Most important meal of the day... What?

Sharing Breakfast
Originally uploaded by audreyjm529
I just realized a funny thing: I lost about 3 kilos (about 6.6lbs) by going to my usual routine of NOT having a breakfast every day.

So what's sauce for the goose might not always be sauce for the gander. I always had trouble with the whole concept of eating before fully awake, but since March I was trying it out, because all the fitness coaches and nutrition experts I spoke with or whose articles I read were adamant about how having breakfast "jump-starts" your metabolism in the morning and helps you burn more calories just sitting there at your desk waiting for lunch.

Now, I go to the gym at least three times a week, get in four times on a good week. I watch what i eat like a hawk (mostly) and even tracked my calorie consumption on Spark People. All in all I was in good shape, but then I got tired of forcing food down my throat before noon and suddenly three weeks later I weigh three kilos less.

Yeah, "starvation mode" my ass.

So here's my lesson: listen to your body, not the experts, and you'll end up happier AND healthier.


Dodged the bullet... kinda

My home, a top-floor condo in a 3-storey building, has polybutylene plumbing. Why do I care? Because my homeowners association wants to yank it out of the walls and replace with something that does not deteriorate under long-term influence of additives found in tap water, like chlorine. Back in the eighties, when love was still free and cocaine cheap, polybutylene was also all the rage. It was nice and flexible, so you could route it more easily, with fewer joints and cutting. Cool, huh?

Well, as I hinted earlier, this piping did not like to be exposed to stuff found in the water, and expressed its dislike by bursting. So the older it gets, the more prone it supposedly gets to said bursting.

Now, the homeowners association to which my home belongs, wants to replace all the plumbing to mitigate risk, and their idea was to ask all of us (owners of 96 units in the HOA) to chip in for the project. $3000, up-front.


That's what I said.

Call me at the end of the month, when I should have some loose change floating around after buying that Lotus Elise I always wanted.

So today our HOA Board had called a meeting, and it became apparent that the majority of homeowners want to part with their three grand just about as much as I do.

So they'll raise the dues instead. 10% per year, for a couple years.


I will probably be long gone from this condo.


Migrating my old personal page

This will be quick and easy. I am phasing out my long-neglected personal page on people.redhat.com server, and will migrate the content to the blog. I will back-date the articles, but some RSS readers, like Google reader, will still place them at the top, sorting by "last updated," not the assigned post date. If you see stuff that doesn't make sense in the next day or so, that's probably why.

Quo vadis part 2

So with my car and I it's like a never-ending soap opera. One day you have a happy ending to an episode, but the next day, you turn around and it's drama again.

So with the oil consumption, and my desire to have a car competitive in its class, I sat down and listed all my options and their money values. The "value" number is derived by figuring out how many percent of the estimated car resell value I will be investing. The resell value is estimated based on what local dealers and prvate sellers offer 99 Miatas for. I took the low end of the spectrum, because of the high mileage on the car and modifications, that most people will be suspicious about when buying a used car.

First, the cheap fix. For 500 bucks I can have someone replace the valve stem guide seals and hope it fixes the problem. When it doesn't, I have spent the least amount of money in relative as absolute terms, but my car will still have the problem, and no performance gain.

Option two appears to be the most expensive one. I took a median approximate quote for a rebuild and added $600 for a clutch/flywheel upgrade. That's pretty much all there is in cost.

Third option uses an 18 hours labor estimate at $85 per hour, with a 10% Tarheel club discount. Parts: that's the new crate engine plus tax. Extras is the better clutch/flywheel combo. The negative resell number is the money I can get out of selling my old motor (again, estimated on the low side).

After all is said and done, both option 2 and option three will leave me with a car that has a good-as-new or new engine, plus upgraded clutch and flywheel. Residual cost of the car will still be around $7000, presuming today's market. Engine swap gets extra brownie points for the resell value of the old engine, effectively offsetting the cost of clutch and flywheel upgrade.

Now to the last option: ditch Bonnie and buy a new car. I looked around, and for about $15000 a nice Honda S2000 can be had. If I do sell the Miata, the deal is to achieve two goals:

  1. Have a higher-performing car that will be good for autocross in its class.
  2. Have a stock car that will not require constant money transfusions to be competitive. CSP is an expensive class to run in, and honestly, I would rather compete in Stock.

