Archive for September, 2008

Notes on Breaking Traffic Laws

Tuesday, September 30th, 2008

I’m a programmer by trade and when someone tells me an absolute I hold them too it. This absolute is Obey All [Applicable]Traffic Laws. I think only Jesus or Buddha could do this and they didn’t have stop lights and speed limits. This statement bugs me for a couple of reasons. One is the hypocrisy of the speaker acting as if they have never speed, run a red light/sign, cut someone off, or turned without signaling. Another is the unreasonableness of the traffic laws. Some posted signs and pavement markings are quite applicable to cars or vehicles that can exceed 50 mph straight away, but are inane to a bicyclist. I’ve been trying to put together a list. What do I follow and what do I ignore and why.

The first one I noticed was a Stop sign under an Interstate overpass. It’s ignored, because I can see quite far in all directions and it takes me 5 ft or less to stop if I see a car. Very few people are around anyway. It’s a bit out of town.

The second are Stop signs in low density residential areas. If there is a vehicle in sight I try to stop or appear to give head to the sign. This is a signal to the driver. It’s difficult sometimes, because stopping would delay myself and the other car. Whereas, I can clear the intersection and his path quicker. If there is no traffic it’s nearly impossible to make myself stop.

Then I start wondering why there is a Stop sign there. Did someone complain? Cars driving too fast around children? Is this a longish stretch of road and cars really pick up speed here and there is a sign instead of speed bumps?

The third one that I’m almost sure to stop at are Stop lights. If has to be completely dead. Like 5:00 AM to skip them. It’s tempting, because not all the traffic lights detect bicycles. I have stood through two light change cycles for other lanes while the light ignored more. Try this in a car and see if you don’t get pissed. No take away the heater and air conditioner.

There are probably more. I’m selective and there are some laws that I don’t avail myself of, because I don’t feel safe. Riding in a traffic lane like a car. The law gives me the right, but I only take advantage when I need to change lanes cross the left lane and then only when it’s slow or I’ve no other choice.

I believe that if cyclist rode according to the law there would be much more violence against them. Most drivers don’t realize what bicyclist are and are not supposed to do. A single line of bikes 20 long is quite a train and would shut down quite an area of rode; hand signaling, lit up, and riding 15 mph all according to regulations. It’s the willingness to act like second class asphalt users and ride in the gully that prevents more road rage incidents.

My guideline is whether I feel safe. Flying downhill past a Stop sign in traffic is inherently unsafe and I couldn’t make myself do it if I wanted to. Crossing a busy street during a slight break in the traffic is not safe.

The biggest complaint I here is the cyclist flying through a red light or Stop sign. Smile next time you see this. And try to remember the last time you ran a red light, drove 90, or parked in a bike lane.

Amarillo is not bike friendly

Tuesday, September 30th, 2008

Posted to Old Tascosa Forum

I don’t agree that Amarillo is bike friendly. Riding around town is a harrowing and frustrating experience. Not all lights don’t detect me and I have to hit the pedestrian switch. If I had a trailer this would not be a reasonable solution due to the length. It can be frightening to get to great routes like the long rail trail. Unfortunately, we don’t have any more of those to turn into bike routes. So, as great as that is it’s a bit of a non-starter.

The three fold brochure that was in a our packet for the Old Tascosa Classic is very misleading. The loop is listed as a route when parts of it are unrideable. You can’t mix 70 mph traffic with 20 mph without a physical divider. Most of the city routes are marked Bike Route – No Lanes. That just means a sign in somebody’s yard. And the Bike Lane – Future is a very short list.

People park in the bike lanes all the time, because there is no enforcement and some are a joke. You would have to be crazy to ride down Bell between Plains and the overpass. There is always at least one car there and only inches of space between bikes and cars.

Can we get a safe route across the railroad tracks, better access to get on the Plains railroad trail, and better access to parks. Why aren’t new housing developments like Tradewinds required to build roads wide enough for a bike lane? Most parks are near schools. What if there were bike routes connecting all the parks in town? Or all the elementary schools? That seems like a reasonable start. Or maybe a finish.

I’m trying not to mention the fanciful ideas from copenhagenize.com, new.carfreecity.us, or bike racks on buses, or the separated pedestrian/bike path I saw in Albuquerque this summer.

