Perfectly Good Airplane

Yesterday, I jumped out of a perfectly good airplane. A coworker’s, Mike, birthday was yesterday and to celebrate, we went skydiving. It was Mike, me, two other coworkers, Aaron and Michael, and a friend of Mike’s. Aaron’s wife and later another coworker came to watch. We went to Skydive Oregon in Molalla, which is thirty minutes south of Portland.

First, we filled out a lengthy waiver. It basically said that they had no liability. I joked that they could kill us as long as they used a parachute. I thought it was interesting that the people involved in the actual jump were independent contractors. I handed an envelope contained cash to my tandem partner. We had a short training class which mainly involved being told what to do or not to do. Then, we waited some more while two plane loads went skydiving. One had a formation skydiving group. We could see from the ground them leave the plane as a group and stay in formation until they burst apart and opened their parachutes.

It was our turn. We got fitted into the harness which was like a beefy climbing harness. The harness was pretty snug and hard to walk in. We climbed into the plane, a Twin Otter. For the first 1000 feet, we were belted in. Our partners attached their harness to our harnesses. I was the second group out of the plane. Mike, the birthday boy, went first. He sat on the edge before going maybe to make it easier for the cameraman who had climbed out first. It was difficult to walk to the door and stand on the edge. Partially from fear and partially from being strapped to somebody else.

I didn’t really jump, it was more like falling outwards. We tumbled upside down for a little bit before assuming the belly first position. Freefall is hard to describe. The wind was really ferocious; I couldn’t bend my head down because the wind would get under the googles. I didn’t really look around and was focused on the ground getting closer. I didn’t feel like I was falling or weightless except for the first couple of seconds.

My partner pulled the ripchord and deployed the parachute. There was a sudden sensation of gravity as the harness went taut. A strap that was at the level of my chest came up to my neck and almost choked me. Once we were stable, he released the tension on the strap so it stopped choking but it was still in an annoying position. He handed me the toggles, which are straps to control the chute. I was able to turn the chute to face the field. As we turned, I was able to see five of the Cascade volcanos, from Rainer to Jefferson. I was also able to see the rest of our group circling underneath.

We came in right over the middle the field and skimmed the ground. I was told to keep my legs up since landing the butt is the standard way with an option to do a standup landinge. At the last minute, I was told to put my legs down but we ended up falling over. We were the last tandem group down although the solo jumpers later in the plane took a while to land.

My ears were plugged up for the rest of the day, like from a plane flight. But it was a really fast descent. It was a fun experience and I am glad I did it. I am not sure if I would do it again. A solo skydive must be a very different experience with your life in your hands. A tandem was very much like being a confined passenger.

Fedora Caching Proxy

I already have a mirror of Fedora Core current release and updates to make updates and installing packages faster. I have been doing more development recently which means installing Extras and Rawhide package. I wanted to have a mirror of those but didn’t want to have a complete mirror and do the large rsync updates every day. Instead, I setup a reverse proxy with a large cache.

Enable proxy module:

a2enmod proxy

Edit /etc/apache2/mods-enabled/proxy.conf:

    ProxyPass /pub/fedora/extras http://download.fedora.redhat.com/pub/fedora/linux/extras
    ProxyPassReverse /pub/fedora/extras http://download.fedora.redhat.com/pub/fedora/linux/\extras

    ProxyPass /pub/fedora/development http://download.fedora.redhat.com/pub/fedora/linux/co\re/development
    ProxyPassReverse /pub/fedora/development http://download.fedora.redhat.com/pub/fedora/l\inux/core/development

    CacheEnable disk /pub/fedora/extras
    CacheRoot /var/cache/apache2/proxy
    CacheSize 100000
    CacheMaxFileSize 1000000000
    CacheGcInterval 4
    CacheMaxExpire 24
    CacheLastModifiedFactor 0.1
    CacheDefaultExpire 1

Restart Apache.

/etc/init.d/apache2 restart

Now, http://kraken.dyndns.org/pub/fedora/extras/ is a proxy mirror. It is limited to machines on my local network. It isn’t perfect since the files are stored in the cache directory. And it uses the master download site instead of a list of mirrors. The ideal would be a cache that used the files in a normal directory hierarchy. And could rotate between a list of mirrors.

Trains, Boats, and Bridges

I went for a bike ride today which turned out to be more interesting than normal. I took the same route I usually do, north on the Springwater Trail along the river to downtown. There are train tracks next to the trail and I encountered a steam train. I had seen this locomotive before; the preservation society occassionally hosts rides. In winter, I got some pictures from my apartment while it was snowing. Today, it went right past me.

There were dragon boat races going on downtown. There seemed to be a swarm of pleasure boats on the river. I saw both the Steel Bridge and Hawthorne Bridges raised to let boats through. I never seen both of them raised on the same day.

Also, some Navy and Coast Guard ships were visiting Portland like there do every year. There was a Coast Guard cutter, a Canadian frigate, two US frigates, and two US destroyers. They were giving tours but there was a long line for the tours.

Read More »

Grand Floral Parade

Yesterday, I went to the Grand Floral Parade for the first time since I have been in Portland. I met up with a coworker, Tim, and his wife Nariyo. We found a place downtown near the end of the parade where a coworker’s wife had gotten up early to get a spot to sit. We laggards had to stand in the back but still had a good view. I heard that a total of half million spectartors where there. I would believe it since the street was filled with people.

The parade was somewhat like the Rose Parade in that the floats were covered in flowers and other natural products. Every float seemed to have won an award. Some of them were pretty good; I like one which a bigfoot taking a bath. In addition, there were marching bands, including a lively one with adults, a bagpipe band, and a high school band from Portland’s sister city in Taiwan. There were equestian riders, the always interesting pooper scoopers following behind, a group of tired dancers from Taiwan, various dignataries, old cars, and lots of people having fun even though they had walked a few miles.

