2012 Open Source Bridge Conference

Today’s lectures gave me a lot to think about. Jason’s talk was inspiring about the loss of web content. An overwhelming majority of netizens don’t think about it when they put content up to sites. Currently there is the imminent darkening of the mobile me website. I had put content up there so I’ve been seeing the warning emails even though I pulled all my content off. I did a spring cleaning of my Internet presence a few months back. I found it ridiculous that I had accounts scattered over the Internet with all the perils of password duplication.

I am becoming more sensitized to the data footprint I am leaving on the Internet. It’s not that there are footprints there but that I’m losing control of my data content. How many Internet sites do people belong to? Some are “content passive” in the sense that they don’t add content to them. One might have an account on a news site, but that is only for access. A lot of people participate in the comment forums as well. This is “throw away” content. People don’t care if this content disappears of the face of the Internet. What about uploaded content? How would you feel if all your images that you uploaded just disappeared because some corporate management just decided to pull the plug? Jason’s archive team may save you from losing that data with their efforts. I don’t know about you, but I want control over that.

Another technology idea that has been swirling around my mind has been that of recording (and keeping perpetually!) the content that I create. It’s an easy enough concept, but what is the best way to do it? There are so many different data types and different applications that we use to generate data, store data, retrieve data. Sure, jpg images are ubiquitous now but who knows what the future will bring. I believe the answer lies in three parts.

One, as much as possible, use open standards. These standards aren’t limited by copyright, patent or some dubious corporate entity.

Two, use as simple a representation model as possible. We all love shiny, fancy things but these tend to be more toward the proprietary, complicated side of the continuum. Fact, ASCII will be readable FOREVER!

Three, given the above two, one has to let go the concern about file types. Some trust has to be given to future programmers writing a conversion utility to whatever future, better file version.

I’ve waffled back and forth about how to pass my content on to my kids and the future. Sometimes I feel luddite and write in an actual paper journal. This captures my handwriting and lends some feeling to what I’m writing. At the same time it is a harder medium for me to communicate in (no backspace key!) and requires the reader to physically possess the document (which has its own intimacy about it). Keeping things electronic allows increasingly better search, analysis, portability and storage.

Joining these two ideas, I’d like to find ways to both keep data on my own servers on the Internet and keep versioning/backup in perpetuity for those to come.

Headphone Upgrade

Recently, I’ve been thinking of getting new headphones. I don’t use my current iPhone ear buds very often, but when I want to use them it is usually when I’m in a coffee shop and want to drown out noise to focus. A few years back a consultant friend of mine (yes, Charles, you!) let me try his Bose noise cancelling headphones. He swore by them for flying.

Five months ago, 32 Ohm Audio, moved from Hawthorne over to Division St. near my house. Kerrie and I walked over there today to look into the noise cancelling headphones. Upon walking in, I was surprised at how small it was until I realized that headphones don’t take up much space. In browsing around, there must be a hundred or more models ranging in price from sub $50 to $1000 or more. While the salesperson was helping another customer, we found a pair of Dr. Dre “noise filtering” headphones. Kerrie wondered if they filter out the swears. We tried these out and a few other pairs while checking out the high end tube amps and DACs (Digital Audio Converters).

When the salesperson was able to help us I explained that most of the time that I use headphones it is to provide cover for distracting ambient noise while using my laptop. In this fashion I tend to listen to music with little or no lyrics such as Thievery Corporation, techno-trance, or someone like Issa Bagayogo whose compelling songs are in a language I don’t know. He explained to me that by their very nature of sampling and inserting sounds to negate the surroundings, they effect the music you are listening to. I tried the few pairs that they had and to various degrees, they did a good job. He then recommended some recording studio style, ear encompassing models that work more like ear muffs to block the sound. There were a pair of Adidas branded royal blue phones that he said worked the best. They easily matched the active noise cancelling units in ambient noise reduction. Besides that, they sounded incredible.

While I don’t tend to buy the highest priced items out there, I’m not afraid of forking out some cabbage for quality either. Hell, I once bought a car for $150 that was a total junkyard dog. I named it “Lazarus” because it had been totalled twice. I went to the auto salvage place and for $30 got a better seat, floor mats and marker lights to replace the broken ones. The hatchback barely opened and I had a 2×4 to hold it open if I did need to, the heat never turned off, and every trip was an adventure in wondering if I’d make it back. Laz never let me down. In the end, for the $30 above and a new battery, Laz served well for two years and I sold him for $150. Easily the best vehicle investment I’ve had.

