With friends like these…

September 14, 2008

Last Friday our friends Cindy & Schmed arranged a late afternoon surprise for us, since we’d just celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary. No, it wasn’t the solar powered heart rainbow maker with the genuine heart-shaped Swarovski crystal, even though I thought I’d dropped plenty of hints.

Instead, Jenna came home from school with a sealed envelope they’d left with her teacher. This directed us to a sundial Schmed had secretly constructed on our property.

At 4pm the shadow gave us the digit to use to construct a phone number, which we called for our next clue. Hmm, where can you find the most wheels in Nevada City that aren’t attached to cars? They’d cleaned up that illegal tire dump near Old Downieville Highway. Of course – the Tour of Nevada City bicycle store! After a fun hour of digging up buried hints, figuring out what a Pikachu evolves into (good thing Jenna was there) and reading “Go Dog Go” for clues…

...behind the fire hydrant... ...find the animal on page 12...

…we found ourselves at the final destination:

Banner Mountain is the highest point around Nevada City & Grass Valley, at 3899ft. During fire season the tower at the top is manned by volunteers.

Jenna & Schmed on the tower stairs

Jenna & Schmed on the tower stairs

It turns out Cindy & Schmed had been practicing “pair fire-spotting” for the past few months…

Cindy demonstrates good technique

Cindy demonstrates good technique

and they’d set up a lovely anniversary party for us at the top. At the end of their 6pm shift, Jenna got to sign off, which pretty much made her day.

Talk about raising the bar – I’ll have to start planning their next anniversary event soon, since it’s only 8 months away.


The Summer 2008 Trans-Sierra Hike

September 7, 2008

Every summer I try to get in one long hike. The past two years this has focused on sections of Steve Roper‘s Sierra High Route, as described in his book.

Last summer Dave White & I went from Convict Lake up to Lake Wit-so-nah-pah, then cross country over Gemini Pass, down to the McGee Pass trail, cross country over Shout of Relief Pass and Bighorn Pass, then down to Laurel Lake and the Laurel Creek trail.

From here we descended into the Mono Creek Canyon, then up the Second Recess along Mills Creek, over Gabbot Pass, on to Cox Col, and then out via the Rock Creek Trail to the Mosquito Flat trailhead. Near Cox Col we met up with friends – you can find a brief description and some photos from that leg of the trip in the “Krugle Climbing Trip” section on the Vulgarian Ramblers Summer 2007 Tour page.

The Laurel Creek trail from Laurel Lake to the end of the hanging valley was beautiful, and we passed some killer campsites right where the trees peter out at the edge of a large meadow.

I decided that this would be a great destination for a family backpacking trip. Unfortunately there were a few problems, namely that there was no way my wife & 8-year old daughter were going to hike in the 12+ miles from either the east (via Mono Pass) or west (from Lake Edison) approaches.

Luckily I found that High Sierra Pack Station does spot trips in to the First Recess area along the Mono Creek. They’ll drop you and your gear off, then come back and pick you up a few days later. And thus began the planning for this year’s summer hike.

After surviving the drive in on the Kaiser Pass Road, so accurately described here, we took the ferry from Vermillion Resort across Edison Lake, and met up with the horses on the far side. Unfortunately the lake level was to low for the regular boat to operate, so we got shuttled across in a smaller boat, and wound up arriving 2 hours later than expected.

The drop off at Fish Camp was also further from the Laurel Creek trail than I’d expected, and the slog up the north side of Mono Creek canyon was  a lot steeper than I remembered, so our arrival at camp was a bit later than planned. But once we settled in, it was every bit as gorgeous as I’d remembered from last summer.

After four days of fun family camping, we hiked back down to Fish Camp, where the horses met us. I said goodbye to the family, then retraced my route from last summer up the Second Recess and over Gabbott Pass. A drizzle made the tedious talus hopping near the pass more exciting than it was the first time. I dropped down to Lake Italy, where the drizzle finally turned into rain, forcing me to stop my death march.

