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.

I’m back…

I’m still around, honest.  Just got back from a semi-business trip involving way more sitting-in-a-car than is comfortable.  I have a few pictures from the trip, which I’m working on getting uploaded to my Panoramio page.  A few are up now, a few more will follow soon.  See anything you like?

Meanwhile, I’m way behind on sleep.  Good night, y’all.  More in the next day or two…

Firefox, Bacteria-snot, and job-hunting geologist

'Human Statue' striking a constipated looking pose on a toiletI have to say that suffering through periods of chronic blogstipation is seriously annoying.

There have been a number of things I’ve been wanting to post about, but I’ve been way too loaded down to have time to sit down and compose them. Therefore, lest anyone think I’ve abandoned, I’ll throw a few of them out here in shortened form.

First, a public service announcement: HTML 5 is not just about turning the internet into Television. I keep seeing articles about “HTML5” and they all seem to focus obsessively on the <video> tag. The same is largely true of articles about the recent Firefox 3.5 browser release, since arguably the biggest feature of the new version is HTML5 support. Although there are quite a few other new features, the main one I wanted to briefly remind everyone of is that there’s also an <audio> tag. I think audio is important, because it’s a lot simpler for people to generate audio for the web than to produce a video. Also, the “Vorbis” audio codec is a definite step up in quality from the de-facto “mp3” codec. The latest Opera, Google Chrome, and Firefox browsers all support the <audio> tag with “Ogg Vorbis” files. Apple’s Safari browser doesn’t by default, but that’s easily fixed. If you install the free QuickTime® component from Xiph, it teaches QuickTime about Ogg files, allowing you to watch and listen to the same HTML5 audio and video that everyone else (aside from Microsoft, as usual) can. It apparently also allows you to create Ogg files through QuickTime, so you can make your own content available for everyone else to watch and hear if you want to.

If you’ve seen some of my earlier map-and-pictures posts, you can probably guess that I’m also interested in the new geolocation feature. As far as I can tell, it’s currently natively implemented in the new Firefox, but will be showing up in Safari, Opera, and Chrome (at least) in the relatively near future. My only real complaint is that right now Firefox can only get the location through Google via your current IP address, and that isn’t at all accurate (when it works correctly, the precision is limited to “somewhere around this city” – when it doesn’t, where it thinks you are depends entirely on whose network your internet connection comes from.) It’s still baffling to me why they didn’t include a simple “manual entry” option for geolocation. Anyway, I’ve not had time to dig into this either, so enough said about that. For now.

And now a question of science and microbiology enthusiasts who may read this – I may soon, finally, be able to buy a microscope. Any recommendations on where to get one? The only “special” features that I really want (and can afford) would be a sufficiently bright light source and ability to swap in a darkfield condenser from time to time.

Penultimately, bacteria snot Xanthan Gum is hereby declared my Favorite Food Additive of the Month. It turned out to do exactly what I hoped it would do in the lemon-ginger ice cream I made a couple of weeks ago. I must play with this delightful edible substance more.

Finally, is anybody in California actually hiring geologists? As if marrying me wasn’t proof enough of insanity, my wife really wants to move back there. We can’t stay here forever in Southeast Texas on just my meager academic staff salary, as nice as the job itself is, and although for months she’s been firing off applications all over the country (and even a few beyond the borders) she’d really prefer to take her geophysics experience and PhD in Geology from UC Davis back to California. Although I’m personally a bit less enthusiastic about the idea, the possibility of getting into UC Davis’ Fermentation Science or Food Science graduate programs definitely has some appeal. Plus, I’d be able to listen to This Week In Science live while it’s being broadcast.

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.

Linux on the EeePC 901 a fortnight later…

'Penguin Powered!' stickersLife’s been a couple of weeks of hectic mess, but we’re still here. I’ve also now had “Bit” for about a fortnight. I still love it.

I did run into an odd problem, though. People occasionally report that they have trouble getting their Linux boxen to connect to encrypted networks. Even when “regular” encrypted networks work, sometimes people say they have trouble connecting to the hardcore “Enterprise”-grade networks running certain varieties of the WPA2 encyrption, as is in use for example on campus where I work.

I, however, had no trouble with these. I’ve got WICD installed, and I can just pick the network I want out of the list that pops up, enter the relevant password/”key” information for whatever encrypted network I want, and hit “connect”. No problems at all. It’s the plain, unencrypted “public” networks I had trouble with.

Apparently, the wireless network card in the EeePC 901 is based on the relatively new Ralink RT2860 chipset. Ralink provides native Linux drivers, which so far work impressively well. The one problem they have turns out to be that the drivers don’t respond to the old-school “iwconfig” program that everything expects to use to tell a wireless card to connect to a public wireless network. Since WICD expects to be able to do this, connections to unencrypted networks were failing silently. Hopefully this single irritating quirk in the drivers will be corrected – or perhaps a workaround implemented in WICD.

