Dragon*Con - Day 1

Just about to head down to the parking deck next to the hotels; looks like the events and panels do not start up until 1:00pm so I will have some time to walk around and get a few pictures.

Last night was an abysmal wait for a Thursday night registration; I joined the line at about 9:20pm and finally received my badge at 11:05pm- so about 1:45... I would hate to see what the lines are like today (thought: photo idea?)

I have my laptop charged, my Treo calendar synched and I just need to get my power inverter from the attic.  First place I am heading is The Cruxshadows table to buy a few shirts (for the next few days at the Con) and (hopefully) a copy of the 'Birthday' single (which I have already pre-ordered on ISOTank, but I do not feel like waiting) to see what other songs are on it!  :o)

I will try to post other entries as the day progresses...


Dragon*Con Countdown!

I found this image in the LJ Dragon*Con community:

This is made me laugh harder than I have laughed in some time!

My new lens came in- and it is awesome!  I picked up a cheap 72mm UV lens cover (to protect the actual lens) from BestBuy and I also purchased a new strap for my camera; the lens almost doubles the weight of the camera and the original 'EOS Digital' strap is just too short and cheesy.  The new one is a Quantaray 'Neo Air' comfort strap- a cheapie from Wolfe Camera (like they know what 'cheap' is!).

I am hard at work converting an XLSX version of the Dragon*Con schedule into Office.  It look me about 3 hours to do just the Friday schedules (lots of experimenting and proof-reading!); hopefully it will only take me about 3 hour to do the remaining 3 days!

The only other thing I am considering purchasing is a camera mono-pod (a one legged tripod); I have seen decent ones at BestBuy for $40 (or $100 for a carbon-fiber version) or $20 for a crappy one at Fry's... I guess I will need to go out to the Alpharetta Fry's tomorrow and see if they have different stock than the Duluth store.


Johnny Rockets didn't make it in Gwinette Place...

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FLAC and Enjoying Music

I was listening to an episode of TWiT in my car on the way to work and a topic was presented that some research has been done and people are using different parts of their brain to listen to music now; due to the compression in digital music our brains are using more of the areas associated with analytical thinking to re-create the 'missing' parts of the music- rather than having the music stimulate the emotional centers of our brain... 

This seemed weird to me so I downloaded a few FLAC songs and listened to them.  Perhaps it was that I haven't listened to Pink Floyd's Atom Heart Mother in some time, but it really sounded MUCH better than I remember.  From this I am on a long quest to replace all of my 224Kpbs MP3s with FLAC.

I started ripping some CDs (all of my Cruxshadows and a few albums from The Church) with dbPowerAmp (excellent program!) and downloading what I can (so I do not have to rip!); it looks like converting to FLAC will at least quadruple my library size (about 30gb in MP3 format)- and then I will need to convert to M4A format to allow them to play in iTunes or on my iPod (which dbPowerAmp will do as well). 

Right now I am loading some INXS and Kraftwerk up on my iPod to go outside and enjoy the sun- this should be a good test of the iPod's playback quality.


New Lens for Dragon*Con!

I have been considering a new Lens for my Digital Rebel XT camera as the standard EF-S 18-55mm lens is good, but it doesn't always do spectacular for indoors shots (which is where Dragon*Con is held).

I narrowed mo choices down to the EF-S 17-85mm IS lens and the EF 28-135mm IS lens; both of these have a larger opening lens than my current lens (72mm vs 58mm) and both have optical image stabilization (hence the IS in the title).  In addition, both of the ones I am looking at have ultrasonic motors (indicated by USM) that allow manual focusing without having to turn off auto-focus...

I decided on the later lens as I find myself doing more 'zoom' shots than panoramic shots.  The 17-85mm lens is also an EF-S lens designed for Canon cameras with a 'short back focus' body- the inner lens goes into the camera a little deeper to accommodate a smaller CMOS sensor; this will work with my current Rebel XT (or the newer XTi) but not with some of their higher end cameras (like the EOS 5D) and I want to keep my upgrade options open!  (my next step is probably the 30D- which will accommodate the EF-S lenses)

I found a nice deal on eBay (about $50 less than a new lens from Amazon) and I received notification that it shipped out on Monday via USPS Priority Mail- so I should have it by Friday! (and in time for Dragon*Con!) 

