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.

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

“Geomicroblogging”? “Microgeoblogging”?

I don’t know what it should be called…but anyway, I put up a page where I can try to organize my allegedly spiffy idea . After my little “Proof of concept” experiment with audio geomicroblogging during the holidays, I’ve decided that the concept is indeed at least fun to play with. Since I’m still too poor to buy myself any really expensive toys or take a long luxury vacation, I figure I can amuse myself by trying to turn my experiment into a “real” system that someone might actually want to use. I’ve posted my current idea and plans for the first release at the link up there. I figure getting to the first basic implementation will take a few days to a few weeks, mainly depending on whether anyone but me likes the idea (if it seems interesting to anyone else, there’s a lot more reason to focus on getting it done than if it’s just a crazy idea that everyone else hates…)

Coming Soon to a blog post near you!

I got a little money for Christmas, but I’m feeling quite guilty as I didn’t really have the time and money to reciprocate in advance. I also haven’t been able to figure out what to spend it on until now. Now, I have a solution for both problems.

Xanthomonas campestris growing in a petri dish and exuding slimeI intend to spend it all on fermentation-related food ingredients and do some experimentation with sweet-tasting foods. Initially, in addition to flavors (spices and whatnot), I need to track down bulk quantities of:

  • Erythritol, which is a virtually non-caloric sugar alcohol which unlike sorbitol and so forth is not normally prone to cause gastric distress, and unlike Xylitol is not hazardous for beloved household pets. Better still, it actually is very tasty unlike that nasty hippy “Stevia” crap (which isn’t produced by fermentation anyway, as far as I know).
  • Food-grade Glycerol (“Glycerine”), which I hypothesize is close enough to the structure of Erythritol to mix well with it and help the erythritol dissolve (and hopefully prevent crystallization, much the same way the “corn syrup” does with sucrose).
  • Xanthan Gum. MMmmmmm…edible bacteria-snot. (Okay, for all that this sounds disgusting, it’s really somewhat similar to pectin, which like xanthan gum is a polysaccharide. Pectin is just fruit-snot rather than bacteria snot. Dietarily, both count as “soluble fiber”.)

There are probably other ingredients I can come up with as well. For those of you out there who are owed gifts: Chewy candies, hard candies, baked goods, and/or beverages, what’s your preference for my initial experimentation? Assuming anyone’s interested, I will probably blog my results…

Meanwhile, I’ve also been thinking about geolocation, geotagging of audio and video media, and Asterisk again. I want to take the lessons learned from my playing with the “Where Was I?” prototype and turn it into a real geolocation system, integrating with Asterisk and Laconica (which turned out to be easier to set up than I’d feared – I’ve now got my own Laconica server at, though I need to sit down and activate the IM integration (Twitter may have abandoned IM, but it reportedly works fine in Laconica).

It also turns out that you can use Asterisk with cellphones(!), at least if they have bluetooth. That’s handy to know…

Argh – too much to do, not enough time!…

Exhaustipated, but I’m home

I had to forgo the pleasures of lounging in the hotsprings, due to the excess of time it took to load up Flagella for the trip back and finish running errands. I had to get out of Idaho while the getting was good, as another storm was on the way. Still, the return trip wasn’t a total loss:

FloppyCow gazes from inside Flagella (my car) at the beer I just picked up at New Belgium Brewing Company - La Folie and Frambozen
I managed to score a couple of bottles of La Folie and a six-pack of Frambozen. FloppyCow is jealous. These brews may make a decent relaxative with which to treat my exhaustipation.

I learned a few things playing with my prototype “Where Was I? application for Asterisk. For one thing, I need a longer greeting message, so that my asterisk box will still be listening when my cellphone finally obeys me mashing on its keypad and sends the tones. For another, Suddenlink may be screwing me over on my outgoing data (I’m supposed to be getting 384k outgoing, which ought to be plenty of bandwidth, but strangely enough from outside my VOIP packets are getting completely screwed up. I need to research this to see if it’s really them.) In any case, I had fun playing with it, and now have a better idea of how to (re-)design it for regular use.

Meanwhile, though, now that the car is finally unloaded again it’s time to rest and try to remember everything else I needed/wanted to get done during the holiday break.

Oh boy. This is “bad”.

(Note the “scare quotes” around “bad” up there…)I woke up kind of late this morning, which is probably just as well as I think I really needed the sleep before I load up the car with stuff from the old house and make the ~1600 mile (about 2575km or 83.45 picoparsecs) return journey. As a bribe to myself for making this trip, there are two places I had been considering stopping for a bit on the way back. One of those two is New Belgium Brewing Company in Fort Collins, Colorado. In order to do this, though, I obviously need to arrange to be going through Fort Collins (around 8-9 hours from here) while they’re open. The thing is, there’s really not much point in stopping from my perspective unless they happen to have what I’m really interested in – their not-always-available limited-release “La Folie” (link from the image goes to the page describing it) and possibly their seasonal “Frambozen“. Last time I went by it appeared they always had some La Folie on tap at the tasting counter but not in bottles for take-out.

