Blogs

Trails of Niagara Cycle - Full Circle

Trail cycling can be a common route choice, or a one time ride and the Greater Niagara Circle Route is among my favourites. It is a well maintained trail with a potential place to stop nearly every 5 kilometers for lunch or a break, meaning if you're not tired yet just roll on to the next stop. It is also separated from urban disturbances along most of the trail, so you can listen to a small portable radio without headphones. I know, most of the cyclists aren't interested in the stop and go or radio when I see them racing down the paved trail - but there are some leisure riders among the people.

What works best for me is to go clockwise around the trails and enjoy the leisurely full kilometer downhill in Thorold/St.Catharines while slowly marching uphill while enjoying the beauty of the Niagara river in the City of Niagara Falls.

Most bike shops in and around the Niagara Region should have all the information that you need about the Niagara Trails system, which routes are universal and which routes are for mountain bikes. This includes Goods Cycle and Sports in Welland, Niagara Cycle Works in Niagara Falls, and Liberty Cycle in St. Catharines.

One of the most controversial things about the circle route is the "Wheels Yield to Heels" Movement, which vandalizes the trail and has some pedestrians blocking the path on occasion. The truth is that they have a right to be angry about some of the "spandex" cyclists that go too fast, and the e-bikes that probably do not belong on the trail. What they need to remember though is that the Region of Niagara built the trail for cyclists. Of course pedestrians and equestrians are welcome, but the funding was really a part of public interest from cyclists for a safe beautiful space, and from motorists that now see a significant reduction in sport cyclists ("spandex") on public roads. If the pedestrians would like a speed limit enforced, I can get behind that. If the pedestrians want to ban bikes from the Niagara cycling trail, I think they need to do their homework.

It can be hard to find relevant information about the trail since the Regional Website and Attractions websites change the information and the URLs so frequently that individuals are the only ones with steady information for travelers. It's no big deal, with every rename comes another revamp.

Hope to see you on the trail this summer.

Easy Way: MIDI Files in Ubuntu

This is THE quick fix for using your MIDI files in Ubuntu. It had frustrated me that all of the bug-reports about Totem not playing MIDI were ignored and shut down in Launchpad without much explanation other than installing Timidity. This is because the error is in Nautilus for Ubuntu presuming that MIDI is supported by default. It is not.

To get it working for now in Totem you have to install the Timidity package along with its extras and daemon. There is another recommended package in Synaptic, it is a good choice to install it too.

Hopefully those still having trouble reliving their 90s midi memories can be served by this brief explanation that covers what Launchpad ignored. Also, go file another bug report about nautilus opening totem for incompatible files, for fun.

Minimalist Camping - Doing More with Less

Depending on your skill level it can be camping season year round. These packing tips will not help you to survive the colds of the arctic or the jungles of Africa, but they will enlighten you. With some easy steps:

1) Multifunction Everything - you have limited space in your backpack, so everything needs to work all day and all night.

Pillowcase - The first big tip is to count your clothes, blanket and sack (blanket bag, not backpack) as one. The sack protects your blanket during the day, but at night can seem useless - but it is actually your pillow now. Stuff your used clothing into the sack and enjoy.

Towel/Blanket - This next tip is not for everyone - replace a summer blanket with a large towel. Some other campers argue that large towels take too long to dry, and that smaller towels are best for being exclusively towels. This isn't about the towel, it is about space. In the summer you could pack two large towels in the same space as the blanket and reduce the load. All the while making Douglas Adams jokes to other campers.

Glasses Cases - Glasses cases are good for keeping sensitive tools inside of, like toothpaste and soap. But I've used them for keeping batteries organized, holding usb/sd tools for photography, or even holding my sunglasses at night so
I can keep them from breaking. The inside isn't the only relevant place - by attaching 3M reflective tape to the outside you can use them as snap markers in a pinch. Another cool hack is adding a mirror finish tape to them for when you really need one.

GPS and Radio - Your car GPS may not be adequate. Your old iPhone cannot always find three towers to triangulate from. But you have a radio to call for help. Technology has seen more convergence than your blanket, and with it we can remove a couple more items from your pack. I had hoped that the Nokia N900 Computer would have included FRS/GMRS along with the satellite GPS, but for now offerings from Magellan and Garmin rank higher. Consider simple multi-mode devices, but don't break the bank trying to save 15 cubic centimeters.