Meanwhile, there’s a workaround – you can use another tool that comes in the same package as iwconfig called “iwpriv” to set the network information. I whipped up a quick script that I can feed the name of the network and channel I want to connect to and it sets the card appropriately. THEN when I push the “connect” button in WICD, it works.

I was glad for the wireless networking performance today when some jerk set off the fire alarm in the building where I work (for about the 4th or 5th time in the last 6 months or so) and we all had to shuffle outside and sit around at a “safe” distance from the building while we waited for someone to decide there wasn’t really a fire and let us back in. I was able to stay on the wireless network from a fair distance outside the walls, and was thus spared the tragic fate of losing my connection to the InterTubes and having to interact with the real world…

If you have a use for it, the pathetically simple little script I use is:
#call with: (ssid) (channel)
iwpriv ra0 set EncrypType=NONE
iwpriv ra0 set AuthType=WEPAUTO
iwpriv ra0 set SSID=$1
iwpriv ra0 set Channel=$2

The way I use it is I pop up WICD and find the network I want to connect to. Let’s say it’s called “PublicNet” on channel 1. I tell the computer to run “ PublicNet 1”. Then I can push the connect button in WICD and it seems to work fine. (It may be that you can leave out the Channel line, I haven’t tried that yet.)

That’s really the only problem I’ve run into so far. Otherwise, everything just plain works that I’ve tested at this point. I even loaded, geotagged, cleaned up, and posted the most recent few photos I put on Panoramio entirely on this little machine. I was right, incidentally – fixing the “GigantoFonts” problem solved the problem of Google Earth popping up too big. The Linux version runs just fine now on my EeePC 901.

I should probably post something that isn’t me blathering about my cool new toytool, though. Anybody want to know anything?

Happy “Cheap Peeps Day”, Everyone!

No, no, don’t panic, this isn’t another “all manner of strange things involving Marshmallow Peeps®” post, even though I can’t help thinking of the day after Easter as “Cheap Peeps Day”.

Today’s not a bad day. I got new glasses again – the replacements for the defective lenses finally showed up today. Sadly, the new right-side lens has the same kind of “fine stress-cracks” defect as the previous lenses, but at least it’s only one lens, and this time is much less severe. They’re still a big improvement on my old glasses, and I can wear them while they order a replacement lens again.

picture of an Asus EEE PC 901 Linux netbookPlus, I may have located my new netbook. Commenters here (thanks defcronyke and TomJoe!) had praise for the original Linux Netbook manufacturer, Asus. I’m currently drooling at the EEE PC 901. It’s $10 more than the Sylania G Meso that I wanted but couldn’t find actually in stock anywhere (they were supposedly available a few days ago, so I’m guessing they’re just very popular, and sold out very quickly. [YOU HEAR THAT, RETAILERS?!?!?]). However, along with that extra $10 it comes with built-in bluetooth (Hooray – bluetooth tethering, chan_mobile, and the Bluetooth GPS units I have will be useful!), RAM that can be upgraded without the warranty-voiding case-cracking required to upgrade the Sylvania G Meso, and a bigger, longer-lasting battery pack. Plus, it’s actually in stock at least at They even have it in the less-likely-to-warp-if-I-accidentally-leave-it-in-front-of-a-sunny-window plain white color I wanted.

I’ve still got a little bit of reluctance to switch to a “solid-state” flash-memory drive rather than an old-school mechanical one – they have less capacity, and more importantly each individual sector on a Solid-State Drive wears out and stops working after it’s written to for a certain number of times. Internally, the solid-state drives are supposed to do some behind-the-scenes tricks to spread disk writes around so that the same sectors aren’t constantly being re-written (“wear leveling”), so supposedly the modern drives should last at least around 5 years of “typical use”. Still, that means I probably wouldn’t want to run Gentoo on it – compiling involves lots of temporary file write-and-delete cycles. Oh, well – I’ve been wanting an excuse to try out Arch Linux anyway. It appears to have the same “rolling release” methodology that Gentoo does, with a decent package manager and yet the same kind of ability to custom-compile packages elsewhere to install that Slackware’s “SlackBuild” system enables, so I could still do the “compile just the features I want, optimized for the Atom processor and for minimum size” sort of trick that I could do with Gentoo.

Application of what I like to call “Intentional Computing” philosophy ought to be able to turn a machine like this into a potent portable premium performance powerhouse of…um…something beginning with “p”.

Anyway, I think the only other route I’d consider for getting a Linux netbook would be a Dell Mini 9, which is on sale right now ($50 off). However, it’d still take what appears to be one to three weeks to actually get the machine into my impatient nerd-hands from Dell, and features equivalent to the EEE PC 901 look like they’d still cost about $100 more (at least) from Dell, even with the sale going on.

Any thoughts before I commit myself*?

*– Yes, I know that can be interpreted in multiple ways. Most of them probably apply anyway, though, so I don’t care…