Into the Outdoors with Dog and Camera

I’m beginning to wonder if I shouldn’t just give in and write a program to auto-generate and post complaints about not having enough time to get anything fun done for me, since I don’t seem to have enough time to do it myself. Unfortunately, I don’t have time to write such a program…

I did manage to at least get out to spend some time exploring wooded sections of The Big Room with my pathfinder dog last weekend though. I’ll have to map it out when I get a chance, but in the meantime I’ve been posting pictures to the piwigo page I set up on my server here.

The Breakdancing Ghost of Narada Falls

Gather around the campfire, boys and girls and everyone else. It’s story time.

(This is both an attempt to entertain AND a technical test – I’d be most appreciative if any or all of you left me a comment letting me know how this works for you. I’ll put some technical information at the end of the post.)

This story concerns a certain location in Mount Ranier National Park… you hear this harrowing tale, if you can’t make it out to Mount Ranier National Park to verify the story for yourself, you can see a picture of the monument online. Click or scan the QRCode image to the right to see it after you’ve heard the story.

Feedback is welcome and encouraged. For those who are interested, here’s what this post is supposed to do, technically:

If you are viewing this post in a modern (HTML5-supporting) browser, the “native” audio player in your browser should appear above, allowing you to press “play” and listen to the story. All but one of the modern HTML5-supporting browsers support the high-quality (and legally free to use) “Ogg Vorbis” audio format and will play that version. If you are in the minority of HTML5-browser-using population (Safari), an MP3 version should play instead. (The problem with Safari is that Apple doesn’t include a Quicktime component for Ogg media formats out of the box. Personally, I would recommend going ahead and installing the Free Quicktime Components, which will enable Ogg media formats for Safari, iTunes, and all other Quicktime-using programs.)

If you are NOT using a modern, HTML5-supporting browser at all (or are perhaps using one I’ve never heard of that supports neither higher-quality Ogg Vorbis nor MP3) – mainly Microsoft’s “Internet Explorer” browsers and really old versions of Firefox or Opera that may still be in use – if you have Java installed, a Java-based Ogg Vorbis player should appear instead, allowing you to play the higher-quality audio anyway.

If your browser doesn’t support HTML5 AND doesn’t support Java, a link to an Adobe Flash-based MP3 player should appear. Click on that, and you SHOULD have a window pop up that will play the lower-quality MP3 version of the audio.

In short, nearly everyone should be able to play the audio if I’ve done all of this correctly. Please let me know.

Fred Transplant: Success!

A Gram-stained view of yeasts and bacteria in a sourdough culture named 'Fred'.

I had to do a Fred Transplant last week. A grey fuzzy mold had taken up residence in on the sides of the jar above Fred’s liquid culture, so I set up a fresh container with fresh water and flour, and dipped a spoon down the center of Fred to the bottom, pulling up just a tiny amount of the stuff in there. Then I mixed it into the fresh stuff and covered it with plastic wrap (instead of a paper towel this time.)

Fred smells like Swiss Cheese Feet right now, but he’s obviously still growing, as you can see from last night’s “Gram Stain” microscopy. The slightly blurry light-red-brown lumps are, I believe, yeast cells, possibly Saccharomyces boulardii, since I dumped a capsule of supposedly-still-viable “probiotic” yeast of that species into Fred previously. I have no idea who the bacteria are in here at the moment. I did also see a small number of longer, thinner bacterial cells in there (presumably Lactobacillus) though most of them are the ones you see here.

Meanwhile, I’m about to dig out the still-unused Hillbilly Autoclave and try it out on the media I’m mixing up to try to obtain a culture of genuine wild “native flora” vinegar/kombucha yeast-and-bacteria to play with from the local wildflowers that are just now getting into full bloom.

My starting recipe goes something like this: I mix up about 2 Liters of distilled water with about 100g of glucose (“Dextrose”/”Corn Sugar”), 100g of sucrose, 500mg of L-Arginine, and enough phosphoric acid to drop the pH down to about 5.5 to 6.0. That is intended to be then poured into small “canning” jars in about 100ml amounts and pressure-cooked for at least 15 minutes to sufficiently sterilize and seal them. Meanwhile, a single generic-brand children’s chewable vitamin is crushed up and dumped into a 4-oz bottle of cheap vodka and well shaken.