Early the next morning I reached the Italy Pass trail, and put it into cruise gear. But two snowfields that covered the trail down to the lake presented the biggest challenge of the entire trip – crossing crusty snow at 6am in trail running shoes and no ice axe was not what I expected. After about 45 minutes of very careful sun cupping I was past that ugliness, just in time to lose the trail as it ascended towards Jumble Lake.

For once, the god-awful ducks I’ve been seeing everywhere came in handy, as somebody had clearly marked where the trail crossed the creek. So as much as Roper hates ducks, they do have their uses, as otherwise I’d have been wandering a talus field trying to find the trail using the bogus location printed on my topo map.

Once over Italy Pass, it was an easy but painfully meandering tromp down to Honeymoon lake, where I met Dave White and Grant Glouser. They’d hiked in on the Pine Creek Pass trail yesterday afternoon. So far we were three for three on back country rendezvouses (and yes, that is the plural form).

We caught some big hail on the other side of Pine Creek Pass, but once it stopped we found ourselves descending through the most amazing wildflowers I’ve ever seen in the backcountry. Lush meadows covered with bright red, blue, yellow, orange, purple and white blossoms. Burbling brooks winding their way past twisted pines. And three hikers without a camera between them…sigh.

Eventually we split left on the unmarked L Lake trail, passing a large group of high school kids toiling away on trail maintenance. Our campsite was lovely Elba Lake. The next day we went cross-country past Puppet Lake, over the first pass I’ve found with three names (Puppet, Carol Col, and Roget), and then down past Mesa Lake. This area made me feel like we were wandering the Russian steppes, that is until we came across a huge encampment (hauled in over the fragile meadow via horses) complete with the Taj Masquito Tent.

We picked up the Piute Pass trail and took that up to Piute pass, then split right on the unmarked trail to Muriel Lake. From there it was a short cross-country walk to Goethe Lake, and some more spectacular views that continued to be unrecorded anywhere but in our minds.

The following morning was the start of a long and fairly unpleasant climb via big talus to Alpine Col. We descended more talus to the lake on the other side, then traversed around the east shore (the west side was a no-go) over still more talus and through huge clouds of gnats, until finally meeting with with Schmed and company at the gap between lakes 11540 and 11546. Four-for-four, we must be living right.

Schmed leaves a note for Ken

Schmed leaves a note for Ken

Schmed, Laurel, Kirsten and Dan had entered via the Lamarck Lakes trail a few days prior. They reached the Darwin Canyon via Lamarck Col, after which Schmed and Dan climbed Mt. Mendel. You can read a brief description of their trip in the Darwin Canyon Trip section of this page, along with photos.

Schmed & Kirsten convinced me to climb nearby Mt. Goethe, which wound up being a good call. Excellent summit views…

Schmed & Kirsten celebrate another summit

Schmed & Kirsten celebrate another summit

…and more beautiful benches on the way down…

Wandering through wildflowers

Wandering through wildflowers

Now we were supposed to be all camped at the Darwin Benches just below these lakes, but those slackers in the other group had left their camp set up at the top of Darwin Canyon. So Grant, Dave & I hauled our gear up the canyon, which wasn’t all that bad given the views:

Darwin Canyon Lakes

Darwin Canyon Lakes

We then joined up with their cozy camp, between the two highest lakes in Darwin Canyon:

The starkness of the surrounding terrain was mitigated by the views of nearby peaks and lakes:

View down Darwin Canyon Lakes

View down Darwin Canyon Lakes

The following morning we hiked over Lamarck Col, then down the Lamarck Lakes trailhead. A dinner stop at the Whoa Nellie Deli (cleverly hidden inside a gas station) on the long drive home helped take care of some of those food fantasies I’d been experiencing after 8 days of freeze-dried.


Their meme was too strong…

September 5, 2008

I saw Andrew Shebanow‘s post about the History Meme, and had to try it myself. Here are my most common shell commands (on Mac OS X), with counts:

  103	svn
   64	cd
   44	ssh
   36	mvn
   26	rsync
   26	ll
   16	sh
   16	perl
   15	ping
   13	ls

Not sure what my most common shell commands says about me as a person, other than I’m a heavy user of Subversion and Maven, and I have to frequently access and move files to/from a bunch of servers at our office and colo.

