Wednesday, August 31, 2005
 
Proof of concept

Update: It now works for IE users (and Safari, probably). Gosh, you're all so needy. Here's a full screen version.

I think the Garmin Forerunner is cool by itself. It solves one of the larger problems I had when I ran a lot: knowing exactly how far you ran on a run. I used to rely on Microsoft Streets and Trips and its measuring tool, but, even then, the results were probably pretty far off. I had been contemplating the purchase of the Garmin for a while.

But, while reading up on it, I saw that it was possible to export Forerunner data to XML. This makes it oh-so-much more interesting for the techie, as I can now parse the resulting XML and use the data. Back when I had those big plans, I was going to write a hack on top of Terraserver, overlaying a PHP-drawn path onto the individually accessible tiles and assembling them to make a map.

But in June, Google Maps released the Google Maps API, which makes it oh-so-much easier. I just create a line of lat-long points and throw it on. It's all done with client side Javascript. Every thing on the server (my server, anyway. Google's is actaully providing the map) is static.

Yesterday, I took the Forerunner out for a trial run. Above, you can see a map of my 4.5-mile bike ride around the Googleplex.

Think Billy from The Family Circus. You can also see a bigger version.

I'll put more work into this stuff when I get the chance. Feel free to look at the source (the iframe above and the bigger version are the same page. The body element and the map div are both set to take up all available space in the page).

The line is actually pretty accurate. The line doesn't follow the road at some points, but that's because I was on a bike path that ran close to, but not next to, the road. It even caught the fact that I rode up the wheelchair ramp next to the Googleplex. It's also a bit off on the swirl on the top of the hill, but that's because of the visual shearing caused by the height of the hill. It's done with aerial photographs, but the images you see are almost never from directly above.
Monday, August 29, 2005
 
New Toy
A package from Amazon just got dropped off at my desk.

In it: a Garmin Forerunner 201.

I have big plans for you, little one.
Wednesday, August 24, 2005
 
How to drink for free in Palo Alto, CA
When I found out I'd be moving out to California and broke the news to my friends, a number of them excitedly said that they'd come out and visit. I, being a cynical young man, believed that most of the people told me they'd come visit never will.

Except for Pete. Pete said he would visit. Knowing Pete (and his propensity for traveling), I knew he'd be among the first to visit.

So Pete's visiting at present (my second visitor actually, as a friend stopped by on business last week). I've only been here for 6-7 weeks. He apparently had some time in August off and, since it was the best time, he flew out. He has a key to my apartment and is taking Caltrain into San Francisco during the day.

Anyway, I picked him up at the airport yesterday. Driving back to Mountain View, I suggested we stop by Stanford to see the campus (and perhaps, time permitting, rub in the 2000 Rose Bowl). We then headed back into Palo Alto, getting dinner and stopping in at what has become my frequent hangout, the Rose and Crown, an English pub off of University Avenue.

Last Tuesday, a few coworkers and I headed to the Rose and Crown for trivia night, where four-player teams compete round after round of trivia questions for points. Each round, the winning team wins a round of beer. We didn't do terribly well, but there were a lot of die-hard weekly teams there.

So yesterday, when I brought Pete to the pub, it didn't occur to me beforehand that it was trivia night. We got in around 9:10, ten minutes after the start. We grabbed two chairs at the end of the bar and grabbed an answer sheet.

After the first round of questions, the question caller asked for someone to volunteer to grade the sheets and tally points. As Pete and I were sitting right next to him, we offered. He gave us the answer key for the round and the scorecard. We started in on the teams' answer sheets and he said, getting the bartender's attention, "these boys drink free."

Excellent.
Saturday, August 20, 2005
 
DMV
If there's anything one thing in life that keeps me believing in the free market, it's the DMV. I get the feeling that the government could never effectively manage every aspect of the economy, based on the fact that they seem to have enough of a problem handing vehicle registrations.

At the basic level, It's a problem of profit incentives. At McDonald's (though I haven't patronized one since 1998), if the cashiers provide quick and friendly service, the company benefits by being able to 1) handle more customers per hour with less staff and 2) receive repeat business from satisfied customers. If the DMV folks provide fast service (and increase the number of people they get through in an hour), then they hire less staff and get their payroll budgets cut. And you can't really take your business elsewhere ("Fine, I'm going to the other DMV").

Growing up, I only ever went to the Wisconsin Rapids DMV. Service there was always pretty quick, the workers there were relatively friendly, and I never left terribly frustrated. I've been to the DMV in Madison (the Hill Farms State Transportation Building, which I've always thought looks like it houses a politburo). I went around lunch time, so I probably deserved the considerable wait I experienced.

Wisconsin has a reputation for good, clean, efficient government. I always told myself this was just something we said to make ourselves feel good. Then I moved to California.

I first went yesterday around 9 AM. There, I was greeted (well, acknowledged) at a reception desk by an overweight man wearing a worn Star Trek 50th Anniversary t-shirt. He asked if I had the proper papers (I didn't--I didn't have proof of the sales tax I had paid on my car in another state). I still had what I needed to get my California license, though, so he gave me a number and went to sit down. Five minutes in, I decide to leave and get to work at a decent hour (though my start time is always pretty flexible as long as I don't have a meeting). Californian DMVs are open one Saturday a month, and that just happened to be today.

I get there today at 10:30 (it closes at noon). Same guy at the desk, though new t-shirt (this one reads "Old Guys Rule"). First, I get the car "verified" (wait in a car line 15 minutes so they can read the VIN and the odometer). The attendant fills out her portion of the form, which I then take inside to complete. Reading it over, I find she listed the current mileage as 37,881 miles (which common sense would suggest would be a pretty impressive feat on a new car purchased in July. The actual milage is 3788.1). I take it back out and she fills out another, completely new form.

