Monday, April 28, 2008

The Ebike Rides Again

I have a guest post over at Floating Down Denial on my Ebike experiences so far.

Thanks to Isis for posting this article!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Slushy Saturday

Winter is trying to hold on here in Stumptown. A hail/snowstorm in late April is very unusual (though not unprecedented). Here are a few pictures from the back yard today...












Kind of pretty, but I am ready for a few warm days around here. It was nearly 80 degrees F (25C or so) last Saturday, but that was a one day heat wave. A few more of those would be dandy.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Geek Report

Thanks to some programming I helped a good friend with, I am the happy recipient on an iPod Touch. Basically, it is an iPhone without the phone part. After some messing around with, I declare it to be a pretty good geek toy. In the spirit of Swinebread, I will enumerate my likes and dislikes with this device:

Likes:


  • Hey, it is a computer! I can surf the web with Safari, watch YouTube videos, use Google Maps, etc.

  • It has a good Wi-Fi interface that allows for security without having to know which type of encryption, etc. Just type the key and go.

  • 8 GB is enough room for a LOT of music. (They have 32GB for you bigtime pirates out there)
  • The best manual data entry of the PDA world. Having used Palm and Pocket PC, I know whereof I speak.

  • Sound quality is great with the given earbud headphones.

  • Friggin' A! It is free. What more could one want besides independent wealth and world peace?


Dislikes:

  • While the input is good, speech recognition would be better and within the abilities of the device. Doing an email takes TOO long.

  • No Copy and Paste. WTF??

  • Developers must program using Objective C or web pages. Objective C is used by NOTHING ELSE ON THE WHOLE PLANET. Kind of like Microsoft's .NET platform except worse.

  • I signed up for the Apple Developer Program and NONE of the DOWNLOAD LINKS WORK!

  • Sometimes I would like to continue my music shuffle from where I was but, if I wait too long, sometimes the interface makes me start over and it will replay tunes I've recently heard.



Ubuntu Linux Goes to Back Burner

Overall, I like Linux and the strides they've made are tremendous, but there are a couple of things holding me back on this particular PC.

1. The PC is an older AMD running at about 1.6 GHz with a crummy on-board video card. The newer video and multimedia on Linux taxes the system too much to be useful. YouTube and multiple browser tabs are the worst. Win 2000 handled it much better, but it still sucked. (Special note to Adobe, make Flash run faster for Linux or Die Trying.)

2. While Linux can read and write my old Windows NTFS drive, it does so EXTREMELY poorly and often preempts other tasks for some time while it sits there doing nothing. Until I can back that drive up completely (100GB+), I can't do much with it.

Meanwhile, my employer replaced my Sony UX micro-mini Windows PC with another laptop, so I am able to bring that home and, as of yesterday, it is now my main PC with the Linux PC running as a file server until I can archive the data and reformat with a Linux-friendly filesystem and try again. (Given that Windows can't play nicely with anybody, I should cut some slack to the system that at least tries to: Linux.)

Steam Punk Gets Serious
The comments section of some earlier post of mine contained a web link to a Mac Mini redone in 19th century style (like the Wil Smith movie "Wild, Wild, West" .



Well, it appears that Charles Babbage's plans for computer called the Difference Engine #2 designed in 1849 is finally seeing the light of day. Wired Magazine tells us,

thanks to Microsoft multimillionaire Nathan Myhrvold, a second Difference Engine has been built and delivered to the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California, where trained docents will turn its brass handle to crank out the calculations Babbage dreamed of automating.


For anyone who enjoyed Computer Science 101 in college (and there were darn few I am sure), Babbage is a big name. If I had millions, I could only hope that I would do something crazy and impulsive, so reverent and cool.



The Story of Breaking the Nazi Enigma Machine

As long as we are on the subject of the big league historical computer thinkers, Alan Turing is one of the biggest. The Church-Turing thesis has implications that reach into computer science, physics, and philosophy. What I did not know is that Turing worked on breaking the codes of the Enigma encryption machines used by the Nazis in World War II.

This article at the NSA.gov website (discovered thanks to security expert Bruce Schneier) outlines a very interesting history of the process of breaking the German code that has ramifications here in the computer age.

I guess the NSA is good for something besides scaring people on April Fools Day. Here is the first paragraph to get you started:

As the German military grew in the late 1920s, it began looking for a better way to secure its communications. It found the answer in a new cryptographic machine called "Enigma." The Germans believed the encryption generated by the machine to be unbreakable. With a theoretical number of ciphering possibilities of 3 X 10 to the 114 power (sic), their belief was not unjustified. However, they never reached that theoretical level of security. Nor did they count on the cryptanalytic abilities of their adversaries.