Then when it comes time to go bioprospecting, I’ll pop open the jar of acidic sugar solution and add about 5ml of the cheap-vitamin-vodka to it to give me about 2% ethanol, and then go find some flowers to cut off and dump into the jars, which will be loosely covered with foil (to let air in but keep dust out) and put in a nice quiet cupboard to grow for a few days.

Hypothetically, the only things that are likely to grow in that will be microorganisms associated with vinegar-making. At some point I’ll also make up a batch of sweet black tea and see if I get a kombucha-like culture going in it, and make up some solid media to try to isolate individual microbes from it.

A secret message for Climate-Change Skeptics..


I admittedly find it hard to believe that such a large proportion of scientists in any field, climatology or otherwise, could actually conspire together to pull off this big of a hoax when at all other times they’re competing pretty intensely against each other for funding and attention. Heck, most of us mad scientistsGrumpy Visionaries would sooner give up our armies of Atomic Robot Zombie Clones than share credit for scientific discoveries. Still, I’m just cynical enough to believe that it’s not impossible. Even if it’s true, though, I don’t care, because something unprecedented and very important is happening right now, and there’s no way we’re likely to ever have this chance again.

To those of you reading this who agree that something needs to be done about “Climydia” (hat-tip – if I wore a hat – to Justin Jackson of “This Week in Science” for this neologism; a combination of “Climate” and “Chlamydia”, if it’s not obvious, making “Global Warming” a metaphorical embarassing but hopefully curable disease): you can stop reading now. I agree. We must do something about it. It is a serious problem and needs to be corrected. The rest of this post is for those who don’t agree. Go ahead and click away. Don’t worry, I’ll tell the deniers off, you can go read something else now. Thanks.

Continue reading A secret message for Climate-Change Skeptics..

Lava is Nifty, but Magellan Sucks

A dead Magellan brand handheld GPS unitHere’s a “fun” situation: take a Magellan-brand handheld GPS unit with a fresh set of batteries on a 10.2 mile hike over very rough terrain, having it record a track so that all the nifty pictures along the hike can be geolocated and the course of the hike can be mapped later. After a gruelling 8 hour trek, tell the unit to save the track. Watch in annoyance as it starts to save to the SD card but then complains “EXTREME LOW BATTERY – SHUTTING DOWN”. Just annoyance though – previously when it has done this, it merely loses the last few minutes of track, and you can replace the batteries and re-do the save when it comes back up. Except this time, when instead of actually shutting down it seems to restart itself, complain of “Low Battery”. Then throw a fit when I try to get the fool thing to actually shut down, watching in horror as it restarts itself a few times for no good reason before finally fading out. Then replacing the batteries and screaming with rage when the unit comes up with the same messages it did the very first time it was turned on…despite somehow keeping a copy of the “Points of Interest” I’d put in before, it has eaten not only all of my settings but also the entire friggin’ 10.2 mile track that I was trying to save!

Moral of the story: Magellan=BAD. Between bad hardware and the newer participant-hostile “consume-only” business model they’ve gone to with the new “Triton” line, I wouldn’t recommend them to anyone (unless I secretly hated them.)

So, I decided to cool off by hacking into NASA’s feed to one of the Mars Rovers to have it take a picture for me:

You don’t believe that I really hacked NASA, do you…well, read on:

Continue reading Lava is Nifty, but Magellan Sucks

A couple of brief pre-bedtime random updates

  • I can confirm that if you Mac users install XiphQT (which I see has just been updated, even!) to let QuickTime know how to handle Ogg files, the latest Safari release can handle the same audio and video formats that the latest Opera and Firefox 3.5 browsers use, in addition to the proprietary codecs Apple includes. It worked on the MacBook I use at work, anyway.
  • I managed to do some more exploring of the lake last weekend, including trying out the floating BBQ place I found the previous weekend. Short review here
  • Cats are pests

The lake was exceptionally naughty…

Once again, I found myself with some time to give the nearby lake a good paddling. It’s said that in order to get real physical development you have to work out to exhaustion…so I did. Five hours of giving the lake a paddling, and over 15 miles of travel in the process. My goal is to get to the point where I can set out and get comfortably to and from anywhere on the lake that I might want to go during a single paddling session, at least if I leave early enough.

