Archives for November 2004

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1 down, 2 to go

It'll be a little quiet here over the next few days. This is the last week of classes, and I've got a whole lot of work due over the last few days. Today through Wednesday night, all I get to think about is paper writing.

Today I wrote a 6 pager. Thursday I've got two due: one's 15 pages and one's only 5. After that I've got one more due a little over a week later, during finals.

It felt good to actually accomplish something writing today. I've had a pretty good brain-lock over the past few weeks that's kept me from getting a whole lot done. So now I've written one paper, and it went ok. Maybe that'll be the jumpstart I need.

eThreads: the need for speed

I just put a new eThreads snapshot in place, so hopefully things will feel a little faster here. I'm valuing speed over a small memory footprint, so I added a cache in memory. I also rewrote the way internal links work (links within the blog... all URLs stay the same) to do some stuff I couldn't do without good speed.

Most of what I did wouldn't make any sense to anyone but me, but here's the kind of cool stuff the new link structure does: the template being linked to determines what the link looks like. A simple example: From the main page I link post titles to the permanent URL for the post. In the template code on the main page there's this little snippet:

{link "/blog"}{qopt "id"}{$}{/qopt}{/link}

That tells the link code that we're linking to the /blog template. It then loads up that template and makes sure "id" is an option /blog's looking for. At that point it knows it can link to /blog?id=$id. But it also looks at the /blog template's keys, and sees that it has id defined as a key. That means that it can link a cleaner URL as /blog/$id. That's the one it uses.

Now I just have to keep an eye on memory usage and figure out how best to expire things out of the cache. Fun fun fun.

ice skating downtown

Pershing SquareYesterday I walked around my neighborhood a little bit and ended up spending some time in Pershing Square watching the people at the ice rink. For the most part it was kids who inched their way around the walls to start. Of course there was also the girl who brought her own skates and had the t-shirt that said "If figure skating was easy they'd call it hockey," so I guess some people do skate here in socal. I hadn't skated in a really long time, but I got it in my head that it would be fun to do, so I talked Kathy into going back with me later in the afternoon.

The rink's little: I think 50x30 or so. But it is outside at Pershing Square, and that's a juxtaposition that still seems pretty odd. It took me a little while to get a basic fell back for not making a fool of myself, but I think I ended up ok in that regard. Kathy, despite growing up in Michigan, has never ice skated much, but she showed definite improvement from the start of the session to the finish.

At $6/hour (and $2 to rent skates) the ice time isn't all that cheap, but it's one of those things that's just kinda cool to do. This is California, after all: you're not going to find a whole lot of ice alternatives.

everybody's talking about firefox

There's a good article on Mozilla in today's LA Times. It's been amazing to see the positive press that has accompanied the release of Firefox 1.0. This is totally representative of the stuff you've been seeing all over the place:

Firefox's advantages over Explorer make its rapid acceptance unsurprising. Among other virtues, it's faster, more resistant to viruses and spyware and full of useful features that Microsoft, complacent in its near-monopoly, has never provided for Explorer.

You couldn't buy the good press they've been getting, and it's absolutely deserved.

zap zap flash

When I was a lot younger someone brought me a broken fax machine once to see if I could fix it. Needless to say, I couldn't... What did I know about fax machines?

Well the other day our friendly Town Crier brought me his digital camera to fix. It had dropped, and now was making a really friendly grinding noise before giving an error and shutting off. Grinding noises are good -- they signify it's something mechanical, and that gives me a lot better chance to fix it. Don also brought a really good guide to fixing a couple problems with the Nikon Coolpix 950. Yesterday after work I took the camera apart. That's easy enough... I'm good at taking things apart. The symptoms matched the second repair on that page, the lens coupling issue. Long story short, don't ignore the warnings on that page that say things like "High Voltage" -- there may not be the amps to do any damage, but the cap on that flash unit will give you a real good zapping.

I gave myself two.

Today, though, I finished, put everything back together, and -- wonder above wonders -- it's working. I consider myself more lucky than skilled.

Eastside gets funding

Nice to see this morning that the eastside Gold Line extension got its funding passed in Congress. I haven't looked at the design docs much, but here's to hoping they've learned a lot from dealing with the South Pasadena folks and can actually make a line this time that doesn't slow to a crawl for half the time.

Newsflash: LA Times like cars

I read "Lunch in L.A.? Car Beats Train as Meal Ticket" in today's LA Times and thought pretty much the same things Will Campbell did. He posted his thoughts on, while I contented myself to just sort of scoff and move on.

But here I am, commenting...

  • The author of the article has ticket machine problems. I've never had any troubles of that kind, but maybe I've just been lucky (and I largely use tokens instead of trying to mess with bills or quarters).

  • Metro's trip planner tells me that if you caught Metro bus 444 outside the Times at 12:32, you'd be at Union Station at 12:37. I understand wanting to limit your report to the trains, but for a one mile trip like Civic Center to Union Station you need to really think about how a smart person would go about something like this. And a lot of times that option is the bus, unless you're able to find routes that very cleanly work for the existing rail options.

I could go on, but I won't. This morning I got on my 38 bus at 6th and Spring. It took 10 minutes for the bus to come, and then 20 minutes later I was getting off at USC. Try to drive there and park in that time. Maybe you can do it in around that time (but not much quicker), but it's going to cost you a lot more money.

streetscaping... it's like landscaping, but for streets

So I went to a meeting last night about streetscaping on Spring and Main. Now if you're like me you hear the word "streetscaping" and say "They've already got trees out there." Turns out the CRA thinks streetscaping is a little more than I did.

