Monday, November 24, 2008

Is Elvis a clown for our amusement?

A couple of nights ago Mr S. and I were in the store picking up booze for the BBQ ribs we were going to make the next day. You just can not make boozy ribs without Canadian Whisky. Can not!

Anyway, I'm setting up my game plan to sprint through the store.

Mr S. and I tend to split up. He goes to one side of the store, I go to the other. I cram as much stuff in my arms and we meet roughly back in the middle. But, this time I was feeling a little disorganized and only picked up a couple of things before I returned to the cart to drop things off. It was then Mr S. said the following to me.

Him - Did you see Elvis?

Me - Whaaat?

Him - Elvis. Then he points in the general direction I should go look.

All in one moment I'm excited, and bummed that I didn't have my camera on me. We'd just spent all day in the park. I didn't want to carry it around. And this was just suppose to be a short trip. I should know to never leave the house without it.

Anyway, I begin trying to get a stealth picture. But, Elvis is so aware of me stalking him with my camera phone, that he is thwarting my every move. So I rush back to Mr S.

Me - He knows I'm stalking him and he won't let me get a good picture.

Mr S. - Well, just ask him for a picture.

Me - But, what if he is not trying to be Elvis. When I was growing up there were a lot of old dudes that just looked like old Elvis.

Mr S. - Oh - he's trying to be Elvis.

Me - are you sure? Cause, I don't want to seem like an asshole. But, you don't see many guys trying to do the whole Elvis thing anymore.

I try a few more times to get a stealth picture, and then I just give in and ask the guy if I could take a picture of him. He was really nice and let me. And then went into talking like Elvis. I thanked him profusely. Engaged him about his Elvis-ness. Apparently he was some performer. I tried to get a business card. But, I wasn't getting much information from him. Like a name. Of course when I said this very thing to Mr S. he said "well, his name is Elvis". Just like that. And then, what could I say?

After we got back into the car I asked Mr S. "Don't the Elvis guys know we are kind of mocking them"?

Him - Yeah. But, they want the attention. They are sort of like clowns.

I heart lasers!

Every since I went to the RoboDevelopment conference, the only thing I've developed is .....a crush on LiDAR!

Yeah.. I started hearing about liDAR probably about a year ago - but, now I realize it is so freaking cool. I might want to marry it. And - if there is anything you know about me, it's that I love lasers. Especially when they make cool pictures of the Hoover Dam. Or anything else really.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Almost pets.

Mr S. and I have been hanging out in the park a bit lately. Which is how I got this shot of the deer checking out the humans. They are sort of everywhere.

We are sort of training for CES. Which seems like an odd thing to say. The way we do CES - is rather like doing a triathlon. Fly into Vegas in the morning. Walk about 80% of the show space. Which is something like 3 football fields filled with consumer booths. Carrying 10 pounds of camera gear. Fly out that evening.

We first starting doing it this way because a room in Vegas for CES was something like 500 bucks. Seems like this year they've dropped it to about 300 bucks a room. But, now I kind of feel like by the end of the day, I'm ready to leave Vegas. I feel like an ashtray from all the smokers. I've got sensory overload. And, I've already started to be affected by the lifeless souls who make up Las Vegas. Everyone is nice. But there is a certain feeling of deadness inside.

Anyway, I'm not 100% sure I'm going this year. But, I'm reasonably sure. Enough that last night I became concerned about the automotive crisis and what it might do to that part of CES. I can see a wall of monitors anywhere - but the cars. It isn't easy to see a wall of monitors in cars anywhere but Vegas.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Oh waaaa.

It has been really hard trying to get into the holiday spirit. We've had one storm in the past month, and the rest of the time it has just been sunny. Even for our area, it doesn't feel like the end of November. The upside is - we are actually getting some fall color. So we went around trying to capture it.

I'm thinking deer are growing some kind of super intelligence where they understand composition. Lighting - not so much.

Friday, November 21, 2008

You freaky little perverts.

A few months ago I did a random little rant about how the Susan G. Komen merchandising people were pissing me off. Yeah - really. I don't know why, but I get irritated each and every time I see those pink little ribbons. We get it already! We've given you tons of money, and still no cure. But, it is so scary! I must give you money.

