The dawn sky

Can you think of a better reward for getting up early than the dawn sky?

Or how about this one?


Cat goes missing in Colorado, found five years later in New York City

Photo of Willow courtesy of Popular Science

Amazing Cat Goes Missing in Colorado, Found Five Years Later in New York City, Alive and Well | Popular Science

The Pop Sci blog has published a story on Willow, a very lucky calico kitty who went missing in Colorado and was found, five years later, on the streets of Manhattan. When taken to a shelter, she was ID’d thanks to an embedded microchip and reunited with her owners. If only Willow could talk, what a yarn that would be!

This gives me hope that our own missing tomcat, our beloved Felix, will come back home someday. He disappeared in November of last year, during one of his mating trips. We were accustomed to his going MIA from time to time, but he always came back. We keep hoping against hope that he hasn’t died. The chances are slim, but Willow’s case is encouraging.


How Fritz earned his ‘Wonder Bunny’ moniker

As mentioned previously, Fritz’ full name is Fritz the Wonder Bunny from Brazil. We named him that on a whim, because it sounded cute, but he proved it true. So how did he earn it? I’ll tell you how.

Fritz, being a curious bunny and also a silly one, as young bunnies tend to be, found a spot inside the engine of our car where he liked to sleep undisturbed. He’d disappear for hours on end and we figured he’d made a burrow somewhere in the garden or he found a comfy and shady spot under one of our rhubarb bushes.

During one such afternoon when Fritz was nowhere to be found, I needed to run an errand that involved using the car. I looked under to make sure no one was sleeping there, opened the gate, got in and left. I drove for a couple of kilometers, parked the car on a street, then came back to it after a half hour or so, got in and drove back home. So far, so good.

Instead of parking the car inside our courtyard, as I usually do, I left it outside, on the street, because I knew I’d use it again later that same day.

Back inside our yard, Ligia and I started looking for Fritz. He was still nowhere to be found. He’d been gone for a few hours and we started to get worried. Where could he be, the silly bunny?

After we looked everywhere, we gave up. We figured he either found a great hiding spot or he decided to up and go. After all, our pets are all free to go if they so desire. They’re free and we wouldn’t have it any other way. Our cats can climb over the fences any time they wish, and we also have a cat-sized hole in our gate, if they want to explore our street and socialize with other cats.

A few more hours passed by, and we started to get really worried. We’d only had the little guy for a few weeks, but we’d gotten attached to him. The thought of losing him saddened us deeply. We started thinking about scenarios.

What if Fritz had been eaten by a hawk? But we saw no hawks hanging about that day. What if Fritz might have climbed into the engine? That happened to us before, when two of our cats had kittens — but we thought the possibility so remote and the chance of his survival so slim if he did so, especially after I drove the car through town, that we put it out of our minds. We also didn’t have the heart to look inside the engine and see Fritz splattered all over, in case that was what had happened.

The time came for me to run out for another errand, and I left with a heavy heart, by this time realizing that we’d probably lost Fritz for good. I walked out of the house, opened the gate and to my astonishment, who do you think I found nibbling the grass next to my car but Fritz himself!

The little fur ball was covered in oil and dust and was quite scared. I called Ligia to my side and we caught him and put him back in the yard, where, in spite of his clearly harrowing experience, he dug right into a fresh red beet root while glancing about with his big eyes and twitching his soft bunny nose.

So what had happened? Short story, he climbed into the engine bay. That much we know for sure. I still don’t know what spot he chose, but it’s obviously a very good one, and that was his saving grace. He was inside the engine when I started the car and he stayed inside the engine the whole time, while I drove through the town and while the car stayed parked on a public street, kilometers away from our home. Did I mention the day was particularly hot, with temperatures above 30 degrees Celsius?

He continued to stay inside the engine as I drove the car back home and he stayed either inside the engine or under the car as the car stood parked on the street outside our home for more than four hours. We assume he continued to stay with the car all that time because it was the only familiar thing in unfamiliar surroundings.