Unofficial WM6 for Axim x51v

Someone has released a hacked version of Windows Mobile 6 for the Dell Axim x51v (there is also a custom A17 ROM available- Dell stopped at A14).  Being the technically adventurous sort of person, I am trying the update right now... 

Rumors are that this breaks MSN Live and WPA Wireless on the unit, but I guess I will have to see if there are future patches to fix this!

A note: to enter the boot loader on an Axim, you must press Power + Reset + Wireless together and release the Reset button (the main page was saying to release the wireless button first- and this does NOT work).



Wow- I cannot believe how hard it is to get back into my normal sleep pattern after being in GMT+2 for two weeks!  I was awake at 4:00am on Sat, Sun, Mon and Tues and I had to force myself to go back to sleep on Wed to get up at 7:00am!  Toady had a few early wake-ups but I managed to stay in bed until 7:00am...

The early morning part isn't a problems- this gives me more time to research new things such as the new xBox 360 Premium (has HDMI now), PTGui, Adobe Lightroom and Blurb BookSmart; the issue is that I am almost falling asleep at 7:00pm- during my evening commute home (not a good thing).  I also must get adjusted as Dragon*Con is less than 2 weeks away!

I am trying to follow the LJ Dragon*Con journal, but I keep getting side-tracked; for example, today I ended up reading Wil Wheaton's blog (he was Wesley Crusher from ST:TNG)...  I also need to get an electronic version of the program guide so I can convert it to a format that I can sync to my Treo or PocketPC...


Pictures All Uploaded!

Whew- it is a lot of work cropping, filtering, sorting and rotating 400+ pictures from a vacation and upload them to Flickr- but I am finally done! 

My Greece Trip Pictures

My Italy Trip Pictures

Note that all 'personal' images will be hidden unless you are a friend of me on Flickr- so if you want to see these, setup a Flickr account and add me as a friend; if I know you and accept you will be added to my friends list and be able to see such pictures...


Back in the US!

Wow- what a day yesterday was.  We attempted to get home and we almost did- Tracy and Diana are home and I am at Tracy's parents house in New Jersey...

We saw a few openings for the trip back to Atlanta last night so we decided to try to go home (the alternative was to fly to Zurich or Vienna as the flights back to Atlanta were better).  We arrived at the Rome airport and fought our way to the Delta counter and had our standby reservations changed to fly back to Atlanta- but the guy at the counter had scheduled me to return on a different flight than Diana and Tracy.  I went back to the counter and the guy wasn't there for 10+ mins; and then I had to wait for two groups in front of me to finish their business.  The guy made a call and told me to go through the 'Medallion Members' line- which took 20+ minutes; then the baggage check-in was filled with fossils checking in 5+ bags each- which took another 15+ minutes.  When I got to the baggage check-in, it was 30 mins before the flight so I was told the flight was closed and I could only be re-scheduled to another flight through JFK- which was 2 1/2 hours later.  Luckily I could check my bag in and I went on to the gate.

I went to the waiting area and I was able to get on the flight- there was even an open seat next to me on the flight so I could take up both seats.  The flight to NYC was 11 hours and fairly uneventful and boring; I played with my PSP and prepped my Florence photos for upload. 

After landing I had to go through customs and re-check my non-carry-on luggage.  Customs took about 10 minutes but then I had to wait for my baggage to come down the carousel so I could re-check it in- and it took 30+ minutes for this to happen.  After this I had to go though security again (10+ minutes) and arrived at the gate with about 10+ minutes before the flight departure.  I was number 24 on the stand-by list and there was only 1 seat free- so I had to wait another 2 hours for the 6:45 flight to Atlanta to see if I could get on.  I was in the #41 spot on the standby list, so it was pretty much impossible for me to get back to Atlanta.   

