Jul. 9th, 2011 | 11:56 pm
I spent most of the day playing with data visualization using Processing, which is super cool and I can’t believe I hadn’t played with it before. Specifically, I’ve been working on a visualization of what King County Metro bus service might look like if the congestion charge isn’t approved and the proposed service cuts take effect.
I used data from Metro, a map background from Google Maps, and a Processing script written by Brandon. And then I spent way too long trying to get the video uploaded to YouTube in a way that didn’t make it look even more terrible than it does in its original form. That didn’t work, so I’m putting it here.
Here’s what’s going on in the video below:
+ As the clock ticks, splotches appear on the map whenever a bus is scheduled to arrive/depart at a stop.
+ Blue splotches are buses which aren’t going to be affected by the proposed cuts.
+ Red splotches are buses which will be cut entirely.
+ Green splotches are buses which may see service reductions or revisions. I have no idea what that means, but it’s almost certainly not good for passengers.
+ Every splotch, regardless of color, is a bus that’s in service now, on a typical week day in early July of 2011.
+ This isn’t entirely accurate — some bus service will only be cut for the non-express routes, for example, and I don’t have a good way of separating those out. Some routes will only be cut north or south of downtown. Again, I don’t have a good way to filter that. So, in general, this is what the service revision might look like. Anything blue ought to be there, anything red won’t be, and anything green might or might not.
If the video doesn’t appear above, you can download it here.
Jul. 1st, 2011 | 03:59 pm
A while ago I helped someone move her blog to a new platform and hosting provider, since the guy who’d set it up for her originally was being kind of a dick about things, and the platform she was using was terrible. I mailed back and forth with her old tech guy trying to get him to transfer the domain into her name, and he refused, first saying that it was just too difficult and too much paperwork to do that, and then asserting some kind of moral right to the domain, since the two of them had been collaborators at the beginning. (Never mind that he hadn’t written anything for the site in ages, and the site had become associated with just her.)
So, to make the transition work at all, I registered the .org version of the domain and migrated her site over to that, expecting that at some point I’d be able to get the previous guy to come around and sell her the old .com domain. That hasn’t happened. He seems to have had some kind of real falling out with her, and is writing nasty posts about her at his own blog. And he won’t return any of my email asking him about the old domain. At this point, the only way she’s going to get her old domain back, should she want it, is by going through a UDRP proceeding.
Except that policy is completely useless for individuals. It costs around $1300 just to file the dispute. And then if you win and you want the squatter to pay for the cost of filing, you have to sue him. That’s great if you’re a company with a registered trademark trying to squash a domain squatter who’s trying to squeeze some money out of you by selling you your own trademark back at a huge mark up. Not so great if you’re someone whose former collaborator is holding onto the domain you established just so he can prevent you from having it. What an asshole.
Jun. 29th, 2011 | 11:47 pm
I’ve scanned and uploaded another three decks from my Loteria collection to the Gallery:
Loteria Mexicana “Montecarlo” is a wonderful set of images of Mexican arts and crafts, toys, kitchen implements, and other things I think of as falling in the category of “things you might find in an open-air market in Mexico”.
Jun. 20th, 2011 | 12:33 pm
Man, things have changed since the last time I was taking college classes.
I just started auditing a calculus class in preparation for getting back into school and completing a degree, one class at a time (one free-ish class per quarter is a perk of being a state employee). The first time I took this class, the textbook was a $20-ish spiral-bound book from the copy shop, written by one of the professors in the math department at the UW. And if I didn’t have $20, I could have used the book at the library.
This time around, the textbook costs $188 new and $140-ish used from the bookstore. I can get it for $40-ish on half.com, or I can use a copy in the library, but I can’t actually avoid paying the textbook company if I want a grade. The instructor has required us to also purchase access to the textbook’s online site. If I buy the book from the bookstore, that’s included in the price of the book. Buying it from half.com means I have to buy access to the site separately, and that costs $75.