I don’t know what went through his tiny little bunny mind during all that time. It must have been a terrible experience, being caught up in a big metal monster that made a lot of noise and a lot of heat, moving about with all sorts of unfamiliar smells and somehow avoiding being crushed by all the belts and fans in the engine bay. Then, when the car stopped for good, he climbed out of the engine, his fur full of oil and dust from the car’s innards and he found himself in yet another strange place with all sorts of unfamiliar smells. He must have figured that if he waited there long enough, something would happen that would make things right again and sure enough, it did!

Now do you see why he is rightfully called Fritz the Wonder Bunny? It’s a wonder he’s still around! As far as we’re concerned, he’s a Super Bunny!

We’re hoping he won’t have to take a trip to Brazil in order to prove the last part of his name, but you never know. The future will reveal all! 🙂


Hardware preview: Apple iPad 2

Apple iPad 2

The new iPad 2 will become available on March 11th (see a neat video from Apple introducing it). In my post about the original iPad, I said the following:

“In spite of the failures of their predecessors, I think Apple will pull this off. I think the iPad will be very successful.”

I’m glad to see that I was right. Not that I had anything to do with the success of the device. The credit goes entirely to Apple, and to the people who bought it and used it so well.

I got to watch the March 2 keynote today (a few days later). Much to my surprise, Steve Jobs was on stage to present it. I was very glad to see him able to stand up and hold a meeting, given all the tabloid rumors about him — though I have to say he was skinny as a board. Thank goodness he’s still around. I hope he gets better, and continues to be around for a few more decades.

Here’s a quick summary of the salient features of the iPad 2:

  • 33% thinner than the original iPad (0.34″), and lighter (1.33 lbs)
  • Comes in both black and white finishes
  • Dual-core A5 chip, up to 2x faster
  • Graphics are up to 9x faster
  • Same great 10-hour battery life
  • Same 1024×768 display
  • 2 cameras (front and back) for video or photos, in HD
  • Magnetic smart cover designed specifically for it
  • Instant on
  • AirPlay to your TV via Apple TV
  • Video mirroring (up to 1080p) via $39 cable
  • AirPrint

My only disappointment with the iPad 2 is that it doesn’t have a Retina Display. Word on the grapevine is that they’re still difficult to make in that size. Who knows… It would have been nice if this iPad had it. Still, I believe iPad 3 will have a Retina Display.

iPad 2 Measurements

iPad 2 A5 Chip

I am however very glad to see that the iPad 2 does have a video camera — and not just one, but two. In my review of the original iPad, I said this:

“It’s very likely the next gen iPad will have a video camera, and it will have iChat as well.”

Glad to see I was right on that count as well. It was, after all, a logical step.

Facetime on iPad 2

iPad 2 Smart Cover Line-up

Smart Cover for iPad 2

There are some new accessories for the iPad 2, which will be offered in addition to the ones designed for the original iPad.

  • The Smart Cover, naturally, which comes in 10 colors, 5 of them polyurethane and 5 leather, as seen above (see the Smart Cover in action in this video)
  • The Digital AV Adapter provides an HDMI-out port with video and audio routed to it, in addition to a 30-pin connector which lets you charge the iPad while playing content to an HDTV
  • The iPad 2 Dock is designed for the thinner iPad 2, and also works with Digital AV Adapter

iPad 2 Dock

Of course, given that the iPad has Bluetooth, you can stick it in a dock and use the Apple Wireless Keyboard to type on it.

Apple Wireless Keyboard

The Smart Cover is so nicely designed.

iPad 2 Smart Cover (1)

iPad 2 Smart Cover (2)

iPad 2 Smart Cover (3)

The Digital AV Adapter will make it so easy to display content from the iPad on an HDTV.

iPad 2 Digital AV Adapter

iPad 2 Video Mirroring

iPad 2 Airplay

The iPad 2 will come in 16GB, 32GB and 64GB models, as well as WiFi-only or WiFi+3G (GSM or CDMA) models. My guess is that iPad 3 will have a combined 4G GSM/CDMA chip, eliminating the need to offer separate 3G models. The pricing grid for the various models (there are 18 possible models, given that there are two color finishes and two 3G providers), goes as follows:

  • WiFi-only: $499/16GB, $599/32GB, $699/64GB (black or white finish)
  • WiFi + 3G: $629/16GB, $729/32GB, $829/64GB (black or white finish, AT&T/Verizon)

Images used courtesy of Apple Computer, Inc.