It would be nice to ride from Belmar to Elwood and Memorial Parks without fearing for my safety.

Audacity Interview on FLOSS

Tuesday, September 30th, 2008

FLOSS Weekly 42: Roger Dannenberg of Audacity

Audacity is the free program that many people use for editing podcasts and other audio files. It works on most personal computers. Easy to use and free and works everywhere. That’s hard to beat.

Audacity is free, open source software for recording and editing sounds. It is available for Mac OS X, Microsoft Windows, GNU/Linux, and other operating systems. Learn more about Audacity… Also check our Wiki and Forum for more information.
http://audacity.sourceforge.net/

First Critical Mass Ride in Amarillo on 10/3

Tuesday, September 30th, 2008

Route

Yes I’m trying to bring​ the Critical Mass concept to Amarillo,​​​ perhaps the least​ bike-friendly ​​​city I’ve ever seen.​​​ For those​ who aren’t familiar with this event​,​​​ it’s a big monthly bike ride of as many people as you can get. The name comes​ (as far as I can tell)​​​ from the idea that enough people on bikes​ become a force​ in traffic,​​​ not only impossible​ to ignore,​​​ but perhaps even capable​ of running the streets.

My plan is to rally​ at Sunset Center next Friday (​​​Oct. ​​3rd,​​​ or First​ Friday)​​​ start​ing at 6:30,​​ departing promptly at 7:00 on a route​ as yet to be deter​mined​. Any amount of portable light​ anyone can bring​ would​ be great​, as visibility​ is key not only to critical mass, but to being​ on a bike in general. At least befriend and help spread the word. And pleas​e repost.

Go to​ myspace.com/bikeamarillo and let’​s make Amarillo a safer place to ride!
​ Hope to see you there!

on Old Tascosa Forum

Simple Environmental Acts of Cheapness

Monday, September 29th, 2008

There are some fairly simple and relatively cheap policies we implement to decrease the environmental cost of our lifestyles.

Subsidy to put solar panels on homes in the range of 25%-50%. It takes about $5K-$10K to put a solar panel array on a home that covers ~80% of it’s daytime energy usage. Making electricity local to its use drastically reduces the power lost over lines distributing it, reduces the need for transmission lines, and the need for those high power lines that cause cancer in kids. Solar Panels are a dream invention for home owners. All other methods of electrical generation are quite complex. Panels only require installation.

Federal law revoking state laws (not optimal) to grass roots removal of state laws (best) that forbid homeowners selling power to the grid at rates comparable to the power company. These laws exist for one purpose to remove competition. We need more competition since the power companies have not taken the lead in environmentally responsible power generation.

Banning or phase out of chemicals with long or unknowably long life times. Particularly, nerve toxins (for animals) and general plant toxins (for weeds). This is particularly of concern for home owning consumers who might choose to douse land with such chemicals upon which children might unknowingly play.

A group of short term tasked with assisting homeowners for low cost or free with analysis of the energy efficiency of home. Cheap methods of sealing up holes in attics, attic fans, insulation, timers, etc. should be the most common solutions. A third party, not the electric/gas company or contractor, is most useful here. This group might produce the most benefits for least cost.

Tax or penalize homes made with current needlessly wasteful low energy efficiency standards. Homes can be constructed of comparable cost to modern homes that do not need air conditioning or heating. Most homes today are built of habit not forethought. We could make a new habit.

Areas of desert or drought should be encouraged to pass building codes that encourage water catchment systems. All new homes should be built with such systems. At the very least the lawn can be watered with rainwater to offset the drain on reservoirs.

Feedlots produce huge quantities of smelly methane (I’m looking at you Hereford, TX) that could be captured and bottled to be used locally or sold for vehicles. This is money to the feedlot, reduced environmental impact (methane is a greenhouse gas), and no smell. Drilling is not required, production is continuous, and a renewable resource is used.

Forbid the construction of single cycle gas power plants which are 25%-30% efficient when a combined cycle plant can be 40%-50% efficient. Both burn the same quantity of gas, the single cycle lets the energy go into the atmosphere as heat, wasting a vital nonrenewable resource and raising the prices of gas on the energy markets. The only difference is in capital cost to build the plant, which over the lifetime (30-50 years) is tiny in comparison to the cost of fuel burned.