If you haven’t been a college student lately, you might think (as I did) that you could get away with just not buying access to the web site — after all, what could the site provide that you couldn’t get from a supplemental text or a tutor or what have you? It turns out that what the site provides is the homework assignments. If I don’t buy access to the site, I can’t get the homework. And even if I could get one of the other students to somehow print out the homework for me, I couldn’t get a grade for it. The instructor doesn’t grade the homework; the textbook site does.
I suppose I could just skip the homework and accept that the highest grade I could get in the class would be 85%. (And it’s a moot point for this class, since I’m auditing it, but I’m sure it’ll be the case for classes I take for credit later.) But that doesn’t sound very good to me.
This whole arrangement strikes me as really hinky. It seems to me that whatever I’m paying for the course should cover my access to homework assignments and grading by someone working for the university. If the instructor can’t do the grading, the department should hire a grader. But charging the students extra to have their homework graded? That just smells wrong.
Jun. 15th, 2011 | 11:06 am
I’ve got a project in mind that requires the floor plan of the entire UW Medical Center complex. Wikipedia lists it as the 18th largest building in the world, measured by floor space (and I’m not sure that counts the entire complex), so it would be an extraordinary amount of work to try to draw up the whole thing myself. Luckily, I don’t have to — UW Facilities Services maintains an archive of campus engineering records, including architectural drawings.
Unfortunately, their pricing is not so friendly. They charge by the printed square foot, even if they aren’t doing any printing. And, weirdly, electronic files cost more than cheap paper prints. In ascending order of price for the same data, the formats they offer are: bond print, TIFF scan, DWG file, vellum print, color plot, mylar print. And to make things even more confusing, they’ve put the TIFF files online for free. That is, for each architectural drawing, they have made a print from the DWG file, scanned that print, and made the resulting scan available for free. Their price list still says they charge for TIFFs, though, and when I asked for clarification, they said both that their price list was accurate and that I could get the TIFFs for free. So I’m not sure what’s going on there.
In any case, it would cost either $2.81 or $3.24 per file to get the DWG files. And there are around 200 files that make up the complete floor plans of the complex. I didn’t want to spend over $600 to find out if this was a project I could even realistically think about doing. So I found a loophole.
Campus engineering records are, like nearly every other document produced by the UW, public records subject to public disclosure. And the UW has a whole office devoted to handling public records requests. They have much more reasonable fees, since they’re bound by state law in what they can charge. I believe they charge 15 cents per page for requests that are fulfilled on paper. I figured that even if they charged me for CD media to fulfill a request for electronic records, it would be a whole lot less than $600. So I asked them for all the files I wanted.
And they gave them to me. For free, emailed as a zip file.
Sure, it took a few weeks. I’m sure they’re a busy office. For $600, I’m willing to wait. I hope they didn’t have to pay Facilities Services the fee. That would be even more ridiculous than the fee itself, which is pretty ridiculous.
Anyway, hooray for the power of public disclosure laws! I can’t believe that approach worked, but I’m very glad it did.
May. 31st, 2011 | 04:46 pm
Two years ago, Kevin Black was killed in a collision between his bicycle and a van. The day he died, the Seattle Police released a statement essentially blaming him for the collision:
On February 4th at approximately 8:56 a.m. a 39-year-old male bicyclist was traveling southbound on 24th Avenue NW approaching NW 65th Street. At the same time a white Ford van driven by a 44-year-old female was facing southbound in the inside lane on 24th Avenue NW and was the first vehicle stopped for the red light at NW 65th Street with other vehicles behind it. As the traffic signal turned green for southbound and northbound traffic, witnesses stated the van proceeded through the intersection and the bicyclist passed all the stopped southbound vehicles on the left at a high rate of speed then briefly moved back into the bicycle lane. South of the intersection the van signaled and moved into the left turn lane in order to turn left onto NW 64th Street. Witnesses stated the bicyclist attempted to pass the van on the left as it entered the turn lane. The bicyclist collided with the left rear of the van and was run over by the rear tires. The bicyclist sustained life-threatening injuries as a result of the collision and died while being transported to Harborview by SFD Medics. Officers evaluated the driver of the van who showed no signs of being under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs. The van driver was interviewed and released pending further investigation. Traffic Collision Investigation Squad Detectives responded to the scene and continue to actively investigate.
