"Only we would be here on a day like this."

I have just returned from a little camping trip. I've been disappointed with my lack of outdoor time, especially camping, ever since I've lived in San Diego. With a climate that's as near to perfect as real places ever have, you'd think that everybody would be outside pretty much all the time. Sadly that's not the case. I, however, have made up my mind to not be one of those indoorsy people and I have resolved to put my car to use in getting me out more often.

I realized that with a car, camping should be so easy for me that I can even throw other complexities into the operation. One of those is the idea to do it on a weeknight. And the other, of course, is to take Van. With that being the conceptual program, Van and I set out for a nice evening at Dixon Lake in Escondido (33.158382, -117.045524). I'm sure in the not too distant past, this place was way out in the middle of nowhere, but these days, it's just up the hill from suburbia. But that fits fine with the idea of a very low impact camping trip that can be completely accomplished between workdays and planned on the spur of the moment.

This place is in the small set of mountains northeast of Escondido and it overlooks their drinking water reservoir. It's really a nice location with some campsites having lake views and some having city views. We had a nice lake view and several hours of daylight to enjoy it since I allowed a little more time for this first outing.

It was cloudy when we got there however, and I could tell that the chance of rain was "inevitable". Still, having a car with a dry inside and carrying anything you can imagine, how can you go wrong? I set up the tent, laid out the sleeping gear, and rigged a tarp over the picnic table. They want you to not make wood fires because of the wildfire hazard but since the chance of wildfires this week is nil I quickly had a hybrid charcoal/wood fire going. All this took about half an hour and there it was, the scene I was after. Instead of spending a normal night inside, I was sitting on a mountainside looking over a tranquil lake about to cook my dinner over a glowing fire.

The reason the lake was tranquil is because we were the only people in the whole park. Besides simply being a Thursday night in February, the reason we were alone is because the rain did start to come down. But even with hasty preparation and a lot of carelessness by my standards, we were able to sit completely dry under the tarp and eat a meal that was better than what I'd have made at home. By the time we'd finished and cleaned up after dinner, it was definitely dark and the rain was misty and erratic.

With waterproof shoes on our feet and umbrellas in our hands, we went for a little walk to check out the place. It's definitely a very nice spot. Finally we retired to the tent and Van and I played a few games of chess using my little computer (which fits neatly in a one gallon zip lock bag) as a board. Then it was time to listen to the rain and get some sleep.

We both slept pretty well despite the fact that the rain seemed to increase in intensity all night. In the morning, it was still coming down. I decided to not mess around with breakfast there in the rain and quickly packed up. Again, that's much easier than I'm used to because you can just toss everything in the car. About this point Van said something about other campers and I pointed out that I thought we were alone in the place. That's when he said, "Yes. Only we would be here on a day like this." I said, "Yup. You ain't seen nothing yet."

Then came the hard part of this whole scheme, traffic. Because that night we got about as much rain as normally falls in all of February, the roads were a mess with the radio reporting 60 accidents. Rain in San Diego is like an ice storm in normal places. We spent about 75 minutes to go the 35 miles and this included about 10 miles of carpool lane, which allowed Van to profoundly contribute to the mission just by being in the car.

The rain was kind of a drag, but I had just purchased new tarps, umbrellas, a cute little rain poncho for Van, and a very cool hard plastic pannier that looks as bulletproof as waterproof. So my mind never rests when it comes to weather pessimism. With normal San Diego weather and some more practice, I believe this kind of quick trip will become easier than staying at home.


Future of Sports Coverage

I was watching the Amgen Tour Of California today and I approve.

What's really cool is that today was the toughest climbing stage of the race. On the profile maps there was a horrendous descent of about 30km. When I saw that, I thought, wow, I'd love to climb that. Then I noticed it was Silicon Valley's Mount Hamilton which I already have climbed! Yea me!

Based on my previous experience with this mountain, I was quite keen to see the stage and so I checked out the Adobe "TourTracker" found on the main page. This TourTracker is a Flash monstrosity, but it is undeniably cool. It shows lots of things at once providing a kind of idealized cycling coverage. They show a scalable satellite map of the route with real time updates as to where the main field and any breaks are. They also show a stage profile so you can see where the important components of the race are with respect to the climbs. They also show a box listing who's in any breakaway. There is also the running text commentary feed and even a little chat application to make your own text commentary. As if that wasn't a huge leap forward in bike race watching technology, there is live streaming video!

