bike computer for cheap wind speed measurement

The Proven Windlogger is clever. It uses a simple bike computer (looks like a Cat-Eye Velo) to measure wind run.

I know that Gordon Proven is a bit of a bike-nut, back from my days with the BWEA. This is the sort of simple, neat design that Proven does so well.


browser shrink-to-fit printing

I just printed one of my bank transactions. All the content fitted nicely on one page. But Mozilla, for no good reason, decided that it would print a second page with no content beyond its headers and footers.

I hate it when this happens. Mozilla shouldn’t print trailing whitespace. And if a printout uses only 10% (say) of the last page, the job should be re-run at a slightly smaller scale to make it fit.

It’s not hard to do, and it would save a lot of paper.


the fascinating names of the American Civil War, and other Jesse James related items

I’ve just finished reading Jesse James: Last Rebel of the Civil War, by T. J. Stiles. A fascinating book, it describes the Missouri/Kansas border of the 1860s-1870s with the same level of horror as 1990s Kosova/Kosovo.

I know the area well. Catherine grew up in Liberty, and her mother still lives on Franklin Street, the site of the 1866 raid on the Clay County Savings Association by a gang including Arch Clement and the James brothers. The James family made their home in Kearney, the town which used to have my favourite diner, Clem’s Café.

After the civil war, veterans returned home with their weapons, and used them to settle old scores. Stiles makes the point that carrying handguns was rare before the war, so this is a possible root of the US’s gun crime problem.

But what struck me most was the amazing names that cropped up in the book: Adelbart Ames, Delos T. Bligh, Schuyler Colfax, Alvis Dagley, W. L. Earthman, Aber Gilstrap, Odon Guitar, Nimrod L. Long, Zerelda Mimms, Sidney G. Sandusky (who, coincidentally, built the house in Liberty that Catherine grew up in), Theodrick Snuffer, Flourney Yancey, and my favourite, Greenup Bird. You just don’t get names like that any more. These are solid names, they’ll see a lifetime through.

computers suck

appalling office samizdat generator

Remember when office walls were festooned with grubby, wonkily photocopied slogans, bad attempts at Snoopy cartoons, and all manner of xerox-worn paperwork? Something like this:

With everything being digital, and e-mailed the world over without degradation, I became nostalgic for the old analogue days. So I decided to emulate the squint, black-edged, mottled, heavily-thresholded imagery with the NetPBM toolkit and a shell script. You can download it here: pnmcopier – emulate a badly-photocopied document to stdout. It should work on most Unix machines. It does require that your shells sets $RANDOM, which might make it a bit bash-specific.

It works best with a fairly high resolution image. Be advised it’s a processor hog; it has to rotate, smooth and merge very large images. To compound the effect, pipe the output into pnmcopier, perhaps several times. I don’t quite have the parameters right, but it gives the desired level of grubbiness. Sorry I couldn’t reproduce coffee stains, staple marks, old tape ghosts or random doodles.

Do what you will with it, but harm none.


welcome baby emma

To Katie & Joe Raine in St Louis, baby Emma is born today. She shares her birthday with her Aunt Catherine.


A helpful error message

just gave me this far from helpful error

DB21034E  The command was processed as an SQL statement because it was not a
valid Command Line Processor command.  During SQL processing it returned:
SQL0010N  The string constant beginning with "'" does not have an ending
string delimiter.  SQLSTATE=42603

As a human, or a close facsimile of one, I don’t need to
know the internal server codes DB21034E and
SQL0010N. I don’t need to know that the command was
processed as an SQL statement, because that’s what I was
hoping it would be all along. And I definitely don’t want
to know that SQLSTATE is 42603, for I’m not sure if it
would be very much better or worse if it were 42604. Or 2.
Or, for that matter, 999999999996.

And all this for mismatched quotes around a string.


Happy Birthday Catherine

… is all I can say.


the woeful TEXTAREA widget

So I’m typing this into Mozilla, which contains full-featured mail and HTML editors. Yet, why am I stuck with a primitive editor in my forms? Why can’t I spellcheck, do file management and format text?