Interesting how the math works. Yes it will cost me $8000 extra to buy the newer car, plus a hundred or so to pay for the title transfer and new license, but in the end, I will have a newer car that will be worth $15000 or so.

Of course, the newer more expensive car will be more expensive to insure and the property tax will be higher. Also S2000 is less fuel-efficient and requires premium gasoline, while a 99 Miata is perfectly content running on 87 octane. So adding this to the equation makes the car upgrade option less attractive.

To make it more fun, if I wanted to get my current car up to par with CSP competition, I would ideally spend on the following upgrades:

  1. Independent runner throttle bodies (IRTB): $2000
  2. Torsen differential: $900
  3. 13" CSP wheels: $600
And I will still have a $7000 car!

Tell me what you guys think in comments!

You go Margret

German women fighting for equality in the workplace. Yes indeed, equal pay for equal work is still not attainable for most women in Germany.

The Washington Post article describes how Margret Jonik, a woman who worked in a loading dock of a logistics company for 21 years has discovered that she was shorted on pay all these years. Labor council sued on her and other women workers' behalf and won a raise and a small lump payment for the women.

It's sad though that the sum Margret received (€1500) did not cover even a year's worth of pay difference (€200 a month)--and she was shorted for 21 years!


Burn after reading

Just got home after watching Burn after reading. A great movie! Lots of laughs, some subtle, some less so, wonderful acting, really cool plot. Had all the elements of a good spy story, but turned on its head and told tongue-in-cheek.

Loved it.

And so should you ;)

Test drive: 2003 Honda S2000

While in throes of indecision what to do about my car's oil consumption I have even began considering selling it in favor of an upgrade. At most the autocrosses I went to, an S2000, if driven well, will dominate A Stock class, as well as frequently win an FTD (fastest time of the day). So taking one out for a drive was a logical step in determining whether this would be a good fit for me and a true upgrade.

So today I met up with a guy selling the car in the picture and took it for an extensive test drive. Findings follow:


  • Car is much stiffer and drives the part.
  • Flat in corners as expected.
  • Nimble almost like a Miata.
  • The 100 extra horsies under the hood are sure as hell nice to have.
  • 6-speed tranny makes cruising on the highway a much more chilled experience.


  • The bling: lip spoiler looks like slapped on with two screws, which it is.
  • The exhaust is loud and its frequency resonates with the air volume inside the passenger compartment to make for a droning "wahhhh" sound.
  • A lot of clutch pedal travel. Probably adjustable.
  • Rear shocks or something else in the rear suspension could be shot as the car made a creaking noise going over speed bumps at low speed.
  • And finally (and this is something that is not specific to the particular S2000) the car did not give me half as much feedback as I am used to from my Bonnie car. You might say I am crazy, but not feeling the vibration in the steering wheel and the pedals, just going by what I see made driving this car a fairly detached experience. Almost like playing a video simulation. For most of (normal) people out there, lack of tactile feedback might appear like a plus, but for me, I am not sure I liked it. I certainly could get used to that, but for now...

So the verdict is that the S2000 is a nice, very well-made car, built for performance driving, and I could very much enjoy autocrossing it. This particular one might not be the right fit for me, and I might still (likely) keep my Miata, but it was a great thing I tried something different so I can at least say I looked at other options.


Dune (1984)

Please see exhibit A on the left. That was the highlight of the movie for me.

Call me shallow, or dumb, or both, but I did not see all the greatness in the movie. I even watched the extended version. And it felt like many other book adaptations do when they try to stay true to the book--to the point that you need the book to understand what the hell is going on.

So after watching all of three hours of the movie and feeling thoroughly confused by most of it, I spent another two hours reading up on the Dune universe on Wikipedia. It all started to make sense after a while.

Again, call me what you want, but in my world, a movie, even if a direct adaptation of a book, needs to be able to stand on its own, as a work of art in its own right, finished and contained within itself.

Definitely not needing additional reading.

Not to say that I hated the movie, just felt vaguely disappointed and vexed that it required so much background knowledge to appreciate. All of the said background knowledge being completely (and purposely) irrelevant in my universe, so not like anything I know about anything applied.

Maybe I just don't like feeling ignorant...