I’ve highlighted the part of the statement from the SPD that they have since changed. You can see the original statement here and the current statement here. I noted the change at the time in a post questioning the narrative in the police statement.
Well, two years later it looks like the police have determined that the driver of the van pulled an illegal U turn, as was evident from the layout of the scene and eyewitness reports which weren’t included in the police statement:
A driver of a van owned by Ambient Control Company, a refrigeration and HVAC company, made an abrupt U-turn, causing Black to strike the van; the van’s tire then rolled over him. Seattle police said the U-turn was illegal.
Kevin’s family recently settled a wrongful death lawsuit, presumably with the company that owned the van. I hope they got an apology from the SPD, too. Maybe if the police had to publicly apologize each time they released a statement assigning blame in a collision before the investigation was finished, they’d stop immediately blaming the cyclist in any collision where the auto driver wasn’t obviously drunk.
May. 1st, 2011 | 10:10 pm
Bin Laden was responsible for, what, three thousand deaths in the US? You’ll get no argument from me that he deserved to be brought to justice, and I’m not sad that he’s dead. I am sad about the ~7,000 coalition forces deaths in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom (not to mention the uncounted civilian casualties) since then. I’m sad that we’ll never be able to announce that special forces have raided a compound and recovered the body of Terror, and the war is over.
Happy May Day.
May. 1st, 2011 | 09:02 pm
I was contacted recently (well, somewhat recently, anyway — sorry about the delay, guys) by Xenon Project, asking if I’d be interested in doing a sponsored blog post or reviewing one of their products. I normally wouldn’t respond, but they sell remote control toys and I’d just been thinking about RC helicopters the day before, so I told them I’d be happy to write a review if they wanted to send me something.
This is the bit where I go looking for the FTC rules about sponsored blog posts and reviews of products sent to bloggers, since I’ve seen a number of FTC notices on blogs I read lately. Looks like as long as I tell you that they sent me something to review, and that I didn’t pay for it, I’m good. So, yes, XenonProject sent me a S107G Mini Gyro — which they sell for $25 — to review, and this is my review of it.
I haven’t played with remote control toys in years. I think the last one I had was one of those tiny cars maybe an inch or two long (which would have been great now that we have a cat, come to think of it). So I was surprised to see that this helicopter is controlled via infrared, not radio. I wonder if the components for infrared control are lighter than for radio? Since this helicopter is so light that you really can’t fly it outside anyway, the fact that the IR control wouldn’t work very well outside isn’t that big a deal. I had been hoping that I could practice on the lawn, so I’d have somewhere soft to crash, but the slight breeze was enough to make it difficult to control, and then the sunlight knocked the control out. Luckily, crashing wasn’t really something I had to worry about.
I took it indoors to the server room at work, hit the throttle too hard and flew it directly into an overhead fluorescent light fixture, causing it to drop ten feet down to the concrete floor. I was sure I had broken it already, but it didn’t look like I’d even given it a scratch. So, despite the light weight, the helicopter holds up to some abuse. The rotors collapse at the center, which probably helps — instead of breaking a rotor, it just collapses and falls to the ground, where its light weight protects it from further damage.
Oh, but I should probably talk about what’s in the box and my initial impressions. The box contains everything you need except batteries: helicopter, controller, USB charging cable, spare tail rotor, and instruction manual. The helicopter itself feels very well made to me — metal and plastic parts are screwed together, rather than being stuck with hot glue, for example. The body is mostly metal, with a plastic fairing. The gears are plastic, as are the rotors, but the gearbox and skeleton are all metal. It feels like a sturdy little thing, and so far it has been. The helicopter itself is about 5 inches long. I’ll bring it back and weigh it if anyone’s interested.
