Leave your name after the beep

With the relatively large volume of comments I’ve received on the NT-CC1 review, I’ve noticed that everybody is posting anonymously. I’d like to attribute this to the annoying hassle that Blogger imposes on commenters, requiring that they create a new account if they’d like to post with a name. I rather hope it is not out of a fear of retribution for the contents of their posts that nobody is posting their names. So I’ve switch commenting services. Now I’m using comments by Haloscan, which makes it a little easier to post by name.

I’ve transferred all the existing comments to the new system. Unfortunately, I was not able to preserve the time information. If you find any errors, please email me at kd at kendyck.com.

What You’ll Wish You’d Known

Eminent computer scientist, author, painter, and dot-com millionaire, Paul Graham has written down the things he wishes somebody had told him when he was in high school in What You’ll Wish You’d Known. As usual, he has a lot of interesting things to say. For instance:

One of the most dangerous illusions you get from school is the idea that doing great things requires a lot of discipline. Most subjects are taught in such a boring way that it’s only by discipline that you can flog yourself through them. So I was surprised when, early in college, I read a quote by Wittgenstein saying that he had no self-discipline and had never been able to deny himself anything, not even a cup of coffee.

Review of the Nautilus NT-CC1 Smith Machine with Cable Crossover

Last Thursday, nearing the end of a $160 promotional discount at Costco, Mandy and I purchased a Nautilus NT-CC1Nautilus NT-CC1 Smith Machine with Cable Crossover.

For reasons beyond my understanding, the Nautilus website contains no trace of the NT-CC1 at all. Not only that, there does not appear to be any mention of it on the internet anywhere. Not even Google can find a reference to it. So welcome to the only review of the Nautilus NT-CC1 on the Web.

The NT-CC1 is a combination of a Smith machine and a cable crossover. It comes with a adjustable bench (capable of upright, inclined, flat and decline positions), several attachments for the cables (handgrips, tricep rope, low row pull bar, and ankle cuff) and 205 pounds of olympic-style weights (2x45lbs, 2×25, 4×10, 4×5, and 2×2.5), not to mention a built-in chin-up bar. It retails at Costco for $949.99CAN, but after taxes and the $160 discount it came out to just over $930.

Unlike other Smith machines that I have used, the bar is not counterweighted, which means the unweighted bar is quite heavy (~45lbs), which could be unweildly for novices.

Assembly of the unit went smoothly. The assembly instructions are understandable, but somewhat lacking in illustrations (only 5 figures for 42 steps of assembly). In total, it took me around 5 hours to assemble everything, but I took my time and made a stupid mistake that I had to go back and correct [1]. I’m sure a motivated person could assemble it less than 4 hours. I had no problems getting pieces to fit; everything aligned perfectly.

I managed to find one mistake in the assembly manual, but not one that would cause any problems for somebody of reasonable intelligence. The mistake is that there are no instructions on how or when to install the top pegs on the uprights. Here’s a tip: install them at the top of the uprights in the only open slots after following all the other instructions.

I have had one workout with bench so far and am so far very impressed. The motion of the bar is very smooth. The cables move well, too, but not as smooth as other gym equipment I have used. I hope this will change with the application of some silicone-based lubrication as the assembly manual recommends. It is very versitile. The owner’s manual describes 36 exercises, but between the cables and the bar there are countless more. In fact, about half of my first workout was exercises not mentioned in the owner’s manual.

In conclusion, I am very happy with the purchase and look forward to using it regularly from now on.

[1] If you really must know, I installed the chin-up bar backwards.

[Update: see the follow up review for some of my impressions and experiences actually using the NT-CC1]

Ski Trip Report

Last weekend I took a ski trip with some friends from work to Ellicottville, NY, home of the Holiday Valley ski resort.

We stayed in one of the Alpine Meadow chalets on the resort. As a group of 10 people, we filled it all its beds: two double beds in the loft, one king-size a main floor bedroom, and a double with single top bunk and another single. Though the sleeping arrangements were a little crowded, there was a large common room where we spent most of our waking hours in the chalet. With a full kitchen, sofa, and wood-burning stove, it had everything to make our stay enjoyable; everything, that is, except a second shower.

