Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

Arduino: Day 1

Thursday, October 11th, 2012

Part of my Halloween costume requires an micro controller to display a pattern on a led light strip. The light strip and the Arduino Uno micro controller I got to control it arrived today. In the span of about an hour I was able to:

  1. Borrow a USB A to B cable from my room mate as apparently I don’t own one.
  2. Find and follow this guide to working Arduino on Gentoo
  3. Install 16GB more ram while I was rebooting after making the kernel changes required in that guide, for a total of 23.50 Gigabytes of ram on the development system, which is also brand new.
  4. Build the circuit for the basic blink code
  5. Build and upload the basic blink code, which did require two totally hacky symbolic links before it would work.
  6. Realize that the uno includes an led on the board so I didn’t need to build the circuit and realize that it came pre-loaded with the basic blink code so that I can’t actually tell if I did anything yet.
  7. Change the blink code to use port 12 and be faster to prove I’m actually in control.
  8. Success!

Tomorrow or this weekend I hope to learn to how to talk to the led strip. Then I need to go get a fez of some kind. Oh and a Halloween party to attend in the costume, that would be a good thing to find as well.

Surprise Upgrade

Sunday, October 7th, 2012

Much to my surprise last weekend, there was a slight rumble noise coming from something in my apartment at about 3am when I was finally done playing Diablo 3 for the night. I went back out to the living room and determined the noise was not out there. I went back to my room at turned off my computer in there. I didn’t determine the noise was coming from the computer, it was late. I just turned it off to safe so I could deal with it in the morning.

In the morning I found that it didn’t want to turn on. Some LED’s blinked and the fans spun up, but it did not beep or post. I did hear some much different strange noises from the power supply while I was trying to test out some things. They slowly got worse, but I still had to put my ear on the power supply to really hear them. I decided to get a new supply, and got a 650W one sent overnight via Amazon Prime.

The new power supply was not the problem sadly. When it arrived I went directly to trying to power on the motherboard with it. It didn’t turn on at all. The supply’s fan didn’t even turn on. I checked all my connections and tried again. Still nothing. I got out a super old single core Althon mobo/cpu/ram that I have lying around and that worked with the new supply. I also tried the suspected broke supply on that mobo, and it really made a loud sound that time. I confirmed the old mobo still worked with the new supply again, and then I tired the new supply on the motherboard in failed machine. Still nothing. I took out some ram, and then it powered on just like the failed supply had done; no beep, no post. When I put the ram back in, it still powered on with no beep and no post.

So it seemed like the thing to do was replace the machine’s internals. It has been on mostly constantly since 6/21/2007 and five years seems pretty good. Here’s what I got for the new system, which is now operational:

I also picked up 8GB more ram from a friend who bought the wrong kind. My 16GB set has not arrives yet actually, so the 8GB actually allowed me to do the build today instead of waiting for the other side of the long weekend.

I had to get the DVD drive because all of my existing DVD drives were PATA, but the new motherboard only has SATA connectors. In fact, I learned while building it today that it also lacks as floppy drive connector. That spawned a two hour hunt for the plastic piece that goes in the case to block up where the floppy drive lives. I did eventually find it. And while I was looking I reorganized all of my cables and spare hardware. I filled up two boxes of old stuff to recycle or give away, including the heart of my 500Mhz P3 and my original GPU, the Riva TNT2.

The build went smoothly; everything powered up on the first try; except that I forgot to hook up a SATA cable to the new DVD drive. I also accidental chose the “auto-overclock” option in my fancy BIOS, which then turned the machine on and off a couple times trying out different settings. That is pretty cool, as overclocking just enough used to be hard. Of course I don’t really want to waste the power to overclock, so when it was done I had to turn it all off. The Linux setup went easily. I didn’t reinstall the OS; I just rebuilt the kernel as all my drives were still perfectly fine. The one real gotcha was that I had moved my Nvidia GPU to a different slot, and so it had a different bus number, and that bus number was in the xorg configuration file… so it couldn’t find my graphics card for a while.

I can’t wait till I get the extra ram, and then to run some video compression benchmarks!