So in the end, I can slightly better appreciate the Dune lolcat, and that's my lesson for today.

Which is the business end of a screwdriver please?

As the autocross season is cooling down for the winter I am using the time to tend to oh so many needs of my car. Today's project was a trip out to a pick-and-pull junkyard, armed with a bag of tools, to see if I could find some random parts for my car.

Mostly, I was looking for plastic clips that hold trunk liner and carpeting and such, but also weather stripping, maybe a power antenna, and whatever else my Bonnie car could use.

I never have been to a junkyard before, so I did not quite know what levels of desolation and sordidness to expect. It was actually quite civilized, once you got over the initial shock of seeing all these car carcasses being pulled apart by people. Once, these cars were new and shiny, and somebody took care of them, and now they ended up on this lot, lost and forgotten, and even the management does not know what exactly they have out there.

Cars were sorted by make, somewhat, but all imports were in one section. Just like one would expect, most cars were the usual sort: two-door sedans, minivans, and such, the ones that would not stand out of a crowd. After a bit, I came across a Mazda van whose front end was crumpled and full of dirt, like it came off road and into the ditch. The windshield was smashed in and airbags were popped out. Driver-side airbag had stains of blood on it. There was a music CD on the floor and some other items that were left behind as the car was abandoned. Looking at the van was like looking at a snapshot from somebody's life.

I walked on. Most cars on the lot weren't crashed, just junked because of age, and they looked the part. All the easily removed parts like gas caps were usually gone when I got to the cars. After a while, I found the only Miata they had in the lot. A first generation, classic red one, with regular suspension and manual transmission. It was crashed. Badly. Maybe even rolled. Windshield frame and convertible top were bent badly, passenger side was badly dented, as well as the rear. Even though not a direct donor for Bonnie, many parts from this car could be used, so I went to work. Seats and center console were gone, as was the shift boot and radio. I pulled some screws and plastic clips for my car, and then it hit me that a fully intact tail light assembly was still on the poor red Miata. New, the lens costs upwards of $100, and used can cost up to $80. Given how badly the car was mangled, it was almost a miracle that the assembly was still in good shape.

After the lens, I removed the left sideview mirror from the car. Passenger-side one was broken off. Gas cap was gone, but I picked up the oil filler cap and door-ajar sensors, plus some smaller things like light bulbs, fuses, hose clamps and such.

All in all, it was shaping up well, and after I picked what I thought was still usable from the red Miata, I moved on. There were no other Miatas out there, so it was time to check out.

The most expensive item on the list was unsurprisingly the tail light. My total came up to just under $40.

Of course, not all of my visit was smooth sailing, and how could it be, with 99.9% of everybody at the junkyard being males. I did my best to ignore stares and comments so far, but standing in the checkout line, one guy got my goat. He turned to me and said, pointing and the parts I was holding: "Did you take these off yourself, honey?" My response was: "No, my boyfriend did, he's just not here." It took the guy about two minutes to understand that it was sarcasm... So he turns back to me and tries to (what he thinks is) flirt with me again, at which point I tell him to please mind his own business and leave me alone. He went to lick his ego wounds by making fun of how I "just went off for no reason" to his friend.

What he did not know that I had to exercise enormous amounts of self-control not to say: "Oh, I did not know I needed a penis to hold a screwdriver." But I digress.

Back home, I used some of the clips and screws to secure the diverse trim parts on my car, and put the rest up for sale on eBay. Hopefully I'll make the $40 back to pay for my trip to the junkyard. Anything beyond that is pure cherry on top.

Oh, and next time, I wish I could bring a mean rottweiler with me, just to keep the rude guys at bay.


Лиха беда начало

Just finished posting my shots from the VAC Tidewater event on Lulu and went to check my Lulu vendor dashboard to find that the first shot has already sold! A snippet of the virgin sale from this batch is above.

Yay Lulu. Yay me.


Virginia Autocross Championship, Norfolk, VA

Got back from the Virginia Autocross Championship in Norfolk, VA. I have not seen the final results yet, but here are the two course maps from both days.

Day one, Saturday, was rainy and overcast, and the wind was blowing sea foam and spray onto the course, so as I began to push the car, in the third and fourth runs, I spun.