Pledge

I really need to post more often to this thing. In the last month, I went to Hawaii, Astoria, and took lots of pictures. My new resolution is to post something every day. Most of them will be retrospective, links to elsewhere, computer-releated, and boring.

Poker Bot

Today, I won a (small) tournament of poker bots against coworkers. The bots played one-card poker. One coworker wrote the server in Ocaml. We had the tournament/party has my coworker Aaron’s house.

I wrote a client in Ruby which could be used to make bots with different strategies. I came up with four acceptable strategies. The one that I entered and won calculated the optimum bet from the pot odds. The best strategy, which I didn’t enter, estimated the other bot’s card from its bet. That bot beats one counter-strategy bot which the optimum had trouble with.

32-bit Firefox on Fedora

One complaint I hear about Fedora on x86_64 is that Flash and Java plugins can’t be used with the 64-bit Firefox because they only are available as 32-bit. I don’t normally need those plugins at home but I can see how people would want them.

I discovered that the easiest way to install 32-bit Firefox (and other 32-bit programs) is to make new i386-specific versions of the repositories. The only problem is that the mirror lists uses the architecture and can’t be used. Notice that I have them disabled by default but they can enabled in yum with –enablerepo.

/etc/yum.repos.d/fedora-core-i386.repo:

[core-i386]
name=Fedora Core $releasever - i386
baseurl=http://download.fedora.redhat.com/pub/fedora/linux/core/$releasever/i386/os/
#mirrorlist=http://fedora.redhat.com/download/mirrors/fedora-core-$releasever
enabled=0
gpgcheck=1
gpgkey=file:///etc/pki/rpm-gpg/RPM-GPG-KEY-fedora file:///etc/pki/rpm-gpg/RPM-GPG-KEY

/etc/yum.repos.d/fedora-updates-i386.repo:

[updates-i386]
name=Fedora Core $releasever - i386 - Updates
baseurl=http://download.fedora.redhat.com/pub/fedora/linux/core/updates/$releasever/i386/
#mirrorlist=http://fedora.redhat.com/download/mirrors/updates-released-fc$releasever
enabled=0
gpgcheck=1
gpgkey=file:///etc/pki/rpm-gpg/RPM-GPG-KEY-fedora

/etc/yum.repos.d/fedora-extras-i386.repo:

[extras-i386]
name=Fedora Extras $releasever - i386
baseurl=http://download.fedora.redhat.com/pub/fedora/linux/extras/$releasever/i386/
#mirrorlist=http://fedora.redhat.com/download/mirrors/fedora-extras-$releasever
enabled=0
gpgkey=file:///etc/pki/rpm-gpg/RPM-GPG-KEY-fedora-extras
gpgcheck=1

Then, once those are all setup, do:

yum --enablerepo=\*-i386 install firefox.i386

The firefox.i386 will can even be installed at the same time as firefox.x8664. The /usr/bin/firefox script will run the 64-bit firefox. Either remove firefox.x8664 package, or make a new binary (/usr/bin/firefox-32) without the lines referencing /usr/lib64.

New Toy: Bluetooth GPS

Welcome to 45° 28′ 18″ N, 122° 39′ 11″ W. I got a new toy this week, a GlobalSat BT-338 Bluetooth GPS unit. It is basically a matchbox-sized brick with a couple of LEDs, a GPS receiver, and Bluetooth radio.

It looks like it is all batter, with one that is supposed to last all day. It also seems to be more sensitive than my old Garmin GPS-12XL, and got a signal inside a building, in my pocket, in my bag, and under trees while raining, all places where the old receiver had problems. I had tried connecting my old receiver to my old Clie PDA through a serial cable but that wasn’t practical.

My Treo can connect to it by Bluetooth and programs can get their position. I have been using Mapopolis for mapping, and Cetus GPS for general GPS routes and tracks. The routing and driving directions with Mapopolis seems to work well and it has the ability to reroute from the current GPS position.

Rant: Memory Card Formats

A couple of weeks ago, I went to the store to get a larger memory card for my camera. On my Vancouver trip, I forgot my extra cards and ended up having to delete pictures from the full card.

I ended up getting a 1 GB xD card. When I got home, I put it in the camera and discovered that my camera won’t recognize the card. Some googling found that my camera, an Olympus C-755, can’t handle the new 1 GB xD cards. How they could produce cameras for a relatively new format that couldn’t handle that size I don’t know.

Luckily, I was able to return it and get a 512 MB card. 512 MB seems to be the largest card that my camera will ever handle. And since xD is a proprietary format only used by Olympus and Fuji, it is likely that my next camera will use a different format. Also, the xD cards are twice as expensive as other formats. For the cost of the 1 GB xD card, I could have gotten a 2 GB SD card. The xD cards are also noticably slower than the SD card I use in my Treo.

I had run into a similar problem with my old Sony Clie SJ-30 and its Memory Stick. The early Memory Sticks were limited to 128 MB and that is the biggest size the Clie I gave to my brother will take.

Wildlife 2

The second wildlife encounter was with an animal in the chimney. As I was getting ready for work, I heard a banging in my chimney like an animal had gotten trapped. I opened the damper but it hung on and didn’t fall down. Figuring I would deal with it later, dead or alive, I closed the damper and went to work.

That evening, I prepared to catch it by putting a bucket underneath for the expected rodent. Instead, what dropped down was a bird. The starling then flew around my apartment sending ash everywhere. It finally flew out after I turned on the outside light.