Delightfully Barking – or are they?

I think I’ve found a match for Dr Bronner’s Magic Soap in the religio-scientific wayyyyy-out-there-and-accelerating product blurb: Pheylonian Beeswax Candles.

It will come as no surprise to my reader (yes, I have one) that I use both. But not at the same time.


practising detachment (badly)

As if I don’t have too much stuff already, these are things I
know I don’t need, but want:

  • Mini iPod — I can’t
    afford one of the big ones. If this can’t be used with Linux when
    it’s announced in early January 2004, the game’s a bogey.
  • Lomo LC-A
     — yes, I know it’s an overpriced, unreliable
    ripoff of the
    Cosina CX-1
    , and that digital is much cheaper to run, and that
    my Yashica
    Electro-35 GTN
    gives better performance for less money,
  • Green coffee
     — freshly-roasted coffee tastes better than
    you could imagine.
  • Wacom Graphire
    graphics pad — because my existing cheapo pad doesn’t
    actually do much.
  • Fluke
     — I missed out on getting a uke when I was a
    nipper, and I’ve wanted one ever since.
  • Blondel
    Cittern Guitar
     — because if I’m going to learn to
    play the guitar, I might as well get a portable one.

I think this all goes to show what you already know:
blogging makes you shallow.


Everybody Loves Wikipedia

Yesterday, Wikipedia put out a call for US $20000 for new servers. When I donated at around 0800 EST this morning, they were about US $2500 short. As I write, they are at US $23382.

That’s pretty good going.


Networkaround Solutions

I recently registered a domain, but couldn’t get the hosting company’s DNS to stick in the admin console page. This workaround was given to me five days ago by an NS staffer, and it works:

  • set domain to point to NS’s “Under Construction” page
  • log out
  • log back in, and change the domain servers
  • log out (again)
  • log back in, and the changes will stick.

Whistle-stop across Missouri

Just back from a busy but enjoyable trip to (and across) Missouri. Approximate timeline:

  • arrived in Liberty on the 24th, then immediately went to Catherine’s grandmother’s house in Lee’s Summit for Christmas dinner. If I can fix a turkey dinner with Parker House Rolls and all the trimmings when I’m 92, I’ll be doing pretty well.
  • took the train from Independence to Kirkwood to visit Joe & Katie, Catherine’s brother and sister-in-law.
  • stayed in ye olde cheesye Cheshire Inn in St Louis, which is a hilariously fakey (but pretty good) “old” hotel.
  • took Amtrak back to Independence.
  • did the necessary shopping rounds in Liberty: LaMar’s Donuts, clothes shopping at Feldman’s Farm & Home (aka The Feed Store), and browsing books at By The Book on the square.
  • had lunch at the incomparable Englewood Café in Independence.
  • went to see Carlyle’s art exhibit downtown, which turned more into performance art, as the gallery was closed.
  • hung out with Catherine’s high-school friends in Westport, and had the importance (and usefulness) of dry “bible highlighters” explained to me by Carl. Then we ate at the Jerusalem Café.

… and now we’re home.


Sainsbury’s were lying, after all

After yesterday’s Unearthed at Sainsbury’s, I got this message today from them:

Dear Stewart

Thank you for the above order.

Unfortunately ‘UNEARTHED 5CD’ has been removed from the Sainsbury’s entertain You website due to a dispute involving the release date of the product.

Under the circumstances we have been left with no option but to cancel your order and apologise for the disappointment caused.

Once a release date has been confirmed the product will re-appear on the site and new orders may be placed.

Thank you for visiting Sainsbury’s entertain You.


Sainsbury’s entertain You

This excuse doesn’t wash with me. Other suppliers, such as, are listing the same release date as Sainsbury’s were: the first week of February. They just don’t wish to honour the low price that they advertised on their website.

In short, you can’t trust Sainsbury’s entertain You.


Unearthed at Sainsbury’s

Last night, Sainsbury’s (one of the UK’s huge grocery chains)
had an incredible pre-release price for the Johnny Cash “Unearthed”
boxed set. They had the price at 13.99, less than a quarter of what one
might expect.