And as Tim Bray pointed out, it doesn’t say anything about the tools I use the most – OmniFocus, Eudora, and Eclipse. But still, for one line of bash/awk it’s a fun peek into my daily tech life.


Trebuchet Video

August 31, 2008

To complete the previous post, here’s a video of one of the first launches.

Of course, nothing is completely easy. This had been filmed vertically (rotated camera), so I used QuickTime Pro to un-rotate the original .avi file and save as a .mov. Looked fine, uploaded to YouTube, but the resulting video was in the original (unrotated) format – looks like YouTube have a bug with handling that QuickTime movie attribute (see this question by somebody else who ran into the same problem).

So I exported it as a .avi file, which lost some quality but this time really “saved” the rotation.


OmniFocus meets Wordle

June 23, 2008

A friend recently pointed me to Wordle, which is a cool little applet for creating interesting tag clouds – not the usual ones that just alter font size, but funky clouds with rotated text, multiple colors, pick-your-font, etc.

I gave it a try using the export of my personal task list from OmniFocus:

Personal tag cloud


Converting Vimeo embedded HTML to XHTML

June 14, 2008

I recently used Vimeo to publish a video, and it worked well. But I ran into a problem with using the HTML they generate for embedding the video – it’s not valid XHTML.

You typically get something that starts with this <object> element (using a real value for XXXX, of course):

<object width="265" height="200">
  <param name="allowfullscreen" value="true" />
  <param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always" />
  <param name="movie" value="http://www.vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=XXXX&amp;server=www.vimeo.com&amp;show_title=1&amp;show_byline=1&amp;show_portrait=0&amp;color=00ADEF&amp;fullscreen=1" />
  <embed src="http://www.vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=XXXX&amp;server=www.vimeo.com&amp;show_title=1&amp;show_byline=1&amp;show_portrait=0&amp;color=00ADEF&amp;fullscreen=1"
    type="application/x-shockwave-flash"
    allowfullscreen="true"
    allowscriptaccess="always"
    width="265" height="200">
  </embed>
</object>

The first problem is that strict XHTML doesn’t let you put this directly into a <body> element – you need to wrap it with <p> … </p> tags.

The second problem is that <embed> isn’t a valid XHTML element. Luckily Bernie Zimmermann had a blog post about a similar issue with YouTube videos, so I could apply similar munging.

  1. Move the type=”yyy” attribute from the <embed> element to the outer <object> element.
  2. Move the src=”yyy” attribute from the <embed> element to the outer <object> element, and change it to be data=”yyy”.
  3. Delete the <embed> element

This leaves you with something that looks like:

<p>
<object width="265" height="200"
    data="http://www.vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=XXXX&amp;server=www.vimeo.com&amp;show_title=1&amp;show_byline=1&amp;show_portrait=0&amp;color=00ADEF&amp;fullscreen=1"
    type="application/x-shockwave-flash">
  <param name="allowfullscreen" value="true" />
  <param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always" />
  <param name="movie" value="http://www.vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=XXXX&amp;server=www.vimeo.com&amp;show_title=1&amp;show_byline=1&amp;show_portrait=0&amp;color=00ADEF&amp;fullscreen=1" />
</object>
</p>

I refuse to join any club which would have me as a member

June 13, 2008

This was a Groucho Marx quote I located on Brainy Quote. I thought of it while trying to find a time to meet up with two friends. I hope to have a semi-regular gathering of entrepreneurs in the Grass Valley/Nevada City area, and today was the magic alignment of planets – I’d just returned from Japan, Phil would be back from LA, and Lou was available – but then Phil’s trip got extended.

Since one of the universal constants of doing a start-up is that you don’t have enough time to do half of everything that needs doing, I’m not surprised that we’re having trouble getting together. Which makes me think that if you have time to meet, you’re not really an entrepreneur.


