Sat, 30 Oct 2004

Leave me voice-mail, lose my vote

This is my first, and probably only, political blog entry. I detest politics. This election year I've received dozens of automated calls with political messages. I don't want them. But as far as I know, there's no easy way to block them. So, I'm protesting as effectively as possible.

If you leave me an automated voice mail message, you'll lose my vote. If I receive messages from all the candidates in a particular race, I will use the write-in option to avoid voting for any of them.

Rest assured, I've heard your messages, they have changed my position, and I'll vote accordingly Tuesday.

[/politics] [link]

Tue, 26 Oct 2004

Strange web searches

Some time ago I wrote a small perl script I call googled. It lists the search terms used to find my weblog by analyzing the Apache log files. The strangest search to date:

skinny maries body found behind the blue banana

My weblog happened to have several of these words in different entries. Obviously, the user didn’t find what she was looking for here. Curious, I did some web searching to see if I could discover the target of her search. All I discovered is that a Skinny Mary and a Blue Banana are both drinks. Having looked at the ingredients, I suppose if consumed together in a body may indeed be found.

[/internet] [link]

Sat, 16 Oct 2004

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

The other day, while chasing the answer to some question I don't recall, I ran across a weblog entry by DJ Adams.

DJ is the author of Programming Jabber which has a prominent place on the bookshelf behind my computer desk. So, when I read his comments about a book he was reading, I went right out and picked up a copy at the local Barnes and Noble.

If I ever author a book, I'd love for someone to say about it what DJ said about The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time:

The writing is simple. Straightforward. It reflects the exact, black and white reasoning of this autistic child. Sad and funny at the same time. And as I read each sentence, I feel that a lot of work has gone into every one of them. Exactly the right words, the right number, and the right punctuation. It's almost as if the words on the page, at a level above the story, tell a story themselves.

This is by far the best book I've read all year. If you haven't read it, you're missing a real treat. You can read an excerpt or listen to one online.

[/books] [link]

Sun, 10 Oct 2004

Mount St. Helens meets Linux

The Mount St. Helens VolcanoCam is a webcam located at the Johnston Ridge Observatory. The online image is updated approximately every 5 minutes. With recent volcanic activity, I started checking the VolcanoCam image periodically.

Not having time, patience, or inclination to watch it for the hours on end that would be required to see an eruption which could occur at any time, I ran a small script to begin grabbing the image every 5 minutes.

Actually, to call it a script is an overstatement. I simply started a screen session and entered on the command line:


 while true; do wget \
 http://www.fs.fed.us/gpnf/volcanocams/msh/images/mshvolcanocam.jpg;\
 sleep 300; done

Originally, I intended to simply let wget run in the screen session for the day and view the images when I returned home. But it's been running continuously since Monday, October 4th, when I started it.

Frustrated with my inability to view the images in a reasonable way, I decided to try to create an MPEG movie with them so I could quickly scan the day's images for interesting events and single step the frames when I found one.

It took a bit of research to discover the tool I needed was ppmtompeg, which is part of the netpbm package of graphics software. It took a bit longer to learn how to use it. The result has been MPEG files for each day starting with Monday, October 4, each about 2MB. I'm using the EXHAUSTIVE search algorithms for best compression, so it takes about 7 minutes to create each MPEG file on my 2GHz P4 system.

I've used the contact form on the VolcanoCam to request permission to share the MPEG files I've created since I don't own the images used to create them. No response, yet. If they grant permission, I'll find a way to get the MPEGs posted on provide links to them.

This little project demonstrates one of the many reasons I love Linux. The tools I needed for this simple, personal use project were readily available and the only cost was the time and effort required to learn them.

[/linux] [link]

Personal bests

I'm really pleased with my fitness as the cycling season draws to an end. Jenny and I have been continuing our rides after work, but we've had to shorten them to accommodate the fleeting sunlight. Even so, we've been finishing in the dark.

Our standard, short ride has become a 20 mile out-and-back trip from Mirabeau Point to the Idaho/Washington state-line I-90 rest stop on the Centennial Trail. One evening, we averaged 20.0 MPH. We were thrilled with that, having averaged 19.9 a couple of times earlier in the year, just missing that magical 20 MPH threshold. A couple of evenings later, we bettered it with a 20.2 MPH average.

