Boulder Creek in August

Boulder Creek

I know it's September already, but I took this on August 26th.

more ...

Angry Clouds

Betasso

Seen today from Betasso Preserve on my bike ride. There was no rain or visible lightning, but there was some wind and thunder.

more ...

Boulder Creek in July

Boulder Creek

The water has started to get lower, somewhat.

more ...

Boulder Canyon

Boulder Canyon

In yesterday’s post, I mentioned that Rocky Mountain National Park is less than an hour away by car. Having the park so close is certainly a good reason to visit it often. However, there is stuff like this (below) in Boulder Canyon, which is only about 15 minutes away from our place by bicycle. This picture is from this morning's mountain bike ride. I guess what I'm really trying to say is, this is a nice place to live and do stuff outdoors!

more ...

Some Rocky Mountain NP Pics

Twice in the last two weeks we have visited Rocky Mountain National Park. A while ago we realized "Hey! We live less than an hour from a National Park! We should visit it more often." And so we are trying to do that. Two weeks ago we went with Melissa's brother, Matt, and his lady friend, Kelly. Today it was just the two of us. Here are some pictures from the two visits.

Kelly, Matt and Melissa

Kelly, Matt and Melissa

The view from Trail Ridge Road

The view from Trail Ridge Road

A trail winding through the Aspens

A trail winding through the Aspens

Melissa and Stephen and some rocky peaks

Melissa and Stephen and some rocky peaks

more ...

Two Seasons of Flatirons

Summer Flatirons

Above as seen this morning. Compare to January:

Winter Flatirons

more ...

Walker Ranch Panorama

Walker Ranch Panorama

This view is from Walker Ranch taken today, roughly in the center of this map looking south. If you look to the upper right, you can see a few rail cars on the railroad tracks. The tracks lead to the high altitude Moffat Tunnel.

more ...

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – Hard Promises

I just love the anachronism that is the cover of this album. I'm not talking about the plaid shirt Tom Petty is wearing (which is in fact cool again thanks to hipsters), or his leather jacket. No, I'm looking at the racks of records in the background, and especially the display stand of 45 single records. No doubt the goal of the photo was to put Tom in a cool and hip situation, and I say "mission accomplished!". Styles are cyclical, and LP records are presently cool (this time only partly thanks to hipsters, but also to luddites who like the sound of analog music), but 45 singles are much more rare now. My theory is that the kind of person who will get up out of their seat to change or flip a LP, instead of clicking a mouse a couple times, is not someone who would buy just a song or two from an artist. They buy the whole album and listen to it while drinking their microbrews and eating non-pasteurized cheeses. Single-song purchasers are the ones who now go to iTunes and download the latest hot single from the latest generic pop music sensation.

On to the actual content of the album Hard Promises by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (TPatHs). I've been a fan of TPatHs for a while, so I had already heard many of the songs on this album. There are a few weaker songs (like "Insider") but overall the songs are entertaining. It's typical TPatHs. I have, in fact, actually seen TPatHs live, in Atlanta, of all places. I can say that Mike Campbell is an excellent guitarist and that Tom Petty was definitely high during the concert.

One of the stated goals of this project is to see how popular music has changed over my lifetime. TPatHs are kind of a counter-example to this. TPatHs are still making music that doesn't sound all that different from what they were doing 35 years ago. This is not a bad thing, per se, because good music is good music. I will say that if TPatHs have changed, they have gotten less rock-n-roll and a bit more bluesy, but it's not a big change.

In summary, if you like any TPatHs, you should check out this album.

more ...

Van Halen – Fair Warning

Yet again, I've fallen behind on my album schedule, so this will be brief. Fair Warning by Van Halen, hasn't made much of an impression upon me.

more ...

Boulder Creek in June

Boulder Creek in June

Yes, that is my gauche shadow.

more ...

Kim Carnes – Mistaken Identity

I was going to accuse Kim Carnes of being a one-hit wonder with "Bette Davis Eyes" (which went to #1 on the charts, is the lead track of Mistaken Identity and the only song I had heard from this album previously), but I suspect that's because her main genre is Country, and I never listen to Country. She is apparently very prolific and is active even today as a producer with the popular act Kings of Leon.

