Wildcat Canyon Circuit

22-mile solo training ride around and through Wildcat Canyon today, gearing up for Tour de Cure! New personal best – averaged 13.78 mph, taking into account uphill, downhill, photo breaks and stop signs.

wildcat

Wildcat Canyon Circuit

Crestmont 4/5 Sound Science Fair

Wonderful watching and hearing the fourth and fifth graders explain their audio science projects this morning – such a broad topic, and every kid had a completely different take. Recorded some random audio samples this morning while meandering from theremin to echolocation demo to analog amplifiers to oscilloscope to homemade stethoscope to foley demo… the variety was fantastic.

For a taste, start the audio, then start the slideshow and choose the Full Screen option.

Flickr Set

The Modest Case for Atheism

Quite good article at exchristian.net, which kicks off by making an important distinction that most people unfamiliar with atheism overlook. In a nutshell: Contrary to popular belief, very few atheists are certain (in the mathematical sense) that God does not exist; rather, we believe that the very notion of there being a God is implausible. Since it is unsustainable to hold implausible beliefs, we are atheists. It really is that simple.

Most of the time people have this impression that atheists are absolutely certain about the non-existence of God since they claim to know that God does not exist, however this impression is misleading. While there are atheists who claim to be absolutely certain that God does not exist, not all atheists are like this. Most atheists are not committed to the view that the non-existence of God is some kind of axiomatic or self-evident truth… What most atheists would agree is that the belief in the existence of God is implausible, hence unreasonable belief. Most atheists do not feel compelled to produce and reproduce absolute proof that God does not exist; it would be self-defeating and futile to even try. This is because most things in life cannot be shown to be true by absolute proof, especially in science.

Real World “Like” Button

Note left on my bike by an anonymous admirer (OK, “Nick”) this evening. Apparently Facebook idioms have suffused our lives so thoroughly that we now need to get creative with post-its when Real Life is absent a “Like” button.

Like bamboo bike

Chico Wildflower / Mildflower

My introduction to distance biking happened Sunday on the 31st annual Chico Wildflower Ride, though I actually did the 65-mile “Mildflower” loop rather than the full 100-mile Wildflower. But given that my previous longest ride had been 40 miles around Wildcat Canyon, it was vigorous enough for starters (though not as intense as I had imagined it would be). I had blown it up in my head, thinking it would be one of the most physically challenging experiences of my life – but once you get into a rhythm, the miles fly by quickly.


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Wildcat Canyon Fail

Attempt to find a 25-mile route all the way around Wildcat Canyon pretty much failed. Turned from San Pablo Dam Road onto 24 West, then signs said I had to exit the freeway. No where to go, totally stuck. So ventured onto EBMUD land and ended up hiking with the bike three miles up a muddy path, pushing the bike. Road bike brakes got totally clogged with mud, had to take the wheel off and clean them out by hand at home. Has anyone done this? How the heck are you supposed to complete the circuit cleanly?

Building LED Flashlights in Altoids Tins

I spent a couple of hours with my son’s fourth/fifth grade classroom today, teaching them to build LED flashlights in Altoids tins. This project was both simpler and more complicated than last year’s Bristlebots project – fewer parts to manage, but we went deeper into electrical and electronics concepts. The students learned about voltage, insulators, conductors, circuit load, diodes, polarity, and various types of switches. And had a great time! Every single kid finished with a working flashlight. Some even enjoyed the process so much they stayed after school to build a second one.

I started with this recipe from Instructables.com, but modified it a bit (we used a single LED and battery to reduce wiring and to eliminate the need for resistors, though we did talk about resistance).

One of the biggest challenges for me was figuring out how to drill clean holes in aluminum – every attempt with a punch or standard drill bit resulted in sharp, ragged, non-round holes. Finally figured out that what I needed was a “graduated” drill bit. Happily, I found one from the 1940s in a toolchest that I had inherited from my grandfather. So not only was the bit we used ~70 years old, but I later learned that my grandfather made all his own bits! He would have been proud to see us using his tools this way.

Sorry I didn’t get more photos of the process – no shots here of drilling or soldering, or of the kids playing with their finished flashlights in a dimmed room,  but was bit busy…

View the Flickr set with captions, or check the slideshow version below.

Photo365 2011

On January 1 2011, I made a commitment to take at least one photograph every day of that year. Now, 365 days later, I can proudly say that I’ve actually accomplished a New Year’s resolution for once. And despite my trepidation at the start of the year, it wasn’t a chore at all,  never grew tiresome. In fact, the process became an obsession. As the year progressed, I found my habits changing. Rather than photographs “leaping out at me,” realized I was learning to scan the environment subconsciously, always on the lookout for “that moment.” And I developed a Pavlovian response to that little time window after getting the kid into bed – time to study the day’s images, delete the duds, and upload the pick.