The all-plastic controller, on the other hand, feels cheap. Its fit and finish are definitely not to the same standards as the helicopter’s. For example, there’s a channel selection switch on the controller that has three positions marked: A, B and C. I could only get the switch into two positions: between A and B, and between B and C. And the decal on the controller says “RADIO CONTROL”, even though it’s not a radio controller. It does work, though, and for $25, I’m going to guess that it’s more important to have a sturdy helicopter than a sturdy controller.
The controller takes six AA batteries, which seems a little excessive to me. You can charge the helicopter through a cable that slips out of a compartment in the controller, though, so I guess the batteries are more for charging the helicopter than for sending the infrared signal, which should take hardly any power at all. I used the USB charging cable instead, so I’m guessing the batteries will last nearly forever.
The left joystick controls rotor speed, corresponding to up/down, and the right joystick controls fore/aft pitch and left/right yaw. I wasn’t sure how sensitive the controls would be, so the first flight it took was straight up into the light fixture. After that, I got a little better handle on it. There’s a knob on the controller to adjust yaw drift — if the helicopter is spinning one way or the other without you meaning it to, you can adjust that using the knob. Once it’s stable, the controls are pretty intuitive. There’s some kind of gyroscopic stabilizer above the rotors which keeps it from rolling, a boon for beginners like me. I’ve watched people learn to fly large RC helicopters before, and that looked really difficult and prone to crashing. This, once I’d got the hang of not flying it straight into the ceiling, was easy.
Which is not to say I didn’t crash it. A lot. I kept running it into lights, or desks, or cubicle partitions. But mostly that happened when I was trying to do something tricky, like land it in a small area next to a hazard. Overall, it’s pretty easy to fly. The instruction manual says not to fly it next to strong fluorescent lights due to IR interference, but I didn’t have any problems with that. And I didn’t have any problems with it breaking in a crash. This is definitely newbie-friendly.
Charging it from a USB port takes around 45 minutes, and the status indicator is the opposite of what you might expect. When the light on the USB connector turns on, the helicopter is charged. I got around 8 minutes of flight time out of each charge, which I think matches what the manual told me to expect. The web site claims 10-15 minutes, but I was pretty consistently getting 8-10.
Honestly, I’m pretty happy with the thing. It’s a lot of fun to fly, as long as you have a decent size room to fly it in. I don’t think I’d want to try flying it around my tiny house, but in more recent homes with huge rooms, it ought to work fine. I don’t really have anything to compare this one to, except a mini-helicopter that’s been sitting in the server room at work since I started working here. That one has a styrofoam body and looks pretty dinged up. This one’s definitely better than that.
I’m including a video and some photos below, but the ones on the product page are also pretty good. There are some reviews there from people with more experience who seem to like it, so I’m going to say my experience is probably not atypical.
So, the S107 Mini Gyro, available for $25 from Xenon Project — recommended! I would totally pay $25 for one of these, and once I give this one away (because I don’t want anyone to think they can just give me something in exchange for a positive review of it), I may buy myself another.
Apr. 27th, 2011 | 12:00 am
- Bookstrapping Steel
At the largest scale the Technium is a bootstrapping process. One tool is used to make another tool which is used to make another tool — which is then used to make another version of the first tool. Around it goes, faster and faster.
- Chip Haynes: Bike Advocate, Author…Mad Scientist
My friend Charles Brown builds recumbent bicycles out of boxed and laminated plywood. I have razzed him for years about building a prone instead of a recumbent, so that’s what I did: I built a prone. That is to say, I built a bicycle upon which you lay (lie?) on your stomach, arms out in front of you, and you pedal with your legs behind you rather like swimming. I dubbed it Project Underdog, as you tend to go down the road flying really low to the ground like Superman after a very rough night. Kinda like Underdog.
- History Cookbook!