This articles looks at how we decrypted German codes and also how the Germans were able to intercept our secret communications as well. Interesting read.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Truth is Stranger than Fiction

Take Laura Bush's head



and put it on Cindy McCain's torso



and what do you get?



"Harry Potter's" Dolores Umbridge

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Trip to California, Day 6 & 7

As we prepared to depart Clear Lake, we pondered rumors and reports of snow and hail up north. A check of the forecast revealed rain spreading in to northern California. I hoped they were wrong. The clouds thickened as we joined Highway 101 northward. You could see them nicely in this picture of the Willitts town sign...



The rain started shortly thereafter and didn't stop for a few more hours. After getting some gas (for those who are interested, the total gas bill for this trip was $200.00), we slogged through more rain straight into the heart of Redwood National Park. Big trees and wet roads...this was definitely feeling more like the landscape I grew up in; except some of these trees were thicker than all but the oldest growth of trees in Oregon.

We stopped for a quick picture at the Giant Treehouse (which was not yet open for the season).



We discussed various options and decided that we could encompass the most Redwood experiences by stopping at the Trees of Mystery tourist trap in Klamath, CA. The first thing we saw upon our arrival was a giant Paul Bunyan statue next to a giant blue ox which was missing its head.






Apparently the ox head fell down last fall and they are working on repairing it. I'm glad I wasn't underneath it when it fell. You can't enjoy litigation when you are dead. The Bunyan statue is even more impressive when you realize that Ladybug is actually 20 feet 3 inches tall.

You enter the facility through the gift shop/museum and then head out on the trail out back that shows you the "mysterious wonders" of the Redwoods. The superlatives were flowing from every sign and pamphlet as if these beautiful trees could not speak for themselves in their grandeur. In between the editorializing was some quite interesting information about the area.

Here is a rainsoaked little trillium...one of many we happened across in our travels.



The gals stand in front of a paltry little tree.



The Sky Train is a gondola that carries people up to the top of the ridge. The seven minute ride lifted us up off the forest floor and into the canopy of the redwoods to some degree. They had to blaze the path up the hill so the cars wouldn't get snagged by branches, but the view below and to the sides was pretty neat. The rain ended as we boarded and the sky began to lighten.



Before long we were deposited on a platform at the top of the ridge. We arrived in time for a decent parting of the clouds.



This is a view of the ocean from the top of the ridge. If was the best view of the Pacific we'd seen all day since the previous rain was thick enough to obscure it even when the highway passed along its edge.



We rode back down (a hiking trail was available, but we still had a couple hundred miles left) and took the trail back to the gift shop. The return trail sported a number of chainsaw carving displays of different scenes and figures. We paid our fee ($13.50 per head and $10 for seniors), checked out the museum, then got back on the road.

I found it ironic that we had driven for hours in heavy rain only to see the clouds part just a few miles from the Oregon border. Sunny California. Rainy Oregon. We all know the reputation and it was fun to see it turned on its head for once.



We stopped at a Thai restaurant in Bandon for the best Pad Thai I've ever had. The other dishes included Tom Yum soup, a green curry chicken dish (that was quite spicy), and one other thing nobody remembers. We watched the sun going down and pressed onward.



We pressed onward towards Reedsport towards our evening destination at the Salty Seagull hotel. It was inexpensive and had a heater which were the good things about it. The beds, smoke smell (on a supposedly non-smoking room), general other odor, wimpy pillows, and lack of promised WiFi were the downers. Luckily it was only a sleeping pad for one night.

We got our first dose of the northern cold snap as we turned out the lights for the evening. The rain shower outside got quite loud and we looked through the blinds to see a hailacious hail storm clattering away. The ground was white at the end (for a short while anyway).

Ladybug and I got up early, driven by discomfort, and went for a little drive while the other two slept. We ventured north out of town for a few miles when the rain turned to snow. It appeared the snow level at this time was about 100 feet above sea level. When the fir boughs on the trees started turning white, we turned around and returned to Reedsport. We got the troops up and had a nice breakfast at the Harbor Light Family Restaurant. The food was very good and the staff was nice. The nicest looking breakfast was Grandpa's Marionberry French Toast.

From there we ventured up the Umpqua River on Highway 38. Ladybug's dad told us that the previous State representative was Speaker of the House for 20 years and that this highway was one of his pet projects. Considering the lack of population on either side, it was a very nice highway indeed. We encountered a slurry of hail and snow that at time accumulated on the roadway, but nothing that made driving difficult.

This was a cold morning in the lower Umpqua valley.