Tyler Cowen’ Six Rules for Dining Out

Sunday, April 15th, 2012

Tyler Cowen’s endless posts about “Markets in Evevrything” do not help me keep up to date with his proflific blog. They are so brief, varried, and many that I can’t even tell what the commonality that makes a post ripe for the “Markets in Evevrything” title is. This is perhaps, the halmark of a hurried blogger, but I’ve attributed it to a bad writer, or at least someone who isn’t writing with me as an audiance. There are 142 unread posts by him on my Google Reader. So, when he linked to this adaptation of his new book on his blog, I missed it, but my dinner group did not.

The overall idea some stragies to follow to end up eating the best food possible at the lowest price possible. So go read it and then come back for my take.

1. In the Fanciest Restaurants, Order What Sounds Least Appetizing
The premise here is that there are only two reasons something will be on the menu and the fanciest resturants, those being that A) it’s expected to be on the menu, or B) the chef makes it well. The goal of this advice is to push you into something that must be from column B. I don’t spend much time in this caliber of place, but when it is resturant week and I am I usually follow a more reserved but similar strategy. I order based on liking at least one or maybe two ingrediants in a dish, and I don’t worry about what the rest of the ingrediants even might be. This also when new to an ethnic food.

2. Beware the Beautiful, Laughing Women
The idea here is that places with great bar sceens don’t need to have great food. Well, at least once they have estabished a great bar sceen they don’t. I don’t pay much attention to this; in fact, I’ve fall pray here, specifically to the place once known as Ivy and now known as Social 49. The people and space in there are so beautiful. But did learn something, I’ve only had drinks at Social 49.

3. Get Out of the City and Into the Strip Mall
When I read this I was thinking of one place, Ritu ki Rasoi a delicious Indian place in Burlingon. It is located on a loading dock behind an auto parts store and is quite a find. But then the author went on to list subrubs where you can find good food “Orange County, California; the area near San Jose; Northern Virginia, near D.C.; Somerville, Massachusetts; and so on.” So maybe I don’t have to drive all the way out Burlington to find actual strip malls after all. My guess now is that he’s talking about Tu Y Yo.

4. Admit What You Don’t Know
Ask people who might know where the good resturants are, where the good resturants are, espcially people who travel to the area frequnetly. This seems like a no brainer, but I never do it. It does make sense though. When I saw someone who was most likely a pharama-gril at Junior’s Taco Shop on my trip to Ridgecrest, CA a couple weeks ago, I assumed it meant that I was having lunch in the right place. I was already pretty sure I was having lunch in the right place though, it was packed. But, I didn’t think of her a poential resource for finding more good resturants. I didn’t make that leap.

5. Exploit Restaurant Workers
There is good food, for cheaper, where there is cheap labor, including family eastablishments. I sort of assume all resturants in an area face roughly the same labor costs, so this doesn’t seem help me much. Sure the meals in chinatown always include more food for the money than anywhere else in the city, but I don’t want to eat a meal in chinatown every week, so this isn’t that much of a help. The authors example is to stay away from places with excessive waitstaff and valets. I suppose that is fair because, where this advice certainly goes wrong though, are poor areas of the country like Roswell, NM. They don’t have better food just cause there is cheap labor.

6. Prefer Vietnamese to Thai
Finally a valid reason not to like Thai food! I’ve been sort of wishy washy about Thai food for a while in world where everyone else seemes to love it. His argument here is that Thai food became hip, and like in #2, it no longer had to be good. That’s probbally not why I don’t like thai food that much, but it does feel good to have some else dis-recomend it. That said, I am not a fan of Vietnamese Pho at all either. Maybe that is for the laugauge barrier reasons that the author lays out.

So maybe I’ll buy his book. Certainly I just totally ignored its existance before, but the Atlantic adapation of it was worth reading!