There was some whinging about the choppiness of the video feed, but for me it was good. I should say that the frame rate was good. The picture quality was excellent allowing me to recognize riders that would have just been a blur on television. Another interesting trick is that they let you choose which camera you wanted to watch. Basically you could watch the camera that the producers thought told the story best or "the other one". They even had a picture in picture option that did actually work.

Another thing I liked is that they have nice little video recaps of the stages which allowed me to get caught up. Reminded me of Il Giro in Tre Minuti (The Tour [of Italy]) in 3 minutes) which was very worth watching even in Italian.

And that brings me to the point that could be improved. The commentators are awful. I won't bore you with why, but it did give me an interesting idea. Why not let me choose the commentators? There was a good tense breakaway of two guys, one of whom was German. I'd loved to have changed the channel to hear the German coverage.

This idea is actually bigger than that though. It doesn't apply to just cycling and it doesn't just apply to professional sports announcers. I have just realized that modern technology is laying the foundation for *anyone* to be a commentator. OLN/Versus used to show those ads with ex Tour racer, Bob Roll, practicing calling races in his underwear so that he might one day be able to call races (which he obviously has done). I claim that at this point, anyone who has ever dreamed of being a sports announcer can simply do it.

Here's how. Just get an internet radio feed. I'm not sure how this would work as a practical matter, but in theory, all the technical pieces are in place. It would not be hard to get the MythTV guys to figure out a way to delay sports broadcasts by a couple of seconds and then sync them with coded signals from internet radio.

I personally don't really want to call races, but I would appreciate an explosion in merit-based sports announcing. Imagine flipping the channels until you found voiceover coverage that suited your personality (or native language). The present state of the art of bike racing coverage is very good. The future looks incredible. I'm not just saying that because I have low standards based on ABC's erstwhile coverage of Le Tour, such that it was. The spectators ABC was courting apparently tuned in only to see crashes. That's nice, let those morons have their own coverage.


Enlightened Tea

I'm hardly delighted to be the owner of an automobile, but now that I have it, I do want to put it to good use. Usually, I find myself confidently driving around the remote regions of San Diego County knowing exactly where I'm going because I have previously explored the route by bicycle. Today I decided to do things the other way around. Today I burned about half a tank of gas just driving around looking at things in the back country. Specifically I wanted to check out potential camping locations that were at the end of dead ends that, by bike, would have been unpalatable. I took a drive up to Palomar which was still covered in quite a bit of snow. There was no snow on the roads and this is a point worth remembering and part of the mission was to find this out. I had planned to go hiking up there, but, amazingly, I couldn't find a place to park. The entire mountain top was covered in Mexican (really, greater than 90%) families who'd gone up there to see some snow. It was kind of cute. It was quite the busy attraction. That's another point to bear in mind in the future.

On the way down from Palomar, I got the odd notion to scout the Rincon casino. I wondered if it might be a good staging area for a Palomar mission. It's certainly close enough to the base of the mountain. First off, the casino seems to have plenty of parking and a nice touch here is that it can be in a parking garage which can afford some shade (though obviously you don't want to drive in there with bikes on the roof). Inside the casinos, I checked out the bus situation. The casino runs a fleet of buses designed to round up those people who've had to sell their cars to pay gambling debts. I found out that one can travel from San Diego to Los Angeles (about a dozen specific destinations) pretty much for free. All you have to do is spend 5 hours at the casino. Basically you take the morning bus from San Diego and then take the afternoon bus to LA. Next day, reverse the process. Losing money at the casino is not actually a requirement. If I could get a road bike on that bus, it'd be a great way to get out to Palomar, but I don't think that'd go over well. Walking through the casino, I noticed that they have easily accessible bathrooms and even free coffee and soda. Both points might make it worth a quick stop if biking by. The amazing thing about this place is that while I'm hardly the best looking guy in the world, at this casino I am. It was really weird. There were some reasonably attractive employees, but as far as guests, wow. I guess the difference is that I was thinking thoughts about how the place could help me assault Palomar Mountain in some kind of athletically flamboyant way, not where could I get more rent money after I'd gambled it away. I was also shocked, with actual dropped jaw staring, to see some miscreants inside a public building in California *smoking a cigarette*! Turns out it's legal! Astonishing!