The rest of the trip was mostly uneventful. We passed by Pacific Yurts in Cottage Grove and saw show models of the semi-permanent tent houses (well, actually yurts) as we drove by. The Oregon State Parks department buys these, puts lighting, heat, and a couple bunks inside for those who don't want to rough it in tents. They are quite a pleasant and inexpensive way to get away.

Before long we were home. Our cat actually cried a little "I miss you" cry when we let him in the house. Jeebus is getting older and likes more stability than having a neighbor leave food for him outside. All we needed was about a week to recover from our vacation. Sigh.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Trip to California, Day 5

After all the driving and wonderful dining, we needed a quieter, closer, and cheaper day. We lazed around most of the morning, then proceeded onward to find some parks and catch some nature. Clear Lake is located in the second set of foothills and mountains away from the coast. As such, there is some rainshadow effect resulting in a somwhat arid climate. Grasses and oaks dominate the steep hillsides but it isn't dry enough for sage and dryland plants to grow in abundance (though residents and businesses had no trouble growing palm trees and cacti).

The first stop was Rodman County Park. We parked in a gravel area and ventured out past picnic tables and onto paths traversing thickets near the lake. The first shrub that caught my eye early and often was good old poison oak.


Poison Oak


It was everywhere. I pointed it out to the gals with a plea for the MiniSnab not to freestyle her way around this area. Everywhere we went on that day was plastered with it. I've had poison oak a few times and I really hate it. We picked our we through the area and we saw some lovely wildflowers growing. Most of my pictures of those turned out crummy...either I've lost my ability to use cameras over the years or I just need to Read the Fine Manual. Not sure which. Here are the women sitting near the lake.



Eucalyptus trees were introduced to California in the 1850s in the hopes that the timber would provide an economic boost. That didn't work out so well, but there are still plenty of them around. Wikipedia has a neat section on the eucalyptus tree right here. Here are a bunch of them...



On the way back to the car, we spotted a manmade osprey platform and, wouldn't you know it, the denizens were just a few yards away. We were able to get a very good look at these birds of prey.



Osprey go fishing for their food and their hunting consists of long periods of waiting punctuating by short, fast dives into the water to snatch their prey. If you can wait or catch them at the right time, it is quite a sight to behold.

Clear Lake State Park was a bit more of a drive. We passed through Lakeport (wow, a major shipping port for the five small towns around the lake) using a waterfront side road. It is a nice little town with the area's main theater and shopping (unless you white-knuckle your way out of town via the winding roads towards Ukiah). We continued on through orchards and vineyards until we reached the park. We paid our entrance fee and drove to the first public parking area. This place was an obvious fisherman's park and we might well have been the only passenger car (and sans boat trailer) there at this time of year. We did get a nice view of the far side of the lake where we were staying at...



Talk about mistletoe! From southern Oregon on south, this parasitic plant clumped in tree after tree all they way down the road. I had to kiss Ladybug after taking this picture.



Braving another poison-oak infested hillside, we hiked The Indian Nature Trail which traversed the site of a Pomo Indian village. There was one crumpled trail guide left in the box, so we borrowed it and saw more beautiful flowers, poison oak, and evidence of the Original Sentient Beings in the area while the guide pointed out useful plants and trees and how they were used. Ladybug stands near a Manzanita tree here...



Soon we were ready to press on. We replaced the crumpled guide for the next hiker (after taking a picture to remind ourselves of what we saw) and proceeded on to the city of Kelseyville for lunch. We settled on Studebaker's Deli for sandwiches and fake old-time sodas (the soda was real, the retro look was fake). The diner logo mimicked the Studebaker automobile logo from the days of yore...




After getting back to our room, we took a nap and then decided to find a winery we saw a few days earlier down the road. There could not have been a better time to visit Tulip Hills winery. The tulips were in full bloom and it was gorgeous.




We tasted a number of wines, bought a reserve Chardonnay and a blush, took a few pictures and headed back to get ready for dinner. We ate at the Marina Grill. The meal was pretty standard workaday American food but the gal waiting on us was lazy spending more time talking to her boyfriend than helping the guests. That's the way it works sometimes.

We returned and plotted our escape from California. We decided to split the trip home into 2 days to make the driving more bearable...but more on that in the next (and final) installment.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Happy April Fools Day



Don't worry, I am not in an undocumented facility undergoing "interrogation" by a perverted sadist paid for with taxpayer dollars.

That is someone else's misfortune today.

I actually tried a few different things before forwarding all Snabulus traffic to the NSA.gov page. This one seemed the most legal. If you missed it, I am sorry.