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May 24, 2006

Noted at a Starbucks

The cash register at a corner Starbucks bears a sticker with a wheelchair icon and a message declaring that servers will gladly assist in bringing orders to the table. It's certainly polite to offer, but there's one problem. This Starbucks barely has room to turn around (though we tired and thirsty try to clump into as many as three queues at counter and another at the bar); it has not a single table.

May 18, 2006

Think of a little boy

My sweet little son is having surgery in about eight and a half hours, and I'm extremely anxious about it. It's a very minor thing but I can't get over the plain fact that it's happening and that I chose to set it in motion. Please send kind thoughts his way in the early morning.

Update: He did great. Everything went smoothly and by the next day he was acting like himself. Thanks for the good wishes.

May 09, 2006

Where's my SiRF III logging GPS?

Early last summer I purchased a DeLorme Blue Logger GPS in hope of recording logs of my bike routes which I could then view on maps, process into cue sheets, or analyze for climbing and other fitness data. I was also taken with the idea of using the device with my PDA for navigation purposes. The Blue Logger is a neat product and I'm sure it serves many people well but it has disappointed me in both of my goals.

The main reason in both cases is that the Blue Logger simply isn't good enough at acquiring or holding a fix to produce a steady, useful log. It doesn't help that the bundled Street Atlas USA 2006 Handheld software is quite poor in several key respects, or that my PalmOne Tungsten T5's screen isn't cut out for dashboard use, but really, it's the tracking, stupid.

So it's been a year and I've done some more homework. It sounds like the newer SiRFstarIII GPS chipset is the way to go. It acquires more satellites more quickly, consumes less power, and for some people at least actually gets a decent fix indoors. Sounds great, and the devices that use this chipset are reasonably priced, but why don't any of them do logging? Am I overlooking something? SiRF III can apparently be built into a tiny little SDIO device along with a decent chunk of flash RAM. It has sophisticated computational power available for calculating position and time from the satellite signals. Surely as long as it's on it wouldn't be too much harder to log a trace in the GPS unit itself. The GPS receivers 10 - 17 hours on their own batteries; it makes much more sense to do the logging there than to carry around a second device (PDA or notebook computer) whose batteries will surely die far sooner. And yes, I am pushing the limits of those batteries. I took the BlueLogger with me on some six- and eight-hour bike rides last year (not counting rest stops).

Can anyone point me to a logging SiRF III (or RFMD) device in the sub-$150 range? The BlueLogger's logging capabilities are a good model of what I'd like: configurable logging based on low and high speed motion, configurable cut-off or wrap-around on reaching the memory limit, logging of ~50,000 data points. I'd be happy to sell the BlueLogger and its software to someone who wants it more. The device does have a following and I'm sure it works very well in other regions, but I'd really like something better suited to my purpose.

May 01, 2006

Huff and Puff Followup

Since that windy day three months ago I've grilled a few times. Those first spring evenings, you know, pull off the cover, open up the grill, remove a few silky chrysalides and egg sacs, and fire it up. It took a little extra cleaning that first time; being knocked on its side had upended the bed of ashes and coals left from past fires. There were some broken bits on the front panel, but nothing important. Most notable were two little changes to the actual business part of the grill: the ignition clicker was finally dead, and the burner element itself was askew.

This latter change meant that a lot more propane was coming out of the lower end of the burner than the upper end, which actually puffed itself right out a couple of times while I was cooking. Not a big problem at first, as I was just doing hot dogs and half a grill was fine. But a couple of nights ago I was preparing to roast some potatoes as well, and I wanted the whole surface, so I gave the burner an experimental tilt to see if it could easily be made level once more. There was a bit of play, so I gave it some gentle encouragement and was rewarded with a somewhat more even fire. Good news! I left it to heat and went inside to prep me some tubers.

A little while later my wife came through the kitchen and said, "the grill is really hot."

"And what of it?," I wondered. I'm not used to receiving this sort of alert, and imagined she just wanted me to get out there and start cooking, already. But how could she tell how hot it was. "How do you know?"

"The fire's really going." Huh. Had I left the lid open? I hadn't, had I? Not when she and our son were out there playing. Had I?

"Was the lid open?"

"No, but I could see the fire."


"I could see it underneath."

Huh. Whatever. Back to the potatoes, which were ready to go a few minutes later. I packed them up in foil and carried them out on a big spatula. I opened up the grill, which was actually smoking a bit (probably all those ashes), and decided it could stand to be turned down a little. I reached for the knobs, and just before I grabbed them I noticed something odd at the edge of my vision. I thought I saw something glowing down there. I looked again, and to my considerable surprise the knob just under my hand was melting, and little tongues of fire were licking through both of the knob mounting holes. What the hell?

I squatted down at the end of the grill and took a look under the front panel, and there I saw it: the burner was still getting plenty of gas, but a fair amount was also emerging at entirely the wrong end of the burner piping, back where it connects to the control valves under the front panel. There was a rich blaze there, let me tell you. I finally had that extra burner I'd been dreaming of, and now I had to snuff it out. Fortunately I could easily get to the valve on the propane cylinder itself and that took care of everything, but now we have no grill.

I'm reasonably sure that I didn't break the pipes by wiggling them; they probably took more abuse on their rides to and from Sears. My best guess is that they were cracked or broken in the fall three months ago, and my attempt to line things up opened them up instead. That freak weather event has robbed me of late spring hamburgers.

Somewhere there's a butterfly flapping its wings, and it owes me a grill. And this time I'm bolting it down.