January 31, 2008

The Printer Message

I learned a few months ago that the status message of HP printers can be changed using PCL commands.

January 30, 2008

The Arboretum

I ran a few miles on the cross country course at the arboretum tonight. It was my first run since the Riddle. I made it about three miles before my ankle became a little sore then I walked back home. It will take just a little while longer for me to fully recover.

In the fall the cross country course is marked with silver paint

Arboretum 1.5 mile cross country loop

January 29, 2008

The Mac Pro

Our new Mac Pro arrived today. 8 CPU cores. 6 GB RAM. 2.5 TB disk. That should suffice for now.

January 28, 2008

The Farmer Blow

Melissa snapped this picture of me right as I was doing a "farmer blow." This was at the Chicago Cyclocross Cup race in Lansing, IL on 11/18/2007.

January 26, 2008

The Riddle

Today was the 9th annual "world renowned" Riddle Run at Lake of the Woods forest preserve in Mahomet, IL. The Riddle Run is a 28.35 mile ultramarathon run consisting of 7 loops on a 4.05 mile trail. It is named after its organizer, Jeff Riddle, and it is a very low-key event. The run uses "clipboard timing" (rather than chip timing), where runners are required to write their times down on a clipboard after every loop. Most runners have no intention of running all 7 loops, only 1 loop is required to get an official race cupcake. A record 105 people pre-registered for today's run (that is to say they sent an email to Jeff).

I think this runner never finished the Riddle Run last year

A few of the runners showed up early to socialize

The stark winter landscape

Jeff's wife was kind enough to prepare 105 cupcakes

4 years ago I completed all 7 loops of the Riddle Run in 5:23:44. It was my one and only ultramarathon. 6 weeks after the 2004 Riddle Run I tore the cartilage in my left knee and took 3.5 years off of running. When I started running again last August I could never have imagined picking up where I left off, but today I finished the Riddle Run again, completing my second ultramarathon in 4:50:32.

I was nowhere nearly as well prepared for the run today as I had been 4 years ago. Last time I did multiple 18 mile training runs, whereas this time I did multiple 12 mile training runs. I think my legs are stronger now (thanks to countless hours of cycling), and at 29 years of age I think I am slightly better suited for endurance events than I was when I was 25. Fortunately, we also had "great" weather today. It was 23˚ at the start and 34˚ at the finish, whereas in 2004 it was -10˚ at the start and +5˚ at the finish.

I must have burned over 4000 calories, so I definitely felt the need for a nap when I got home. It was exhausting, though I was never really in pain, which is a good thing. Many of the runners choose to eat their cupcake after the first loop, but I wanted to save mine until the end. It made the accomplishment that much "sweeter."

Rob enjoying a post-run cupcake (thanks to Eric Smith for the photo)

January 25, 2008

The Winter

This is a photo of some trees at the UIUC Arboretum in the winter.

The Autumn

This is a photo of some trees at the UIUC Arboretum in the autumn.

January 24, 2008

The Bitter Cold

Today was probably the coldest weather in which I have ever bicycled, though not the coldest I have ever felt while bicycling. There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes. It was -2˚ Fahrenheit when I left this morning for physical therapy (right shoulder) on the other side of town.

I am the proud owner what could possibly be the greatest invention of all time, Gore-Tex socks. When I wear these things over my regular socks my feet never get cold, no matter how cold or windy it is, and they stay very dry unless I happen to be wading in water for a significant duration of time. I was very sad when I discovered a couple of weeks ago that I misplaced one of my treasured Gore-Tex socks. Since that time I've had to get by simply wearing multiple layers of regular socks.

Today was a 3 sock pair day. My shoes would barely fit me and it didn't even work. My toes were frozen by the time I arrived at my destination. It was then that I resolved to do whatever it took to find my missing Gore-Tex sock. When I got home I looked through all my drawers, behind the washer & dryer, under the bed, all to no avail. Finally, out of desperation, I searched the garage and I found the missing sock in the trunk of Iris (our car). It was still dirty from whenever I last wore it.

At one point during the day Melissa mentioned to me that the UIUC weather page listed the current weather conditions as "bitterly cold." I could not have agreed more.

And apparently I'm not the only one. On the coldest of winter days, generally when the wind is blowing from the west, I'm joined at my east-facing office window by several small black and brown birds. They fly up to the 5th floor of my building and take shelter from the harsh winds. I don't think they can see clearly through the tinted windows, though they are startled by sudden motion. If I approach very slowly I can often come within inches of them without them noticing my presence. I managed to snap a few pictures today.