Just as an odd aside - I was in the supermarket one day in October. They were collecting donations. The breast cancer people. But, they had this young chick inside of a cage. Yeah. really. What message does that send? It was the oddest thing. I should unpack my cell phone photos and post the pictures. I figured I'd already ranted enough about the boobs for hostage crisis, so I never got back to that oddity.

Anyway, I figured I'd get a bunch of hits from drivebys complaining about how I hate boobs. And that if one of my family members had cancer I'd feel differently. Even though my mom actually had a radical mastectomy because of breast cancer. And that my breast reduction makes me feel I have a 40% better chance of not getting boob rottage. See.. I don't feel differently at all.

That never happened. What did happened - is a bunch of freaky little teenage boys started showing up in my site meter. Apparently my title "How boobs have jumped the shark" uncovered a trend I'd previously had not known about. Boob sharking. Which I think is pulling girls tops down. Since this all involved teenagers, I'm not quick to delve into of the sites to find out for sure.

I've been getting so many hits on this that I am actually the #6 and #9 hit in google. Depending on if you are using the search criteria "shark boob", or "boob shark". I'm not sure why it makes much difference. But, it is a little creepy to know I consistently show up on the first page of google for something that was essentially an accident.

Oddly, this particular search invasion creeps me out more than the one about public masturbation at the library. Wait.. scratch that. Equally creepy. Perhaps its because I'm getting way more hits that the library thing.

Just say'in.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A solution in search of a problem. Part 3.

You may be asking yourself if there was anything at the show I did find interesting.

Yes. There were two things. A product from Velodyne Lidar Inc. I think Lidar is a promising arena, but I'm not sure how they will get it to stick to robotics. I mean.. I see the applications - but, I'm not sure if this will be the tipping point product.

The Lidar was tracking all the people in the convention.

A demo they were doing with possible applications for its use. And, the lidar system.

Underwater rovers normally might not have interested me - but they have become really advanced. This was just a component company. But, I recently starting thinking the field has promise. Wireless has advanced far enough that rovers can obtain large amounts of underwater data and send it to the surface. Long gone are the days of the giant rovers with humans piloting them.

Part 1 here and 2 here.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A solution in search of a problem. Part 2.

Part 1 here.

Today I was reading reviews on the RoboDevelopment conference. I got this gem from Marketwatch.

"Robotics have certainly come a long way in the past decade. Tandy Trower, general manager of Microsoft's robotics initiative, said hardware costs have dropped drastically. "

Yes.. the robotics industry has come a long way in the last decade - but has done almost squat in the last four years. It's surprising for exactly the reason Mr Trower says. Hardware costs. It is amazing how cheap they've become. Yet the industry still lacks any discernible direction. I'd always assumed that the industry was stalled because the prices of components were too expensive. Now, it is apparent this was not the bottleneck. It is a lack of good ideas. Until some quantum shift occurs (perhaps from software) this industry seems unable to to find a foothold in any market.

Back to the show.

I've grown skeptical of the walking robots. Which is why it is important to show them working. I walked by this thing 10 times, and I never saw it move. It is from a company called Aldebaran Robotics I've never heard of them before. It looks good, but I have tons of pictures of toy concepts that I never saw again. A demonstration of the grasping ability would have been nice.

This was a mechanical bear from The Personal Robotics Group at MIT. Which would be fine. Though, I'm not sure why they continue to pursue this market.

My pictures of the Mechanical Seal from RoboNexus 2004.

Doing a quick Google search, that product basically went nowhere. But, maybe if we make it look like a children's bear - it will take off.

Look - I know I'm being bitchy about this whole thing - but you have to have the intelligence of a three year old to be captivated by these products. And I'm actually being generous. 3 year olds are super smart these days. The old and infirm can get little use out of these products. And just as a side note - have you seen how well functioning octogenarians are these days?

Moble Robots was there. They are a mainstay. I presume they are making money because they are at most of the shows. Although, again - not much has changed.

My pictures from RoboNexus 05.