The dancing Fountains of Bellagio at night

Most people will likely tell you the Fountains of the Bellagio Hotel and Casino are easily the coolest thing in Las Vegas. I agree. They are spectacular. I have never seen excess put to better use — and let me tell you, a huge lake that shoots water hundreds of feet in the air, in the middle of the Nevada desert, where any water demands a high premium, is excessive. These fountains left me breathless, awestruck, every time I saw them, and we made sure to catch several shows while we were there.

This is one of those shows, filmed by me at night, from the Northeast corner of the lake, at the intersection of Las Vegas Blvd and Flamingo Rd. The fountains danced to a famous tune crooned by Frank Sinatra, called “Luck Be A Lady”. Enjoy!

Watch video on YouTube |

Wow. That is one word that really says it all when it comes to this.


The HexaKopter Micro Copter

Holger Buss and Ingo Busker are two Germans who have created an online community for micro copter fans in late 2006, called, appropriately enough, MikroKopter. Since then, they’ve come up with several micro copter designs, the plans for which they share freely on their site. One of their latest designs is the HexaKopter — an RC mini-helicopter with six propellers.

It is an amazing design, and the thing is incredibly nimble in the air, as you can see in the test flight video. The weight of the helicopter is 1,200 grams, and its max rated payload is 1,000 grams. In the test video, they loaded it with 1,300 grams (a digital camera used to film flight footage, and a 1 liter bottle of soda), and it did just fine. Flight time is up to 30 minutes with a small payload.

You can probably get some amazing aerial photographs and video with the HexaKopter. What can I say, I love German engineering! Kudos to Holger and Ingo!


Vasile Stoica: around the world by wheelchair

Vasile Stoica is the first Romanian to have traveled around the world on a wheelchair.

Born paralyzed from the waist down, he spent the first thirteen years of his life mostly in hospitals, enduring numerous operations which were supposed to enable him to walk, too poor for a wheelchair, forced to drag himself along the floor. When he got into his first chair, it felt like flying to him. Since then, he’s set ever higher goals for himself. He started making trips through Europe, then prepared for his trip around the world.

He completed his first round-the-world journey in 1998, and that’s also when he entered the record books as the person who traveled the longest distance by wheelchair. Since then, he plans different routes and travels with his special Kuschall wheelchair each year, hungry for new places and new challenges.

Here he is after he completed a grueling 5,250 km trek across Europe, in 2006, at Finisterre, Spain.

The man who traveled the world by wheelchair doesn’t get any respect in his own country, along with the other disabled people who live there. In a short video that he and his friends put together, he demonstrates how hard, or even impossible, it is for him to get around on his wheelchair in Romania, because of the lack of disabled access to public buildings, such as ramps or elevators — this in spite of laws that have been on the books for years.

Photos used courtesy of Vasile Stoica.

The first people to have traveled the world by wheelchair were Patrick and Anne Simpson, who published their account of the journey in 1997, in a book entitled simply “Wheelchair Around the World“.


Kudos to Apple for a great customer service experience

I’d like to congratulate Apple Customer Service for the way they handled the most recent issue with our iMac G5.

If you’re a regular reader, you may know we’ve had problems with our iMac right from the start. Virtually as soon as we brought it home from the Apple Store, we had issues with it. These things got worse with time, and although we took the iMac in for repairs, repeatedly, the problems persisted. I detailed that first set of issues in this post. Several months later, we took it in for service at our local Apple Store, where we had a terrible experience. A few months after that, we took it in for service again, and then, a month or so before Apple Care ran out in late 2008, we took it in for what we hoped would be its last service call.

Unfortunately, it stopped booting up a month after Apple Care ran out. We were packing for what would turn out to be a long trip abroad, and didn’t have time to take it in for service during the 90-day warranty window offered for that last repair. I kept it boxed up, hoping I’d get to it at some point and who knows, perhaps it would auto-magically boot up. I was soured up with the whole affair, and said as much in this post. In three years of using the iMac, we’d had problem after problem, and I felt as if we never got our money’s worth from that machine. I liked it, Ligia liked it, but it just couldn’t be relied upon, and it was a shame.