January 23, 2008

The Practice Leave

This morning on my way to work I had a practice leave. What is a practice leave, you ask? A practice leave is when you get your stuff ready and head out the door, only to realize you forgot something and have to go back inside to get it. It's when the first leave doesn't really take... it's just practice. The next leave is the real deal.

This morning it was the little reflective straps I wear around my ankles while bicycling to keep my jeans from getting caught in the bike chain. I wouldn't have gotten very far without them. In the past I've left without my wallet, keys, bike helmet, bike lock, bike headlight, bike taillight, computer, gloves, hat, glasses, you name it.

I've done this literally dozens of times. It's slightly embarrassing when I walk back inside only to hear Melissa shout "Practice leave!" at me. I've gotten to the point where I now preemptively shout "Practice leave!" before she gets the chance.

The Frozen Pond

For 5 years Melissa and I had a pond in our back yard at our old house in Champaign. Once or twice a year it would freeze over solid enough to support the weight of an adult human and I would go ice skating. Well, more accurately, I would spend an hour on the frozen pond in ice skates shoveling a path through the snow... then I would skate for a few minutes.

Rob shoveling snow off the frozen pond in 2003

Friends Aimee and Brett skating on the frozen pond in 2003

Now we no longer have the pond, but our friends Cara & John (and our other friend Jeff) live on the very same pond. We had dinner tonight at their house and spent a few minutes out on the ice afterwards. Fortunately there was not much snow, so no shoveling was required. Unfortunately we only had a single pair of skates, so only two of us actually skated. Others walked out onto the ice and slid around a little bit.

Rob and Elliott stepping out onto the ice

Little Miss Claire and John walking across the frozen pond

January 22, 2008

The Fudge

My Grandma Bassett goes all out cooking desserts for family holiday gatherings. Here is a close up of her famous fudge.

The Armory Loop

Tonight, like every Tuesday night during the winter months (e.g. standard time), the Second Wind running club meets at the Armory on the campus of the University of Illinois for a fun run. A few people stay indoors to run laps on the 200 meter track, but many people venture outdoors to run a 5.75 mile loop through town.

I took my GPS with me this evening to get a good map of the route I've been running for years. I used Mathematica to import and plot my GPS data on top of images from Google Maps.

Here is a map of the Armory loop with mile markers:

And here is a map of the Armory loop with kilometer markers:

January 21, 2008

The Na Pali Coast

Melissa and I hiked along the Na Pali coast of the island of Kauai while visiting Hawaii for the wedding of Melissa's sister Michelle in May 2006. If you don't ever get a chance to see its beauty in person, at least check it out in Google Earth.

January 20, 2008

The Remote Timer

Canon makes a SLR camera remote timer that sells for a couple hundred dollars. Using inspiration from various web sites I built one for myself using about $15 worth of parts from RadioShack.

First, it is a simple wired camera remote control. Just plug the cable into the remote jack on the Canon SLR camera and the black button on top will trigger the camera auto focus, while the red button will focus then take a picture.

Second, it is a timer than can be used for time lapse photography. A 9-volt source (battery or DC adapter) powers a circuit I built using a 555 timer and a 6-way rotary switch where each way is hooked up to different resistors. Switching between these different resistors varies the timer interval. The timer triggers a relay switch at specified intervals which causes the camera to take pictures. It is based on the astable 555 timer circuit described here. I used the following capacitor and resistors:

  • C = 3300 µF
  • R1 = 1000 Ω
  • R2 = 620 Ω (~5 second delay)
  • R2 = 2670 Ω (~15 second delay)
  • R2 = 10000 Ω (~48 second delay, I just realized I calculated this one incorrectly, as I intended for it to be 30 seconds)
  • R2 = 15000 Ω (~1 minute delay)
  • R2 = 65000 Ω (~5 minute delay)
  • R2 = 200000 Ω (~10 minute delay)

Here are some photos of the actual device:

Okay, so the innards are a little sloppy. This was my first real electronics project. The soldering took some practice, and I actually hosed my first circuit board and had to start it over.

Here is a simple example of the sort of thing this timer allows me to do. I set it up to take a picture of a glass of ice cubes every minute for a couple of hours (i.e. until the battery in my camera ran out).

Ah, stupid YouTube! The aspect ratio is wrong, but you get the idea.