I’m hoping this was a loss-leader, as I have my order in. If you
look at their site now, Unearthed is 47.74. This is the confirmation I got from them, edited slightly for length:

Date: Sun, 21 Dec 2003 22:15:07 +0000
From: sainsburys@...
Subject: Order Placed
To: scruss@...

Dear Stewart Russell
We are pleased to confirm that your order has been successfully received by
Sainsbury's entertain You. Your products will be despatched as soon as possible.

Qty, Description, Price inc VAT, Total Inc VAT, Gift Wrap


Happy Winter Solstice

Nothing celebrates the winter solstice better than a panoramic picture of a suburban street in Scarborough:

my street

Taken with the remarkable Super Wide Heliar 15mm lens, and stitched using hugin. In real life, the street’s pretty straight — if anything, it curves slightly towards you.


Mozilla Mail Went Nuts

Update, 7/8/2004: It’s probably better to use Mozilla’s configuration editor from the URL about:config, rather than using a text editor on your prefs.js file. This is explained in Restoring mozilla mail local folders

For the last few days, Mozilla has been bugging me with “Please
enter a new password for user scruss@…”. It happened after I
added an extra mail profile to reply to a mailing list
unsubscription from my address. The popup would appear
randomly, sometimes several times a minute. Using Password Manager
to save the POP3 password didn’t seem to help.

If you ever notice an extra account in the “From:” drop-down in
the Compose window, you could be having this problem. Today, I
found a messy way of fixing this.

After making a backup copy of prefs.js, edit it. Look for the
section that begins something like:

user_pref("mail.account.account1.identities", "id1");
user_pref("mail.account.account1.server", "server1");
user_pref("mail.accountmanager.accounts", "account1,account2,...");

Check the mapping between

  • id1, account1 and server1
  • id2, account2 and server2
  • id3, account3 and server3

and so on. You’ll probably find an id that’s pointing somewhere
broken. In my case, id2 was pointing to that dummy entry to that I thought I had deleted.

Edit out all references to the broken id, and restart Mozilla.
All is well, for me at least.


quirks, quarks, and oggs

With very little fanfare, CBC Radio’s award winning science program Quirks & Quarks is being provided in Ogg format. Q&Q host Bob McDonald first mentioned them at the beginning of 2003, and this was noticed on the Vorbis User and Discussion List back in November.

CBC is Canada’s national public broadcasting company. Let’s hope they have more success with Ogg than the BBC’s Ogg Streaming experiment.


masters of bandwidth

philips ae6370 pocket radio

I found my little Philips pocket radio again today. I bought it on the 11th of September 2001, when radio was the only news medium I could get to that wasn’t overloaded.

On FM stations, it sounds incredibly clear and sharp. But switch it to AM and detune it a little, and the world becomes a whole new electronic soundscape. Walk by a fluorescent light, and feel the massive fat buzz. A pocket calculator chitters away like an old adding machine. Luminescent panel displays chirp like crickets, wall-warts hum in harmony. My CD player is a waterfall, my mobile phone a galloping horse.

But my computer is a totally different world. [Not so] bright antennae (on the wireless router) bristle with the energy. The printer is an angry beast, howling away even when it’s idle. But the CPU box just drowns everything else out in flat white noise. Nothing else competes.

And all this I found in a quiet little house in Scarborough. I wonder what the rest of the world sounds like?

best of scruss/txt General

going postal

I got two packages yesterday. Both were posted on 16th December.

The first package was sent by my friend Jeff from Bedfordshire in the UK. That’s about 5600 km away.

The second was send (by Canada Post Xpresspost) from a store in Toronto. It’s about 9 km from here.

Assuming the same pickup and drop-off times, the package from the UK averaged a useful 77 km/h. The Canadian package did a woeful 0.125 km/h.

It also doesn’t help that Canada Post flat-out lied about their delivery time of the local package. If you go to their tracking site, they claim it was delivered on 17th December. It really got here on the 19th.