On Saturday morning, I was up before everybody else. I hit the slopes (trail map) before the rest had had their breakfast, giving me a chance to get a few runs in while it was still cold and relatively fast. There was a heavy, wet snow that morning and I was concerned that it might change to rain in the afternoon so I wanted to make the most of my day. I spent most of the morning on the lower side of Mardi Gras, enjoying the likes of Firecracker, Shadows, The Chute, and Champagne, all of which were steep enough to provide some challenge and fun. When I met up with my friends, we toured around the hill some more, hitting the runs serviced by the Little Spruce lift, with which I was generally unimpressed. They were typical beginner/intermediate runs with a constant gradual pitch, excellent for the typical beginner/intermediate, but quite dull for my tastes.

With all the heavy wet snow that morning, it was difficult to stay dry. In fact, the cheap gloves that I brought, figuring I didn’t need the warmth of my usual mitts in such mild weather, were soaked right through. To my relief, for lunch we returned to the chalet, where I could throw all my wet clothes in a drier while I nibbled on a roast beef sandwich.

In the afternoon, we toured around the hill some more, hitting the Eagle chair, with its steep, fun runs: Eagle, Raven, and Hoot Owl.

I was surpised at the number of quad lifts they have. Although most of them are not high speed lifts, they managed to service what little lines formed quite efficiently. I don’t think I waited more than five minutes for a lift all day; usually we skied right on to the lift.

Around 4 o’clock, we returned to the chalet for a dinner break with plans to return to the slopes later for some night skiing. Those plans soon disappated with talk of going out for dinner. We decided to go to the Ellicottville Brewing Company, a microbrewery with excellent food and mediocre beer according to those who had been there before. They were right on one count, anyway. For dinner I had their chicken quesadilla; with large chunks of chicken and a shell toasted to perfection, it was some of the best food I’ve had in a long time. The beer, on the other hand was far from mediocre, as my friends generously suggested. It was surprisingly bad. Among their several varieties, I sampled their stout, which I can best describle as a blend of the tastes of cigarette ash and fish. I sampled several other varieties, and after much deliberation about which was nearest to tolerable, I finally settled on scotch.

On Sunday morning, I toured the town of Ellicottville with some friends while some others skied for the two hours before we were required to vacate the chalet. We stopped in at several ski shops, an excellent chocolate shop (of which I sadly don’t remember the name), and a trinket & art gallery, which housed a life-sized cardboard cut-out of Orlando Bloom as Legolas from LOTR that I considered bringing home for Mandy but for its size and likelihood of damage in transit.

All-in-all it was an excellent trip, one that I would recommend to any cost-conscious Ontarian skier.

fAIL Update

As promised, here’s an update to my problem with a mysterious message box that reads “fAIL”, generated by the media card reader software from Alcor Micro, shwicon2k.exe.

I was surprised and impressed to hear back from emachines the day after sending them my question. I was not so impressed with their response, which read:

Corrupted files or folders pertaining to your system may have caused this issue. File corruption is uncontrollable and can happen anytime. Some factors can affect this behavior such as, improper shutting down of your computer, disk or media failure, improper program installation, incompatibility with other programs and viruses as well.

With this regard, you may consider doing what is called a Restore to an Earlier Time. This process restores the entire registry, software and hardware settings back to a date (restore point) that you select. You do not lose any created documents or information. The only thing that might happen is if you have installed any software after the restore point that you select, you may need to reinstall the software. However, any files that you have created using the software will still be there.

Sounds like a sure-fire way to corrupt some other part of my system, if you ask me. No thanks.

I replied to their email, asking them to contact Alcor Micro on my behalf since they refuse to deal with me directly. I haven’t heard anything back since.

As a temporary solution, I have decided to remove the “Sunkist2k” registry entry in HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINESOFTWAREMicrosoftWindowsCurrentVersionRun (with a value of c:Program FilesMultimedia Card Readershwicon2k.exe, for the record). This avoids running the software every time somebody logs on, while keeping the software on the system in case I ever find out what the real problem is and the proper way to solve it.