Here are my results from day one:

  1. 62.645
  2. 56.182
  3. 61.977
  4. 61.761

My best time is equivalent to 48.092 seconds PAX. At the time I ran (in the third heat) the fastest time was 43.741 raw, 37.124 PAX. In the unofficial results printout I was second-to last accordingly.

Day two, Sunday, was different, but hardly better weather-wise. It was sunny and very windy. The wind was pushing the water even further onto the course.

That provided for some amazing photo opportunities like the one to the left, but otherwise was not very helpful. First, the sea slime, foam, and water don't do much for grip. But once you drive through the wet, the tires collect the stuff and even once you make it out into the dry you have to be careful until it scrubs off.

And finally, salt on car's underbody is just an awful thing all in all. So today after work I had a guy use a power spray to wash off the salt.

But I digress. My second day results:

  1. 54.779
  2. 52.122
  3. 51.378
  4. 50.806 (43.490 PAX)

I ran in heat one, so the fastest time of the day would be much better than what I got on the time slip at the time of my last run, but for what it's worth: FTD 41.696, 34.024 PAX.

The event organizers were really nice and they let me take pictures of all runs and let that be my work assignment. So I think I got almost everyone but a few.

I ended up taking well over 1300 pictures, and got home with 935 on my camera. I distributed a bunch of business cards with a link to my site to other competitors at the event, who all seemed to be pleased that someone was taking good pictures, and when I said that I will be asking for $5 per shot, nobody said they thought it was unreasonable.

Last night and tomorrow I will sort through it all and post the best 200 or so on Lulu.com for sale.

I will let the club select 20 shots of their choice for free as a thanks for letting me shoot instead of shagging cones.

So all in all, a great weekend.


Usability... Lulu way

This will get long. So let me preface the rant that is to follow by saying that all in all, the usability of Lulu.com is fine. Not awesome, but fine. I am a spoiled brat begging to be flamed, but hey, whatever.

I realize that I am by no means the typical user Lulu.com had in mind when designing their user interface, but since they opened their platform to photographers and artists to sell their work, one would assume that content management would have been made easy. Not so.

I remember vividly the three nights this May I spent uploading the 200-odd photos I took at the British car show and assigning them all to projects. Individually. Each requiring a number of clicks. No way to process batches of pictures unless you wanted to sell them all in bulk was offered.

Now, some five months down the road, in a fit of user-friendliness I have made some changes to my lulu.com storefront and decided to take down about a third of all pictures from the car show to clean up a bit.

There is no way to set up categories or photo sets, so that should I give the link to a fellow autocrosser, they might have to click through many pages of photos to get to the pictures they want. I worked around this by adding a hard-coded link to a detailed search returning pictures from the set, since I name all pictures by the event they are from. It is only one "set" right now, but the list will grow as I will shoot at more events. The search is fuzzy, quite to my chagrin, but this is the closest approximation to an architecture I could find at this point.

Now onward to the task at hand. Deleting some of the less interesting shots. I began in the "My files" section, because it offers a thumbnail view and a preview, both easy to use to figure out which shots are keepers and which aren't.

First setback was swift: If a file is associated with a project (a condition for it to be published and available in the storefront), it cannot be deleted from the "My files" interface.

Okay, that's fine I guess, though it would have been nice to just be asked whether I wanted to either a) disassociate the project from the file; or b) delete the project with it. But there must be higher reasons for this behaviour, so I obediently traipsed over to "My projects" section only to find that it offered no thumbnails or previews.

Alrighty. What next?

I still had all the files from that shoot on my hard drive, so I thought I could simply scroll through them and select projects to be deleted based on the file name.

Oopsie! Turns out the Projects view does not list file names, just project IDs. Now what?

Well, I don't give up so easy. So what I did was use my file browser to scroll through the pictures (yes I do use a Mac for this stuff, along with a RHEL laptop at work and a Fedora box for play). Whenever I'd find a shot I deemed unworthy, I would copy its project ID from the Files view...

...and use the ID to find the project I want to delete in the Projects view.

Thankfully, it takes mere three more clicks after that to delete the project and to return to the Projects view where you can search for the next one to remove.

As noted earlier, I must be spoiled by all the usable stuff I deal with on a daily basis. I also intend to continue using Lulu because I agree with their business model, but I hope that this gets fixed.