On “Reviews, Reputation, and Revenue: The Case of”

Tuesday, October 4th, 2011

I, perhaps famously, introduced my parents to Yelp this summer on the way back from our annual North Carolina beach trip by suggesting we have lunch at The Ten Top in Norfolk, VA before heading to the airport to return home. The review instructing me to get the Turkey Apple Club on cinnamon bread and suggesting that the pasta salad was especially good sold me enough to sell my parents. It worked out wonderfully, and is actually my favorite part of the whole trip. That may be because I was raised on going out to eat, and it was one of two restaurants featured on the trip, and certainly it was the better one. A fond memory thanks to strangers on the internet, organized by Yelp.

I use Yelp frequently. In my Wednesday Night Dinner group, where we try a new restaurant most every week, picking a restaurant and sending it out to the group often is done via a one line email with a yelp URL and a time. I don’t know why we still include the time, its always 7:30; the only important information in the email is the Yelp URL. Every member has their own method of picking places, some uses sources other than yelp, as do I. I often use local reviews like this one for last week’s delicious pick, L’Impasto, but I always check the Yelp reviews as well. In fact, the reviews for L’Impasto were so good, and so few in number that I considered the possibility that they were fake. If they were fake, they were at least correct in this case.

Yelp might review Hotels, they do review places that are not restaurants, but I certainly have never looked at those reviews other than as indication that I didn’t hit the restaurants filter button yet. Although, certainly restaurant menu prices are a lot more sticky than nightly hotel rates, there is no reason this tactic could not be attempted with restaurants. The real question raised by this comic, however, is if the erroneous signal sent by enough people operating in dick mode could be enough to cause the place to close, negating the benefit received by the dicks. There isn’t an answer to that yet, but I came across an academic paper today where “in ongoing work, [the author is] estimating the relationship between Yelp and exit decisions” of restaurants. Such information is crucial to answer the question of if the dicks are going to end up screwing themselves.

“Reviews, Reputation, and Revenue: The Case of” by Michael Luca of Harvard Bushiness School, actually finds that there is a correlation between the average Yelp review and restaurant revenue from 2003 to 2009 in Seattle. Actually, “A one-star increase [on Yelp] is associated with a 5.4% increase in revenue.” Yelp was introduced in 2005, so his data set can provide details about the impact of Yelp as it grew to become the dominant resource that it is today. He uses a couple randomization techniques allowed by the way the data is collected and presented to control for correlations between average Yelp review and other factors that may increase restaurant revenues, like having better food, to bolster his argument to the level of causation. The statistics are over my head, but it the theory seems solid, and certainly a lot of his assumptions ring true to my use of Yelp.

The paper brings up another interesting point that rings especially true. It finds that while overall, Yelp reviews correlate with revenues, that “chains already have relatively little uncertainty about quality, their demand does not respond to consumer reviews.” That is, reviews don’t matter for chains, maybe people don’t even read them. I said I was raised going out to eat. I was a picky eater and only child so going somewhere I would not fight about was probably my parent’s primary concern. That means that I was raised eating at chain restaurants, most notably Olive Garden. I believe that from when I turned five until I went to college I was at an Olive Garden at least once a month. If you include college, it might have to grow to once every three months. I still love Olive Garden thanks to all that conditioning, and when I go home to Ohio, I think I eat there within the first 36 hours, without fail. I have not once read a yelp review about the Olive Garden.

My dinner group essentially bans chain restaurants, with a couple of minor exceptions. That is likely one of a number of cultural reasons why, since moving to Boston, I’ve broken my Olive Garden streak. However, apart of my pilgrimage to Olive Garden upon setting foot in the state of Ohio, I seek out independent restaurants there as well. The paper also finds this is a trend much larger than my group. Specifically “chains experienced a decline in revenue relative to independent restaurants in the post-Yelp period.” Since ratings don’t matter for chain restaurants, but they do provide useful information on independent restaurants, there is a pretty good rational “that increased information about independent restaurants leads to a higher expected utility conditional on going to an independent, restaurant. Hence Yelp should … increase the value of going to an independent restaurant relative to a chain.”

