photography on Flickr

 

I upload photos to Flickr. I’m old school like that.

 

Cycling Kalgoorlie

I must admit, at first I had my doubts about whether or not I’d be cycling Kalgoorlie. I visited the Museum of Western Australia and found this remarkable precursor to the modern Cervelo, built with wheels from old boxes, “tyres” from old meat tins, and forks fashioned from mulga wood…

I must admit, at first I had my doubts about whether or not I’d be cycling Kalgoorlie.

Wooden bicycle

I visited the Museum of Western Australia and found this remarkable precursor to the modern Cervelo, built with wheels from old boxes, “tyres” from old meat tins and forks fashioned from mulga wood (whatever that is).

Wooden Bicycle Chain

Consider this detail of the chainular region, which back in the day would have been wrapped with – would you believe – a “chain” made of bullock hide (whatever that is). One can only wonder how the fate of Andy Schleck in this year’s Tour de France would have been altered if he’d opted for this legacy technology.

From Southern Cross to Mount Barker
This map needs more kangaroos

The exhibit noted that this woody relic had been “pushed” from Southern Cross to Mount Barker back in the gold rush days. Being a Canadian and generally unaware of distances here in the outback, I had to have a peek at the map to discover that this represents a distance in excess of 2,150km, which, I am sure you’re aware, is about the distance from Vancouver to Winnipeg.

So what excuse did I have, visiting Kalgoorlie and not getting onto a bike myself?!

Hannan's Cycles, Kalgoorlie

I proceeded into town and found the local cycling shop, Hannan’s Cycles. If you need cycling gear in Kalgoorlie, Hannan’s Cycles is the shop you’re looking for. A gentleman named Brian there very kindly loaned me a road bike they had in the back. I will be forever in his debt, for not only did this act of generosity give me access to a bike made out of modern materials, but he’d also tuned it up  ready to go for a cycle out of Kalgoorlie!

Epic.

Superpit wide shot

I started by visiting the vast Super Pit, this massive gold mine just outside of town. In fact, I was there just in time to see the day’s blast! This pit is insanely massive, and only getting bigger: the viewing platform I was standing on is due to be demolished shortly as the open pit expands towards town.

Goldfields Highway

So off I went down the Goldfields Highway to see what I can see. In Toronto I sometimes lament  not having a long enough stretch of road to (safely) attempt a series of intervals. Here, this is not an issue. The road went on into the bush for as far as the eye could see.

And not only that, but look at the shoulders. They were great, and traffic was forgiving.

However, I will never complain about Canadian trucks again. I learned a new term in Kalgoorlie: “Road Train.”

These Road Train mothers of all truckers legally stretch up to 63.5m in length and just when you think they’ve finished passing you, there’s an improbable amount still coming to whoosh by.

Pipeline

The Goldfields Highway follows the route of the pipeline that provides water to Kalgoorlie from Perth, which itself is a storied engineering feat. It’s hard to imagine life in the goldfields before it was bringing water out here. (I mean, how could you lug the weight of water over that distance without having to drink all the water you were carrying?!)

Two Up

Feeling in need of a little extra life, I considered a short stop at 2-Up. Actually, I found out afterwards that this is not in fact a Super Mario Brothers reference in the middle of the bush, but instead a now-defunct casino whose name references a popular Australian gambling game played with two old pennies. (I was given a set by some thoughtful Australians I met in town.)

And what trip to a mining town would be complete without a visit to the explosives reserve? Actually, I kid — they wouldn’t let me anywhere near a room this full of explosives! This is an exhibit at the Mining Hall of Fame showing what the explosives would have looked like during the same era that the above mulga wood bicycle was bleeding edge.

Pouring Gold!

I suppose that, in a pinch, the very resourceful cyclist of yesteryear could have whittled their mode of transportation into a fuse, ignited the explosives, and found some gold like the hot stuff pictured above, which could then have be used (in conjunction with time travel), towards the purchase of a new Cervelo.

Can you pull off a cunning stunt like that with a carbon fiber frame? I dare say you could not. I rest my epic case.

Sign at the edge of town
All the best from Kalgoorlie!

Standards are the Sands of Time (or, the Illusion of Preservation)

On a long enough timeline, the survival rate for every standard drops to zero.

From emulated games to digital negatives, how can we preserve our digital content for posterity, and inform our decisions about which formats we adopt?

A special jpg: 2 monkeys, city, moonlight
A special jpg: 2 monkeys, city, moonlight

How many jpg images do you suppose are living on the internet? Probably quite a few.

Among all those images, the jpg on the right is particularly special to me, because it’s a screen capture of an adventure game I wrote for the Commodore VIC-20 when I was very very young (like almost single digits).

If you can’t make it out, those are two monkeys standing under the Toronto skyline, reading a newspaper by moonlight.

At the time I wrote the game, it could only be played by reading the bits that were encoded as waveforms on an audio cassette tape. Which was awesome.

But one day my VIC-20’s cassette drive silently stopped reading tapes, and the game could be played no more.

The photograph below (another jpg) was taken of the defunct
VIC-20 hardware some time before it was tossed into a big dumpster.

Commodore VIC-20 and Tape (deceased)
Commodore VIC-20 (deceased) and Cassette

Resuscitation by Emulator

VICE Vic-20 Emulator on Windows
2001 Emulator (not dead yet)

Fast-forward through more than a decade to 2001, where I find VICE, a program that can emulate the VIC-20 on Windows.