By the time I got to have a look at it, it was late 2009, about a year later… I followed the steps outlined in this Support Note from Apple, and according to those instructions, the motherboard was at fault, again. I called Apple Support to explain the situation, hoping someone would be kind enough to understand and sympathize. I was very pleasantly surprised when the tech who answered the call wanted to help. He got a hold of one of the senior support engineers, whose name was Christopher, and he was also willing to help. I mention his name because I hope he’ll get some sort of recognition at work for the nice thing he did for me.

Christopher authorized an out-of-warranty repair for our iMac. We were still abroad, but when we got back to the States, I took it in for service, and the folks at the Genius Bar of the Aventura, FL, Apple Store couldn’t have been nicer, too. They did some testing and discovered, to my surprise, that it was only the power supply, and, even better than that, repaired it within hours. I dropped it at the store at 11 am, and got it back by 7 pm, in working order! I was able to boot up our iMac after more than a year and access our documents, photos, emails and more. It was like reuniting with a long-lost friend.

Now that’s my kind of Apple repair experience! I don’t know if my past repair experiences were flukes, or if something changed at Apple since then, but all I can say is that I’m very pleased to see our iMac working again, and I want to congratulate everyone involved in the resolution of this support ticket for being so understanding and so willing to help us. Great job! Thank you!


Hardware preview: Apple iPad

Today, Apple launched the iPad, their long-awaited version of the tablet computer. In spite of the failures of their predecessors, I think Apple will pull this off. I think the iPad will be very successful. In case you haven’t gotten your iPad fix yet, grab a cup of tea and sit down, this post is loaded with photos of the iPad and its accessories.

As I mentioned yesterday, I wrote a post in September of last year, where I unwittingly described the functionality of the iPad. I was actually focusing on the need for what I called a portable Apple TV, a device that bridged the gap between an iPod and a laptop, and that’s exactly what the iPad is. Let me quote myself:

Clearly, Apple has the technological know-how to put together a really nice Apple TV that’s not yet another box tethered to a TV in the living room, but a display with integrated speakers and the circuitry that allows it to get on my network and access media from various drives, or to play the media I sync to it through iTunes, or to download media from the Internet.

Just think, with a nice LED screen of about 13-17 inches, a touch screen, plenty of onboard storage, a good battery, WiFi, Bluetooth, and speakers, they could have an amazing device that I could take with me wherever I decide to sit in the house or in the yard. I could take it in bed and watch movies without draining my already tired laptop battery, I could take it outside on the patio at night to watch stuff there, etc.

Apple already has all of this technology. Why don’t they put it together?

Wouldn’t you know it, someone at Apple must have seen my post… I’m kidding, naturally — the iPad has likely been in development for at least a year, so it’s not like I had much to do with the iPad’s invention — but it’s nice to see that my hunch, or at least my perception of a need in the marketplace for a product like the iPad, was right.

What does the iPad do? It can:

  • Browse the web
  • Read and send email
  • Enjoy photos
  • Watch video
  • Listen to music
  • Play games
  • Read e-books
  • Basically, anything but any real work 🙂

I may be wrong about that last capability though. Here’s what Apple says:

“Apple also introduced a new version of iWork® for iPad, the first desktop-class productivity suite designed specifically for Multi-Touch. With Pages®, Keynote® and Numbers® you can create beautifully formatted documents, stunning presentations with animations and transitions, and spreadsheets with charts, functions and formulas. The three apps will be available separately through the App Store for $9.99 each.”

So who knows, we may be able to get some work done on the iPad after all, if we’re not too tempted to watch movies or read books on it.

Before we get too awestruck with all of the awesome things the iPad can do, it’s important to note two of its capabilities. I’ll let Apple explain:

“iPad is powered by A4, Apple’s next-generation system-on-a-chip. Designed by Apple, the new A4 chip provides exceptional processor and graphics performance along with long battery life of up to 10 hours. Apple’s advanced chemistry and Adaptive Charging technology deliver up to 1,000 charge cycles without a significant decrease in battery capacity over a typical five year lifespan.”