Longer term..
Require companies who make products consider their whole life cycle. When transportation was a horse; fuel, waste, and maintenance were close together. As a car; fuel is in the ground, waste goes in the air, and maintenance goes to both. The car company is freed from truly considering the cost of the car, which should rightfully include gathering up all the emissions and rendering them inert. Cars and many other items are cheap only, because the public (including those who do not participate) pays for the cleanup of the exhaust and harmful chemicals.

The energy economy should be diverse and rich. Cars that run on gas, gasoline, electricity, diesel, and the ever fabled myth of hydrogen. Electric cars should be preferred because they can further diversify energy that comes from a power grid based on solar, coal, gas, and wind power.

Phase out plastic to something that will degrade in a knowable timespan. This material is too ubiquitous to remove, but we go too far. Plastic silverware and plates don’t need to be plastic. Other materials can be made to fill the gaps.

Conversely, develop a microbe that can digest plastic like wood fibers. This will cost in maintenance to many, many objects and industries, but odd corners of the world won’t fill up with junk.

Anyone else have any bright ideas?

Query by humming

Monday, September 29th, 2008

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Query_by_humming

Query by humming (QbH) is a music retrieval system that branches off the original classification systems of title, artist, composer, and genre. It normally applies to songs or other music with a distinct single theme or melody. The system involves taking a user-hummed melody (input query) and comparing it to an existing database. The system then returns a ranked list of music closest to the input query.

Another Hard Drive Died

Monday, September 29th, 2008

Another hard drive died yesterday. The Mac Mini finally drove me to replace the 512 meg with 1 gig. In the process of taking it apart I shook it a little and that killed the laptop hard drive that it uses.

It’s so much better with 1 gig. Just booting up only leaves 300 meg free. So, the OS needs at least 700, before you open any programs. When I had 5 apps open it was hanging alot.

So, I left the Mini open and will find a replacement. One of the office stores carries 80 gig for $45. I just didn’t want to spend any money.

Making Your Own Panniers and Racks

Monday, September 29th, 2008

Links for the rare are of making your own bike bags and racks.

Ken Kifer Making Own Panniers
Joe Sacher How to Build Bicycle Panniers
Paul Woloshansky Heavy Duty Touring Racks
Paul Dorn GETTING STARTED: CARRYING CAPACITY

Drive Indexing Programs for Mac

Saturday, September 27th, 2008

So, one way to store digital media is to turn hard drives into big 500 gig floppies. How do you know what’s on each drive?

CDFinder
CDFinder is the powerful disk cataloger and media asset manager software for the Mac.

DiskTracker
DiskTracker is the complete disk cataloging and labeling system for Mac OS X. It features an intuitive user interface and a bunch of useful features.

BBC: Somalia’s pirates seize 33 tanks

Friday, September 26th, 2008

How do you pass up a story like this?

A Ukrainian ship seized by pirates off the coast of Somalia was carrying 33 tanks and other weapons, the Ukrainian defence minister has confirmed.

Earlier, the country’s foreign ministry said the ship had a crew of 21 and was sailing under a Belize flag to the Kenyan port of Mombasa.

There has been a recent surge in piracy off the coast of Somalia.

Russia announced on Friday it would start carrying out regular anti-piracy patrols in the waters off Somalia.

A navy spokesman said a warship had been sent to the area earlier this week and the aim of the deployment was to protect Russian citizens and ships.

Somalia has not had an effective national government for 17 years, leading to a collapse of law and order both on land and at sea.

Somali pirates are currently holding more than a dozen hijacked ships in the base in Eyl, a town in the semi-autonomous region of Puntland.
..
Defence Minister Yury Yekhanurov confirmed that 33 Russian T-72 tanks and “a substantial quantity of ammunition” were aboard.
..
The cargo’s final destination was unclear, with reports suggesting either Kenya or south Sudan.

Race for the Cure Tomorrow

Friday, September 26th, 2008

The Susan G Komen Race for the Cure is in downtown Amarillo on Polk street tomorrow. Over 4,000 people are expected. There is a 5K timed route at 8:00, 5K walk, and 1M walk at 9:15.