It turns out New Belgium is open on Saturday until 6pm. And they have both La Folie and Frambozen in bottles there right now.

The other possible stop is Lava Hot Springs, Idaho, where I find it very enjoyable to lounge in the hot springs amid all the snow. However, they open at 9am, so even if I get up really early to make it to Fort Collins before New Belgium closes, I can’t spend any time in the hot springs until 9am anyway, so I’d never make it from the Hot Springs to Fort Collins on the same day. I could, of course, lounge at the hot spring today and then hit Fort Collins tomorrow morning, stopping somewhere between Central Wyoming and Fort Collins tonight, but that could mean the return journey spanning three days rather than two.

However, the weather on this side of Idaho and Wyoming looks most passable today especially later in the afternoon when the roads have been cleared off well, and it looks like getting across the bad wind and snow on the Eastern side of the Wyoming may be safer and better tomorrow morning rather than today.

So, basically, the entire Universe (or at least that portion of it in charge of weather for this region of the country) is obviously telling me that I should take my time loading up and getting out of town, and then go ahead and stop at Lava Hot Springs for a little while to relax before continuing on to somewhere around Rawlins or so, and then resume in the morning which should just coincidentally put me going through Fort Collins in the Late-Morning to Early Afternoon time frame, when New Belgium Brewing is open.

I mean, I don’t want to stop and enjoy myself. Really, I want to be a good boy and drive back in the quickest, most efficient way possible, but who am I to thwart what is the Obvious Will of the Universe? (Supernaturalism makes some of the best excuses…)

In other news, I did manage to fix the Stupid Mistake™ in my little “Where Was I?” application for Asterisk, so now not only do the location updates happen but also the conversion of the associated voice update to MP3 for listening now happens automagically as well. I also fixed the hard time-limit, so updates shouldn’t cut off at 30 seconds like the one from Fort Collins did on the 24th. If you keep an eye on the page and everything goes well for me, you may catch an update from Lava Hot Springs later in the day. If you are especially bored (or are being paid by a Secret Government Agency or Vast International Conspiracy or Santa Claus to spy on me) I will try to do an update from there while sitting on the steps in view of the East Webcam. If so, I’ll be the tiny figure waving at the camera from the steps. If you happen to be watching at the right time, you might catch me there to gaze upon my magnificent pixellated spiffitude. Just don’t look directly at it or you may go blind…

Naturally, a live update from New Belgium Brewing Company is planned for tomorrow as well. After I return I can work on making my little application more interesting (embedded audio player, nicer presentation, maybe an embedded map, ability to come back later and attach related pictures…) and masssaged into a condition that wouldn’t be too embarassing to let others use. This “live neogeographical netcasting” thing is too much fun to keep just to myself. (I wonder how hard it would be to interface this with the Laconica microblogging system?…)

Further bulletins as events warrant…

Phone-in Geolocation: almost working…

It’s a hasty and rather brittle thing, but I seem to have the asterisk side of the equation functioning at a minimal level, including recording audio to go with the latitude and longitude that I dial in when I call. Aside from the beautification and cleanup to make it more intuitive, all I need to do is test the “convert the recording to mp3” call and whip up a quick frontend to display the data. Then all of you loyal fans (and/or secret conspirators) can follow along on my long but hasty journey complete with audio. Aren’t you lucky? (Don’t answer that…) If my schedule works out well enough, I may even be able to do a travelogue update from New Belgium Brewing Company along the way.

The basic process is that I whip out my trusty cellphone, call home, and dial the appropriate extension. I then key in my latitude and longitude, and then record up to a five minute bit of audio to go with it. The script then sticks the latitude, longitude, and timestamp (local to the server) at the end of a comma-separated text file and will then invoke a background process of LAME to convert the file to mp3 for online listening. I’m probably only going to have time for a really simple web interface for the moment since I’ve got to hit the road by lunchtime tomorrow after some work in the morning, but once I’m back from this trip I’ll hopefully have a chance to spiff it up.

UPDATE 20081223:If you’re bored, and you watch you MIGHT see an update or to show up during the day, assuming everything works. Unfortunately I won’t actually know if it worked until tonight when I stop for the evening and get online to check it out…

ANOTHER UPDATE 20081223 (late): Now that I’ve stopped for the evening, I’ve fixed the stupid last-minute typo that was keeping the page from working. The audio isn’t automatically being converted to mp3, so until I get time to figure that out the audio parts of the updates won’t show up until I have time to log in and start the conversion by hand. Hopefully be able to fix that (and spiff up the display page) in a day or two.

Any questions, comments, or suggestions (or requests)?

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?

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

Lake-spanking map and pictures

Lake Conroe has been persistently naughty. Since nobody else seemed to be taking responsibility for its misbehavior, we took matters into our own hands yesterday and gave it a good spanking. I paddled it until I got blisters.

I think this will need to be done much more often, since I don’t think the lake has learned its lesson yet. On the other hand, I learned a few – interactive photo-map and details below…

Continue reading Lake-spanking map and pictures