With the game’s cassette reclaimed from the basement and a dusty tape player connected to my PC’s audio port, I transferred the audio that made up the game’s bits into an audio .wav file, and then converted that audio file into a format that could be loaded by the emulator.

I was so happy to be able to run my game again, and have it preserved “forever,” even though its contents are meaningful only to me (and maybe my family).

Satisfied, I zipped it up together with the emulator
and put it into my folder called “C:\pastlives” for safe keeping.

Now almost ten more years have passed. In this 64-bit world, my game still runs.

For now.

(slightly) Longer Term Thinking

This ran through my head when I was considering whether I should adopt Adobe’s Digital Negative (DNG) format as a standard for my photo archives. The alternative is the Nikon raw (NEF) format I currently use for my negatives.

It literally kept me up last night thinking about the layers of technology I depend on to retrieve and view things in “C:\pastlives”, like my VIC-20 emulator or my digital photos.

Check out this stack of just some of the standards and technologies I used to play my game today:

Some of the technology standards used to play my VIC-20 game on Windows 7
Some of the technology standards and file types used to play my VIC-20 game on Windows 7. (another jpg)

(Red == the ones I perceive as more volatile)
Sure, you could substitute for some of these (the VIC-20 emulator, for example, also runs on Linux).

But how likely is it that a complete cocktail of prerequisite technologies will be around long enough for me to load and play the game in three more decades? In ten?

These standards aren’t stacking up like a solid foundation, they’re piling up like sediment!

(To abuse a pretentious analogy) It’s like the sands of time themselves.

Consider the Floppy

5 1/4 inch Floppy Disk
5 1/4 inch Floppy Disk

Remember floppy disks? Those once-ubiquitous storage devices? How many of you still have machines around that can read a 5 ¼ inch floppy?

On a long enough timeline, the survival rate for every technology standard drops to zero.

By my estimation, all it’ll take is for me to neglect its preservation for approximately a decade, and my game shall be played no more.

Spoiler Alert!

I’ll go out on a limb and say that despite my efforts, my VIC-20 game will never outlive even all the jpgs in the internet.

So I’m just going to tell you that one monkey rescues the other monkey from the Toronto zoo and they escape back to Africa.

There’s an action sequence where you have to climb through the sunroof of a taxi and jump off at just the right moment to escape a high-speed police chase.

Screenshots, while they last, are available upon request.

Roomba

I finally watched a Roomba dance its funky dance.

The iRobot Roomba 550 we affectionately named Butler spent a half-hour cleaning the 4 downstairs rooms of a home, sucking up an impressive gob of dust from the previous night’s party.

Hello, Roomba
Hello, Roomba!

I finally watched a Roomba dance its funky dance.

The iRobot Roomba 550 we affectionately named Butler spent a half-hour cleaning the 4 downstairs rooms of a home, sucking up an impressive gob of dust from the previous night’s party.*

As I watched Roomba, I realized I’d forgotten…

How much we are inclined to anthropomorphize technology.

How we’re wired to perceive complex reasoning where only simple behavior exists.

How important it is to have users on your side!
(Roomba was occasionally bumbling but always so helpful — looking everywhere for last night’s crumbs, remembering which area needs more attention, and just generally “doing his best.”)

First Impressions

The design of the unit is clean, sleek, and functional.

Roomba in Motion across the rug
Roomba in Motion, scooting across the rug

The “wall following” behavior is particularly clever and plays to the strengths of the round unit.

Object detection mostly works (it’s supposed to slow down before a bumper-kiss), but it was blind to some antique table legs on our test run, threatening to knock over some photo frames and antique china.

Its motion is smooth, and it successfully un-stuck itself from the curtains.

I loved watching it ultimately find “home base” by IR and dock with it, 2001 Blue Danube style.

But I worried..

  • About non-techie users having to choose a “home base” location. A sleepy Roomba needs to locate its home, but a resting Roomba is hardly showpiece décor.
  • About long-term battery wear and life.
  • About how often you’d need to empty the dust out of his bowels, and what happens if you forget to do so.
Roomba Cleaning Patterns (from the manual - click for .pdf download link)
Roomba Cleaning Patterns (from the manual .pdf)

Navigation & Hackery & Papers

Roomba uses behaviors like spiraling, wall-following and room crossing (as explained in the image, right, from the manual) to create its not-quite-completely-random walk.

And below, check out this very clever 30-minute long-exposure photo (found at SignalTheorist via Botjunkie) that reveals the Roomba’s “Lovely, Inefficient” cleaning path.

Roomba Path Long Exposure
Roomba Cleaning Path – Long Exposure Image

This brings us inevitably to the hacking. iRobot, to their credit, encourage you to hack Roomba!

Martha, whose Roomba apparently can bring her beer (wait… what?!), recommends the book Hacking Roomba. Here’s the book’s companion website.

Is anyone still using Microsoft Robotics Studio for stuff like this?  (ah, the memories of dancing Lego robots.)

In the meantime, with my head full of Roomba, it’s the perfect time to re-read some of iRobot Founder Rodney Brooks‘ seminal papers, like Intelligence Without Representation and Elephants Don’t Play Chess.

Because Elephants these days apparently can clean living rooms!

*the dust was left behind from the previous night’s party, in an otherwise impeccably clean home (i.e. not mine)