and the same content, they can eat PBS’s lunch.  I don’t think it takes much but someone has to notice it and make it a priority.  Well, that’s enough griping today but I just had to get that off my chest as it’s been sitting there for a while.

Non-Apple displays with Macs

I recently tried to use my Samsung P2770 monitor as an external display for my MacBook Air.  I wouldn’t call it a complete success by any means.  The display looked fuzzy.  The colors and brightness was way off.  After some research, I found that Apple goes out of its way to detect non-Apple products and purposefully goes out of its way to ensure that they work sub-optimally.  It shouldn’t be too hard to get a display to look decent.  Not so with Apple & Mac OS X.  Some would argue it’s a Mac/Windows thing but that’s not really the case.  Linux works out of the box and.  Mac and Linux share a more common heritage than Linux & Windows.  That only points to purposeful intent on Apple’s part.

In any case, the work around seems to address the major issues.  That work around is to go into your display’s settings via its Menu button on the display itself or on a remote and change the input type to PC/DVI for whatever input you’re using.  The colors are still off but it’s a bit better.  At least some of the fuzziness has disappear.  You’ll want to change the gamma too as the display will be too dark.  It may also help to locate a display profile for your monitor as well.  That should at least get you started until you find the correct set of tweaks for your monitor.  Good luck!

On being a superpower

The United States of America is unequivocally a superpower in the world, both economically and militarily.  And may be the lone superpower in the post Cold War era with a few major powers in the mix.  That fact is pretty much undeniable.  However, for the past 2-3 decades, the U.S. has not acted like a superpower.  It might have gotten complacent with the dissolution of the Soviet Union.  Or perhaps its leaders have gotten cowardly.  I argue for the latter.

My view is that is you are a superpower and you wish to remain a superpower, you must not be afraid of showing it once in a while.  I’m not arguing for a disproportionate show of force but rather that we should not be afraid to respond in kind.  Yet lately it appears that we are loathe to exercise force until it’s too almost unbearable.  That should not be the case.  It only emboldens world actors to force us into situations against our national interests.

It wasn’t always this way.  We’ve used force plenty of time in the past and to date we are the only country in history to utilize nuclear force.  That’s being a superpower.  Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t advocate indiscriminate use of force and hoping we never, ever have to use nuclear force again.  Our political leaders on both sides are craven, more so on the Democratic side than the Republican side.  However, both are guilty to some extent.  The doves need to change their viewpoint just a bit.  They can still keep the hawks in check but doves live in an imaginary world where we all get along.  That world will not happen in my lifetime and even long after that.

However, when we threaten force, it has to be credible and in today’s world, we are simply not credible.  That’s why Putin walks all over us.  He wanted Crimea and he took it because no on was going to stop him.  Diplomacy only takes you so far.  He’s simply does not take the United States seriously.  The EU is only with us up to the point where their own interests aren’t threatened, which is understandable.  But having fair weather friends is another reason why we must be strong.

My Totoyta Camry Hybrid

I last wrote about my 2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid more than 2 years a little bit after I bought it.  Now that I’ve been driving earnestly for some time and have put over 26,000 miles on it, I can give yet another assessment.  The Camry is a very good car.  It’s quiet on the highways and handles well.  It’s not exciting by any means but it’s a very good, well mannered car.  After this many miles on the car, I can really appreciate it more.

Long term, I’m averaging 40.5 MPG, highway & city combined.  This is quite amazing for such a vehicle.  There’s more than enough power and I’m never feeling like I’m driving a hybrid although because it is a hybrid, I’m constantly playing games so see how long I can stay in the “zone”.  This zone is the time when the car is driving purely on the batteries and no gasoline is used.  This becomes like playing a video game rather than a chore.

I do notice that driving habits has a lot to do with efficiency, as we’ve all read.  I drive consistently at 65 mph on the freeway via cruise control and have noticed huge gas savings.  I can certainly go a lot fast without any issues but going consistently at 80 will drop the MPG down to about 37.  That’s a pretty big difference.  The order thing that affects MPG is the gas mixture between winter fuel and summer fuel.  I get much, much better efficiency on the summer fuel mix by far.  I’m not sure why but that’s how it’s working out.

In terms of reliability, I’ve not had a single problem so far. Being a Toyota, I don’t expect any issues for a while. I can’t imagine that any future car I buy won’t be a hybrid.  There’s a very nice Avalon Hybrid out now as well as the beautiful, Avalon-based Lexus ES 300h.  That may be the next step up for me when I decide I need to move up.  No rush though as I’m still paying this one off!

Spammers on WordPress

Ever since I started my WordPress blog, I’ve been fighting the bots & spammers.  They log onto the site and post spam messages in the comments of my posts.  It happened when I ran a Wiki site as well.  Comments were added to articles that basically clogged up the server.  My database was getting so full that my ISP was contacting me on a regular basis.  With WordPress, I was so annoyed that I started to require users to create an account first before posting comments and when that didn’t work, I started just blocking comments all together.  Which is a shame really since the purpose of my posting is to encourage people who have questions or follow up to reach out to me.

I’ve decided today to be a little more vigilant and turn back both user creation and commenting.  I want to have people read and comment on my posting.  I just have to be more diligent in logging in everyday to keep those users and comments in check.  It’ll have the added benefit of forcing me to check on the site everyday and who knows?  Perhaps even writing everyday!

I’m also enlisting the help of a WordPress plugin called, appropriately enough, Stop Spammers, to see if it’ll help me to keep them under control.  Apparently, it’s a plugin with a combination of blacklists, honey pots and other methods to detect spammers and their comments.  As I just installed it today, I can’t tell you if it’ll work or not so we’ll just have to see.  I’ll put up an update a little later down the road and we’ll see if it works or not.

Welcome to Phuoc's Blog! A personal blog of Phuoc Le from San Diego, CA.