I go back in, and wait to get my new license. I finally get called to desk 15 at 11:45. I have to take a written test, but, of course, they stop testing at 11:30 ("to allow our customers enough time to finish the test"), so I pay $25 and am given a receipt for the license. I'm then sent to desk 10 to actually register the car. 20 minutes and $707 later, I go to desk 2 to pick up my stickers. I then go to desk 16 so I can have my picture taken. But, of course, since I haven't taken the test, I can't get my license yet. I'll have to come back next week and take the test before I get that. I also need to send in for my hybrid sticker. I got out of there around 12:30.

Legally, you're required to get this all done in the first 20 days of residency. I paid a penalty fee for registering late.

So that's my story. Sorry, had to vent.

(one other venting... I have to register to vote before an election? Oh, Wisconsin, why can't all states be more like you, but a little less cold in the winter and with a better baseball team?)
Saturday, August 13, 2005
 
Animal-free meat
From The Guardian: When Meat is not Murder.

So now I'm a Prius-driving, vegetarian Californian. I know that makes me sound pretty clich├ęd, but, to counter, I have a degree in economics, I've never owned a pair of Birkenstocks, and my favorite magazine is The Economist (and I've only seen Phish live six times).

Anyway, somehow in my browsing, I came across the article on petri-dish meat. The article brought up a good point: if meat can be produced without the animal, would it be acceptable to vegetarians?

I think I'd eat it. As the world's most apathetic and non-proselytizing vegetarian (I was thinking of giving it up last spring), I really only have two qualms with meat: 1) it's inefficient and environmentally harmful to produce and 2) you have to kill an animal to get it.

I think petri-dish meat would kill those two birds (preferably chicken or pheasant) with one stone.
Sunday, August 07, 2005
 
Bizarro Madison
I went to Berkeley yesterday with Justin (he attends the nearby Starr King School for the Ministry).

Berkeley is Bizarro Madison. A guide:
To our credit: the Cal campus is much deader (yeah, it's a word) in the summer months. At Wisconsin, Library Mall and State Street are vibrant during the summer.

To their credit: our campus is only as beautiful during the summer months. In the winter, Madison is cold. I always found it ironic that Madison was the prettiest when school was out of session and all the students were gone.
Friday, August 05, 2005
 
Freakonomics
Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner just posted on the Google Blog about their visit last week (yes, I was there and yes, I read the book).

An excerpt:

Whomp! It wasn't some little room, with a conference table and a couple dozen people, as we'd imagined. It was a big, big room, rows and rows of chairs, all of them filled with Googlers, and many, many more Googlers sitting on the floor and standing in the back and well, not exactly hanging from the rafters but it felt like it. The walls were black, the stage lights white-hot, the room alive with chatter. This wasn't a presentation; this was a presentation. It was a Sally Field moment: They like us! They really like us! (We realize, of course, that the average Googler is far too young to catch this reference. Don't worry; it's not very funny anyway.)

Hey! I'm a younger-than-average Googler and I got it! I'm better versed in pop culture than a lot of people that lived through it.

Then again, I wallow in pop culture.
Thursday, August 04, 2005
 
Doctor Awesome, traveler
I woke up this morning in a hostel in the Mission in San Francisco in a bunk in a room with a British guy and two other guys I had never met in my life. I stayed in the Elements Hostel, across the street from 12 Galaxies, where Robbie Fulks was playing (for the record, I am a very big Robbie Fulks fan. The fact that he's in the area makes it a moral imperative that I show up). I woke up at 8:50, a bit too late for the shuttle that left Glen Park at 9 (I would have set my cell phone as an alarm, but I didn't want to wake my bunkmates. I need to find a way to wake myself up in a hostel without making noise). I got back to work this morning by taking BART to calTrain and then taking a cab from the train station to the Googleplex.

Google runs shuttles for commuters all over the Bay Area (I'm writing this blog entry while riding one right now), complete with wireless internet. That's how I got to San Francisco last night. Right now, I'm heading up to Berkley to see Robbie Fulks again. I'll crash at Justin's and take the shuttle back tomorrow morning.

As for Fulks, Fulk-tastic! I went alone last night (can't really sell anybody at work on the concept of going to see an "alternative-country" star), but Justin's coming with tonight. I used to play a lot of Fulks covers at open mics in Madison. He got interviewed by the AV Club not too long ago.

Update, Friday Morning: Justin and I saw the guys play the Starry Plough last night. It was a bit more fitting of a bar for the genre than the middle of the city. Ironically, Justin lives no more than one block from the Starry Plough. The band came 2,200 miles to play a bar a block from Justin's house. I'm on the shuttle on the way back to work.

You know, when I turned 21, I felt really young when I would go to the bars in Madison. By the time I left Madison, I felt old. The bars where I've been the last two nights have again been older folks (I'm sure the entertainmet each night draws an older crowd, though. It did in Madison. When we went to see Robie at the Harmony Bar in Madison last New Year's, it seemed like we were the only college students there). I had introduced myself as a Harmony Bar regular to Gerald (drums) and Mike (bass). Last night, we chatted with Gerald for a while before heading home to get some sleep.

Anyway, I'll be moving closer to Stanford University soon. Hopefully there'll be more college-aged people there. I do need to get my hands on a guitar, either buying one here or getting my guitar at home out here soon.

I haven't been to my apartment since Wednesday morning.

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