Tracy made plans for me to stay with her parents in Denville, NJ and I took the Amtrak train to the Jamaica station.  From there I took the E subway to Penn station to the NJ train and the train took me to Denville where Tracy's mom picked me up (at 12:30am). 

I now have a business class seat on AirTran back to Atlanta tomorrow at 11:00am- which cost less than renting a car one-way to Atlanta...

I spent most of the day just relaxing and hanging out with Tracy's father.   I have uploaded a lot of my pictures to flickr as the parents have Verizon FIOS- which looks like a 15Mbps down/2Mbps up connection!  (I cannot wait to get this speed in Atlanta!)

Monday I am back to work for 2 weeks and then I am on vacation for 2 weeks for Dragon*Con!


Itinerary Change

We are flying on stand-by an the flights from Greece to Atlanta, GA are pretty bad- there were 32 people on the wait list for 10 seats on Tuesday. We did a little research and found that some of the other cities are not as bad as Atlanta- so we flew to Rome.

The flight from Santorini to Rome was hell- our travel agent decided not to cancel the our scheduled Santorini-Athens flight and make a full Santorini-Rome flight; he just added a Athens-Rome flight to our Itinerary. The second flight was scheduled for 50 minutes after our first, but the first was delayed for almost 45 minutes- and this didn't count the shuttle times from the terminal to the plane. Needless to say, we missed the connecting flight and we had to have the flight rescheduled- for four hours later. The Agean Airlines staff is very friendly and accommodating- so that made it a little better. During the wait we grabbed some lunch and had our Delta tickets transferred over to a Rome-JFK-Athens (there are 3 daily flights to JFK, but only one to ATH from Rome) for Friday (the most likely day we will be able to fly back) and spent 1+ hour in a ticketing line for AirOne Italy as the lady at the counter appeared to be a newbie.

Two interesting things happened on the trip: one was a poor girl from Florence that appeared to have had a scooter accident in Santorini. She wore big sunglasses to cover the scratches on her face and her black eye, a scarf to cover her neck, a knee brace, stitches and gauze on her lip and various other asphalt scratches all over her. The poor girl was also on a connecting flight (our initial flight was delayed) she had to catch the same flight to Rome as we did (4 hour lay-over). She was in line in front of us at AirOne, but they had processed her ticket wrong so she had to go back to Agean and have them correct the transfer. She was on our flight to Rome, but we were delayed by an interesting couple (next event) and I am not sure if she caught the connecting flight to Florence.

The other interesting event was an older couple that apparently had not flown much- The lady looked like a malnourished Zsa Zsa Gabor (with a few too many collagen lip injections) and guy reminded me of the main character from 'Curb Your Enthusiasm'. They were almost arrested after pulling their luggage off of the luggage cart before getting on the shuttle bus back to the terminal. It would not have been too bad if they didn't start yelling (in Italian) at the the luggage handler (and the pilot) but eventually one of the airport police officers had to come out and speak to the people. This kept 100+ people stuck on a transfer bus (in 90+ weather) while waiting for them to sort things out (including the girl with the scooter injuries) as the guy kept leaving the bus and yelling at people. Some people just shouldn't fly!

After we arrived in Rome we got a rental car (a low-end Mercedes as the other cars are all stick) and headed to the Radisson Hotel. The 'superior room' is for 2 people and a queen sized bed just barely fits- so Diana, Tracy and myself as sharing a bed. The bathroom is also funny as it has a glass wall between it and the bedroom. The 'water closet' and bidet are separated by a frosted glass wall, but the shower only has a plastic curtain- it is a very 'studio' room.

I spent most of the morning walking around Rome and taking pictures while the girls slept a little late. At the moment we are headed to Florence as the girls really want to see the city again. We are going to try to get Diana on a flight back to Atlanta tomorrow morning (she MUST be back for work on Monday) Tracy and I are going to try to look at Rome tomorrow before we fly out on Friday; such is the confusion of 'buddy passes'...