Redesigned my art home page

A couple of weeks ago I have bought a nice Nikon D60 digital SLR camera, which came with two lenses, an 18-55mm and a 70-300mm. I am looking forward like a little child to trying out the big new lens at the next autocross event I go to this coming weekend.

Should the shots come out nice, I hope I will be able to sell a few through my lulu.com storefront. So in order to make the customer experience a little more user-friendly I redesigned the front page to be cleaner and simpler, so that I can use it as an entrance page for any type of traffic: send the link to a design agency or give it to a fellow autocrosser, they should all be able to easily find what they came here to do.

So here are the two designs. First the old, with the night cityscape and links to the user options below the large graphic. The graphic itself is linked to the gallery, but whenever I watched people try to navigate my site, they never clicked on the graphic, and scrolled down to the tiny text instead.

Now here is the new design: definitely cleaned up and much more focused on the user, instead of personal artistic expression. Being an artist, I can say things like that. Artistic expression is great to the point until it stops your audience from actually seeing your art. And sadly, for many years my poor home page design stood in the way.

Once the hurdle of coming to terms with the start page was cleared, the portfolio and the commerce pages were quite usable, but some of the initial good will was lost in the process.

All these problems are solved in the new design. The user sees clearly the four options given by the page: You can either look at art, buy art, buy photos, or email me. At the same time, the new design is better at visually organizing all the options and informing the user about what else is there, besides what they came here to do.

I have to admit that the pictures in the fist row (linking to portfolio and prints respectively) are not self-explaining without their captions. The photo and email pictures are much better, showing exactly what they represent. I will need to think about making the pictures in the first row of links speak for themselves.

For those of you into this sort of thing, the gallery is powered by moderately-modified SPGM, Simple Picture Gallery Manager, an open source application released under GPL. The home page is simply a hand-edited static version of the gallery listing page.

Art and photos are of course mine.

In the next steps, I would like to clean up the commerce app running on amaier.net--potentially remove it altogether, since between lulu.com and artistrising.com I am mostly covered in terms of selling my work online.

Secretary (2002)

Finally came around to watching the Secretary movie with Maggie Gyllenhaal and I loved it! So bizarre and fun, without making fun of the dom-sub lifestyle, it was the first romantic comedy I can say I actually liked!

What took me so long to watch it, I couldn't tell you. It was in my Netflix queue for a while.

Dark suspicions confirmed...

Back in the murky days of my former life in the now-demised Soviet Union, we used to have a saying "You own what you guard." This was in reference to people who would abuse their access to whatever assets they were charged with managing and embezzle and steal, and extort unpunished, protected by their office. Store managers would "buy" directly from their storage and resell on the black market goods that were in short supply, making multi-hundred per cent margin in the process. Local farmers' market management would extort bribes from farmers with perishable produce in order to "pass" the health and safety controls...

Sad to see that the drive to provide more security from the highly overhyped extremist threats results in the same type of abuse of authority--not that I had any illusions about the effects of practically unchecked power on individuals endowed with it.

Case in point: a Transportation Security Administration employee stealing valuables from the very bags he screened. Not a huge surprise, but I am glad it is coming out in public at last.

Just a few months ago, at the FUDCon Boston, we were collecting money to help out a friend whose platinum wedding ring was "lost" in a TSA screening on the way to Boston.


Zoom zoom zoom: Another video

Still didn't have enough of watching me go zoom-zoom in my Miata? No worries, you don't have to watch the same old 58 seconds over and over again. Here are another 50-something seconds with me sliding much more, but hitting a cone. My run starts at about 0:55 seconds.

Mazda MX-5 Jinba Ittai

It is really cool, the more I get involved in the Mazda racing community, the more good stuff I get. Not huge amounts of good stuff, but it is nice to receive little tokens of appreciation from Mazda every now and then.

First, they conclude all their email messages to me with "thanks for racing a Mazda." You may say it's not much, but I know for a fact that other manufacturers will show much less appreciation for racing their product. Some of them will even void your warranty if they find you as much as autocross your car.

Also, there is something to be said about the substantial discounts on stock parts for Mazda racers. And the contingency program, which may not be very relevant for me now, but hopefully will be in a couple more seasons.