The Cars

My little nephew Caleb loves Cars. Here he is playing Cars with uncle Andy on our recent trip to Texas for the holidays.

January 19, 2008

The Schroth Trail

This morning I ran with a group of Buffalo Warriors, a C-U area trail running group affiliated with Second Wind Running Club. We ran at Schroth Trail on the south side of the Sangamon river in Allerton Park. We traversed the 5.9 mile loop twice in 5˚ weather. In the photo you can see how much ice accumulated on my beard and hair.

The last time I ran this trail was almost exactly 4 years ago, a month or so before I injured my left knee. As was the case today, that run was also 1 week before the world renowned Riddle Run, my first and only (thus far) ultramarathon.

This trail is also special to me in that I ran there frequently my freshman year at UIUC with the cross country team. One September Sunday morning we did a 16 mile long run on this trail in 1:40:00 (6:15 miles), which is faster than I ran 11.8 miles today, and probably remains one of my best long runs ever.

Unfortunately, my little GPS didn't do a very good job in the dense forest. The two paths should be identical :(

January 18, 2008


I made that software. That's what I said to Melissa as I was watching NUMB3RS tonight. Several people at Wolfram Research work as math consultants for the CBS show and they frequently make use of Mathematica related props on the show. In the past they have shown copies of the Mathematica book, A New Kind of Science, and various posters created with Mathematica.

Tonight one of the main characters Charlie was using Mathematica (on Mac OS X even). Okay, so some of the footage may or may not have been special effects, but Mathematica was there. My software was there.

The Expo

Today is the final day of the 2008 Macworld Expo in San Francisco. I did not attend Macworld this year, but I always find the expo exciting nonetheless.

In January 2001 I began working full time for Wolfram Research, where I was charged with porting Mathematica to the soon-to-be-released Mac OS X operating system. My 3rd week of work I was sent to attend a workshop at Apple's headquarters in Cupertino, where they were to provide me with assistance in this process.

The workshop took place the week following the 2001 Macworld Expo and it worked out that I was able travel to California a few days early to catch the tail end of it. This was my first trip to Apple/Cupertino/Macworld/San Francisco/California so it was a big deal to me at the time.

I toured the hundreds of vendor booths at the expo and saw lots of great technology demonstrations. I purchased a laptop bag which I still use to this day. I also purchased my first and shortest-lived digital camera. It was a real piece of crap, but I got what I paid for...

After the expo I did some sight seeing in San Francisco before taking the train down to Cupertino. I still remember walking downtown, taking my first trolley ride, running through Chinatown, seeing Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge for the first time.

I have been back to San Francisco on a number of occasions since then and every time I go there I discover something new. San Francisco has become one of my favorite places to explore, and the Macworld Expo is what brought me there.

January 17, 2008

The Ridge

Melissa and I took a trip to Olympic National Park in Washington state for our honeymoon. This photo was taken by a passer by at Hurricane Ridge in July, 2001.

January 15, 2008

The Local News

Good friend Aimee and her mother were on local television this morning to discuss the website they created called What Friends Do.  A goal of the site is to help friends and family members organize in the midst of a life changing event.

The First Taste of Cake

Yes, Melissa already posted this, but this kid is just too cute.

The Calendar

Melissa and I created a calendar for 2008. Each month has pictures we took in the corresponding month of our year living in Nicaragua.

If you would like a copy of the calendar you can download the the PDF file here.

The World's Thinnest Notebook

I want, though in all honesty I would have preferred a smaller screen.

January 14, 2008

The Night Ride

Four brave souls (myself included) showed up tonight for PCC's winter Monday night ride. We did 18 miles in 18 degree weather as we nearly circumnavigated Champaign-Urbana. I was able to put my new Fenix LED flashlight to good use illuminating the road.

January 13, 2008

The South Farms

I took an inadvertent stroll down memory lane this evening... dirty, smelly, memory lane. I speak of course of the South Farms, a tract of University of Illinois property just south of campus where the college of agriculture does its research.

I did a 12 mile run after we returned from Rockford. Ever since my knee surgery 3 years ago I have only a limited tolerance for running on pavement, so I try to stick to running on grass and dirt as much as possible. Fortunately, we live only a block away from the arboretum, which has a nice 1.5 mile cross country loop. Knowing that I wanted to do a longer run I chose to expand this evening's route to include the nearby south farms and Meadowbrook park. I was able to stay entirely on grass except when crossing 3 streets.

