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.

The Maker Shed is Moderately Awesome

I’ve got two blog posts that I want to get done this weekend. This is one of them.

I’m something of a fan of MAKE magazine and its related websites and such, being a frustrated “Maker” and all. “Frustrated” because although I have a strong urge to make things, I seem to have a gross oversupply of chores and issues constantly popping up to keep me from getting much done. Still, I try, despite the efforts of the Dog and five (insert mild profanity here) cats (I seem to have been declared the household “Stuff that goes into and comes out of nonhuman mammal companions technician”), and living space that thinks it’s necessary to demonstrate how entropy works on a constant basis. MAKE’s slogan is “If you can’t open it, you don’t own it”, which I so passionately agree with that I wish they were a political party so I could vote for them.

Anyway…MAKE magazine recently posted a poll asking for opinions on the magazine, the website, and so on. The way the poll was structured didn’t really let me address what I really like and dislike about the site, so I thought I’d post it here in case anyone besides me is interested.

But first, some praise: part of the poll was asking about the online store they run – The Maker Shed. I filled in the poll just a day or so before I went and ordered something from it, so I couldn’t give any opinion of it at the time. Having now gotten what I ordered, I have to say the store seems to be moderately awesome.

One of my complaints about the MAKE franchise is that it often seems to be made entirely of Arduino™ electronics, Arts-and-crafts (e.g. knitted things), and baking-soda-volcano sorts of projects for children. In truth it’s not that bad, but I would personally like to see “less Arduino™, more ‘Bioreactor’” – they actually published a “Bio-hacking“-themed issue a while back, so there’s hope. I bring this up because what they had at the Maker Shed that I bought was microbiological staining supplies (not actually the kit pictured above, but they didn’t have pictures of individual bottles of what I got). I put in my order online expecting it to be shipped the next business day, and was pleasantly surprised to find an “okay, you’re order’s been shipped” notice in my email within an hour or two. The stuff even arrived by that weekend (i.e. today), hopefully leaving me time to use it for my planned second blog post of the weekend. So, definitely fast service at the Maker Shed.

There are a few annoyances I have with the MAKE franchise, though:

  • Their “pod®casts” appear to all be videos (no audio-only podcasts at all)
  • I’d actually really like to have actual no-video-required audio shows that I could listen to on my 2½-hour daily commute. Not all of us want to (or can!) sit and stare at computer and/or “iPod®” video screens but still would like regular infusions of MAKE-related news and information.

  • The videos appear to be all presented in proprietary Apple® formats or proprietary Flash on youtube.
  • This isn’t a major technical problem for me – Mplayer handles the files just fine. However, given that Apple’s preferred formats are all heavily patent-encumbered and proprietary and therefore not really legally usable for “making” video without special paid-for permission from Apple® corporation, it seems an odd choice for the “If you can’t open it you don’t own it” folks. Perhaps they’re just paranoid that Steve Jobs is lurking just on the other side of the bay, waiting for an excuse to come up there and kick their butts if they aren’t pro-Apple® enough? In any case, I’m kind of surprised they seem to have no interest at all in legally-free, amateur-multimedia-maker friendly formats like Vorbis and Theora.

  • Where are the “Food and Drink” issues of MAKE?!?!? (And I don’t mean an Arduino®-controlled Lego® motorized model of a carnivorous cupcake or something, I mean actual edible food and potable brews. Not that “Killer Lego Robot Cupcake” wouldn’t be kind of neat….)
  • There’s enough “kids stuff” to split off into its own publication
  • Or so I believe, anyway. They already split the arts-and-crafts stuff off into its own CRAFT magazine. If they also split off the “make a paper plate toy” stuff to “Make: Kids” (Wait, “making kids” sounds like some kind of pornographic euphemism. Make that “Kids: Make”) there’d be more room for the more hardcore stuff (and a higher chance of more stuff I’m personally interested in).

  • It doesn’t seem like you can log in to comment on the Make blog without an account somewhere else (I USED to have a login directly on the site from when it first started, but that login no longer seems to work and the login screen implies the need to login through some other site’s service. Time to look up how to set up my own OpenID server…)
  • The Maker Faire always seems like it’s awesome but I can never go.
  • This isn’t really MAKE’s fault, unless they’re part of the secret cabal that conspires to keep me from having enough wealth and leisure time to attend things like this.

  • I can’t get this dang cat to quit jumping on my lap while I’m trying to type.
  • Okay, this has nothing to do with MAKE, but it’s annoying me right now.

There – now I’ve gotten it out of my system and out here where if anybody actually cares they can see it. Just some stuff that there was no way to convey in the survey. Otherwise I highly recommend MAKE magazine and its associated online material. The world needs more Makers and they’re doing some spiffy stuff to help in Sebastopol these days.

Now then, if all goes well I should have another post tomorrow with some pretty pictures of soap. Stay tuned…

“Stir-Fried Stochasticity” podcast: pilot episode

Cornelia the Happy Mutt with a tennis ballI’m still not sure I know why I have a desire to push recordings of my voice onto a more or less innocent worldwide population, but I do. And now I have a real theme to wrap an attempt at a podcast (or as I prefer – “oggcast”) around: scientific papers.