The Minister of the Front End of the Kayak is out of town, so I struck out bravely all alone in my explorations. It’s just as well – the Minister of the Front End doesn’t like going to the civilized side of the lake. She’d much rather head into areas of the northern side of the lake to poke around the tree-lined inlets. I, on the other hand, find the populated side of the lake much more interesting. It’s not that I dislike the more wilderness-themed areas, but to me one “beautiful expanse of tree-lined lake shore” (alligators and random fishing boats aside) looks pretty much like any other. There are all kinds of odd things to find hidden in the populated side of the lake, however. I’m mentally kicking myself for forgetting to get a picture of the “Southern Empres”[sic – looked like they’d lost a letter] Paddlewheel boat as I paddled by. Not all of the interesting things are even human-derived – the bird-covered island was kind of a surprise.

Interactive map with track and pictures (which will hopefully display correctly now) may be found below (RSS feed readers, you may need to click through to the actual blog post to see it; or, download the .kml file of this weekend’s Lake Conroe paddling trip [width=540;height=540] and take a look at it in Google Earth…)

I’m going to have to paddle back out to “Zach’s Bar-B-Q Barge” for lunch one of these days and see how they are. Checking out the publically-accessible and potentially paddle-friendly establishments on the lake is one of my excuses for getting out into the Big Room for exercise.

Full-scale and fully geolocated versions of several photos from this trip may be found at the Panoramio page. I’m also still thinking about getting a recorder and incorporating some audio into these things. Hopefully Firefox 3.5 will actually be released one of these days…

Now, back to bed. I have to get up to start the work-week in about 8 hours…Good night everyone, and let me know how the map works and how the pictures look…

What I did on my summerMemorial Day Vacation

Disgusted with my out-of-shape state, lately I’ve been trying to spend time in the Big Room more often. I hate exercise-for-the-sake-of-exercise, but I do enjoy getting out and exploring, so muscle-powered travel around the Big Room is a convenient fitness-improving activity. As we have a spiffy wooden kayak I’ve named “The Ascospore“, and live near a decent-sized body of water that I’ve not sufficiently explored, getting out and doing some lake-spanking was a Moral Imperative.

(If you’re reading this entry via RSS, you probably don’t see the map and the associated photographs below, so please follow the link to view this post directly…)

Also, here’s a direct link to the KML file if you want to pull it into a full Google Earth session for browsing…

Only 9¼ miles, but that’s not too bad. The Memorial-Day motorboaters were making a lot of waves, which were kind of fun but made the paddling somewhat slower and more strenuous than it would otherwise have been.

Oh, yeah, and I discovered that digiKam not only has a set of geolocation functions, but even has a plugin that will generate a KML file out of the track and photos, which I used for this map – I just had to edit the descriptions and picture titles and such to add whatever else I wanted. Very nice. On the other hand now I’m reminded that I need a better digital camera…

Of course, nerd that I am, I spent a good portion of the trip looking at the greenish water and cursing once again my lack of a decent microscope. There must be a huge variety of tiny little things in there. It also occurs to me that I know very little about diatoms, for example. But now my mind is obviously wandering due to sleep deprivation and it’s time for bed. Hopefully the embedded map works right. Let me know if not.

Interactive Photo-Map: Oil and Rocks and Squiggly Things

No audio narration, but there is a spiffy map that you can scroll around in, complete with icons you can click on to see the photos and some text to go with them. Who could ask for anything more? Besides audio narration in my mellifluous voice, that is.

Since the embedded “Google Maps” image doesn’t seem to appear in the RSS feeds, I’m adding it after the “Continue Reading” link below – please do so and let me know how it works. As usual, suggestions are welcome – I’d like to do more of this kind of thing when I have time to travel. (Suggestions for future locations or themes are welcome as well).

Continue reading Interactive Photo-Map: Oil and Rocks and Squiggly Things