Friday, 30 July, 2004

POPFile after Two Months

I've been using POPFile on my Linux system for right at two months now.  Its statistics show that it has classified 2,724 messages in that time, with an accuracy of 96.91%.  Of the 84 classification errors, 32 of them have been false positives:  good messages that POPFile identified as spam.  Most of those errors occurred in the first few weeks that I was using POPFile while I trained it to tell the difference between ham and spam.  I still scan POPFile's classification, but it's been over a week since I last got a false positive.  I'm going to reset the statistics on August 1 and see how it fares over the next couple of months.

I've found that it's a whole lot easier to scan POPFile's classification results for false positives than it is to try sorting out my inbox by hand.  If you're having spam trouble (and who isn't these days?), I'd highly recommend giving POPFile a look.

Monday, 26 July, 2004

Converting to CityDesk

I spent a large part of the last few days setting up a CityDesk template for my Random Notes site and the main page, and adding entries for the month of July.  Now I'm slowly converting prior months' entries, but it's going to be a long process.  It'll take a long time to convert almost four years of entries.

Jeff Duntemann reported in his diary that he's creating a photo index and a topic index.  I'm planning to do much the same thing, but not on this first pass.  That might seem like the wrong way to go, having to visit every entry at least twice, but I'm not entirely sure how I want to organize things.  So I'll get everything into CityDesk first.  Then I'll worry about indexing it.

Sunday, 25 July, 2004

Another Bicycling Update

Three more items on the bicycling front, before I leave that topic for a while to avoid losing readers:

  • Lance Armstrong made history today by winning the Tour de France for the sixth time.  Not only did he win by a convincing margin, he completely dominated the mountain stages of the Tour.  In particular, he won Wednesday's mountain time trial up Alp d'Huez by over a minute and beat his closest rival in yesterday's individual time trail (55 kilometers) by over a minute.  All around, it's an impressive achievement.
  • I did my monthly century ride yesterday, rolling out a little before 7:00.  I met another cyclist about 10 miles into my ride, and we rode together for the next 70 miles or so.  He's a much stronger rider than I am, but was taking it easy while recovering from a knee injury.  The temperature topped 110 degrees on the road, and by the end of the ride I was suffering.  But I completed my 100 miles, keeping with my goal of at least one century ride per month for the year.
  • Debra's training is coming along well.  We did a hard 45 mile ride this morning, introducing her to some of the hills to be found in the Austin area.  She wasn't too happy having to climb some of them, but she made it home without any ill effects.

Wednesday, 21 July, 2004

Microsoft MapPoint

I spent about 90 minutes on the phone this evening with a representative from Microsoft's MapPoint technology group.  The purpose was a technology overview for an article I'm writing to be published on DevSource.  On the surface, MapPoint doesn't look all that exciting.  It's just another MapQuest knock-off, right?  Wrong.  MapPoint is actually several different products, including MSN Maps, Streets and Trips, MapPoint 2004, MapPoint Web Service, and MapPoint Location Server.  They all provide some type of mapping service, but in very different ways.

MSN Maps provides maps and driving directions in much the same vein as MapQuest.  Streets and Trips is a desktop product that lets you plan trips, print maps, view points of interest, and all that other good stuff people expect from mapping software.  There's also a Pocket PC version called Pocket Streets.  MapPoint 2004 is business mapping software that lets you put maps into documents and include demographic information on the maps.  The CD product has an astounding amount of demographic information.  You can color-code a city based on demographics:  median income, number of children, etc.

The Web Service is what I find particularly exciting, though.  If your company needs mapping information or wants to provide mapping information to customers through your Web site, you can contract with Microsoft MapPoint to provide the data.  A simple example is providing your Web site visitors the ability to find the store nearest their location.  Given the user's ZIP code, you can query MapPoint for stores within a given radius and then show a map that pinpoints each store.  You have to put a few pieces together in order for it to work, but it's pretty simple.

It's worth checking out if you're interested in playing with map data.  Go to the Web Service page, download the SDK (requires the .NET Framework), and sign up for an evaluation account.  .NET isn't required to use MapPoint:  as an XML Web service, it's platform agnostic.  But the SDK samples and all the documentation are .NET centric, so be prepared to do some translation if you're doing PHP or something else non-.NETish.

