Monthly Archives: August 2008

Tourism

It’s fun pretending to be a tourist when your house is really still visible on the horizon. It’s even more fun when you have a great friend to travel with. Over the past few days, Haibo and I have walked around the Harvard and MIT campuses, both banks of the Charles River, the Boston Commons and Gardens, Newbury St., lots of wonderful restaurants… and that’s just Boston.

Yesterday, in New York City, we walked miles and miles through the 5th Ave shops and Central Park to the Met (Art) with Haibo’s friend Felix, who made an excellent tour guide. We wandered around the Met from lunch (overpriced, on the roof next to the stainless steel balloon dog) until the museum closed, which wasn’t nearly enough time to even glance at the whole collection.

Haibo says:

Tell them about the huge 10 foot ceremonial head-dress that really is just a tree. A tree that you put on your head “for a brief dance” — presumably before you go and lie down for a spell…

We had dinner at the Olive Garden in Times Square (overpriced, tasty) with a waiter who was a dead ringer for Dana Carvey. In the evening, we went shopping,

Oh god I’m so sorry for subjecting you to that…

and then took Metro North home.

We have so much more to see.

Visit

My friend Haibo from Other Cambridge has come to visit, so for these two weeks I’ll likely be very busy pretending to be a tourist in my own hometown. We plan to see Boston, Westport, New York, at least.

If there’s something we shouldn’t miss, leave a comment. It’s surprisingly difficult to think like a tourist on my own home turf; all the attractions have long ago faded into the background.

Ugly

I think I’ve fixed the problems with the previous diagram.
Small Pseudo-Spherical Science Shell
You can’t argue that it doesn’t show what it’s supposed to show, because it came straight out of Blender. Unfortunately, now that the solenoids are actual solenoids, and the number is bumped from 6 to 12, it’s also pretty ugly and tangled.

TV

I now have a completely functioning WPA 802.11g wireless router. It’s also an ssh server with a stable domain name, a DVD player, and a computer for any visitors. Once I get that scan converter from my parents’ basement, it’ll be our TV too.

My friend Kieran very helpfully schlepped the IEV Turboscan T-1500 (originally my brother’s) up from Westport. This device is pretty funny. It’s essentially a video adapter; plug in composite video input from the cable box, get VGA output for the monitor. It seems like a simple task.

This model cost about $2500 when it was released in 1999, and is as big as the screen itself. Today, equivalent devices are hard to find (because nobody needs them), but generally run around $50, and are the size of a cell phone. Of course, it’s hard to beat free, and this thing has been sitting on a shelf in my parents’ basement for years.

I was worried, when I first saw it, that I would be stuck with all the components of a working system and no way to connect them. Because this was a pro-quality device when it was originally sold, its composite video input is a BNC plug, a scientific-grade interconnect which I have only ever seen on oscilloscopes. I was immensely relieved, therefore, to discover that Microcenter carries BNC->RCA adapters. With that last piece of the puzzle, I now have a tested, tuned, and working TV setup.

Once the DVI and VGA cables I ordered arrive, we’ll be able to switch it back and forth between TV and computer mode. I expect that people will show off their favorite new websites during commercial breaks.

Bicycle

I spent today bicycling with my bicycling friends. I rode about 25 miles in total, from the Quincy Center stop on the Red Line, out to Pemberton Point at the end of Hull, and then back to catch the Quincy->Boston ferry. While I enjoy these rides in general, I had a very specific goal for today: to test out my new bicycle.

EDIT: There’s a great photo of us under the Pemberton Point windmill here.

In 1970, my grandfather gave my father a bright yellow Atala Grand Prix. Perhaps it was meant as a graduation present; neither seem to recall the exact circumstance. As always, my grandfather made sure to choose a model that was built with quality components, with beautiful design, but not overpriced. I suspect my father got a lot more use out of it than he’s ever mentioned, but unfortunately it never quite fit right. It’s lived in our garage since my parents moved into the house, and in the past twenty years I can’t recall anyone riding it. I have no reason to believe that the bicycle has been altered in any way in 20 years.

I’ve recently learned that among urban bicycling youth, the trend of the moment is to ride restored road bikes built during the 1970s bike boom. That boom, like the current one, was driven by an oil shock, which made driving seem unappealing to young people in cities. Many of those bicycles were built well and used little, so they are still in excellent condition more than 30 years later. Although my Atala predates the oil shock, it is very much like the popular restored bicycles sold by Bikes Not Bombs.

When I looked closely at the bicycle in the garage, I was dismayed at its condition. The labels had all long since fallen off or been removed. The paint was flaking badly, revealing rust, and the unpainted steel showed a patina of turquoise corrosion. The beautiful chromed brazes that were Atala’s signature had rusted to a uniform brown. The tires, which I presume have not been touched in decades, looked like they might turn to dust at the slightest provocation. The Atala badge on the front had faded into illegibility. I very nearly gave up on this scheme entirely.

Instead I dragged the bicycle out and attempted to ride it around my driveway, despite the completely deflated tires and generally off-putting appearance. I was surprised to find that I could ride it. All the mechanicals seemed to be in working order. After some further thought, I wiped away as many of the cobwebs as I could, and threw it in the back of my car.

Yesterday, I attempted to inflate the tires, which are likely as old as I am. I expected that they would simply burst, or leak fast. I inflated them to 50 psi (very low for a road bike) and, since they seemed to be holding pressure, did a short one-mile test ride (to Microcenter to exchange my wireless card). The bicycle made rather a lot of noise, but otherwise seemed to be completely working, including the (presumably similarly old) brake pads.