Phiaton PS 320As good as the “Adidas” phones sounded, they were a bit large for portability and did I mention royal blue? For me headphones should be non-intrusive. It’s not like I’m David Guetta or Dr Dre. Although, I did see that Dr. Dre is working with HP for high end audio in a laptop line. The salesperson suggested a pair of Phiaton PS 320 headphones that were more reasonably sized for carrying around to various wi-fi spots. These were very solid sounding and did a great job with the ambient noise reduction. They were very comfortable to wear and folded nicely for portability.

For the price I had once paid for a car, I now have not only a better way to focus on work, but a whole new view of my music collection to explore and enjoy. And these are no “Lazarus”, they are beautiful to look at, comfortable to wear, and will be with me for a very long time.

Debian Linux Squeeze Release

The Debian Linux OS is releasing its latest version this weekend, code named “Squeeze”. While most of the technologically oriented people don’t even know its happening, the whole process amazes me. If you think of what must happen to release a new version of Windows or Mac OS X, all the software pieces, the scores of people, the millions of lines of code, it is just amazing. Those take place with the coordination of a business structure and paid employees. Debian, on the other hand is a community of volunteers. Now try to wrap your head around the concept that Debian is not just an operating system. It includes nearly 30,000 software packages from the OpenOffice suite, web browsers, mail programs to a plethora of programming and scientific applications. So, when Debian releases a new version it is comparable to Microsoft rolling the top few thousand applications into their OS version and releasing that. Even more, this huge base of software is coded to run on 12 different hardware platforms. The full standard PC collection takes up 52 CDs. Truly amazing!

No Impact Week

Yes! Magazine is hosting a week long version of No Impact Experiment based on Colin Beavan’s experience of having no environmental impact while living in New York City for an entire year. While a one week commitment isn’t that long, we felt we just couldn’t do it justice as laid out. While the main purpose of the experiment is to increase awareness in one’s impact on the environment, it is more important to create habits that lower or eliminate various impacts. We felt that we could spend one week focusing on each day’s theme. We also thought that we are doing a pretty good job with our current habits and this experiment gives us the opportunity to evaluate where we are in our environmental impact. For sure we are going to be using some of the exercises to identify and quantify our impacts.

What we are currently doing:

  • Bring our own reusable grocery bags shopping
  • Recycle all paper that can be recycled
  • Recycle all allowed plastics at our curbside
  • Turn off lights when not needed
  • Trip planning – multiple errands in one trip
  • Carry water bottles
  • Sometimes bike or walk to get groceries
  • Use a rain barrel for the garden
  • Wash and reuse our sandwich bags
  • Composting
  • Keith bikes to work
  • Kyle and Kate walk to school
  • Have swapped out most of our lighting to compact fluorescents
  • Use a High Efficiency washer and dryer
  • Sold our second car and the remaining one gets 36mpg City
  • Use a programmable thermostat to turn down the heat at night and when we aren’t home
  • Use the light wash & no heat dry setting on the dishwasher
  • Got off mailing lists for yellow pages and catalogs
  • Almost exclusively vegetarian
  • Buy organic food where available
  • Use an electric mower
  • Started a vegetable garden
  • Installed low flow shower heads
  • Our electricity usage is 100% offset with wind and hydropower
  • Employ electronic bill payment
  • Take advantage of paperless bills
  • Only flush the toilet when we have to

What we can improve on:

  • Bring our own bulk bags when grocery shopping
  • Change our grocery list to highlight the bulk items so we bring enough bags
  • Concentrate on buying bulk items
  • Caulk around the chimney
  • Wrap the water heater
  • Cook in bulk and freeze portions for lunches of leftover meals
  • Set up paperless bill for mortgage
  • Autopay water bill (if possible)
  • Add grocery bags/bulk bags to Keith’s bike gear
  • Disconnect our last downspout
  • Add more rain barrels
  • Put in soaker hoses
  • Bake more bread, biscuits crackers, scones, cookies, etc.

Of course the biggest trash/recycling generator is food packaging. We have always been in need of better dinner making, so meal planning with a focus on raw and bulk foods would drastically reduce our trash/recycling footprint.

Oaks Bottom Amphibian Habitat Restoration

Recently, I volunteered to help improve amphibian habitat at Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge. It is a 140 acre wetland near my neighborhood in the center of Portland, OR. The city of Portland acquired the property in 1969 to prevent it from becoming an industrial park, making it Portland’s first urban wildlife refuge. A myriad of animals live or frequent the refuge including muskrat, raccoon, deer, osprey, and occasionally bald eagles.