(and we just hit a torrential downpour of rain on the Motorway- people are driving slow and pulling off the side with their hazard lights on)


Airport Security in Santorini

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Greece Day 9

What a long and wonderful trip it has been... 

Today we are in Santorini and tomorrow we leave for home (hopefully- Diana and I are on standby and it looks like tomorrow's flight is full!) and it will be so good to see the house (even though I hear it is full of cabinets from one of Tracy's remodeling jobs).  I am sure Betty (our Chihuahua) will go nuts when she sees us...

Mykanos was very nice- very sunny and breezy and just very pleasant.  The roads were windy and narrow.  The hotel had a bus shuttle service into the main city and the bus driver was definitely a professional stunt driver- I don't know how he pulled some of the hairpin turns with oncoming traffic and didn't end up over a cliff...

I spent a good chunk of the last two days downloading software and trying to hack one of the two wireless systems in the adjacent hotels- 6 Euro/hour is just wrong to charge for a room that costs 500 Euro/night!  The 'Imperial Myconian' has a Linux based proxy/firewall with six perimeter Linksys (branded Cisco) WRT54GS WAPs running DD-WRT firmware- four of which have the default passwords of root/admin; I enabled logging on these four to see if I could get any useful data (but no one else used them!) They used a /32 subnet to restrict access to other systems on the network, but a static IP ( is free and outside their DHCP scope) allowed more exploration.  My 6 Euro 1 hour pass had expired so I was unable to find out much more... 

The 'Royal Myconian' had several Cisco Aeronet router (no IP addresses) and they appeared to have a Windows proxy/authentication system (or a 'honey pot' system advertising TCP ports 443 and 3389) with an Internet router behind.  Their pirmary wireless network is and the next hop was their 'business center' PC is on the former network at .2.

Neither system had any encryption on the wireless, so someone with some time and a packet sniffer might get some interesting data (given enough time- I think I saw two other wireless logins during the last two days in Mykanos).

I also spent some time in the sun and a little playing Ultimate Ghosts and Goblins on my PSP (VERY addictive). The beach was interesting- very coarse sand and lots of smooth rocks- but I guess that is the format of the beaches in a volcanic area.

Tracy went out the last night while in Mykanos town and didn't get back to the room until about 6:00am (the last bus from Mykanos to the hotel was 1:00am); we were a little worried but she made it back in time to get packed and head off to Santorini.

We took a ferry (a 'Hellcat 4') to Santorini; it was about a 3 hour trip from the 'old port' in Mykanos.  The ferry reminded me more of airplane seating on a DC10 except that it had a convienance store by the main entrance- and they made a killing during the trip.  The actual trip also felt like more of a plane ride (with some mild turbulence) than a boat ride.

We arrived at Santorini and the view is pretty stunning-  the boat landings are at the base of a cliff and a long road winds back and forth to a large white-building city several hundred feet above.  The view from atop the cliffs is even more incredible- but I have yet to get a good picture from the later view as we were on a shuttle bus that was winding up before slipping into the dreaded city obstructions (light poles, cables, trees, etc).

I will try to upload more pictures today as our hotel has free wifi!  (with WPA-PSK encryption).  We are staying at the Vedema Hotel just outside of the main city.  It is a very cool hotel built on top of an old winery and wine cellar (with burning torches at night an all).  The main dining room is an ancient underground structure that you might see in one of the Robin Hood type castles (pics of this will be going up today). A signed picture in by the reception indicates that Angelina Jolie once stayed at this hotel (definitely a plus in my book)- I am sure she was in one of the much larger suites than we have!

The wind is kicking up today (more than normal?) in Santorini and it looks like it might actually rain.  I am getting a shower and then checking out he breakfast offerings of the hotel- I think the girls will be getting up soon and we should be headed into the main city to see if there is anything to do.