Mark Twain Commentary on the MacBook Air

April 5, 2008

One of my favorite posts to the Unicode mailing list came during a heated debate about “simplifying” certain character sets. I believe it was Joe Becker who re-posted Mark Twain’s humorous proposal for simplifying English spelling:

Mark Twain

In year 1, that useless letter “c” would be dropped to be replased either by “k” or “s;” and likewise, “x” would no longer be part of the alphabet. The only kase in which “c” ould be retained would be the “ch” formation, which will be dealth with later. Year 2 might reform the “w” spelling so that “which” and “one” would take the same konsonant wile year 3 might well abolish “y,” replasing it with “i;” and iear 4 might fiks the “g/j” anomali wonse and for all.

Jeneraly, then the improvement would kontinue iear bai iear with iear 5 doing awai with useless double konsonants; and iears 6-12 or so modifaiiing vowlz and the rimeining voist and unvoist kononants. Bai iear 15, it wud be fainali bi posibl tu meik ius ov thi ridandant letez “c,” “y,” and “x” — bai now jast a memori in the maindz ov ould doderez — tu replais “ch,” “sh,” and “th,” rispektivli.

Finali, xen, ater sam 20 iers ov orxogrefkl riform, wi wud hev a lojikl, kohirnt speling iniuse xrewawt xe Ingliy-Spiking werld.

I wonder what Mark Twain would have to say about the MacBook Air…

MacBook Air

A Plan for the Improvement of the PowerBook G4 12″ Laptop

For example, that useless Ethernet port would be dropped to be replaced by wireless only, and likewise the second USB and FireWire would no longer be available. The hard disk will be retained, but only the very slow iPod version or the very expensive flash version, as most people will no longer need to keep files other than system software on their computer.

Continuing our optimization, the DVD/CD-ROM drive is now useless, because there’s no space on the hard disk to install anything. And with the slower processor, the option to expand memory to 4GB is also unneeded as who would now do any heavy processing work with this computer?

Once the device has been tuned for email writing executives, the price can be increased to match their signature authority, thus eliminating problems caused by most other customers buying the product and complaining about limitations.

Finally, then, after extensive optimizations, we would have the perfect computer for our target customer, Steve Jobs.


The Nevada City Xtracycle Connection

February 20, 2008

We were in Mill Valley, visiting our friends (see Dipsea Redux), and at the end of the Dipsea stairs I saw this guy grinding up a hill on a bike, with three (that’s right, three) kids on the back.

Xtracycle with Xtrakids

Now after a few years of living in Hong Kong, this wasn’t so strange to me – though he was missing a side of pork, and his wife (smiling in the background above, because she wasn’t hauling that load) should have been sitting on his handlebars.

On closer look I realized it was an Xtracycle, which is what you get when you let the Xtracycle company convert your regular bike into an SUB (sport utility bike). And the cool thing for me is that they’re based in Nevada City, or more accurately in North San Juan just up Highway 49 a few miles.


Profit-maximizing Vending Machines

February 17, 2008

Back in the early ’80s, MIT got vending machines with prices displayed using LCDs.

Coke vending machine

At the time, I was taking a Principles of Microeconomics class. I noticed how these machines got most of their business during the break between classes. And thus began my speculation about profit-maximizing vending machines, based on supply and demand curves.

Imagine that this machine tracked buying patterns by time of day, day of week, and month. It should be able to reasonably predict the expected odds of a purchase (the demand) being made in the next 10 minutes or so. Given that information, what would happen if the price fluctuated up/down based on the expected demand? Heck, you could even throw in the number of remaining cans and the anticipated restocking time.

I’d expect that the price between classes would jump up dramatically, and fall over the weekends. This doesn’t seem like classic supply and demand theory, in that it’s really taking advantage of local, repetitive variations in the overall demand curve, but the basic concept is still similar.

Supply and demand curve

But what happens with a similar machine from the Pepsi-Cola company gets installed next to it? A cola price war? And would students start sneaking out during lecture to get the better price? As you might guess, my micro-econ lectures provided lots of opportunity for such idle speculation.