Welcome to the history cookbook. Do you know what the Vikings ate for dinner? What a typical meal of a wealthy family in Roman Britain consisted of, or what food was like in a Victorian Workhouse? Why not drop into history cookbook and find out?
- Anteater wants you to untie his paws
- Priti Baiks
Street bikes from Panama. They are called priti baiks. The term priti means both "pretty" and also ingenious, or striking.
- The Clock in the Mountain
There is more than just technology in the mountain. The ticks of time are a very human invention. Astronomical calendars are among the first pieces of culture, and often the mark of civilizations. The cave holds culture. The Clock in the mountain not only plays the music of an ever-changing slow melody, but it will collect cultural expressions of time, ticks to mark the passage of decades and centuries. Off to the side of the main cavern of the Clock are a series of small grottos to explore and collect these notices of time. Five chambers will celebrate five powers of time: 1 year, 10 years, 100 years and 1,000 years. After one year, a mechanism will be built in the first chamber. After 10 years another anniversary marked and celebration built. Future generations will have to build the contents of the remaining chambers.
- Wistfulness at Timber Ridge
- Scratch-built "freedom press"
Artist Shawn HibmaCronan scratch-built this beautiful printing press for San Francisco International Airport's Terminal 2, working in steel, bamboo, oak, cork, and rope.
- Laser Pointer Switch Modification
Most consumer grade laser pointers come with a momentary switch. Some people might want to have a conventional on/off switch instead, say for photography. Here’s a quick and easy modification that requires no switch replacement or re-wiring.
- Birtherism, School, Work Death
The White House has released the President's "long-form" birth certificate, to prove that he really is an American citizen and so eligible to hold public office. They say they're doing this so that people can stop being "distracted" by questions about whether the President is actually Kenyan or Iranian or a Mole Person from the center of the Earth, which I believe would technically make him Guatemalan thanks to an obscure ruling passed by the World Court in 1974.
- Euthanasia Coaster
The “Euthanasia Coaster” is a hypothetical euthanasia machine in the form of a roller coaster engineered to humanely and elegantly take the life of a human being. Riding the coaster’s track, the rider is subjected to a series of intensive motion elements that induce various unique experiences: from euphoria to thrill, and from tunnel vision to loss of consciousness, and, eventually, death.
- Bothell cops bust serial drain cover thief
The Bothell Police Department says its detectives have arrested and jailed a 31-year-old man suspected of stealing more than 40 storm drain covers.
- Copyright laws prevents release of historic jazz recordings
1930s an audio engineer named William Savory made a lot of high-quality recordings of live jazz performances of Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Benny Goodman, Count Basie, Teddy Wilson, Lester Young, Bunny Berigan, Coleman Hawkins and others. The National Jazz Museum in Harlem acquired the collection after Savory died. Unfortunately, we will probably never get to hear the recordings, thanks to current copyright laws.
- Go the Fuck to Sleep: a storybook for exhausted parents
The cats nestle close to their kittens now.
The lambs have laid down with the sheep.
You're cozy and warm in your bed, my dear
Please go the fuck to sleep.
Apr. 26th, 2011 | 06:00 pm
- Fabric Filled Paris Potholes
Artist Juliana Santacruz Herrera takes yarn bombing to the streets — literally — with the creative and colorful Projet Nid de Poule (Project Pothole, Paris 2009).
- The Empty Sculpture Between You and Your Country
I went to the US/Canada border recently and talked to the guys with guns about the new permanent sculpture that's up there—the one that's got border police tackling looky-loos and taking them in for questioning.
- The Library of Utility
I imagine a library atop a remote mountain that collects the essential information needed to re-learn practical knowledge essential to civilization. This depot, open to anyone who journeys there, is the cultural equivalent of the Svalbard seed bank, a vault on the Arctic Circle that holds frozen seeds of crop plants from around the world. The utilitarian documents in this vault would be the seeds of culture, able to sprout again if needed. It would be the Library of Utility, and it would serve as civilization's backup.