The process of drafting a set of guidelines for streetscaping on these streets has been going on for quite a while and I've come into it pretty late. My impression at this stage was that the scope varied from general guidelines to very specific projects. The general guidelines covered streetlights, sidewalk paving, etc, and that's all well and good.

The more specific projects interest me more. For instance, who knew that there was an art gallery -- Mickey Kaplan Fine Art (note, some of the art isn't work friendly) -- coming together in my basement. The CRA put in money to help rehab the space, and now after significant delays and negotiations it looks to be finally opening. Several elements of Premiere Towers fit into the design of the site. The splash page doors are those to the left of the main entrance to my building. The main page image is a fairly realistic look facing out through the gallery doors. Funny side note: Last night I took the elevator down to the basement to take a look at the space and that couch in the picture was sitting there. I wondered why it was there; I wondered if someone had just left it there temporarily. Well, turns out it's at least been there long enough to make it into the website design.

Another component of the project is a goal of turning some of the closed off alleyways downtown into a network of pedestrian walkways. One of the few highlighted in the documents handed out last night was the alleyway directly beneath my window. I think it would be great to see it happen, but one thing they'd have to figure out is what to do with those garbage trucks that rumble through there every single morning. They'll also have to convince the property owners that a pedestrian walk is better for them than the revenue from the filming that regularly occurs there.

And that's the rub... This is a good plan, but it needs money before it ever gets implemented. That's always the rub...

Downtown: heading east

I've been downtown for six months now, and I've explored a lot of downtown, but one area that I haven't much ventured into is the east side: Central City East, Little Tokyo, etc. Today I took a very small step in remedying that.

First I needed to pick up some DLANC business cards from our office on 1st street, so I grabbed my skateboard and headed north. They were set up for some sort of a shoot around the new Caltrans building. I saw one vehicle and a couple set pieces that really gave off a Bladerunner vibe. Sort of dirty retro-futuristic.

From there my goal was to head over to Groundwork and buy some coffee beans. That turned out to be something that required a little more in the way of directions than my quick look at the map before leaving. I was talking to my mom on the phone, so I ended up getting her to pull up mapquest and get me where I needed to be.

I got a mix of several different types of beans, which was really a bit of a cop out from having to make a decision. The first ground beans are in the coffee maker right now; they smell good, I'm sure they'll taste good as well.

On the way back I was really struck by how much I need to explore all the little shops over that way. If I go more than two miles to buy Christmas gifts there's something wrong with me.

good ol' PRT

Salon's running a story today about SkyWeb Express, a personal rapid transit (PRT) concept from a company in Minnesota. The article presents a lot of cost numbers that make the technology seem vastly more economical than traditional transit concepts. For instance,

SkyWeb Express may also be the answer to the seemingly impossible quandary that every environmental advocate faces: how to make green technologies cost-effective. Taxi 2000 estimates that installation of SkyWeb Express would cost $10 million per mile -- nearly five times less than the cost of light rail and 10 times less than heavy rail. And operating costs at 38 cents per passenger mile (compared to $3.43 for heavy rail and $1.42 for light rail) mean that SkyWeb Express could operate on a break-even basis -- and therefore without the government subsidies that mass transit, which operates at a loss, relies on.

The company's web site offers a cost breakdown. Take a look at this cost analysis. What particularly interests me isn't their capital cost numbers (though I'd never believe capital numbers on paper until I saw the system implemented somewhere), it's their farebox numbers. Their first example system has 33 million passenger miles per year on an eight mile loop. Ok, I can see that. But from that passenger load they get a farebox intake of $29.3mil. Since they give passenger miles and not boardings I don't know exactly what fare they were using, but I'd say the minimum is about $1 (I don't see that number of people using transit for trips much shorter than a mile). I don't see people paying that.

I think what really bothers me about PRT is the sell they use. Consider this from the opening paragraphs of the Salon article:

What really makes PRT different from mass transit is that it combines the convenience and luxury of a taxi with the efficiency of subway and bus travel: Rather than packing into a large carriage with a hundred smelly strangers, with PRT you get a private car.

The sell is isolation from other passengers. You live in the city, but you don't want to have to endure the presence of others. That should sell well in LA.

declare it a draw

For my games class we're supposed to be checking out Second Life. I'm really interested in doing that, since it seems to be the closest thing I've seen to Stephenson's metaverse.

I haven't had much luck yet, though. My only working Windows installation is on my laptop, which doesn't really have the horsepower to keep up with a game so intend on doing everything the intensive way.

Last night and today I've messed with trying to get the game to work under wine. I've tried regular wine, winex (err... cedega), and Crossover Office, and none have really done anywhere. On my desktop it liked to black out X and leave it in some funky dead state, while on my laptop it refuses to even get off the ground without 32-bit color, which my graphics driver doesn't want to support.

Computers and I have again reached an impasse. Nothing was gained, but nothing was lost.

a little reorganization

I rearranged my room today (and you thought I was going to post something people would care about). Since May my desk has blocked access to half my closet -- that's fixed now. The change also consolidates open space in a more usable configuration.

Most importantly, though, I took a piece of sandpaper to the edge of my particle board desk. My wrists can already feel the difference.

My room's still a mess, though. I just have too much stuff and not enough to organize it into. My number one priority needs to be to get a filing cabinet.