Tuesday, 20 July, 2004

Bicycling Update

A few notes on the bicycling front:

  • One of my coworkers is an avid bicyclist: former mountain bike racer, manager of bicycle shops, and a real gadget freak. He brought in his Garmin eTrex Legend GPS last week and offered to let me use it on the Katy ride this past Sunday. I know, I probably should have got one of these about four years ago, but I wasn't convinced that it was useful. After using it on two rides, I think I'll be putting a GPS on my "must have" list of cycling equipment. Although I'd really like one that has built-in cadence counter and heart rate monitor.
  • I've long suspected that my cycling computer was mis-calibrated, even though I measured the tire's circumference and programmed it into the machine. Sunday's ride with the GPS confirmed my suspicions: the cycling computer was reading about two percent high. This assumes, of course, that the GPS is accurate--a good bet, all things considered. I re-calibrated the computer Sunday night and today it agreed exactly with the distance and average speed that the GPS reported for my ride to work.
  • As I expected, Lance Armstrong won today's Tour de France stage and regained the lead. I'd be pretty surprised to see him lose it now.
  • It occurred to me yesterday while I was paying for Gatorade and water at the convenience store halfway through my ride that any money I save in gas by commuting on the bike is at least partially offset by the cost of fluids and Power Bars. I don't always need to refill my bottles on the way home, but when it's hot and I'm riding hard the two liters I carry doesn't last much more than an hour. I guess I could wear the Camelbak that holds 100 ounces, but it's very uncomfortable to wear in the heat.
  • I've scheduled my monthly century ride for this coming Saturday. I'll be rolling out at first light, hoping to get most of the ride finished before it gets too hot. In August I'll be riding the Hotter'N Hell Hundred. September is open because they've moved the Waco Wild West Century to October 2. I'll have to skip that one this year because I'm already planning to do the Texas Time Trials on October 9, where I'll compete against the clock to see how far I can ride in 12 hours. I considered doing the Waco ride with Debra, but that's not the course on which to do your first century. There are too many hills and the roads are very rough.

Monday, 19 July, 2004

Tour de France Update

Today is the second rest day of the 2004 Tour de France. After a week on the flats and a few days of climbing in the Pyrenees, the riders get a day to rest before the final week of racing in the Alps. As is usually the case, this year's Tour has been full of surprises:

  • Lance Armstrong, going for a record breaking sixth consecutive win, has spent only one day wearing the leader's yellow jersey. He earned that by coming in second during the prologue time trial and then leading his U.S. Postal Service team to a smashing victory in the team time trial. He gave up the jersey the next day when a group of sprinters went off the front. This was no big deal, as the sprinters don't fare well when the roads turn up. But even after finishing well ahead of the peloton in the mountain stages on Friday and Saturday, Armstrong is still in second place: 22 seconds behind the race leader.
  • The current race leader is Thomas Voeckler, a 25-year-old rider from France who is competing in his first Tour. He's the French national champion, so it wasn't surprising to see him lead the race during the first week, but to see him maintain his lead over the past few days is pretty surprising. Almost everybody thought he'd lose the lead on Saturday's brutal stage, especially when we saw how he was struggling on the big climbs. But he managed to tough it out even without much help from his team mates. I doubt that he'll keep the lead much longer; certainly not after the mountain time trial scheduled for Wednesday.
  • Almost all of the riders who were viewed as challengers to Lance Armstrong have either dropped out of the race or are so far down in the standings that they have little chance of catching up. Jan Ullrich, considered by most to have the best chance of beating Armstrong, struggled over the hills on Friday and Saturday, and now is seven minutes behind the race leader. Tyler Hamilton, last year's fourth place finisher (with a broken collarbone no less) abandoned the Tour on Saturday. Haimar Zubeldia also abandoned on Saturday. Iban Mayo, a Spanish rider who beat Armstrong in a race last month, almost abandoned but was convinced by fans and his team mates to keep riding. He's over 30 minutes behind.
  • Barring accidents or mechanical problems, the only real threats to Armstrong's sixth victory are Ivan Basso (1:39 behind) and Andreas Kloden (3:18). And taking a minute and a half from Armstrong during the final week of the Tour is pretty unlikely.