With the power that Yelp has amassed of the past 6 years, comes skepticism, the specter of fake reviews, which I feared, and also the specter of intentionally false reviews as evidenced by xkcd. There is still another aspect of power that people take issue with, corruption or extortion of independent restaurants. Clearly, with the power to increase revenues drastically with a small shift in rating, there is an opportunity for yelp to offer to artificially increase rating at a cost to the restaurant, or extort from them with a threat of a lower rating. Enter this Davis Square Livejournal post:

I went to Paddock Pizza in Somerville on Sunday (not usually open Sundays, but there was an event) and I loved the pizza (plain). When I told one of the owners, she said she enjoyed it, too, but the first pizza chef, no longer there, got some bad reviews on Yelp and asked if I might be willing to put in a good one. I would in theory, but I’m not always much with the food review writing. Since I like their pizza and want them to stick around and keep serving it, I am willing to take someone who likes writing such things. (Their pizza is also pretty inexpensive, more so from 4 to 6pm (early bird specials), though they are only open Wed-Sat, 4-10pm). Message me if you are interested and are flexible-ish time-wise.

The text presented has been edited since my original reading. It originally included a line about “detesting” yelp, which was responded to in the comments, and caused a thread about Yelp’s abuse of its power, or at least perceptions of abuse, as no actual abuse has been proven. Here we have a restaurant which is aware of the power of Yelp to affect their bottom line, asking a patron who has expressed a positive experience to help them increase their rating. It seems the restaurant is acting fair in this transaction, they aren’t faking a review, they are merely attempting to turn a positive dining experience they provided into a positive review. Unfortunately for them, their pizza loving patron is not a writer it seems and is unwilling to jump through the hoops to become one because of perceived, unnamed abuses by Yelp. However, the crux of the post is that he is looking to hire someone to write a good review for this place for the price of dinner, presumably half a pizza. That must be some damn good pizza, maybe I should go check the Yelp reviews though. Every review since 2008, when the first review appeared has been >= 3 stars, arriving at a current rating of 3.5/5 stars. True, recent rating seem higher, but haven’t caused a upward trend in the overall rating yet. Verdict? Well no one has picked anywhere for Wednesday yet.

Dear Comcast

Monday, November 29th, 2010

I do not care if the entire city of Boston, New England, East Coast of the US, the entire country, or the entire world is having internet connectivity problems! When I call you because my service is not working I expect to either:

  • Talk to a person, to whom I can explain my service problem and receive help or direction
  • Be able to loge a service out notice with a computer
  • Be told of known service problem in my area and be provided with a estimated time of service restoration

Any of those is acceptable. Just to be clear and ensure that I am not being unreasonable in my request, when my power goes out, my power company offers all 3 of those options depending on the circumstances. Now, the ETA I am told by the power company is not always correct. However, it is updated from time to time, and they will call me back if and when they update the ETA. Also, they call me back after they expect the power has been restored to confirm that my reported outage has been resolved. That is how a service outage should be handled, if you ask me. Excellent job government sponsored monopoly, nStar.

Being told to go online for help when the internet is not working is not acceptable! At the very least your system should detect that there is an internet problem and not play that recording. With the power company, most of those options are handled automatically by a computer, which is fine. No one expects a service provided to have enough people answering calls to deal with the flood of complaints during a service outage. However, we should be informed of the problem, when we call; not disconnected because too many people are calling. If I have to turn to twitter to find out that this is a larger problem and not just me, as well as find the solution (use google’s dns servers), then you as a service provider have failed miserably. I don’t know why I expected that you would not fail in this case, you fail every day all of the time. I really don’t understand why the government monopoly power company provides an entirely different level of customer service than you; you technically do at least have some minor form of competition.

Ice Cream Marathon

Sunday, August 15th, 2010

On Saturday August 14, 2010 the long planned Wednesday Night Dinner Ice Cream Marathon occurred from 1pm until 7:30pm. We followed and approximately 7 mile route from Boston’s North End to Harvard Square in Cambridge following this route:

View Ice Cream Marathon in a larger map

We stopped at each place marked in green. We skipped over duplicate stores, chains, and stores we didn’t know existed. We carried score cards. Here is the digital representation of mine:

Location Time Flavor Size Score (1-10)
1. Gelateria 1:20pm Hazelnut / Vanilla Small 5 / 8
2. Sprinkles 2:00pm Butter Pecan Child 7
3. Emack
& Bolio’s
2:45pm Cake Batter1 One Scoop 3
4. Picco’s 3:25pm Cinnamon2 One Size 93
5. Bon Bon 4:25pm Pineapple Sorbet One Size 2
6. J. P. Licks 4:55pm Cake Batter Not Available4 0
7. Toscanini’s 5:55pm Cake Batter Kiddie 9
8. Christina’s 6:30pm Corn5 Small 4
9. Lizzy’s 7:30pm Vanilla Cookie Dough Kiddie 6

1Like most flavors at Emack and Bolio’s this cake batter is infused with chocolate. This is not an acceptable thing to do and still call it cake batter, but that is what they do.
2Also bread and water were provided at no cost at Picco’s.
3The flavor of the Cinnamon (and they Honey flavor that I tired) were so intense as to deserve top honors. However, we were unable to finish these flavors due to their intensity.
4J. P. Licks has suddenly, and without warning discontinued the cake batter flavor at all of their locations. This is not acceptable as it was the best cake batter flavor available in the city and my favorite ice cream overall. Until such a time as cake batter is returned to the menu I am forced to boycott J. P. Licks. I did get in line and ask for cake batter, only to be told they they don’t have it, to which I responded, “Ah, never mind then.”
5Bacon flavor was also available and I tried a spoonful of it. Someone got bacon flavor and was unable to finish the salty delicious treat. I had tired corn flavor earlier in the week and thought it quite good, but I was unable to finish my small size of it either.

The clear winner was Picco’s. Picco’s is a sit down pizza restaurant that also hand makes ice cream for their desert menu. They were great sports and sat a table for 13 who intended only to have ice cream. They also provided bread and water at no charge, which was most appreciated. Surprisingly appreciated was the bread! The flavors at Picco’s are intense, rich, and wonderful. I could taste the gainyness of the cinnamon in my ice cream! Everyone agreed this was the best place.

Clear runner up in my book Toscanini’s. Toscanini’s, since inciting me into their store for the first time in years with their ROFLCon inspired “Internet” Flavor (vanilla + grape nerds) has become my favorite ice cream parlor. The fact that J. P. Licks has recently committed seppuku has only help them reach the top. Other excellent recent flavors include Fig Newton, Ginger, and the best remaining cake batter flavor in town! Enough said!

I Do Love My Phone

Monday, January 4th, 2010

Not having any food in the house and not feeling like spending any money I resigned to having chipotle again this week. Not so so much a resignment as a guilt; to aswauge that guilt I decided that I would walk the .75 miles. I began looking for something intersting to do with my walk. I picked up my new camera and my old bluetooth headphones to listen to music; not that I had anything new or interesting to listen to.

On my walk it hit me, the camera did not have its battery in it. Oh and I thought of something to listen to, that might be worthwhile: NPR. I waited until I got to chipotle where I could use the phone without freezing my hand, typed NPR into the market and I was listening to Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me within a minute. I don’t normally listen to NPR, but with months of podcasts anywhere anytime, I think I’ll give it a try. Anything to be more interesting.

P.S: trying out a new blogging app too. The user comment was right, better than the brower (on the phone) for sure.


Monday, October 5th, 2009

Since my friend Sparky got a job at Harmonix Thursday night games has frequently involved playing Rockband. I was never very good at Guitar Hero, and I was never a huge fan of the songs it came with but Rockband is awesome for two reasons:

  • Lots of great songs as downloadable content, which Sparky picks up for us.
  • Singing!

I have never been very musical. DDR and Guitar Hero proved that rhythm is not my thing. We’ll, the amount of concentration it takes me to clap in rhythm proved that long ago, but they reinforce it well. I’ve also never been good enough at singing to earn any sort of accolades for it. Thanks to my elementary school drama teacher for making me an understudy every year to get that little lesson across. But I still enjoy it, and I can apparently fake it well enough to make a machine happy, which makes me happy.