But the fact that she's not a one hit wonder doesn't change the (other) fact that I generally found this album to be merely fine. Not at all terrible, but not interesting to me. To her credit she has an excellent singing voice, the music is not slipshod, and the lyrics are not nonsensical, but it just didn't appeal to me. My recommendation is to skip this album. However, if you do listen to it and you like it, I won't accuse you of having bad taste in music. Now, if you admit to liking Yoko Ono's music...

more ...

My New Amusement Park

Yesterday the Valmont Mountain Bike Park opened up to the public, and today I went over to check it out. The park has been discussed for many years, and developed over the last few, so it's quite a moment for cyclists in Boulder. The park is oriented towards rider development of all ages. Each type of feature, such as cross-country or aerial areas, have options targeted towards riders of all ability levels. And even if you get yourself into something you can't handle, there are bailout options to get around things.

Dirt Jumps in the foreground, Boulder in the background.

Dirt Jumps in the foreground, Boulder in the background.

The park is quite extensive and the designers have taken advantage of all the space they had available. Each trail feature is accessible by shared bike/walk trails, so parents can keep an eye on their kids even if they aren't on a bike. Running down the middle of the park are two irrigation ditches (which is a crude description of them, they are much nicer than that) which splits the park into smaller sections. The smaller sections keeps things more intimate which is good in a park that will tend to get very busy. Nearly all of the single track trails are one way, which is very nice. Right now the vegetation is low so it actually isn't a huge problem, but it is always very startling to come around a corner upon someone coming the other way.

A small section of the park. Click for the full PDF of the trails.

A small section of the park. Click for the full PDF of the trails.

To be honest, much of the park makes me feel like I have no skillz (yes, that's skills with a "z"). Even the Skillz Loop, which is designed to be a place to learn skillz without being pressured by better riders to get out of the way challenges me. I tried most of the trails today, but not all of the technical options, especially stuff like this:

The park has two pump tracks, and I had fun riding one of them (Mesa Top) many times. The other one (Creekside) I did once, but it was very muddy and I didn't want to ruin the pump track or get any dirtier than I was already.

The Mesa Top Pump Park

The Mesa Top Pump Park

I'm really excited about this new facility, and I hope to slowly improve my skillz over time at the park. It's only a couple kilometers away from where we live, so it's really convenient even if I only have an hour free. My only complaint right now about the park is it's clear they haven't quite figured out how to do the drainage from the sprinklers, because there are more than a few muddy spots around the park that contribute to trail destruction at an accelerated pace.

The Corkscrew, with steeply banked corners, viewed from the top.

The Corkscrew, with steeply banked corners, viewed from the top.

The Slopestyle aerial trails area.

The Slopestyle aerial trails area.

Someday this could be me!

Someday this could be me!

more ...

The Closest Non-Intersecting US Interstates

On our recent driving trip to Yellowstone and Montana, I had lots of time to think about random things while behind the wheel. One of them was to wonder of the major US Interstates, which two come the closest without actually intersecting? My guess was that it's some place on the East Coast, but due to my general lack of knowledge of East Coast highways, I had no idea which two it is.

Being a huge dork, I decided to figure it out.

Basically, it's actually not a very difficult thing to figure out. The steps are:

  1. Get the latitude and longitude coordinates for a number of points along each of the interstates.
  2. Determine which interstates intersect and eliminate those pairs.
  3. Put the coordinates for the interstates into a kD-Tree which will perform the search that determines the distance between non-intersecting highways in a fast way.

It turns out that the first step proved to be the hardest. I decided to use the data from the Open Street Map (OSM) project. This is a Google Maps-like website that is editable by anyone in the world, similar to Wikipedia. It will not give you directions like other mapping services, but it contains the geographical location of a wide variety of items, including and importantly (as the name suggests) roads. I looked into using the OSM APIs, but as far as I could tell either the APIs didn't do what I needed in an efficient way, or the servers were down. So I simply downloaded the 82 GB XML (5 GB compressed for download) dataset for the United States.