The Reputation Motive

In the The Cathedral & the Bazaar, Raymond argued that the open source community is a gift culture where participants are motivated by reputation, writing:

There are reasons general to every gift culture why peer repute (prestige) is worth playing for:

First and most obviously, good reputation among one’s peers is a primary reward. We’re wired to experience it that way for evolutionary reasons touched on earlier. (Many people learn to redirect their drive for prestige into various sublimations that have no obvious connection to a visible peer group, such as “honor”, “ethical integrity”, “piety” etc.; this does not change the underlying mechanism.)

Secondly, prestige is a good way (and in a pure gift economy, the only way) to attract attention and cooperation from others. If one is well known for generosity, intelligence, fair dealing, leadership ability, or other good qualities, it becomes much easier to persuade other people that they will gain by association with you.

Thirdly, if your gift economy is in contact with or intertwined with an exchange economy or a command hierarchy, your reputation may spill over and earn you higher status there.

I had trouble with this explanation when I first read it. I never considered a good reputation an end in itself in the way that Raymond presents it here in his first point. The second and third points seemed plausible, but not compelling enough to explain why someone would choose to exchange their free time for repuation.

It wasn’t until I read Networking on the Network, that I started to learn the value of building a network, and with it a repuation. With the rise of open source software, the profession of software development is beginning to resemble that of research, of which Agre writes:

The truth is that the world is made of people. People out of communities are like fish out of water or plants out of soil. Research of all kinds depends critically on intensive and continually evolving communication among people engaged in related projects. Networking cannot substitute for good research, but good research cannot substitute for networking either. You can’t get a job or a grant or any recognition for your accomplishments unless you keep up to date with the people in your community.

Okay. So there’s some motivation to join the open source community. Look out world, here I come!

Enlightened Self Interest and Win-Win

It occurred to me recently that the pursuit of enlightened self interest promoted by Rand in Atlas Shrugged is very similar to Covey’s habit of seeking win/win outcomes in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Though it has been a while since I read either book, I seem to recall that Rand argued that a fair trade, or exchange, is the ideal form of interaction between two persons because the self always benefits. She plays down the fact that both parties benefit. Covey reverses the emphasis, focusing on the benefit to both parties, and downplaying the benefit to the self, but I think he makes basically the same point: the most desirable outcome is one where both parties benefit. Rand stated it provocatively make for more interesting reading while Covey softened it to make it more acceptable.

Anyway, could it be that Rand’s enlightened self interest and Covey’s pursuit of win/win are one in the same?

Improving Gmail

I’ve been using Google’s Gmail service since late April. In that time I’ve come to really like it. [I have also accumulated 10 invitations to the service; contact me at kjdyck at gmail.com if you’d like one; first-come first-serve.] I like that I can keep all my messages forever. I like that I can search easily. I like the flat structure and the idea of tagging messages with labels. There is only one feature that I can imagine that would remarkably improve my experience with Gmail.

Perhaps I’m unusual in the way that I use email, but I am often lazy about tagging my messages with labels. I have a few rules set up to handle some of the braindead cases, but most of my messages arrive in my inbox without labels and remain untagged until my inbox grows so large that I feel compelled to archive its contents. Before I archive all these messages, though, I like to tag them so I can later view them with other messages in the same category. Depending on the number of messages in my inbox, this tagging step can take 10-30 minutes every other month, or so. If there were some way to automate this process, I could use this time for something more productive.

Since Graham wrote his Plan for Spam, Bayesian filtering has quickly become the standard method of classifying messages as spam or ham. The same technique could be used to determine whether or not to tag a message with a label. Voila! Intelligent automated tagging, the end of manual tagging.

This is such an obvious extension to Graham’s work that I’m somewhat surpised that it hasn’t already been done (at Google, or as a plug-in for popular email clients like Outlook or Notes). With all the smart people at Google, I would assume that somebody there has thought of automating tagging with bayesian classifiers. Perhaps it requires too much computation time or storage space. Perhaps there are user interface problems that I haven’t considered. Perhaps the differences in non-spam categories are too subtle for bayesian classification to do a good job. Whatever the reason, I look forward to the day where my email messages are classified automatically.