As with previous years, there's lots of real time coverage on the Internet. www.letour.com is the official site. From there you can get stage reports, standings, route profiles, and live updates during the stages. They also have a link to OLN TV, where you can listen live to the audio of the OLN broadcast. Other sites you might want to check are Cycling News, VeloNews, and The Daily Peloton.

Sunday, 18 July, 2004

Katy Flatland Century

Debra and I drove from Round Rock to Katy, Texas (it's near Houston) last night and got up early this morning to participate in the Katy Flatland Century. Our goal: 60 miles. I took the picture on the left while we were waiting to start. My friend Ben Trimmer, a 1990 graduate from the Marine MilitaryAcademy joined us for the ride, along with his wife and some of their friends.

Weather at the start was about 70 degrees with cloud cover and a light wind--perfect riding weather except for the high humidity. We rolled out at about 7:15 am. After the first 10 miles or so of picking our way through the crowd (there were about 2,000 riders), we were able to settle in and (mostly) enjoy the ride. Debra's longest ride up to today was just 42 miles, so the planned 60 was a challenge.

The wind picked up as the morning wore on, and the cloud layer burned off or blew away about 10:30. We were moving along a little faster than our goal of a 12 MPH average, and taking our time to refill water bottles and enjoy the snacks at the rest stops. Ben and his friends tended to go faster between stops, meet us there, and then pass us as they headed to the next stop.

Debra did a great job conserving her energy, kept fed and hydrated, and managed to finish the ride without hurting herself. The last 7 miles or so was difficult because of the headwind and the sun beating down on us. She was a bit disappointed when the ride turned out to be only 57 miles, and wanted to make a few turns around the mall to bring the total up to at least 60. I convinced her otherwise. She'll have the chance to make a longer ride soon.

The picture at right is us standing by the car after the ride.

We went to lunch at a nice little Mexican food place (hey, after burning all those calories, we can afford to splurge a bit) and then crawled into the car for the 3 hour trip home.

The Northwest Cycling Club did a great job organizing the ride and the volunteers at the rest stops were friendly and encouraging. The course is almost completely flat (hence the name), and an excellent place to introduce a new rider to the joys of organized rides. I hope to do the century ride next year.

Saturday, 17 July, 2004

Recycling the Dump

Almost every city has nearby a potential gold mine of resources that nobody has yet figured out how to tap: the city dump. People have been dumping their trash in "sanitary landfills" for hundreds of years, and continue to do so at an increasing rate. It used to be that the dump would take anything: dead leaves, grass clippings, tree trimmings and other yard waste, general household garbage, old appliances and televisions, construction debris, etc. If it could be hauled off, it ended up in the city dump. This has changed over the last few decades so that stuff hazardous to the environment or useful in other ways is diverted to recycling centers, but there still is an astounding amount of trash going into landfills.

I've long been fascinated by the potential of extracting value from the contents of these landfills. Think of strip-mining the landfill site, separating the contents, and then selling it as scrap. Anything organic (yard waste, mostly) would be composted and sold as fertilizer or mixed with dirt to make planting soil. Old appliances could be ground up, metals separated, and sold as scrap. Tires could be. Well, tires were always problematic. The point, though, is that most of a landfill's contents have value--just not enough value to make such an operation profitable. Until recently.

Modern recycling methods can separate and resell most of an incoming waste stream--sometimes at a profit--but they're expensive to build and more complicated to operate than a landfill. Municipal governments with their short-term focus have a very difficult time approving the millions of dollars to construct one of these systems when given the much cheaper alternative of buying an isolated piece of property 50 miles away for the city dump. So we continue to bury or dump into the ocean millions of tons of valuable trash each, mostly because there are no visible short-term consequences, and the long-term economic consequences mean nothing to most people.