Back at base camp, I wanted to play with a new toy I bought, a Vargo Titanium Triad Stove. This is basically like the end of a soda can with some holes poked in it. In fact, less well-employed people get by fine with exactly that. But mine is *titanium*. Yes, titanium! Just by being able to incant the word "titanium" while referring to my gear, my load is lightened. How much you ask? Well this stove is a mere 25g! Ha! Only 25g! That's amazing! That means my ability to boil water in the wilderness weighs almost nothing! Uh. Except for the 41g of alcohol it burned. Ok, ok, 425g of H2O, pot=196g, lid=74g, cup=65g, pot handle=53g, lighter=17g, and the tea bag was 3g. And I used 8g of aluminum foil to make a wind screen, which is not bad since this doubles as a "tin foil hat". But still, thank goodness for *titanium*!

As far as operation of the thing goes, it's a bit like I spent years as a lion tamer and now I am working with housecats. My MSR Whisperlite stove is a monster compared to this thing. Unlike the MSR, but just like housecats, pretty much any problem with this stove can be cured by smacking it with a towel. The alcohol stove is quiet and mild, and now that I've used it, I'd say it's chances of bursting into a huge fireball are pretty slim. Can't say that about the MSR which bursts into a big fireball every time you start it. To get the alcohol stove to light, I finally just resorted to dumping fuel (thanks to MvW for that by the way) all over it including a nice puddle on the concrete and just lighting the whole thing. It would be a very satisfying experience for a pyromaniac. Eventually it warms up and operates in a stove-like fashion. For comparison, the Whisperlite operates in a cutting torch-like fashion. It managed to boil water as promised and it seems to work as I'd expect. It's also much cleaner than the MSR with no detectable soot. I was also able to pick up the stove within 10 seconds of it going out and it's completely cool in about a minute. Definitely a nice addition to the line up. And it's *titanium*! It's so awesome because it's titanium! Real titanium! You can hand it to your friends and say, "See how light this is?! That's because it's titanium!"


Ideas For Navigation Systems

I know roads. I am acutely sensitive to many things about them that normal people are not. Riding my bicycle every day gives me a chance to reflect on the dreadful condition of the streets of my neighborhood. It's not merely inconvenient for me, unless it is not too much of an understatement to say that being dead is inconvenient. There's one place, for example, where a freeway off-ramp merges into a high speed surface street going down a hill. About 18" from the edge of the road, about exactly where a cyclist would be is a parallel crack about 2 inches wide running the entire length. If you get your wheel caught in that in the wrong way at the wrong time - life ends. I play this game every day. I take road surface topology extremely seriously.

On my route I know every crack, bump, dip, pothole, storm grate, man hole cover, uneven pavement, curb, cateye, stripe, puddle, patch of gravel, oilslick, and gutter. I do a fair job of avoiding hazards, but sometimes I get caught. About a month ago I had my front wheel fall into a deep crack in the road and it twisted the bike and dropped me on the ground. Strangely I was actually going up hill at the time and it wasn't a serious fall.

Thinking of my large internal database of road surface defects, I came up with an interesting idea for on board GPS navigation systems. Although bad roads are a life and death issue with cyclists, even driving a car bad roads are a severe annoyance. Why not have the GPS systems help you drive smarter with respect to road surface issues?

Basically the way it would work is that a GPS system would need to be communicating with a central server. My friend, Seth, works for a company that has just such a product designed primarily to report back on traffic conditions. No matter what, this technology can't be too terribly prohibitive these days and soon everyone will have it trivially in their cell phone. Thanks to the accelerometers found in certain modern mass produced items like hard drives (they tell the drive to park the head when it's moved suddenly to prevent disk corruption in portable devices) this kind of technology is cheap and easy.

Basically your car would just drive along and as you hit pot holes and drainage dips, etc., your GPS would report that back to the central server which could be compiling a rather accurate profile. Eventually, you could ask your GPS computer to plan the best route for you that involved the quickest way *or* the smoothest. This concept need not stop with bumps but could also apply to curves allowing you to seek out the least curvy road or the opposite if you're testing your new motorcycle tires.

Another interesting similar idea is that you can rate your drive when you arrive. In other words, did you feel that the drive was decent? The computer could then start compiling profiles of areas that can be inferred to cause dissatisfaction. Then the computer can be instructed to produce the "best" drive. Collaborative filtering could be used so that the curve-favoring people got the same advice as each other, but the opposite advice of the people tending to not enjoy curves.

I'm also working on installing a roof rack on my car. I remember once driving with bikes on the roof of a car and hitting one of those swinging bars at a parking garage. Now I'm pretty paranoid about forgetting about my bikes and driving into something stupid. This is another area that the GPS computers could help with. You could tell it specific points that you know about (which it could share with others) and it could then remind you about the bikes. So for example if your garage is too short for the bikes, when you put them on the car, you can tell the computer that and as you approach it, it will remind you. Easy to do. Slightly harder is hooking that up with a database of all fast food restaurants so the computer can say, "I'm sorry Dave, I can't let you go through the drive through."