For those of you unfamiliar with racing sub-culture, "contingency program" means that if you run Mazda (or whoever you want money from) decals on your car and win a prize place in a qualifying race, you get paid by Mazda--sometimes more, sometimes less, depending on the caliber of the event. Supposed to help you support your addiction to going zoom-zoom.

Speaking of which, that copy of the Zoom Zoom Magazine I got from Mazda, supposedly also due to my racing an MX-5, so that issue has an article about Miata turning 20. There they interviewed three guys originally involved in creation of the first MX-5, and also gave some background on the design principles used in the process. I have never read anything about Miata design, so I was very pleasantly surprised to discover that the guiding principle for its creation was jinba ittai, loosely translated from Japanese as unity of horse and rider. It was really cool because these words were the exact ones I used to describe what I love most about driving my Bonnie car, drawing weird looks from my passengers.

When less is actually more

An interesting thing has happened: I went from a 3 at-a-time Netflix subscription to a 1 at-a-time, and ended up watching more movies, consequently lowering the price per movie watched to $1.16US, down from over $2.50 in the past. This week will also have two returns, as I just mailed a DVD back this morning.

Credit where it's due: Feedflix is a great service that tracks all this cool data for you, and that's why I know my statistics. Try it out.


Miracle at St. Anna

A brutally honest movie, with multiple layers and dimensions. Saw it yesterday and am so glad I did.

Besides the main theme of the movie, race relations in World War II, it shows, quite atypically for an American war movie, very little of the fighting, concentrating on the impact of the war on the local people, in whose towns and villages the war took place.

The film does not attempt to find excuses for anyone, black or white, German, Italian, or American, fascist or partisan, and does a great job saying "There are no good guys in a war."

Densha Otoko (電車男): Train_Man

Watched Densha Otoko movie and liked it, despite its sappiness. Having spent last five years immersed in geek culture, I really enjoyed the good-natured comedy of the film.

House jumps the shark with Season 5

I hoped this would not ever happen, but here it is: House M.D. is resorting to cheap scat jokes to cover up that the series has run its course.

I will continue watching, just because I like the main character played by Laurie so much, but it was a sad moment Thursday night when I was watching Not Cancer on Hulu.

R.I.P. House.


Gymkhana results posted

The wait is over! Here are the results and I ended up in the middle of the pack--something I have yet to achieve at an autocross. It is hard to tell how experienced and skilled the competition was, so this might not amount to much, but it feels nice to not be at the bottom of the list for once.

But for now I will think that maybe I am better at sliding than driving.


Bizarre theft auto

I am still perplexed at the audacious and bizarre theft I fell victim to. Somebody, apparently in need of the weather strip (AKA "seaming welt") for the front of their NB Miata has taken mine.

Now, if it were a fast and easy job, I would not be surprised, because this part's retail value is maybe $50-70 new--not worth the risk of being arrested for attempt to steal the rubber, which in my case has 10 years of exposure to elements on it.

I have highlighted the part on the picture, and you will see that it is held in place by a metal strip, which is held to the top itself by seven (yes 7) screws.

Now comes the absolutely fucked-up nut-job part. Not only has the thief taken the time to unscrew all of the seven screws to get to the rubber weather strip, s/he has actually replaced the metal strip used to hold the rubber using all seven screws!

Now, how bizarre is that?

So bizarre that it made me doubt my own sanity and check in the parts catalog (where the picture came from) and google for pictures of Miata soft tops to make sure I did not imagine that weather strip where now is nothing.

It took me a few days to notice the missing part too, because the weather was nice and I didn't need to put the top up. Once it was up though and I was on the way to the gymkhana, the horrendous wind noise from the top of the windshield, where it meets the vinyl top, quickly made me aware that something was wrong. Miata interior is pretty loud under best of conditions, but the wind was drowning out the engine and the tire noise! At first I thought one of the latches was not fastened properly, but after refastening both latches I found out this was not the case. A closer inspection showed that the rubber from the front of the soft top was missing and there were tool marks on the screws. Knowing that screws on this top were last touched by loving hands at the Mazda factory, I had to accept the fact that someone was screwy enough to actually do this.

It is more amusing and puzzling than annoying to me. Particularly because I can get stock parts at serious discounts through the Mazdaspeed Motorsports program, and I was contemplating upgrading the weather stripping anyway.

Still, it boggles my mind.