I finally got annoyed at press-release-based science stories one too many times, and thought to myself “why does almost nobody who does these stories at least cite the dang thing so I can go look it up and see what’s really in it, if they can’t be bothered to actually read and report on it themselves rather than just the press-release?” The story in question was the recent one about how babies understand dog-language (or something like that). Since I consider the dog to be a philosophical role-model, I wanted to read the actual paper and see if it was as silly as the headlines made it sound or (as I suspected) less flashy but more solid…but even “Science Daily” didn’t cite it.

Finally talking myself out of putting off doing audio recording, I tracked down the original paper, read it, and whipped out a rough show discussing what I found in the paper. I had fun doing it, so I’d like to turn it into a series.

I’ve put up a utilitarian page at with both a built-in <audio> tag interface and direct-download links for both Ogg Vorbis and MP3 versions.

I’m still deciding exactly how I’m going to decide on the papers to cover – should I pick obscure, forgotten ones that almost nobody else would ever read again without me stumbling on them and talking about them? Classic papers? Papers related to recent news stories like this one? All of the above? Depending on how long I end up trying to make the episodes, perhaps starting with some kind of scientific question and then reporting on a selection of papers I dig up to address the question, or just a selection of papers on the same subject? I’ve already gotten a request for an episode on the theme of prokaryotic extracellular polysaccharides…

The rate at which I can convince myself to try to crank these out (and improve their quality) is directly proportional to how much interest there might be out there in them, so please don’t hesitate to let me know if you think this might be interesting. Please don’t let me slack off! Also, feel free to correct me if I’m wrong about anything I mention in the show or the attached show notes.

If you don’t want to comment here, you can also email me at epicanis at

Thank you, and good night…

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.

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

Geotagging through Asterisk?

Between telemarketers annoying me into getting my upgrade to Asterisk 1.6 finished and the hasty long-overdue road-trip back to and from Idaho again, I’m reminded of an idea that has been fluttering around in the back of my head, not unlike a small bat in the top of a bell tower.

My vast hordes of cult-like fans always seem to want to know where I am. This is obviously an issue in a case where I’m going to be driving 1600 miles, then turning around and driving back, over the span of 4-6 days. It would be pretty easy to set up something on a web page somewhere with some kind of map. The real problem is – how do I update the map?

In some places, I could stop for a while, haul out Igor, boot up, find a public wireless network connection to the internet, and do the update that way. However, that’s time-consuming and awkward, and I want to get this trip successfully completed as quickly as I can. Plus, it’s not always easy to find public network access points, especially through the barren, windy, snowdrift-covered wastelands of Southern Wyoming where a chunk of my route will take me. I have a hypothetical solution, however…

Continue reading Geotagging through Asterisk?

Stir-Fried Random: Alferbeetagama!

(Update 20081104T1050: added a minimal embedded flash-based player at the bottom of the post, if you’re willing to settle for mp3 quality and want to listen from your web browser…)
(Update again 20081126: I wish I had realized before that the stupid thing was autoplaying despite explicitly including “autoplay=false” in the parameters. I’ve removed the embedded player again until I find a way to prevent autoplaying. Sorry about anyone that was annoyed by this.)

I was going to post this last night, but there appears to have been another bout of database connection errors again at my ISP (“host blocked due to too many connection errors”). I’m guessing either someone is DOS’ing the database server or one of the other users had some very badly behaved custom code running. They’ve got it fixed now, so here we go…

After staying up too (insert profanity here) late again despite having to get up extra-early this morning to vote before work…here’s the first real episode of Stir-Fried Random. Still only about 10 minutes long – I’d like to make it longer, but it’ll still probably take a few episodes of building up to it. An actual shiny new <audio> tag is included for those with bleeding-edge browsers that support it (let me know if it works – hypothetically the 3.1 Beeta[sic] version of Firefox and I believe the most recent Opera support this.). Otherwise, direct-download is available below the show notes:
Continue reading Stir-Fried Random: Alferbeetagama!

The “Stir-Fried Random” podcast, et al

Almost time for the first real episode of “Stir-Fried Random”. It’s still a bit short (about 10 minutes or so is what it looks like I’ll have) but the sound quality is a bit improved. It’s not all frivolous, either – there’s high culture (Opera) and science (the first of my Microbiology Microlectures) in it.

I was also plotting to intermittently post what I’m thinking of as “Book-And-Record” audio files, each associated with a single picture (embedded as “album art” as well as likely in the blog post presenting it) saying something about subject of the picture…

Continue reading The “Stir-Fried Random” podcast, et al

I was going to call it “Oxygen Sucks”…

I mentioned I’ve been “working” (playing) with recording audio during my commute to and from work, in hopes of turning the audio into a regular podcast. I was originally going to call it “Oxygen Sucks”, which is why today’s attached/enclosed audio (only about 7 minutes long) refers to itself as such…

Officially, though, I think “Stir-Fried Random” is a better name, so I’ll go with that henceforth. The first real episode is under way already, so I could put it up as early as the next few days. Today’s episode is in mp3 format, though starting next episode I’d like to offer both mp3 and Ogg Vorbis, at least, the latter format having better audio quality at the same bitrate (and being Legally Free for use). As a bonus, I gather Firefox 3.1 should offer native playback support for it, too…

I’d appreciate commentary on the content (even if you don’t listen but merely want to comment on the show notes) and audio quality. No login needed, anonymous comments allowed.

Show notes may be found below This Direct-Download link for the audio

Continue reading I was going to call it “Oxygen Sucks”…