Begin rant feel free to skip to the next paragraph. I loathe XML. Any time that you have a 82 GB text file (apparently it's 200+ GB for the whole world) as your main distribution method, you're doing something wrong. Doing this project I learned as little about XML as I could to get just what I needed out of the file. Apparently the authoritative data is kept in a real database, but it appears that you can not download the data as a database. They do have a binary format description, but I can't find a link to download the data in that format. Furthermore, the world doesn't need yet another binary format. For example, they do not discuss endianness for their binary format on that wiki page, which is a big issue with binary formats. There are many other quality formats they could use (SQLite or HDF5). The binary format has a distinct Not Invented Here feel to it, which is nearly always a bad thing. Anyway, back to the main point of my rant. I don't care that the 82 GB XML file compresses down to 5 GB. Reading a 82 GB text file when you're searching for just a fraction of that data takes a long, long time, and is completely unnecessary. Every time I encounter XML it wastes my time in myriad ways. This time was no different. End rant

I'll spare you the full details and samples my low-quality Python code, but I munged the interstate data into a SQLite file, which distilled the data from 82 GB to 19 MB. Yes, that's nearly four orders of magnitude smaller. Then I used the much more convenient (and fast) SQLite file to build lists of interstate coordinates, which were fed into the kD-Tree for the nearest neighbor searches. The results are shown below. Note that there is no I-50 or I-60, and I eliminated I-45 from consideration because it's entirely within Texas, and therefore is not "major" in my opinion. I eliminated Hawaii's H-1 for the same reason. I have included links to maps showing the great circle between the nearest points of the highways. For highways that intersect, the link goes to one of the (more or less random) points of intersection.

Finally, we can see the answer I was looking for. Interstates 70 and 95 come within 5 kilometers in Baltimore at the terminus of 70, but do not intersect. So my suspicion was correct that it was somewhere in the East, so I have that to feel good about.

Closest approach distances between major interstates in kilometers.
X 95 90 85 80 75 70 65 55 40 35 30 25 20 15 10
5 3338 2877 2826 690 2741 2484 142 1760 1822 910 1237
10 1195 178 544 558 91 321
15 2860 2423 2029 2009 1839 1272 1489 436 1093
20 804 764 615 173 283
25 2185 1730 1653 1453 1239 629 749
30 1062 865 610 758 643 458 486 191
35 1404 985 569 516 358
40 587 550 347
55 806 340 319 37
65 465 101
70 5 152 234 105
75 12
80 413
85 582
90

p.s. If you really, really want to see the code I used for this, I can share it, but I'll have to pull out the hamsters that have taken residence in it. They're attracted to dusty littered places, you know.

more ...

Moose!

Moose

Yesterday I rode my bicycle up Lefthand Canyon Road to Ward (up to 10,000 feet in elevation for the first time in Colorado) and on the way down I saw four Moose. Pictured above are three of them: a standing Juvenile, another sitting, and their mother also sitting a bit farther to the right (the tree is pointing to her). A few hundred meters down the road I saw a bull moose, but I decided to not stop again for pictures because I was already late returning home. Combined with our sightings in Yellowstone last week, I've seen quite a bit of wildlife lately! It certainly beats the month in San Diego a few years ago when I saw (or even worse, only heard) a rattlesnake on every other ride.

more ...

Phil Collins – Face Value

I am a fan of the BBC auto/entertainment show Top Gear. Often the three presenters, Jeremy Clarkson, James May, and Richard Hammond, will be given a humorous challenge which involves accomplishing some ridiculous set of goals with inappropriate vehicles. A couple examples are crossing the Channel in a car-to-boat conversion and "caravanning" in questionably designed and executed homemade car-to-RV conversions. As a bonus to these challenges, often a pair will work together to sabotage the third presenter's car in some humorous way. A favored method is to (permanently using glue) set the radio to loudly play music disliked by the target. In the case of James, it's anything contemporary, and for Richard, it's progressive rock.

Face Value by Phil Collins is solidly in the category of progressive rock, also known as "prog rock", and every time I listened to it I thought about Richard getting stuck listening to prog rock. There are some aspects I like about this album, most notably the lead track "In The Air Tonight", but the things I dislike the most about this album are actually what define prog rock and annoy Richard the most. Things like directionless piano solos and the over-use of synthesizers. It's those songs that made me feel, well, bored, and stuck listening to the music.

Overall, this album isn't anything special, and chances are you've heard the only good song enough times that you can safely skip this album.

more ...