Greece - Day 6

Today we arrived on the Mykonos island; very pretty and very weird.  The airport we arrived at was definitely not an international airport- evident in the fact that when the plane landed, everyone exited and walked up to the baggage claim across the runway...  After that we took a hotel bus around some of the most winding hills that I have ever been on (and the last hill is so steep that Diana refuses to ride a rental scooter).  The hoses are almost identical: they look like white adobe-style houses with rounded corners (I think they are all solid brick with a plaster coating)- it is hard to tell the personal homes from the hospitals and hotels (the sign is usually the give-away).   Even more interesting are the seemingly endless walls that kris-cross the landscape that are made up of loose stones- it almost looks like several hundred people were really bored for a long amount of time and they just started stacking different stones in lines (perhaps to clean the land up for livestock?).

So we are at the Royal Myconian Hotel- and they also try to rape people for Internet access; 6E for 1 hour, 10E for 2 hour, etc.   Their best deal is 7 days for 50E- which would be great if we were going to be here that long.  Another sticky subject is the wireless works only in the public areas of the hotels (the solid brick walls covered with plaster seem to stop it from going much further)- so it cannot be used at say 3am when I want to check my email.  Ironically, the Royal Myconian has a 'sister' hotel called the Myconian Imperial Hotel across the street- and their wireless does reach our room (same rates- and no Vaseline!)

When we arrived, Tracy was a little pissed- the room we were given was Ok- but it is not worth what she is paying for it: it was reminiscent of a hotel for spring break that is filled with disposable furniture.  The view was stunning and the amenities are stacking up- but the kid endlessly crying next door was the deal beaker- we needed a new room.  We were moved to a slightly bigger room located beneath the swimming pool area (you have to see pictures to understand- and I cannot post them at the moment due to the Internet issue- see above).  Much better, but still not 5 star.

The ocean view is incredible- and there are acres of beaches with chairs and umbrellas (under which many of the Greek girls like to topless sunbathe) so there are some reasons for the extra cost. There is a vast breakfast buffet that would make a diabetic go into a coma from the smell alone.   There are a few restaurants, bars and shops spread through-out the hotel.  There is a 'Thaissso Center' (a massage/aromatherapy/beauty salon), a fitness center (which no one appears to use) and a child care center.  On top of this, I do not think I have seen more than 25 other guests in the entire hotel (capacity is about 100) so it is pretty cool.

I found a small restaurant on the edge of the beach at which I had the best meal I have had since I have been in Greece; I had Musocha (sp?), an appetizer of fried cheese and a bottle of sparkling water- plus the obligatory bread and olives- and it was only about 22E.  The girls went into Mykanos city so I will have to tell them about it when I get back...

If you would have told me a week ago that I would be washing clothes in a bathtub and hanging them to dry in the closet, I would have told you that you are nuts- but today I was stomping around on my clothes with a box of tide in my hand.  The girls did this at the Hilton before we left and I told them they were nuts- there has to be a laundromat on Mykanos...

Two things that would make a killing in Greece- A decent grocery store and a decent electronics store.  We only found one of the former and it was a small 4 lane checkout (where you entered the store through the checkout) that spiraled down two levels and had a bunch of dead-ends and poorly merchandised displays; no AC and it was putrid around the baby diapers and cat food...  The later type is dominated by cell phone stores with gaming sections or appliance stores with electric razors- I did not see one flat screen TV while in Athens (but I was looking for a headset for Skype, a camera tripod and a 'cantenna' so it really didn't matter).

Other things to note: the subway in Athens is incredible and very clean and good looking- I felt like kicking myself in the ass for avoiding it for four days and walking around all the places I went.  It is .80E for a short trip or 1.20E for a 24 hour pass; they are brightly lit and not at all like the ones in the movies.  The track curves and you can see all the way down the cars- so if you are in the middle it 'bends' off into the distance and looks very cool (I would have taken pictures but I was holding on with one hand).

Travel tip: there is a 'service charge' at most restaurants in Greece (for the bread, olives, etc) and it is usually per person- so a 3E service is 9E for three people.  This is not charged if you eat at the bar...