Yeah, there were days when the busy-ness or the same-ness of everyday life made it hard, and yes, some shots are weaker than others. But seldom felt like I had to cop out and just shoot for the sake of the project – there’s always something out there waiting to be found. Other days, had the opposite problem, where selecting just one out of many possibles was the real challenge. Definitely feel like the first 100 images are so are weaker than the later ones – felt my eye improving as the year progressed.

Only regret is that I was using Instragram heavily in the first few months, and Instagram leaves you with low-rez originals (or at least it used to). Over time realized  I was almost always better off shooting with the phone’s native camera app, and filtering/processing later with Analog, FX Studio, or Photoshop if I thought the image needed a little goose.

Check out the Flickr set to see the images with captions, or click the grid below for the slideshow (go full-screen!).

Many thanks to Richard Koci-Hernandez for the inspiration – I wouldn’t have gone for it if not for him and his bottomless inspiration. Enjoyed the process so much that I’m planning to do it again in 2012.

A Decade at the Berkeley J-School

In November of 2001, after working for several years as a freelance technology writer, I took a job as webmaster at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. I was led to a humble wooden desk in a converted boiler room, half-underground. Light poured in from a door open on to nearby Soul Road, and the sound of students yammering about engineering problems over cell phones filled the air.  Had no idea at the time that I’d be sitting at that desk for the next ten years, or that it was about to become one of the richest, most interesting periods of my life.

After a decade in that position, I’m about to move on, with extremely mixed feelings, and will be taking a job as web developer with campus’ central Educational Technology Services (ETS) department later this week. Before I go, wanted to spend a few words digesting my years at the J-School and Knight Digital Media Center.

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Couples Sharing Email Addresses

Doing tech support for an elementary school, I’ve recently discovered something I’d never seen in my 20 years of technology experience: There are a small percentage of couples/partners who share an email address between them, or even have a single email address for the whole family. When I first encountered this, I was sure there must be some mistake, but when I Googled for more on the phenomenon, I found other mentions of the practice.

In most cases, it seems people do this for one of two reasons:

1) People tend to see an email account like the family telephone land line, or like a shared bank account
2) One person in the couple is “not technology savvy” and it’s just easier for one person to manage the email

I have a few thoughts on this:

First, an email address is a unique identity in the modern world, not a shared bucket. Email is not like a telephone line or a shared bank account. You might receive a few calls a day on your family phone, but individuals often receive 100+ emails per day. The volume of email we all have to manage would seem to make sharing an account non-viable from a simple housekeeping perspective.

Secondly, when people write an email, they have a reasonable expectation of reaching an individual on the other end. I’m going to write an email very differently to a couple sharing an address than I would to an individual. If I don’t know in advance that it’s a shared account, that’s not fair to the writer, who naturally assumes that one email equals one person.

Thirdly, to share an email account makes it seem like two people talk with the same mouth. When I’m reading a message, I don’t have any clue who’s actually talking unless it’s personally signed at the end (and emails are often not). Again, this is frustrating for the recipient.

More importantly, we all have dozens if not hundreds of accounts on systems all over the web today. From Facebook to our online banking to stores to school intranets to reading clubs, many if not most of these systems tie accounts to email addresses. If two people share an email account, then many systems cannot manage their individual identities. Let’s take the example of a school intranet that tracks things like contact information, family jobs, individual board positions, photographs, etc. It may also be the case that that system sends email to individuals that have certain responsibilities in the school. The school can reasonably expect that people who are privileged to see that mail are not sharing those private messages with others. It’s reasonable to expect that each parent in that school has their own email address.

Finally, there’s basic privacy / politeness. I’m curious – if you share an email account, do you also open one another’s paper mail?

How To Create Individual Email Accounts

It’s trivially easy for each member of a family to have their own email account, and the basic expectations of privacy that go along with it.

The best/easiest way is simply to create free accounts at webmail providers like gmail.com or mail.yahoo.com or similar. Then all you have to do is log the browser into one account or the other.

If you prefer to use email on your ISP’s domain (such as comcast.net or pacbell.net), be aware that almost all ISPs let you create lots of email accounts for no additional charge. Just log in to their site and find their Mail Help center. However, you’ll have a much better experience on GMail than you will on your ISP’s mail system – there really is no good reason to use an email address attached to your ISP. What happens when you switch to another ISP? You don’t want your email to have to change along with it!

If you prefer to use a desktop email client on Mac or Windows like Apple Mail, Entourage, Outlook, Thunderbird etc., you’ll want to have multiple logins on that desktop computer. That way each family member has their own desktop, their own documents, their own bookmarks, their own email, etc. If you’re not doing that already, take the time to give every family member their own login, then set up your desktop mail accounts from within those respective logins.

Digital Literacy

Managing an email account is the cornerstone of basic digital literacy in the modern world. Not to be brusque, but that partner who is “not technologically savvy” needs to at least rise to the level of being able to send and receive email. An adult not being able to do email in 2011 is excluding themselves from the modern world in a way that just doesn’t / can’t work any more. If you want to go all the way off the grid, OK, but if you’re going to live in modern society, you need to be able to do your email, period.