The long-term environmental consequences do concern some people, but they find themselves powerless to do anything about it. About the best they can do is stage a NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) protest when a new landfill is proposed, or begin a neighborhood recycling program that starts with lots of excitement and participation but soon loses steam when people realize that there is no direct economic benefit to be gained from separating the glass, plastic, aluminum, yard waste, newspapers, cardboard, and hazardous materials into separate bins to be picked up on different days or dropped off at different facilities. I know that parts of California have mandated recycling programs under which people have separate bins for different kinds of trash. I also know that many people pay no attention and throw their kitchen trash in the bottles and cans bin. A recycling program has to be as convenient as taking out the trash or it won't be effective.

The thermal depolymerization process developed by Changing World Technologies (yes, I've discussed them before, see June 21, 2004 and May 30, 2003) has the potential of making recycling that convenient. Currently in the development stage, this technology could actually be used to recycle any kind of organic trash, including old tires, plastics, yard waste, paper, and even paint and other toxic materials. Current plans for the company are to build plants that are optimized to recycle focused waste streams (for example, the plant in Carthage, MO will recycle 200 tons of turkey parts each day), but it's reasonable to envision a pre-processing step that would separate an incoming waste stream and divert the non-organics for alternate processing.

Consider, then, this scenario. A company purchases the city dump and contracts with Changing World to build a plant at the site. The company continues to accept incoming waste at a regulated cost. The company then begins to mine the landfill, dumping all of the contents into the hopper to be turned into diesel oil, natural gas, and what-all else. When the dump is empty, the company trucks in clean fill and either turns the former landfill into a big park or sells it to a developer for a new shopping mall or subdivision. Of course, they'd have to keep some land where the plant sits and have some space to store incoming trash for the short term, but much of the former landfill could be used for something else. If you're looking for a win-win situation, I can't think of a better example. Consider:

  • All municipal waste is recycled. Metals are ground and resold as scrap. Organics become fuel. See Changing World's site for the details.
  • Citizens don't have to separate their waste.
  • No more hazardous materials leaking out of the dump into the ground water.
  • A formerly smelly unpleasant piece of land, sometimes in a prime location, is put to more productive use.
  • The city no longer has the expense of maintaining a landfill.
  • The company creates jobs and makes a profit.

It's possible that the company could waive all tipping fees (fees for dumping trash) because profits on the recycled byproducts would cover those costs. In fact, I could envision the company actually paying for trash! A remote possibility, true, but possible.

I don't know what it would cost to get the ball rolling on something like this. It should be possible to find a city somewhere that would let a private company operate the landfill and begin a pilot program. Would it be possible for a small guy to put together the resources to make something like this happen? Or do we need to wait for a big company like Waste Management or Allied Waste Industries to make it happen?

Friday, 16 July, 2004

Content Management

It didn't take me very long to discover that building my Web site manually (raw HTML) is a heck of a lot of trouble, and that building my own content management system will require much more time than I'm willing to spend. I don't know why I thought I could take on a project of this size. Whatever the case, it's been instructive. I can more easily appreciate the value of a good content management system.

The question then is what am I going to use? I was hoping to find a good client-based CMS for Linux, but I didn't find anything near as feature complete or polished as CityDesk by Fog Creek Software. I downloaded and evaluated the trial version over a year ago, but at the time wasn't prepared to pay for a CMS tool. I downloaded it again the other day, and I'll probably purchase it. $300.00 (less with the 25% discount email coupon) is a bargain considering all of the features that this program has. I've started building a template for my site, but it'll be a few days before I'm ready to post anything.

If you're looking for an easy to use and inexpensive content management system for your Web site, be sure to give CityDesk a look.

Wednesday, 14 July, 2004

Found Dog Day

Two years ago today, Charlie showed up in the yard while I was mowing the lawn. He was tired, dehydrated, hungry, and very sick. Debra took him to the vet and I tried to find him a home. Two weeks later we decided to keep him. He's become a well adjusted companion, if somewhat overenthusiastic at times. He genuinely likes most people, and anybody he doesn't like I view with some suspicion. I wonder at times if his reaction to people is based on "vibes" he picks up from Debra or me.