Pictures from RoboDevelopment 08'.

It does seem like they've added a user interface on some of their platforms. Perhaps it was working when the press was there, but I didn't see it working.

Lidar seems to be the big thing this year.

Update: I guess this is stereo vision rather than Lidar.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Oh the humanity!

I will get back to the robotics show in a minute. After the show - we were driving to the best little hole in the wall burrito place in Mountain View. This meant driving past Moffett Field. Much to our surprise the new Airship Ventures zeppelin was in the sky. The one that takes passengers over the Golden Gate Bridge for something like 500 bucks a piece.

And let me tell you.... that blimp books. We had to drive 20 miles out of my way to get a picture. And we were doing 80MPH. It was flying above the freeway, so it had to be doing something like 70. I had to work so hard to get these pictures, and they aren't even that great. We could barely keep up with it in traffic.

I find the whole thing a modern marvel. But, no one else seemed to care. When Mr S. pulled into a gas station so I could have a few seconds to get a shot, the owners of the gas station rushed out to see what I was taking pictures of. They didn't seem that impressed. But, cripes it's something like a 200 foot long zeppelin flying around the Bay Area. Bigger than a 747. How is that not impressive?

Small voices.

It makes me happy to see I'm not the only one talking about the malls being packed. My posts about it here and here. In some of the areas hardest hit by the mortgage declines - people are still spending money. Not the great depression. NOT.

From The Boston Herald.

"Like the lush who kicked the booze for a few weeks, people who avoided the malls in September are rewarding themselves with a buying bender - on bargains, yes, but a good deal is just a gateway drug.

It’s hard to believe - especially when you’re 10 deep in line to buy a kid’s coat at Gymboree and listening to “Rocking Around the Christmas Tree” for the zillionth time - that retail sales plunged by a record amount last month, down 2.8 percent to a seasonally adjusted $363.7 billion, the largest decline since such studies began in 1992, the Commerce Department said.

Yet consumer confidence rose unexpectedly, according to a survey released last Friday. Give credit to tumbling gasoline prices. Or maybe folks were buoyed by the fact that the Coach bag they coveted was sold out."

A solution in search of a problem.

Today I went out to the RoboDevelopment conference. I'm going to start out with the best stuff. My mood falls precipitously off a cliff from there. I've been going to these types conferences for 4 or 5 years. Some years I'm very hopeful on where the field is going. This year, I'm pretty sure the future is never going to get here. The first few years were littered with wide eyed enthusiasm. There were lots of ideas of how robots were going to make our lives easier. This year was disappointing in its complete lack of direction.

I'd ask vendor after vendor "what application do you see your product being useful for"? Remarkably, time after time the response was "whatever you want it to be". I started seeing this trend pop up two years ago. But, this year - it was the dominating trend. Which would be fine - but, I don't see that as a money making venture. And yes.. people. Your job is to make money. You've put your foot into the hobbyist arena. That marketplace does not allow you to survive.

I go to these things hoping to see some break away product. Praying that I see something that might appeal to a large market. Usually I just have to be happy seeing the same vendor twice. Which is where I was today.

This was the first thing I saw when I walked in. I remembered it immediately from CES. I didn't post any of my robot pictures from CES this year. I went the last day, and by the time I got all my pictures unpacked everyone was over it.

But, I remember taking a lot of photos of this thing though. I was fascinated because it was running a windows OS. It also looked like a product people might buy. They didn't have it running at CES. But, it seemed marketable.

So, I was delighted to see it today. I don't know how much they are charging for it, but I think it has some features that can keep children captivated for a while. It was pretending to be involved in the conversation these two guys were having.

I would have liked to see how it ran without being tethered. But, it played music, and danced. Which didn't seem immediately lame. It seemed to have good voice recognition and human interaction. It didn't fall over like some of its competitors.

Their company website could really use some work. You can check it out here. Instead of computer renderings of the product, it seemed to perform well enough for actual video. And the site just seems a little creepy and uninviting. The product didn't seem anything like what the website portrays.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Those wacky consumers.