Apple has not only developed new battery technology which is already in use on its laptops and now, on the iPad, but, and I think this is huge, they’ve now developed a new chip, called the A4. Since when do they have the technology to develop computer chips? I thought they always outsourced that function, to Intel, and before that, to PowerPC. Now they’re making chips? Wow. And since this new chip is called the A4, are we to assume there’s an A3, or A2, or A1, or more importantly, an A5, or an A6, or A7? Where were they used, and where will they be used?

Let’s look at the iPad’s exterior. It is a gorgeous device, incredibly thin, made of aluminum and glass.

It comes in two models: Wifi-only, and WiFi + 3G. The only difference (on the exterior) between the two models is a bit of extra weight for the 3G model (1.6 lbs. vs 1.5 lbs.), and the presence of the 3G antenna, which looks like a black strip at the top.

Height: 9.56 inches (242.8 mm)
Width: 7.47 inches (189.7 mm)
Depth: 0.5 inch (13.4 mm)
Weight: 1.5 pounds (.68 kg) Wi-Fi model; 1.6 pounds (.73 kg) Wi-Fi + 3G model

One thing I’m not clear on is whether the 3G version of the iPad will require the AT&T network, or whether it will be “unlocked” for use on any 3G network. I’m certainly not keen to use AT&T’s network, for reasons with stem directly out of my personal experiences and my parents’ personal experiences with their horrible customer service.

Let’s move on and look at the display. I was hoping to see a larger-size device, but as things stand, the screen is 9.7″ across, at 1024 x 768 resolution. What does compensate for the somewhat smaller screen is the ppi (pixels per inch) spec, which is 132 — almost double the 72 ppi of standard displays. The display uses a technology called IPS (in-plane switching) which allows for a wide, 178° viewing angle.

When I look at the TV and Video specs, I’m glad to see that it will also output 1024 x 768 to an external display with the aid of a dock to VGA adapter, and that it will output SD and better-than-SD video (480i/480p and 576i/576p) to a TV with an Apple Composite A/V cable. More than that, it can play 720p (HD) video, which was expected and was the right thing to do.

“H.264 video up to 720p, 30 frames per second, Main Profile level 3.1 with AAC-LC audio up to 160 Kbps, 48kHz, stereo audio in .m4v, .mp4, and .mov file formats; MPEG-4 video, up to 2.5 Mbps, 640 by 480 pixels, 30 frames per second, Simple Profile with AAC-LC audio up to 160 Kbps, 48kHz, stereo audio in .m4v, .mp4, and .mov file formats. “

The iPad’s power adapter is rated at 10W according to the specs, which is great in my book. It means it’s a very efficient device. Think about it, what you basically get with the iPad is an HD TV which you can take to bed with you, and which only consumes 10W when plugged in. Have you even looked at your HDTV’s power usage lately? Even the most efficient LCD displays consume more than 100W, and if you look at how much plasma displays consume, you’ll want to run away.

The iPad can open most of the usual file formats, as is expected since it will have its own version of iWork, but does that mean we’ll get a Finder, with a Home folder for our account? After all, if we’re going to work with documents, we’ll need a place to save them and access them.

“Viewable document types: .jpg, .tiff, .gif (images); .doc and .docx (Microsoft Word); .htm and .html (web pages); .key (Keynote); .numbers (Numbers); .pages (Pages); .pdf (Preview and Adobe Acrobat); .ppt and .pptx (Microsoft PowerPoint); .txt (text); .rtf (rich text format); .vcf (contact information); .xls and .xlsx (Microsoft Excel).”

This becomes an even more important question if we consider the iPad accessories, among which we find the Keyboard Dock, which clearly allows one to use the iPad as a lightweight computer. If it’s going to be used as such, we’ll definitely need a Home folder, with a Documents folder and other such usual amenities to keep our stuff. And will these documents get synced with the documents on our home machine? Furthermore, if we’ll download our emails onto it, will they automatically get synced with Mail on our laptops and desktops?

There’s also a regular dock, which lets the iPad charge and holds it upright, so you can watch movies unhindered.

I like the camera connection kit, which lets you download photos from your digital camera either through a USB cable, or with an SD card reader. That’s a smart and elegant solution.

The iPad case is great, too. It’s wonderful for carrying the iPad about, and for travel, as it turns into a stand that lets you watch movies without needing to hold the iPad in your hand.