This morning I saw that that the pressure was still holding, and upped it to about 75 psi, near the tires’ nominal rating of 85. At the beginning of our trip we stopped off at a bike store, and Mako helped me to oil my chain. From then on the pedaling was smooth and quiet, especially in settings where the front and rear gears align well.

I spent the trip learning how to ride a road bike. I started out barely able to maintain balance with the narrow handlebars and narrow tires, with no idea how to shift grips, too scared to reach for the low-mounted shifters. Mako was carrying a correctly sized inner tube, which was very comforting to me because I fully expected the dried, visibly cracked rubber to give way at the slightest provocation.

25 miles later, I can say that while this bike is certainly much more difficult to ride than my mountain bike, it is also very rewarding. I can now balance the bike without worry, though my low-speed maneuvering and mount/dismount are problematic. I can switch between the various grips on the bullhorn handlebars, though not if continuous precision steering is required. I can even shift the front and rear derailleurs, which both seem to work perfectly, as long as I have time to plan ahead, and I’m not in traffic. After fearing a blowout for the first few miles, a terrible stretch of retextured pavement convinced me that these old tires would withstand just about anything, and they survived the trip without incident.

This bicycle is fast. On my Schwinn mountain bike, my top speed is limited by the inefficiencies in the bicycle; fat tires, front shock absorbers, and perhaps a few tuning issues in the brakes and derailleurs. The narrow tires, lightweight construction, simple mechanisms, and narrow drop handlebars on the Atala mean that my top speed is limited by fear, not force. I don’t know how to handle this bicycle at high speed, and I don’t have to learn today.

The bicycle still looks like hell. Hopefully some rust remover, applied liberally, will make things a little less ugly. Perhaps when I get my bumper repainted I’ll ask the body shop what they think about spraying a bicycle frame. With a fresh coat of paint and a bit of degreaser, this bicycle will be very much back in business.

Router

Don’t let anyone tell you that it’s easy to turn your spare Linux desktop into a wireless router. It’s possible, and if you make a series of correct decisions then it shouldn’t be hard, but there are many wrong turns.

My motivation was simple. Emily was moving out and taking the Linksys wireless router with her. Simon was also moving out, and gave me his old desktop. Buying a wireless card would be cheaper than buying a router. It would also provide me with much more powerful mechanisms for managing routing.

Anyway, if this sounds fun to you, here are some things I discovered along the way:

  • Not all drivers support Access Point (also called Master) mode.
  • The Ralink rt2561 chipset uses the rt61pci driver, not rt2500. rt61pci requires proprietary firmware.
  • The rt61pci driver does not have working Access Point support, even when using the latest git head of hostapd (post 0.6.3) and the rt2x00 kernel (post 2.6.27-rc1). It will broadcast the SSID, but clients cannot associate.
  • The Atheros AR5212 (e.g. Level1 WNC-0300) is well supported by the Free ath5k driver, but ath5k does not yet have Access Point support
  • There are no Free drivers that support Access Point mode on 802.11g and newer hardware.
  • The proprietary Atheros Madwifi driver supports AP mode, but as of 0.9.4 it does not run under kernel 2.6.26
  • Running Madwifi 0.9.4 under 2.6.25, the standard interface for setting a WEP key is nonfunctional, and so you must run hostapd in order to have any encryption

Anyway, after countless recompiles of different versions of hostapd, many patched kernels, and a few other more bizarre tactics, I now have a completely functioning WPA 802.11g wireless router. It’s also an ssh server with a stable domain name, a DVD player, and a computer for any visitors. Once I get that scan converter from my parents’ basement, it’ll be our TV too.

I think this qualifies as success.

Crash

I needed to sign a form for my department yesterday, and it was pouring as I rode back from the library, so I put my bicycle inside and drove to the office in Boston. As I was driving back home, just outside my apartment, I was rear-ended by an elderly Chinese man in a mauve 2005-7 Toyota Corolla. He was wearing a uniform shirt with what might have been his name embroidered on it. He spoke thickly accented English, and I had difficulty focusing on decoding him. He clearly wanted to leave as fast as possible; it was all I could do to write down his license plate number.

My car had very little visible damage, which was shocking to me given the severity of the impact. I attribute this to the fact that both cars are Toyota, and about the same size, so they had perfect bumper compatibility. Even so, if you look closely at the left side of my rear bumper, you can read off the other guy’s license plate number, both from the imprint and from the Massachusetts standard red paint that the letters left behind.

I called my insurance company a few minutes later, once I figured out who they were, and they had me set up an appointment with their “appraisal center” in Woburn. I drove out there this morning, and they took pictures of my car and generally considered the accident. Ultimately, I was told that I was not “at fault”, so my rates would not change and no deductible would apply, and given a list of approved body shops where I could take my car. The insurance would pay for fixing the dent in my bumper, which is apparently achieved by heating up the plastic and re-forming it. They would pay for half the repainting, because the bumper was already scratched from years of street parking. The body shop will also be instructed to check for any deformation of the bumper’s mounting brackets, etc.

It could have gone a lot worse.

Birthday

Today we had dinner out to celebrate Paul’s birthday. It was a fun time.

I’m going back to Boston tomorrow. I have forms to sign, library books to renew, meetings to attend, and a great deal left to write.

Tire Gauge

Last night, the Colbert Report ran a great sketch on the political spat of the week: tire gauges. Obama recently suggested that the US would reduce gas prices more by inflating our tires properly than by allowing offshore drilling. In response, the McCain campaign started producing tire gauges with “Obama Energy Plan” printed on them. Rather than trust, the Colbert Report, I checked the internet, and it’s true.

My first thought was “this is going to be a collector’s item, especially among Obama fans.” My second thought was “I wonder what these things are going for on eBay“.