The dog's a nut and an endless source of amusement. Debra and I weren't ready for a big dog when he showed up, but now we can't imagine life without him.

Tuesday, 13 July, 2004

A New Format

After looking around quite a bit to find a blogging program that I can live with, I've decided to try my hand at doing it myself. Rather than trying to fit something like PostNuke into my way of doing things, I will start by creating these pages manually, and over time develop programs that will automate the process somewhat. As I have time to play, I'll be adding a few features. I'll probably go back and convert old entries as well, although that project has a lower priority.

One problem that I resolved immediately is the moving entry link. In the past, when an article first appeared here it was on the main diary.htm page. After three months it got moved to the archive for that month. This caused no end of trouble for people who linked an item or used a search engine to find entries. Now, all entries are written to individual static Web pages and the 50 or so most recent will be aggregated on this page. You can find the article's permanent location by clicking on the article title in the header.

Currently, and for the near future, this scheme requires that I upload two pages to the server whenever I add a new article: the article's permanent file, and also this main page. There's no way to fix that until I add some server-side code here that will automatically create the aggregation page. I'm planning to do that, but it'll be a while.

Let me know what you think of the new format.

Sunday, 11 July, 2004

Installing Apache

I'm getting better at this Linux stuff. Today's project was to get the Apache Web server running on my system and play around with it a bit. Eventually that machine will function as a staging server for some changes that I want to do to this Web site. Today I wanted to get all the software installed and make sure that PHP and MySQL are functioning correctly. As is most often the case, things didn't go as expected.

I started up the SuSE installation program and told it to install Apache, PHP, and MySQL. Everything installed okay, but when I tried to start the Web server I got a rather unhelpful message telling me that the multiprocessing module failed to start. No details, no log file entries. Just "Failed." Don't you just hate it when that happens? I only spent an hour searching documentation and trying different configuration options before I decided to run the online update to see if there was a newer version on SuSE's update site. There was, along with a kernel update and a few other things. I find it odd that the update system doesn't identify the specific problems that a patch addresses.

In any case, I have Apache running now and can begin my PHP/MySQL experiments.

Friday, 09 July, 2004

Transplant Patients Die of Rabies

Last week I ran across an article on Yahoo about three organ transplant patients who had died of rabies.  Yes, rabies.  The lungs, kidneys, and liver of an Arkansas man who died of a brain hemorrhage were transplanted into four patients in Texas, Oklahoma, and Alabama.  One of the patients died of complications during surgery.  The others died of rabies.  A fifth transplant patient, one who had received an artery, also died of rabies. The first three were relatively easy to track through organ donation records.  Tracking the cause of the artery recipient's death was a bit more difficult.

When you hear about stuff like this, the first response is "But they should have caught that!"  Maybe in a perfect world.  Who would have thought that you'd need to test donated organs for rabies?  I guess we could test for everything, but I suspect that attempting to do so would make it nearly impossible to perform transplants in a timely manner.

Thursday, 08 July, 2004

Firefox Browser Security Fix

If you're running Mozilla or Firefox, head over to mozilla.org and download the patch.  Or maybe just upgrade to Firefox 0.9.2.  Mozilla announced today that a vulnerability in the Mozilla and Firefox Web browsers allows the execution of arbitrary code in Windows NT, 2000, and XP systems.  See this page for more information.  My understanding is that the security hole isn't all that bad as it's difficult to trip, but it'd be a good idea to install the patch or updated version just to be safe.

The Open Source community is trying to make points with their discussion of this vulnerability, saying that they were able to identify, discuss, fix, and distribute a patch within 24 hours of discovering the problem.  They contrast this with Microsoft's recent one week response to a vulnerability.  An interesting read and an impressive achievement, but I could do without all the "rah rah, we're number one" cheerleading.  See this NewsForge article for an example.