Look closely and you’ll see one of three deer that were checking our work.

I have frequented Oaks Bottom doing various activities from walking, rowing and commuting by bicycle to helping out with my children’s science classes on field trips. Last year, Kyle’s 8th grade class made a beautiful botanical guide to the refuge. Other trips had us pulling invasive English Ivy or planting native sedges and rushes. This day’s event was part of SOLV‘s Beach and Riverside Cleanup which happens each spring and fall. Rather than drive to the beach to participate, which I have done numerous times( just ask my kids about the time we had sun, rain, sleet and snow all in one day), I thought I would bike to a gathering closer to home. The rest of my family was busy so I asked my friends Tanja and Darren if they would like to join me. Amazingly, the timing fit perfectly with their busy schedules. All three of us arrived by bike with plenty of landscaping tools.

Winter shows us the wetlands in all its glory with the low lying forested areas flooding and for those with keen eyes, the frog egg masses stuck to sticks. Dabbling ducks enjoy foraging on all the green grass around the tree trunks. The leaf out in spring treats us to vibrant greens and tadpoles swimming among last years leaves in the pools. Summer is the time to watch the osprey feeding their young in their uncomfortable looking branch nests on the tops of any high structures such as power line towers, river pilings and cottonwood trees.

This day’s work had 10-12 of us planting more sedges around the clumps that had established themselves in the swale the city had built. Marissa, our leader from Portland Parks and Rec, explained to us that invasive leopard frogs are out competing the native Red-legged Frog.

The Leopard frog needs year round water so this swale was designed to be ephemeral to give the native frogs the habitat they need. She demonstrated how we were to dig holes a and then tamp in the starts. The sedges are really hardy and can easily deal with the inexperienced handling. She also showed us how to plant the young willow saplings that she placed around the swale.

I started digging and quickly found chunks of brick, a nail, and a piece of security glass with chicken wire in it. I resisted the temptation to play archaeologist and struggled through more brick pieces and a piece of metal with a bolt still going through it. I planted six or seven willow saplings before moving on to finish off the sedges. I found the best way to plant the sedges was to take the crowbar and stab it into the ground to the depth you wanted and then work it around in a circle. Then the slender, cone shaped sedges would just slide right in. I wish I had thought of that a few flats of sedges earlier.

By the time we were done, the sun was high and the sweat was pouring profusely. Marissa was excited that we got all the plants in the ground and she led us back up to the trailhead to some snacks and the water fountain. One of the organizers was inviting volunteers to his house for a party involving a keg and I was sad that I had to be off to other engagements. I pedaled home with the satisfaction of those tired muscles and sweaty clothes that evidenced the real work that was done for a good cause.

Port of Portland New LEED Offices

On June 5th, the Port of Portland had an open house showcasing their new offices at the airport. Prior to this move, the Port had offices split between downtown and the airport. The downtown building was sold and the space vacated at the airport will be leased to other tenants. The $82m facilities were designed to meet the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) gold standard and incorporate leading edge design elements. The Port had ambitious goals for utilizing small business for the construction and wildly exceeded their expectations with 24% being small business. In this challenging economy the Port of Portland should be highly praised for encouraging small business and using no state or local tax funds to do it.

Design and Layout

The architecture firm ZGF was engaged after their successful work on the beautiful entry canopy. They incorporated extensive day lighting and integrated lighting controls to minimize electrical consumption. The day lighting is accomplished with a wide atrium in the center resulting in narrow office areas in an open format to bring natural light in.

Port of Portland Atrium

Using Nature

The roof alternates between highly reflective membrane and 10,000 sqft of planted areas. On the north side there is an eco-roof and the south has a green roof. There are many advantages to a planted roof from reducing runoff and reducing the heat island effect, to insulating the building and providing a green amenity. Being in the middle of the airport requires designs to be undesirable to birds, so the plantings are chosen to not attract them.

Port of Portland Eco-Roof

The Living Machine

The blackwater and greywater from the offices is put through The Living Machine® by Worrell Water Technologies. This technology takes the waste water and puts it through different planted gardens that turn the organic matter into vegetation while purifying the water. This water is then sterilized and put back into the greywater system supplying the toilets and HVAC cooling tower. This recycling reduces the water consumption by 75%. As this technology gets more widespread, I hope it can be scaled down to a consumer basis for single family dwellings.

