Daily dump

Assorted mind junk

Some good stuff:

First: John Battelle pointed to O’Reilly’s Make, a new quarterly magazine for the DIY crowd that likes to do things like aerial photography with kites, replace Ipod batteries, and build desktop Gauss rifles. At the sample table of contents I found a series of links to nice stuff like:

Gmail hacks
, a collection of add-ons and plug-ins which make Gmail even better to use. My new favorite gets ride of the annoying systray notifier and puts an icon into the menu of Firefox which shows how many unread messages are waiting in the account.
Gmail notifier

My second link o’ the day is courtesy of Jerry Michalski, who, in a discussion of Wikipedia, linked to a very cool “screencast” demo of how a Wikipedia entry evolved. It was built using Camtasia by Jon Udell at Infoworld. Definitely something I want to check out myself. Camtasia was developed by Techsmith, the same people who developed my favorite screen scraper — SnagIt — and is available for a free trial download. Otherwise it costs $300.

Finally, this winter’s personal obsession has been fixed-gear bicycles. Bikes that have one gear and don’t coast. These are essentially track racing bikes — some don’t even have brakes — and are favored by urban bike messengers. They’re also great winter training tools for racers who use them to build length strength and smooth out their pedalling stroke. Basically you never, ever stop pedalling. Try to stop and it’s like being on a rolling ejector seat.

I built mine out of an old frame and some spare parts and a few new parts ordered from Harris Cyclery in Newton, Mass. The guru there is Sheldon Brown, the man of all things bicycling.

Anyway, fixed-gear is one of those subcultures within a subculture which appeals to my current zen bent towards minimalistic technology. No gears. No brakes. No fancy materials. I like things stripped down to their essence and fixed-gear bikes represent the ne plus ultra of human powered transportation in my opinion.

Here’s a link to a picture of my ride — “The Snotrocket” — at the wonderful Fixed Gear Gallery collection of bike porn.

Lucas Brunelle's NYC Drag Race
For a very cool video of a messenger race down 7th Ave. in Manhattan, check out Lucas Brunelle’s 50 mb flick. It is worth the download and receives my vote for best use of a Guns n’ Roses soundtrack.

Ice Station Cotuit

The Blizzard of 2005 Strikes Cape Cod

Here we go.

Dr. Zhivago Don't Live Here No Mo

Three feet of snow yesterday and now the fun of digging out begins. At least we didn’t lose electricity or Internet so all is not lost. This will probably be the biggest blizzard I see in my lifetime.

Now to figure out how to get to New York for a meeting on Wednesday morning. I think life on Cape Cod has been put on hold for at least three days. Even the local newspaper, the Cape Cod Times, suspended print publishing today and will only be putting out an online edition.

Full gallery of shots taken during the storm can be found here.

Major praise for Google’s Picasa photo application. One of the best I’ve seen, particularly for batch processing lots of images and putting them into web formats. I was able to shoot 20 shots yesterday and have them posted for far-flung family in China and Florida within ten minutes of shaking the snow off my boots.

Tsunamis

I spent the holidays on the island of Kauai, the “Garden Island” of Hawaii. Feeling the need to ride a bicycle, I found the phonebook and started looking through the Yellow Pages for a shop that rented mountain bikes. At the front of the phonebook, where there is the usual emergency contact numbers, there was a prominent section on surviving tsunamis. Fascinated by maritime disasters – hurricanes, waterspouts, shipwrecks, etc. – I read that Hawaii has a network of sirens mounted on telephone poles. In the event of a tsunami these horns would blow once, indicating one should return to one’s home and turn on the television or radio for further instructions. Should the horns blow a second time, one was instructed to haul ass to higher ground. A series of detailed maps of the coastline showed where the safe and unsafe areas were and pointed out roads that ran inland up the ravines where the high ground could be found.

I noted this information, recalling dimly a disaster that hit Hilo over 50 years ago when an Aleutian earthquake sent a tidal wave into the town, killing a large number of people.

All of this coincidentally occurred on Christmas, the day before the killer tsunami of December 26 tore across the Indian Ocean.

Being a holiday, I was not watching television, listening to the radio, or buying newspapers. It wasn’t until Monday when I was standing in line at a grocery store in Hanalei that I saw the headlines.

On Tuesday, while walking on the beach, I heard the tsunami sirens go off. Nothing like an air raid siren to get your pulse up. I looked out at the Pacific. A big swell was breaking on the reef. It was rough.

I turned around and returned to the house. Women and children were in a state of panic. None had read the phonebook. None knew what to do.

“Turn on the television,” I said. “Await further instructions.”

On went the Weather Channel, the text crawl said “Testing the Hawaiian Civil Defense Network”

It was only a test. I pulled out the phone book and showed everyone the instructions, the evacuation map. My ten-year old was happy when I told him I had biked up the road to the power house where there was safe refuge. I assured him it was far, far, above the water.

“But what about back home on Cape Cod?” he asked. “We don’t have sirens there. Couldn’t we have a tsunami too?”

So, having returned home, I did a quick Google on Atlantic tsunamis. Yes, there have been occasions where earthquake driven waves have killed people. Portugal has been hit hard in the past. Puerto Rico has been hit. Even Canada had an incident in 1929.

But the real threat is something out of a Jerry Bruckheimer flick. The island of La Palma, in the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa, is home to an active volcano, Cumbre Vieja.
According to British scientists, if Cumbre Vieja blows, a significant chunk of La Palma could slide into the Atlantic. Eight hours later, a tsunami as high as 100 meters could hit the eastern United States.

Congress has extended 2004 tax credits for people wishing to donate money to help the victims of the Asian tsunamis until the end of January 2005. Having spent time in one village hit hard by the disaster – Mahabalipuram in Tamil Nadu – and knowing the nice people who lived there, I plan on donating what I can today.