Mr S. originally wanted to just go to our local mall to checkout the local Apple store. I persuaded him to drive out to Methdesto. After we got back however - I thought perhaps it was a good idea to go to our local mall too. I mean - the bad news is everywhere. I can't escape the news about the greatest depression since the 1930's. And, I'm not poking the guys who read the blog and think that way. I'm not completely convinced they aren't right. I just haven't seen it yet. There have been times when I was sure I was wrong. Like a month ago when we went to Fry's and the place was deserted. I actually took pictures of shopping carts, because there weren't any being used. Freaked my shit out.

So today we figured we'd check out the mall. To see how the Apple store was doing. I'm not a mall chick. If I can go in and get out quickly, I'm fine. But - usually I'm pissed off before we find a parking spot. Mall people so annoy me. Everything they do is slow. Walking, parking, looking at crap. Slow! Makes me crazy.

I didn't think the mall would be that busy, and we'd get in and out super fast. But, when we got there the place was actually very busy. And I wanted to beat people before we even parked the car. That is a good sign - I thought!

The amount of people really surprised me. I didn't think people would be shopping this far before Thanksgiving. Everyone is suppose to be poor and all. It wasn't the busiest I've ever seen the mall, but considering the economy and time of year, it was pretty impressive.

They had some Wiiosks set up. There were a bunch of people hanging out and quite a bit of other activity.

The Apple store was actually quite busy. Mr S. asked how long the store had been there. The Appleperson said 4 years. I've been in that mall plenty of times, and I just never walk through it. But, I was also pretty impressed for a store that had been there that long. Apparently it isn't just new stores which are pulling in new sales. Existing stores seem to still be attracting people.

And the parking lot. Well.. the place was pretty packed.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Bipolar signals.

If you live in Silicon Valley.... it seems like you are never more than 6 degrees from Apple. They are always wielding their vast power and technological influence. If you work in tech at all - you will eventually cross paths with Apple. They were one of my first tech jobs. I've dated people who worked there. And now Mr. S's business is somewhat married to Apple. With the economy seeming so shaky - I had to find out why Apple still seemed like a bright spot.

I'll admit, I've shied away from Apple products. I worked there when the products were having a hard time. And now that they are "trendy", my motivation to own Apple products is pretty weak. But, with all the computer companies slashing earnings - I found myself captivated by how Apple could still be opening stores. After all - I've been to a Sony Viao store, and it wasn't that great. Plus, all sorts of smart people are saying this is going to be the worst depression since the 30's. Since I've called bullshit on that, I have to keep making sure I'm not wrong. When I see the layoffs, I have to admit my confidence becomes really shaky.

Normally I would have gone to the snooty rich district to see if wealthy people were still spending money. I've come to call this place Hollywood 2. Big Mansion-ey houses, Ferrari's, and Bentley's. And recently, a ton of plastic surgeons have made H2 their playground. All they need is television people, and it would pretty much be the same. But, rich people are often insulated from bad times.

I'd read that a new Apple store was opening in the Central Valley. Methdesto. Look it up in the Urban Dictionary. They are one of the most depressed housing markets in California. I couldn't figure out why Apple was opening a store there. Mr S. couldn't figure it out either - but we agreed to go check out this new store. To see how such a disadvantaged area could sustain a high end computer store.

Before starting out - we stopped off at the chiropractor. Methdesto used to be the only place he could afford to live. In California, you can never live and work in the same town. You just can't afford it. And we wanted to know if there was a breakfast restaurant out there worth going to. Even he thought it was pretty funny they were opening an Apple store there. He gave us his recommendation and off we went.

After driving about an hour we arrived at the mall where the store was opening. Apple is oddly vague about were their store locations are. So we parked and planned on walking the mall to find the place. After stopping a mall postman, we were pointed in the right direction. The store was outside the mall.

The latest trend here has been high end stores opening up in buildings right next to the mall. They are like high end store additions to the mall. But, these are typically new buildings. And as it turns out this where most of the business for malls is being attracted. I've noticed in my city for example, the mall is mostly empty, but these new places are packed. The malls themselves are usually old buildings and minimally updated. For instance all the "up" escalators in the Methdesto mall were broken, and it seemed pretty depressing inside. But, these new additions had sprung up. That area was thriving and packed. The new Apple store was completely packed. You could hardly walk down the isles. I would have gotten a picture, but I'd asked one of the Apple guys if they would freak about me taking pictures inside. He told me they would - so I opted to take pictures from outside. Apple gets bitchy that way.