All of this exterior beauty wouldn’t be much without interior smarts and looks that match it to a tee. Here’s where Apple’s advantage really comes into play. Since they make both the hardware and the software, they can marry the two so well that they act as one. There’s never any doubt that a button you press on an Apple machine doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do, because it was made specifically for that reason and there’s a part of the code on the machine written specifically for it. On the iPad, I can see that significant thought and effort was put forth to design the software UI around the look of the hardware, to make the two act as one, and it’s a success. Have a look at how well each of the iPad’s purposed uses is represented by the software written for those uses.

Photos on the iPad:

Maps on the iPad. Can you believe how gorgeous those maps look on the iPad, and how cool it is to manipulate them (zoom, pan, annotate) on that large multi-touch display?

iBooks on the iPad. The Kindle’s battery may last longer, but can you argue with color?

iCal on the iPad. It’s just gorgeous, much more than its counterpart in OS X. Why doesn’t it look this good on my MBP?

Contacts on the iPad. Very cool.

Notes on the iPad. I’m going to love taking notes now, even more so than on my iPod Touch.

There is one disappointment. I expected an iSight video camera on the iPad, and there isn’t one. I’m not sure why. Possibly for the same reason the iPod Nano got a video camera last year instead of getting it one or two years prior to that. It’s very likely the next gen iPad will have a video camera, and it will have iChat as well.

Still, the iPad is a fantastic device, and it exceeded my expectations in many ways. I’d love to know what you think of it.

iPad will be available in late March, worldwide, for a suggested retail price of $499 (US) for the 16GB model, $599 (US) for the 32GB model, and $699 (US) for the 64GB model. The Wi-Fi + 3G models of iPad will be available in April in the US and selected countries for a suggested retail price of $629 (US) for the 16GB model, $729 (US) for the 32GB model and $829 (US) for the 64GB model. International pricing and worldwide availability will be announced at a later date.

The video from the Keynote iPad launch is available here, and the iPad overview video is available here.

Photos used courtesy of Apple.


The Ferrari FXX

Today was the first time I saw and heard the Ferrari FXX. While I’m not wild about its looks, the sound of its engine is amazing. It floored me. It’s pure adrenaline. I’ve heard the sound of plenty of sports cars in my time, but I don’t know, there’s something that sets the FXX apart for me. Perhaps it’s just the way the sound was mastered for the videos, who knows, but it blows me away.

Here it is in a video where Michael Schumacher drives it around a race track with French football star Zinedine Zidane in the passenger seat.

And here it is being driven by Ferrari test driver Dario Benuzzi for a Top Gear show.

Only 30 of these monsters were made by Ferrari from 2005-2007, and it’s essentially a souped-up Ferrari Enzo with an 800 bhp engine. Here are the detailed specs:

  • Engine: Longitudinal, rear-mounted, 75 degree, naturally-aspirated aluminium V12
  • Valvetrain: DOHC, 4 valves per cylinder with continuously variable timing
  • Fuel system: Bosch Motronic ME7 Sequential Electronic Injection
  • Horsepower Max: 800 hp (597 kW) at 8500 RPM
  • Specific Output: 127.75 PS (93.96 kW; 126.00 hp) per litre
  • Drive system: RWD w/TCS
  • Construction: Carbon fibre body over carbon fibre tub with rear alloy subframe
  • Front brakes: Brembo CCM (carbon-ceramic) discs w/6-piston calipers, power assist ABS
  • Rear brakes: Brembo CCM (carbon-ceramic) discs w/4-piston calipers, power assist ABS
  • Front wheels: 483 mm (19.0 in) x 229 mm (9.0 in)
  • Rear wheels: 483 mm (19.0 in) x 330 mm (13 in)
  • Steering: Rack and pinion with power assistance
  • Suspension: triple wishbones with push-rod actuated coil-shock units, adaptive dampers, electronic shock absorbers, anti-roll bar
  • Wheelbase: 2,650 mm (104 in)
  • Front track: 1,660 mm (65 in)
  • Rear track: 1,650 mm (65 in)
  • Rear view is provided by a roof mounted video camera displayed on a small inboard screen.
  • Top Speed: 217 mph (349 km/h)

There’s more info about it on Wikipedia or on the Ferrari website.