My team, Livestrong, is dedicated to Tasha Enloe who was very active in these events. We have over 40 members. Some are running and some walking.

I’ll be riding the bike to avoid traffic and parking issues then running the 5K and hopefully walking the 5K. Wish me luck.

Periodic Table of Videos

Friday, September 26th, 2008

Tables charting the chemical elements have been around since the 19th century – but this modern version has a short video about each one.

Since launching this site, our videos have been watched more than 2.4 million times.

But we’re not finished yet. We’ve started updating all the videos with new stories, better samples and bigger experiments.

So once you’ve watched all 118 videos, make sure you come back and check on our progress.
http://periodicvideos.com/

Last Lecture

Thursday, September 25th, 2008

http://www.thelastlecture.com/
On Audible.com, this book is less than 5 hours. It’s certainly with a read or listen.

The Last Lecture
Amazon.com Review
“We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand.”
–Randy Pausch

A lot of professors give talks titled “The Last Lecture.” Professors are asked to consider their demise and to ruminate on what matters most to them. And while they speak, audiences can’t help but mull the same question: What wisdom would we impart to the world if we knew it was our last chance? If we had to vanish tomorrow, what would we want as our legacy?

When Randy Pausch, a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon, was asked to give such a lecture, he didn’t have to imagine it as his last, since he had recently been diagnosed with terminal cancer. But the lecture he gave–”Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams”–wasn’t about dying. It was about the importance of overcoming obstacles, of enabling the dreams of others, of seizing every moment (because “time is all you have…and you may find one day that you have less than you think”). It was a summation of everything Randy had come to believe. It was about living.

In this book, Randy Pausch has combined the humor, inspiration and intelligence that made his lecture such a phenomenon and given it an indelible form. It is a book that will be shared for generations to come.

FactCheck.org

Thursday, September 25th, 2008

We are a nonpartisan, nonprofit, “consumer advocate” for voters that aims to reduce the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics. We monitor the factual accuracy of what is said by major U.S. political players in the form of TV ads, debates, speeches, interviews, and news releases. Our goal is to apply the best practices of both journalism and scholarship, and to increase public knowledge and understanding.

The Annenberg Political Fact Check is a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania. The APPC was established by publisher and philanthropist Walter Annenberg in 1994 to create a community of scholars within the University of Pennsylvania that would address public policy issues at the local, state, and federal levels.

The APPC accepts NO funding from business corporations, labor unions, political parties, lobbying organizations or individuals. It is funded primarily by the Annenberg Foundation.
FactCheck.org

Headlines as of today:

Keeping Quiet A McCain-Palin ad claims Obama has been “mum” on the economic crisis. That’s false.

Call of the Wild A wildlife group’s ad attacks Palin for supporting the shooting of wolves from airplanes. She does, but there’s more to it than that.

‘Born Alive’ Baloney An abortion survivor claims she would have died if Obama had his way. She’s wrong. But Obama’s counterattack misfires too.

Guilt and Associations McCain once again tries to tar Obama with the controversies of others

Out of Context on Health Care Obama ad twists McCain’s words on health care “deregulation.”

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Monday, September 22nd, 2008

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was a good book. It tells the story of a man taking a cross country trip with his son. As he talks you learn that he had another personality; a very intelligent college instructor who had a nervous breakdown. In explaining the actions of the other and walking some of his footsteps he covers why and how he had a breakdown. As the book progresses the older personality starts to slip back into place. The real meat of the book are the long philosophical discussions of Kant, Aristotle, Plato, and many others. He spends half the book trying to define Quality and comes to the conclusion that is a basic principle of everything. Something that can’t be defined, but which the observer knows good from bad. It is very interesting. The idea that quality is atomic, ie itself indivisible, is very appealing.

Even if you don’t finish or skip around, this book is very much worth your time. I finished it wishing we had a required class in philosophy in college and that this book had been part of it. Our society ignores so many basic issues of life. Materialism, capitalism, competition, consumerism inundate our senses. We don’t often ask the question of what is good or beautiful. Or why is it. No depth. That’s what we lack in popular culture. After a while it becomes fashion. I find fashion boring.