Much to my surprise. The Coach store was also packed. Coach is the Intel of fashion. They are bell weather companies. Seeing all these people in high end stores in a agricultural area hard hit by the mortgage crisis was fascinating. It took me completely by surprise.

I had prepared myself to come away feeling depressed. Yet, I was feeling optimistic. It didn't make sense to me how the markets were pointing to a very different picture. Then Mr S. said this to me. "It seems like business sentiment is really the problem. Obviously consumer sentiment seems okay". And he was right. Businesses are preparing for the worst, because they don't know what is going to happen. People are willing to buy stuff if you just give them something new and interesting to buy. But businesses don't know what is going to happen next year, and how the rules are going to change.

The consumers appetite has shifted, and those stores that make up the malls are stale and outdated. Watch the companies who make up the periphery of the mall. Those are the new companies to watch to look at market health.

Friday, November 14, 2008

At least that worked out well.

Guess what year this happened. Guess!

"Circuit City said yesterday that it had fired 3,400 of its highest-paid sales staff and will replace them with lower-paid workers, a risky strategy to cut costs that goes beyond the layoffs, buyouts and hiring freezes commonly used by struggling companies.

The fired workers will receive severance packages and a chance to apply for lower-paying positions after a 10-week delay, said the 655-store electronics chain based in Richmond, Va."

March 29th, 2007. That's right. Early 2007. Trackback here. Wasn't the economy red hot still? Yes.. yes it was.

Yet the CEO of Circuit City CEO Schoonover received $1.4 million in salary and bonuses. I even read an article that by the time he was done with it - the compensation was upwards of 6.5 mil. A great gig if you can get it. For producing no results and all.

Guess what year this happened. Do it!

"The key initiative that year was the elimination of commissions at its stores as Circuit City adopted a single hourly pay structure chainwide. It dismissed 3,900 commissioned salespeople and replaced them with 2,100 hourly employees. In addition to reducing annual operating costs by as much as $130 million, eliminating commissions furthered the move toward a more self-service approach in the stores. Circuit City's continued weak position was highlighted that year when the owner of CompUSA, Inc., operator of computer superstores, made a bid to acquire the company for about $1.5 billion."

2003! Trackback here.

This is called disincentivizing your workforce from selling product. Why should we all be shocked the company failed? WHY?

Now, I don't mind one bit that people make a lot of money. If you work hard - I think you should make as much as you can get. But, why should we pay them such absorbatent sums for running companies into the ground?

Yeah - I'm bitter.

I'm not even sure how to articulate how I've been feeling the last week. Mostly just mad I think. Mixed with a bit of cognitive dissidence. You see, my whole blog has revolved around wanting people to be fired. Now that this is a reality, it takes quite a bit of effort to remember that we got here through complete incompetence and malaise. I feel bad people are loosing their jobs. But, then I remember my experiences with those companies and wonder if I shouldn't be glad. And when I think about how much of my tax dollars are going to help these people, I just get extremely pissed off.

You see - I didn't expect anything for free. When I bought my investment house, I didn't expect to paint it, throw in some carpet, and make tons of money. My crapshack was the closest you can get to a condemned building you can get. I worked hard and made it a livable place. When I couldn't get rid of it due to market conditions, or use whatever reason you want to use, we re-worked our plans. We moved in a renter. It has been quite a bit of stress. But, we didn't have a choice. Now we have to help bail out the banks who created a huge f-ing roadblock and lost complete control of how to conduct business. Not to mention other people who weren't as responsible.

Maybe I should tell you that my neighbor told me a few weeks ago that he was trying to buy an understated house at a distressed price. It wasn't a crapshack, but not a great place either. He was willing to put 50% down. And he still couldn't get the house. Think about that people. 50% down in California real estate prices. Sure, he was a first time home buyer. But he lives within his means.