Headache Inspired Tiling?

Headaches. They are so not fun that they're almost not even interesting.

This morning my mother sent me a link to an interesting blog about the experience of being a migraine sufferer. What was interestig to me was all the talk about geometrical shapes. The word "tessellation" was actually used. I remember when I first created an interesting tessellation, I thought it was a fluke. And then I remember being astonished that I could do it at will. This article left me with the impression that such a skill might have some basis in my defective firmware.

Of course the article was a bit like "cold reading" and the comments to the article seemed to indicate that the article spoke convincingly to everyone and in very diverse ways.

Then to underscore the topic, all day I was having vision artifacts. Bright colored chrome flashes, patterns that shift around, various sectors of my visual field not resolving well, color aberrations such as printed text having tints in some places and not in others - this was my afternoon.

This kind of thing isn't absolutely tied to getting a debilitating headache, but it's not unrelated either. Today things are still feeling pretty lucky. I felt kind of nauseated this afternoon and I could feel the blood vessels in my temples throbbing much harder than the pulse checkpoint on my wrist ever does. While I had the ominous feeling that a crushing headache was in the works, it's 21h00 and I'm still about the same, seeing things and not feeling great, but no real headache and I'm able to think. Being able to think is all I really care about.

Captchas and the Matrix

If any have ever doubted the potency of my geekiness, my latest hobby should make it clear. I've never been a TV watcher, but I don't think that's the fault of flat moving image technology. The reason I don't watch TV is because it's typically so depressingly moronic. The internet to the rescue!

I have recently discovered that there is a lot of stuff that is quite worthwhile in the eye of this beholder. My latest trove of interesting things to watch are computer science lectures. Google Tech Talks are all on-line as well as many university lectures. Since one of the greatest things about my job is the chance to get exposure to some of the most brilliant people in computer science (i.e. some of the most brilliant people), it's a real pleasure to do that at my liesure.

Last night while researching HCI security I came across a presentation by Luis Von Ahn. Wow. This guy is amazing. He seems to be one of the key people behind (and perhaps even the outright inventor of) captchas. Whatever you may think of that from a day to day standpoint, it can't be argued that it's not damn clever. But that's just the tip of the iceberg for this guy.

His next brilliant project is espgame.org. The principles behind this show incredible insight and big picture thinking. I like that! Then today I read about a new thing this guy has which is captchas that actually are useful. The idea is that the captchas are based on scanned documents that the OCR couldn't read. Basically by typing in the captcha you are helping to enter the text of works of literature. Ok, I don't know exactly what you're labor is being applied toward, but the concept is nothing short of genius.

Basically, this guy thinks big and I loved his stats about how in 2004 humans spent 9 *billion* hours *playing solitaire*! He asks the question, what if that energy and initiative (such that it is) could be applied to something that wasn't completely useless. It's a valid question.

He also is interested in what humans are good at that is useful which computers are not so good at. These kinds of problems are interesting to me too. He wryly envisions a possible future where machines become more intelligent and capable than humans just like in the movie the "Matrix", but unlike the movie, the computers wouldn't keep humans around as an energy source; they would, quite plausibly, keep us around for the clever tricks our biologically inspired hardware can do that machines aren't good at.

And Now For Something Completely Typical: A Geek Has A Blog

Computers are great. I'm a long time believer and I think most modern people have seen the light. The whole point is that life should be better because of computers and while it sometimes seems marginal, in reality that is true. Technology changes quickly and one should always be receptive to modern helpful improvements in the quality of life. And so I'm going to start a little blog. Blogs aren't new, but I have avoided them for complicated reasons which are entirely non-technical. The advent of blogs has affected my life in much the same way as a glowing toaster might if someone dropped it in the bathtub with you. But that is not the fault of toast, toasters, or even electricity. It's time to move beyond that. The motivation for starting a blog is that I find myself writing a lot of email covering the same facts for different correspondents. Worse than my duplication of effort is the highly real possibility that many people don't care about what's on my mind at any given time. What I need is a system where interested parties have a way to modulate their exposure based on their level of interest. What I need is a news network dedicated to one subject, me, because though it's a strange idea, there are actually a few people who are somewhat interested in reports of my day to day life. There are even people who have an insatiable appetite for any news or drivel created by me. But most importantly, this should cure the problem suffered by those who couldn't care less about my activities; they simply can tune out now. To all my friends, this is for you.