But I’m only any good on songs that I’ve heard before, so I have added the Rockband 1 & 2 songs to my usual playlist, so that I get used to them and learn what they sound like. I’ve been consequently paying more attention to all of the songs on my playlist and thinking about them in the same way as the songs that I’ll someday have to perform in from my friends to the satisfaction of the machine. It’s a lot of fun. I just wish that you could take any old song and play it in Rockband, as there are pleary of songs I already love to sing that aren’t options (pretty much all of Avril).

The other good thing about Rockband is that its introduced me to some new music. Avoiding advertising really cuts down on access to music pop culture. Well for those of us too cheap for satellite radio, and whose musical tastes are not well captured by Pandora. Anyways so lots of the new songs on the latest revision of my car mp3cd are from rock band. You know, i should really put my car mp3cd under subversion control. Anyways some of them are:

  • Panic at the Disco – Nine in the Afternoon
  • Weezer – Say it Ain’t So
  • The Main Drag – A Jagged Gorgeous Winter
  • Silversun Pickups – Lazy Eye

But my two favorite songs these days, both oldies from the ’90s, that I really wish were in Rockband are:

  1. Alanis Morissette – That I Would be Good: I’ve had a cropped short version of this song for a long time, but the full length one is even better.
  2. Aimee Mann – You Could Make a Killing:This is the only Aimee Mann song that I even approach to liking, but it is great. She was in an episode of Buffy and even that association couldn’t make me like the song she sang in the show.

Speaking of oldies, Beatles Rockband. I’ve always had an issue with the Beatles. I love the parts of their songs that I remember from my childhood, listening to oldies radio, but the songs I never heard, and even the non-choruses that I don’t remember I don’t like very much. A couple weeks ago I went to Beatles Rockband night at Improv Boston, entirely because of a girl, but while I was there I noticed that I like a lot more of the Beatles catalog than I realized. Last week at Thursday night games we had an actual singer, Ethan, and so I eventually settled into providing some harmonies while playing the drums. I can actually drum to the Beatles with some sort of competence on easy mode! It was way more fun to drum when I didn’t suck at it.

Congradulations Kim Clijsters

Monday, September 14th, 2009

Congradulations to Kim Clijsters for making women’s tennis interesting again. Finally, there is once again a woman playing tennis who is not named Williams when it comes time to hand out trophies. Not that Clisters is newbie, but hey anything that prevents Williams vs. Williams matches is welcomed.

I would have watched, but for some reason the U.S. Open Finals were not on broadcast television and not on basic cable, but on some channel no one gets, WTF?! That is almost as bad as there not being a single College Football game on broadcast television last Saturday night! But hey, one problem at a time.

I Guess I Know Enough People Now

Monday, September 14th, 2009

The last two times I’ve gone out to bar in Boston I’ve run into people I know randomly. Now, granted, it was 2 months between consecutive bar trips, and the bars were actually in Somerville and Cambridge, but still. The first trip was to Joshua Tree in Davis Square on July 18th for my birthday. Across the bar I spotted some coworkers. Well actually, I first spotted a cute girl, and then I later noticed she was with my coworkers. Unfortunately for me, she’s recently married to one of them. Previous to entering the bar I’d seen Krishna, a gaming buddy & coworker, and his girlfriend out on the street. To be fair they live within a 500 yards or so of the bar.

View of Harvard from DaedalusThis time we were out last Friday for my room mate Sriram’s birthday. We were at Daedalus in Harvard square on a stormy night. We were the first of our group to arrive. Scoping out the room, I saw a guy I vaguely recognized, but did not know from where. Surprisingly, Sriram walked toward him, but that was just a coincidence. His name I found out is Doug, and I knew him as a 3 hop friend via Sparky and his friend Lilly. I met Doug at the 4th of July and a BBQ in August. Doug was there for a friend of a friend’s (2 hop) birthday. As it turns out, the birthday boy was Sriram. Doug recently became room mates with one of Sriram’s friends. Small world! Later on, one of my former room mate Biran’s friends, whom I know from Hog Island parties showed up.

It was a pretty fun night. Very similar to my birthday, there was Indian food followed by drinks. Lacking anything else interesting to try I had two Absolute Boston, yes that is a variety of vodka now, & Lemonades. The first one was very good, but the second one got old.