Now we have to bail out the car companies. I understand having to help people when they get into trouble. I don't always like it but, I understand the rules. But, when I think back on the experience I've had with Chrysler, it just pisses me off to no end that we have to help these guys.

Two years ago, we could barely get a Chrysler dealership to sell us a car. Without any financing. We'd worked hard all our lives, and were just going to write them a big check. They actually treated us pretty badly, considering. And that wasn't the end of it - every experience we've had with the dealerships has been bad. Here, here, here. And I have to give these people money? Pisses me off.

On top of having to bail these people out - I get the pleasure of all my taxes going up. Sales tax, income tax, car tax. You can't watch the news without them saying they are going to raise some kind of tax. All for the pleasure of being responsible. And never mind that the cloud of layoffs hitting my doorstep are an everyday fear.

And what pisses me off the most is that I'm fairly cynical, but I never imagined in my wildest dreams that the government would let things go so horribly before doing anything. And these are the people who now own our car companies, banks, and whatever else they intend to buy?

Now, I imagined they would use the economy as a bargaining feature in the election. But, really? To do nothing until it was way past too late? I'm just pissed off.

Monday, November 10, 2008

A classic ending.

I don't think this car had anything to do with the car show. The charter was American made - so I'm guessing this was just some random Ferrari. But, I just happened to have my camera on my lap and was able to get off two shots.

They just repaved and opened the pass between our city and the next, and it is smooth as silk. Also very easy to speed on. There have been heavy patrols lately. This poor guy probably didn't even see it coming. The police cars are so low profile these days. I just love that the cop managed to stop the guy right in front of a speed limit sign.

That about sums it up.

Flames - mostly.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Oh yeah. That is bad - ass!

I know you don't come to my blog to look at cars. Well, I don't know why you come to my blog - but, sometimes I post about cars. I still contend I'm not a car chick. Still, somehow I'm highly entertained by them.

We heard about the car show yesterday at breakfast, and by this morning I was trying to make up excuses on why we shouldn't go. We'd just gone to one a few months ago. There wasn't going to be anything new to see.

Off we went anyway. Three hours later I'm walking away with some pretty interesting shots. Stuff you haven't seen!

This Jaguar was worth the price of admission. But, we didn't have to pay to see it. This car caught my eye as we were walking back to our car. The trunk was a different color than the rest of the car. As I walked closer - it turned out to be the best craziest hyper color paint job I've ever seen. How do put a description on this car? It is like 5 different colors. I bet the cops hate that.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Give us new stuff!

Today was a sad, sad shopping day. Mostly - I just shop for people these days. I want to see what everyone else is buying.

I'm starting to wonder if it really is the greatest depression since the 1930's. But mostly, I think people would buy stuff if there was anything new out there to buy. Instead, it is the same stuff that has been on the market for the last three years. This whole year has been a technology dead zone. A design dead zone. A fashion dead zone. I've almost lost the ability to go "ooooh! What is that"?

Sure - people are scared of loosing their jobs, and they are holding onto money tightly. But, if there was anything exciting.... they would start to waiver and put away rationality in favor of "interesting". It is a feedback loop people.

Anyway, we wound up at the tile design center today. Meh. I only have two pictures for you. These tiles that sort of reminded me of the eye of sauron.

And these tiles that look like a horrible skin complexion. The colors are completely accurate.

It's like they've given up and said "lets just throw some clay against the wall, and whatever sticks we sell as tile".

Then we found ourselves at a Circuit Shitty store closing sale. Yeah.. you heard me. That store has been around since I was a kid. It has always had problems. I categorize it as a crappy store that occasionally has a good quarter.

There wasn't anything there to buy. Hey - I was trying my hardest to do my part for the economy! But, the camera area was completely packed. In case you're tracking trends. The rest of the store people were milling around. So we left without anything.

That is all I've got. That cold I've had - is absolutely the worst cold since the great depression. That I know for sure. Mr S. got it the last half of this week. This is why posts have been light. A whole week of just crap rolled in a giant phlegm ball, wrapped in half a rotting lung. Or something like that.