Incidentally, this was also the farthest run I've done in the last 3 years. I may yet return to my former half, full, and ultra-marathoning glory.

As for the south farms, I haven't run there in 11 years. In the fall of 1996 I was on the UIUC (men's) cross country team, and we practiced at the south farms at least 4 times per week. There is a 3000 meter loop around some of the corn & bean fields where we did both easy and hard training runs, both short and long distances. Most frequently we did it as part of an easy (and by "easy" I mean 6:40 miles) 4 mile wake-up run at 6:30 am on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. Yes, this was in addition to the afternoon practices.

In order to get to this loop from campus we needed to pass near the pig sty and endure just about the worst smell imaginable for 100 meters or so. Fortunately, in the past few years the pigs have been moved further off campus and this particular area of the south farms is more tolerable to the senses.

I remembered stretching next to the metal fence that separates the fields from a little gravel road. I remembered a particular 14 mile Sunday run early in the fall, which at the time was the farthest I had run in my 17 years. I remember a 5k practice race runners 10-14 (I was 12) did some Saturday while runners 1-9 were away at a race. I believe this was the fastest 5k I ever ran but I don't even remember the exact time. It was just a tad over 16 minutes.

Tonight's 28 degree temperature and gusting wind did little to distract me from reliving some of my glory days. I doubt it will be another 11 years before I make it back to the south farms.

The Blandest Food I've Ever Eaten

Plain lima beans.  I love you Melissa.

The Forecast

I checked the weather forecast before we left for Rockford this weekend to celebrate little Logan's 1st birthday. All Saturday night there was a 30-60% chance of "snow showers." I decided at the last minute to pack my cross country skis into Iris (our car).

I gambled.

I lost.

It didn't snow more than a few flurries. There was zero accumulation. There was no chance to ski. I did take some grief for this from Melissa's family, though it was all in good fun. I can only assume it would have snowed inches upon inches had I left the skis at home. Better to be prepared, I guess.

January 12, 2008

The Scariest as Hell

This morning while driving on North Allen Road in Peoria:

    Melissa: This is a bike route?
    Rob: I've ridden on this road before.
    Melissa: Was it scary as hell?
    Rob: Well, not the scariest as hell.
    Melissa: What was the scariest as hell? Tell me your scariest moment on a bike for each of 3 different categories: traffic, weather, and terrain.
That was a rather elaborate question to be made up on the spot, but here goes...

Scariest traffic related moment. This took a bit of thought and I even surprised myself with the answer. It took place neither in San Fransisco nor in Chicago, but very close to home in Champaign. Mattis Ave north of I-74 is a zoo. The roads are narrow and people drive like maniacs. One particular ride on that section of road I think holds the record for the rate at which idiot drivers passed within inches of hitting me for no apparent reason.

Scariest weather related moment. Spring weather in central Illinois is fairly ridiculous. One Wednesday evening during a ride a tornado rapidly approached my group as we were riding between Sadorus and Ivesdale. We were warned by some motorists and we hastily took shelter at the first house we saw. An older couple was nice enough to let our entire group stay in their garage until the worst part passed over, at which point it was dark and still a little nasty so we all had to call for rides home.

Scariest terrain related moment. This was the last mile to the visitor center at Mauna Kea, on the big island of Hawaii. After having ridden almost 40 miles of steep uphill from sea level I was at 8000 ft of elevation looking up a 17% grade on a rented road bike with relatively high gearing. I really struggled that last mile, but I finally made it to the end of the paved road on the highest mountain in Hawaii. Then I turned around. It had started to rain at this point and at 9000 ft it was much colder than it was at sea level. Looking down this incredibly steep hill, scared shitless, I wondered to myself how I was ever going to make it back down. I had very little confidence in the soft brakes on the rented bike. In the end I declined to descend Mauna Kea and put the bike in the car Melissa was driving behind me.

The Comedian

My parents (in conjunction with my brother, who sells event tickets) were kind enough to give Melissa and I tickets to a Jerry Seinfeld performance for Christmas.  Being big fans of his former television program, we were relatively excited about the prospect of seeing him live.  The performance was last night and it didn't disappoint.

Unfortunately, Seinfeld was clearly not feeling very well.  His voice was incredibly hoarse, he as coughing and blowing his nose.  At first the hoarse voice was distracting but I got used to it, and it even cleared up a little bit by the end.  He was a real trooper, though.  He performed for over an hour in front of a sold out 2000 person theater crowd in Peoria.

