Archive for April, 2010

Galapagos 2010

Friday, April 30th, 2010
Charles Darwin Research Station

Roger, Christine and I spent one week of April 2010 in the Galapagos Islands on board the National Geographic Endeavor, a vessel in the fleet of Lindblad Expeditions and the National Geographic Society.

While the Endeavor is definitely a luxurious cruise, featuring great food, fully climate controlled interior (the ship spends part of the year in the arctic/antarctic), spa service, and all other services you might expect in a fine resort, this was no trip of relaxation and total disconnect. Every day was filled with opportunities for hiking on or snorkeling around the various islands of the Galapagos archipelago.

If you so chose (and I did!), every day was filled with opportunities to get up close and personal with all of the unique life of the Galapagos. And it wasn’t just a sightseeing tour. The staff included seven naturalists deeply versed in the wildlife, geology and history of the Galapagos who patiently answered all questions and offered deep explanations and observations of the islands and all wildlife therein.

The itinerary covered many of the islands and quite a few islets in the Galapagos. Itinerary details are below and will be filled with details and links as I write up each entry across quite a few upcoming blog posts.

Throughout the itinerary, hyperlinks will be to various posts on the weblog and to flickr photo galleries.

Read the rest of this entry »

Fatblogging: I’m below 230! (Assist by The Scale That Tweets)

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

For the first time in umpteen years, I’m solidly below 230 lbs (I briefly dipped below 230 in 2007 or so, the last time).

I’m using the rather innovative and revolutionary diet of Eat Right and Exercise. Otherwise known as Consume Fewer Calories Than You Burn.

Namely, I’m biking to work every day it isn’t raining, cut out junk food, cut down on portions, and have focused on eating lots of veggies and fruits.

At right is my means of tracking weight, the Withings Wifi Body Scale.

The Withings scale is WiFi enabled. Thus, if you stand on the scale for about 5 seconds after your reading stabilizes, the scale will submit your weight to a central web site where a (rather bloated and slow) Flash app can be used to monitor your weight.

However, there is also a fairly nice iPhone app. The scale can also be configured to tweet your weight (my 174 lbs target is actually below what I’d consider success @ about 190), as well.

I also briefly used the Lose It! application. It is actually a very well designed, easy to use, application for tracking your caloric intake.

Beyond all the techno-goop, the Withings scale is simply very well engineered. It has a striking, minimal, design and feels quite solid. Setup was a breeze and use is quite intuitive. It can track multiple people’s weight and automatically identifies each user by their weight (though I have no idea how it would deal with two people who have similar weights).

Make: Simple, Versatile, Bird Feeder

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010
Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura)

Since we accidentally acquired a parakeet, we go through quite a bit of bird seed. Steve– the parakeet– gets a fresh bit of food each day, but never quite finishes yesterday’s. I didn’t want Roger simply pitching the old into the yard as that attracts rats and Ruby — the dog — would hoover it up (she is a confused dog; part cat, part bird)!

So, we built a super simple bird feeding platform. It is a wooden frame with a bit of window screen in the middle. The screen is held to the frame by bits of thin wood nailed to the frame (as seen in the photo). The whole thing is suspended from the house via eye-hooks with coated stainless steel wire.

Dead easy to build and made entirely from scrap and junk drawer bits.

By going with this open design, we can throw Steve’s leftovers, bits of fruit, seed pods and the like onto the frame. Rats don’t seem to bother it given the proximity to the house and the slippery wires (which, frankly, surprises me a bit).

Because it is open, the feeder attracts birds that are normally ground feeders, like this pair of mourning doves that visit the feeder every afternoon.

The iPad & Reading (Free Books, too!)

Sunday, April 11th, 2010

Update:I’m keeping a list of ebook publishers/sources for which I’ve found inFeel free to send me suggestions. This is, by no means, a complete list — I’m just taking notes as my OCD-compulsive nature kicks in and I build up a huge set of books to read.

  • The Baen Free Library contains quite an amazing selection of donationware ebooks from many well known science fiction and fantasy authors.
  • Feedbooks contains a ton of public domain and original content as they are also a publisher of ebooks. Their blog is pretty interesting, too.
  • A one-off; Charlie Stross’s Accelerando comes highly recommended.
  • In the meta-category; a weblog post claiming to point to the “top 20 websites for DRM-free Sci-Fi Books”.
  • This list is impressive and also leads to cheap sources for ebooks, too. I’m perfectly happy paying for ebooks (just like real books), though I’m not at all happy about paying more than the paperback price for an older book.
  • Tor books — publishers of Jordan’s Wheel of Time series — has embraced ebooks to a large degree.


I know lots of people that have picked up iPads — no surprises there. What is surprising is that just about everyone has something for which their reaction is “the iPad changes everything”.

I have several of those, but — at the moment — the biggest is reading. I used to read tons and tons of books, but gradually tapered off because I carrying around a couple of books was a pain in the ass and, for vacations, I would need to take up to a dozen, depending on duration.

That and, frankly, it has been bloody obvious for years that an e-book read that is “good enough” would provide a portable library and a decent reading experience. The Kindle was almost the one, but having 40% of the front surface area covered by a keyboard seemed like a complete waste to me. I did, however, use the Kindle app on the iPhone to read a couple of books — good, but not great.

I find iBooks to be a wonderful reading experience. Easy on the eyes, very nice user interface and — with the versatility of the iPad — I can read Kindle books, and do a myriad other things on the device. Haven’t spent much time with the Kindle app, but if it is like the iPhone, it’ll be just fine, too!

I, however, am a cheapskate. I haven’t quite brought myself to drop money on books. Fortunately, there is a large number of freely available books in both the iTunes and Kindle stores.

With a bit of hunting, I have also hit upon a treasure trove of mostly Science Fiction and Fantasy — my favorite genres — books! In particular, Baen Books made available a large number of their books in many formats! In particular, you can find a list of the participating authors, click through to their titles, then select the EPUB/Nook/Stanza Format on the download page.

Note that the books have covers as in the picture on the left, but the cover art doesn’t show up in the iBooks application on the iPad.

I donated $51 in return for a ton of books.

Kegerator Upgrade: Keg Cap Tap Handles

Monday, April 5th, 2010
Keg Cap Taps

This is the reason why I write this weblog. After writing up the entry on the Kegerator project and tweeting it, I received a “nice job!” from the creator of a product called the KegCapTap.

Pretty much every commercial keg of beer ships with a round plastic snap-on protector over the very much standard sized keg coupler/connector. Of course, that snap-on protector is a marketing opportunity and, thus, every keg comes with a nice logo’d cap identifying the brand, if not the specific beer!

Enter the Keg Cap Tap.

The Keg Cap Tap is a tap handle that’ll fit just about any tap valve (the company also sells adaptors). The round end just so happens to be the exact same size as the top of a keg and, thus, quite nicely holds the branded keg protector.

As a result, whatever random commercial brews I have in my kegerator will now be identified quite clearly on the tap.

For my own beers, the Keg Cap Taps came with blank plastic snap-on protectors. For now, I’ll just slap an Avery label on the blank and write in the type of beer. Someday, I’ll have to actually print up little logos and such!