Then, Friday night, we rode a significantly faster 21.5 MPH average.

Those speeds won't win us any time trials, but for a couple who's youngest child will be 21 next month, we're thrilled with them. It's Jenny's first year on a road bike. I can't put into words the feeling I get when, after pedaling for all I'm worth through a difficult section, I glance over my shoulder and see Jenny right there on my wheel, all smiles.

I think I have to credit my recent jump in fitness to the Sunday rides with Joe, Steve, Andy, and the others who have participated. Chasing Joe up the hills and trying to stay with him when he cranks it up on the flats has certainly ratcheted up my performance level.

[/cycling] [link]

Not alone

Jim Mischel wrote to me about hostile motorists. A friend pointed him to my last entry on the topic. Jim has had some similar experiences, some of which he's written about in his weblog.

I received a followup message from Jim indicating the problem may be solved. He got some cooperation from his Sheriff's department and the owner of the truck got a visit from a detective.

Hopefully, the thug takes the detective's advice and ceases endangering cyclists. I'm curious to know whether he does or not. There's always the chance he'll be vengeful and even more dangerous—let's hope not.

[/cycling] [link]

Sun, 03 Oct 2004

Self defense

Since the pepper spray incident several people have asked questions and offered suggestions about how to respond to hostile motorists. The suggestions have ranged from giving up cycling to packing firearms. None, at least at those extremes, has any appeal for me.

First, let me say such events are rare. I've ridden over 3600 miles on the bike this year, most of it on roads shared with motorists, and haven't had any more altercations. There have been a few motorists that just haven't known how to handle themselves near a bicycle. They misjudge my speed and turn right across my path when they shouldn't, or attempt to pass me 20 yards before a stop sign leaving themselves straddling the center line at the intersection. But I expect such incidents and haven't suffered anything more than minor frustration from them.

The truly hostile motorists are, fortunately, few and far between.

So, what to do about them.

I bought a small handlebar bag and carry a digital camera. About half the time, when I've been the target of some hostile act by a motorist, I've caught up to them an the next light or two. If I had a camera on those occasions, I could have gotten a picture of the car, recording the license plate, and even a shot of the driver and occupants.

Sometimes those incidents happen too fast. There's nothing to do but maneuver the bike—no time to get a license plate number or respond in any way. That would be the same whether I was packing a weapon or using any of the other methods suggested.

The camera hasn't been tested under fire, yet. I've gotten a few nice pictures with the camera along, but mostly it has just gone along for the ride. If and when I use it to get a picture of a hostile motorist, it will be interesting to see if the resulting police report gets any more action than the prior reports (none of which have resulted in so much as a return phone call).

Ideally, I'd love to have a small helmet mounted camera that records to a light weight but very durable digital recording device. I'm thinking something along the lines of an iPod. It doesn't even need a great deal of storage. Just run it in an endless loop and save the last 90 seconds (or some other configurable interval) when a button is pressed.

That way, when an incident occurs, you've got it recorded. You've likely got the incident itself, the vehicle with license plate, perhaps the driver and occupants, and other vehicles whose drivers may have witnessed the incident. When the dust settles, press the button and upload it to your computer, later. A nice, 90 second video clip of the whole incident would make a handy attachment to a police report!

Does such a device exist? I know the small, helmet mounted cameras do, and I've even seen helmet cam video clips on the web taken by mountain bikers bombing down their favorite trails. But from what I can tell, they've used expensive digital camcorders that are too expensive, too fragile, and too bulky for the task I have in mind. I'd like something that fits comfortable in a jersey pocket and can withstand the weather and sweat its likely to encounter on long hard rides.

If anyone knows of such a device, I'd love to hear about it!

[/cycling] [link]

About this weblog

This site is the personal weblog of Marc Mims. You can contact Marc by sending e-mail to:
marc@questright.com.

Marc writes here about cycling, programming, Linux, and other items of personal interest.

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