He was very good, perhaps too much so.  The person sitting behind us shouted "It's true, it's true" at least 10 times during the performance.  Seinfeld was very animated, much more so than I was expecting.  There was lots of gesturing and arm waving.  Apparently I was thinking that at 53 years of age he would be in a wheelchair or something.  I was wrong.

Tom Papa was the opener.  I had never actually heard of him before, but he was amusing.

January 10, 2008

The First Ride of 2008

I tend to struggle with down time.  I would generally always prefer to be doing something rather than nothing.  It is this tendency that often leads me to plan more activities than any mortal could hope to accomplish, mostly out of fear and loathe of wasting a few moments.

Last week Melissa and I drove to Dallas to spend the New Year holiday with my two brothers who live in that area, their families, and my folks who flew in as well.  Our tiny car was packed full of clothes, presents, and of course, my bike, the Thundercougarfalconbird.  We met my 3 week old niece and saw my 2 year old nephew for just the second time.  The festivities were joyous and a great time was had by all.

I found an hour of down time on Wednesday afternoon.  It was incredibly cold, colder than it should be in Texas (even in January).  It was getting dark, and the Dallas rush hour traffic was picking up.  I had plenty of reasons not to go, but I couldn't bear the thought of having driven 900 miles with my bike in the back of the car and not getting in a single ride.  So I rode.

Riding in a strange place is always fun, but I was a little more apprehensive about this ride.  The arterial roads were narrow and busy.  The residential roads didn't seem to go very far.  Fortunately, as I made my way out of my brother's neighborhood I came across a newish housing development, which wasn't on the map.  It had good roads and not a lot of traffic.  I was surprised that after I wound through this neighborhood for a while the road connected to the next subdivision, then the next, then the next.  Before I knew it I had gone 7-8 miles through residential neighborhoods and I was out of time.  I found a good turnaround point when I reached a lake, then retraced my path back home.  I got 15 or so miles in for the first ride of 2008. I didn't freeze. I didn't get run over.  Mission accomplished.

I always find signs that state the obvious to be amusing.

The route.  Google's satellite imagery is a little out of date for this area.

 There were some small rolling hills, but the total elevation change was less than 100 ft.

January 8, 2008

The Rob Song

I was 19 years old in the summer of 1998. I spent the previous summer working as a staff member for the Appalachia Service Project (ASP), a non-profit organization which provides free emergency home repair to low income families and individuals living in central Appalachia. I was beginning my second summer working for the project.

It begins with staff training. Roughly 80 college aged strangers gather to spend a couple weeks learning to run a (hopefully) successful 8 week summer program. We learned virtually all aspects of home construction and repair. We learned to operate and care for very large, very old, donated trucks and vans (the daily vehicle maintenance checklist was referred to as "garanimals", due to the color coded dip sticks and caps painted by our mechanic). We learned how to work with high school aged volunteers (Vs) and their adult group leaders (GLs). We learned how to buy and manage massive amounts of construction supplies and food.

And we got to know each other. These 80 or so people would soon be separated into groups of 4 by the ASP summer program leaders (Admin). After training each group of 4 staffers would head out to a separate county in either Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, or Tennessee.

In those days it was customary for each person to do some sort of creative introduction to help the others summer staffers get to know them better. I was rather partial to music, so I wrote a song about myself. And the legend was born.

The verses were just descriptive statements I made up on the spot:

F        C
I'm 19 years old
    F         C
and I'm from Illinois
F       C
I go to school at the
Dm                G
University of Illinois


Clever how I rhymed Illinois with Illinois, huh. The chorus on the other hand was simple, catchy, memorable.

F          G
My name is Rob
C          Am
My name is Rob
F              G
For crying out loud
My name is Rob

When I performed my introduction song, I was very surprised that by the end, when I had already sang the chorus a few times, other people started joining in. "My name is Rob, my name is Rob, for crying out loud my name is Rob..." It's better with music. Trust me.

At the end of the summer, when the program had ended and we all gathered together again, people were still singing The Rob Song. The next summer I went back to work for ASP, and by popular request I sang The Rob Song for my introduction. During the school year and in the years since I graduated from college and got a job I still occasionally meet with my ASP friends, and they still talk about the song. People who have worked for ASP since then, whom I've never met, know me from hearing other people sing The Rob Song.

For crying out loud.