Tuesday, 06 July, 2004

SpyBot

My friend Dean suggested that I download and install SpyBot on my system to remove the inevitable spyware that he says every system is subject to.  I'd dismissed spyware in the past, figuring that my hardware firewall and other precautions were good enough.  But, figuring that as one of the network guys for a major city in southwestern Nevada, Dean knows what he's talking about, I went ahead and took his advice.  Was I ever wrong about my security measures!  SpyBot located over 30 tracking cookies as well as a handful of Internet Explorer exploits that had infected my system.  SpyBot is free for the download, simple to install, easy to use, and by all reports and from my own limited experience, quite effective.  Grab it.  Install it.  Run it often.  Highly recommended.

Sunday, 04 July, 2004

Canon's Digital Rebel

Dean, Paul, and I took a walk this afternoon down to the beach and around the point to view Randy's house from the bottom of the cliff.  Unfortunately, we were only able to see the back fence and a small part of the roof.  The back yard is approximately 85 feet above the shore and the house sits quite a way back from the edge of the cliff.  My little digital camera doesn't take very good pictures at that distance, but Randy got some very good shots of us with his 6 megapixel camera.  Some samples (warning, large pictures):

Climbing to the shore, about 200 feet away.
Standing on the rocks, about 400 yards.

The camera is a Canon EOS Digital Rebel.  Very slick.  The unit goes for under $1,000 ($200 less if you get just the body with no lenses) and allows you to use Canon's SLR lenses.  I just might have to get one of those.

Saturday, 03 July, 2004

Tour de France Prologue

The Tour de France started today with a 6.1 kilometer prologue individual time trial.  The winner of today's race was Fabian Cancellara, a 23-year-old Swiss rider in his Tour de France debut.  Lance Armstrong, the defending Tour champion, came in two seconds behind.  I think my friends are a little mystified by my fascination with bicycling in general and the Tour in particular, but they humored me and allowed me to watch the race.

This should prove to be an interesting Tour.  Lance Armstrong is attempting to become the first rider ever to win the Tour six times, and there are plenty of riders out to beat him.  Interestingly, the lead riders on several of the other teams are former members of Armstrong's U.S. Postal Service team.  There was some discussion going into the race that Armstrong is past his prime and won't do well.  If today's showing is any indication, I'd say that he's as fit as he's ever been.  Armstrong is a great overall rider although not a time trial specialist, and yet he beat the best time in the world by more than 10 seconds.  Granted, it's just one day of the Tour, but if I was a betting man, I certainly wouldn't put money on anybody but Lance Armstrong in this race.

Friday, 02 July, 2004

Hanging out in Laguna Beach

The primary purpose of this weekend is a reunion for five of us who hung out together back in the early 1980s in Grand Junction, Colorado.  My friends Randy, Dean, Mike, and Paul had known each other for several years before I met them in 1982 when I wandered into Randy's computer store and TV repair shop.  (The TV repair business paid for his computer habit.)  The five of us did a lot of things together for the two years I lived there, and we've kept in touch to varying degrees since then.  By this evening, everybody had arrived and we started talking over old times and discussing the things we've done in the past 20 years.  The beer flowed and the puns flew, and we had a grand old time playing poker and Mexican Train (a dominos game that I'd never played before).  I'm not sure what our wives and the children thought of our antics, but we sure enjoyed it.

Thursday, 01 July, 2004

Tide Pooling

Debra and I got up this morning to go tide pooling.  We walked down to the beach and then out onto the rocks to view the sea life that gets left in the holes, nooks, and crannies when the tide goes out.  There's always a wide assortment of sea urchins and sea anemones, plus rock crabs, striped crabs, hermit crabs, mussels and barnacles.  Limpets, sea slugs, and starfish are less common, but we saw a few of each.  The thing in the picture at left is a limpet, or so Randy's Audubon book leads me to believe.

The tide pools are protected by law, but that doesn't stop people from picking things out of them to take home.  Taking shells and other dead debris is one thing, but many take crabs or small fish for their aquariums and some even pull off the mussels and other shellfish to make fish stew.  While Debra and I were hopping from rock to rock trying to avoid stepping on anything alive, others were running straight through the mussel fields, stepping in the pools, and generally destroying the sea life wherever they tread.  I even saw one guy trying to peel a starfish off a rock.  Sometimes I wish I could just smack some sense into these people.