The Living Machine®

Fun with the shell and GeekTool

Its the end of the day on Friday and I’m starting to glaze over while exporting, massaging and importing all these datasets. I thought it would be cool to know how many I have set. *nix to the rescue!!!! I cobbled together a little command line and coupled it with GeekTool’s ability to dynamically display things on your desktop and I get up to the minute status on how much I have done. Not exactly complicated but pretty damn awesome that I was able to do it in under 10 minutes.

While working on large project manipulating a huge set of data, I thought it would be encouraging to see my progress. The manipulation entailed dumping a record set into a CSV file, editing it in spreadsheet form, and then importing it back into the database.

Since the CSV file has one line per record, I figured all I had to do was count the lines in all the CSV files and I’d have the number of records completed. Luckily, my MacBook operating system is based on openBSD, a version of unix. Unix and all the variants have a powerful toolset of commands that one can link together without having to write a program or script for the simple tasks. The word count command, “wc”, will output the number of lines, words and characters in a file, so constraining it to the lines only gives me the desired output. Using a wildcard for the files I want it to evaluate will cause it to count all the files I’ve manipulated.

Example:

wc -l *.csv

Returns:

…..

444    280-0001 to 280-9999.csv

27      290-0001 to 290-9999.csv

53      295-0001 to 295-9999.csv

7470 total

Now I only want the total so I just need the last line. There’s a command for getting that too! It’s called, logically enough, “tail”. tail is a very useful command for quickly retrieving the last bit of a file, such as the last few entries of a log. By default it returns the last 10 lines. Since I only want the last line, I used the “-n” switch to specify the number of lines to return. But how do we get the output from wc, which by default goes to the screen, to the input of tail? That magic of redirection is handled by the pipe operator. The pipe is represented by the vertical line character “|”.

Example:

wc -l *.csv | tail -n1

Returns:

7470 total

So anytime I want to see how many records I’ve got done I can navigate to the directory that my files are in, type that command and find out. What I’m looking for is status at a glance. I don’t go to my mail application all the time to see if I have new mail, the mail icon shows me the number of new mails. It’s the same with text messages, overdue tasks, etc. Here’s where GeekTool (http://projects.tynsoe.org/en/geektool/) comes in. What GeekTool does is allow you to embed  dynamic information right into your desktop. I set GeekTool to draw a box on my desktop and put the output of my shell command in it. I also set it to refresh every minute. You can set the colors of the background and text as well as adjust the transparency. I decided to put the box in the lower left of my desktop where I’ll be able to see it.

Now I have the pleasure of watching that counter increase shortly after I’ve completed another bunch of records.


Cruising Poem

by ????

“On an ancient wall in China

Where a brooding Buddha blinks,
Deeply graven is the message

It is later than you think.
The clock of life is wound but once

And no man has the power
To tell just when the hands will stop,

At late or early hour.
Now is all the time you own,

The past a golden link,
Go cruising now my brother

It’s later than you think.”

How true! Replace cruising with whatever endeavor that you cherish.

Columbia River

Kerrie and I drove to one of my favorite places on my day off today, Astoria, OR. The Columbia is the largest river in the US flowing into the Pacific. The mouth has been called the “Graveyard of the Pacific” due to the number of vessels that have foundered in its powerful river currents when they go head to head with that mighty ocean. The Columbia River Bar Pilots are some of the best in the world. There is good reason that the US Coast Guard has a training center here. I’ve read some harrowing accounts of their skill, bravery, and luck.

As formidable as the bar can be, one of my favorite memories is crossing it on a Pearson 40 sailboat on a perfect summer day at slack tide. This spring day was like that, 60 degrees, sunny, with little wind. We went through the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center and thoroughly enjoyed the journey. What a pioneering adventure, right up there with Sir Earnest Shackleton’s hair-raising self-rescue from the grips of Antarctica.

In the photo below the Stella Prima, flagged in the Netherlands, comes in over the bar headed for Longview, WA. If you are interested in the vessels that transit the Columbia, or anywhere in the world, check out Marine Traffic

Backups

With painful sadness, I realized that after I had removed my previous website to pave the way for WordPress, iWeb did not have my old site. When iWeb upgraded it must have overwrote the website I had created and even Time Machine doesn’t have record of the old one.

I am really impressed with how easy Time Machine is to use. No matter how easy any backup software is to use, YOU MUST TEST THE RESTORES and understand exactly what is being backed up and for how long.

Now, as I prepare to start using WordPress I must figure out what method I will use to backup my content. Should I use my domain hosts backup facility? Should I write everything in a text editor, save the files and then upload them? Should I segregate the ephemeral posts from the future reference posts?