Storing Mirrors - Like rope, a small mirror is the thing that people typically ask "Why?" and then which they had it once you are gone. The mirror is useful for signalling, inspecting bridges on trails, or for most vanity. Ok, ignoring the use of the mirror on yourself there are ways to bring it into your pack as a useful element. Use it as a rollboard for your rope, or attach one to a glasses case.

Rope Pegs or Rollboard - Never forget rope. It is always useful. How you pack it can change how frequently you use it. It is easy to loop and tie it to two or three hard pegs on the outside of your backpack to save space on the inside, but if you feel that keeping things inside the pack is important get a rollboard. Find a flat hard surface, nick a slot in it, wedge the rope and roll. This would be much better with a picture, but is very simple once you know it.

Those are the quick tips off th top of my head, hopefully they help you to pack lighter. Don't forget food.

Palazzo Spa and Salon - Recommended

This will be a brief recommendation, since Alie Balan (of ALieBalan.com) and I had a chance to visit Palazzo in Welland. It was a part of her self-gift for Valentines Day 2010 to experience a pedicure. She chose a couples package and invited me along (which wasn't uncalled for considering my walking ways).

This is where we met local experts Jaelle Force and Sarah Miller, who each had their own approach to mending the bumps and calluses. Alie was impressed by the fanciful polishes and soft feeling after the treatment. My treatment was less cosmetic and more of a recovery situation. After soaking, grinding, and peeling the beaten mess away I discovered why this is an in demand procedure. The lightness and comfort of well adjusted feet must be something that always-on-the go nurses, waitresses, and retail employees see a benefit in. That is why I would like to remind those in construction, food-service, and factory work that they too can benefit... at a price.

If fact, the price was probably the only uneasy part of the procedure. A reasonable price for a luxury treatment, with trained staff, at a reputable place of business. It's just the "Welland Sticker Shock Syndrome", where a normal price in a sea of deals seems out of place. Also, I normally control costs with a DIY mentality, but there is no substitute for skill, and if I tried this at home... "there will be blood" as friends have joked.

Check it out, and ask for Ms.Miller or Mrs.Force by name.

Winters End - When Air Quality in Niagara Sucks

It seems like this time last year I was writing health tips for people in the "cold-cool-cold" temperature swings that tends to make people sick. This year fair weather has prevailed even longer in Niagara, with a steady melt for longer than a week now the dirty shades of grey and brown now peek through across the city.

It's also time to start thinking about when that dust, grime, and dirt gets kicked up by motorists and effects the air quality for pedestrians and cyclists. The obvious answer is to wear a simple mask to filter out unnecessary material large or small, this solution is also a popular anti-allergy strategy in other countries. I mention "in other countries" because Canadians in Niagara tend to think the worst when they see masks. Some examples include the diseased individuals (SARS outbreak), criminals concealing their identity, and painters. Ok, painters aren't bad - but I vaguely remember a joke about how simple masks don't protect from fumes. Simply put masks are an underutilized option.

Another underutilized option is timely clearing of the aggregate material, something that I inquired about last year and discovered is held back due to the fact that we are short on the necessary equipment. Street sweeper trucks move from community to community rather than clearing large roads first. It is a very different system than snow clearing. This could easily change so that the fastest roads with pedestrian walkways are cleared first. On smaller shorter and curvy roads the sand is still a nuisance, but mostly when the wind kicks up or motorists "speed".

The street sweepers work on the roads and seldom complete the work on sidewalks, an especially frustrating point on bridges where buildup has on occasion turned into a slimy mud. The mud may not effect air quality (as much as dry aggregate), but it does effect walkability in Niagara. It is amusing since the walkways do not receive snow clearing or aggregate from the Regional Government, so it is an afterthought when most of it ends up there.

It is not unrealistic to ask for a solution to an artificial problem like this from the same organization that created it. Unfortunately just as you cannot expect roadworks divisions to provide new tires and shocks on a car when they have potholes, you cannot expect them to heal your respiratory problems or wash your dusty clothes because of their untimely service. Is it illegal to own and use your own street sweeper on public roads? Probably.

Get Your Southern Ontario Solar MicroFIT

As it turns out getting your MicroFIT project built is easy when you use the right contractors and suppliers. (edited)

There are a lot of reasons why the MicroFIT program is a great idea for Ontario, as it benefits both the individual and the community. It benefits the individual with the lucrative rate - payable in regular intervals. This money helps to return all funds for construction, like an investment, which is followed by usable money until the end of the contract with the Ontario Power Authority.

The community benefit of the MicroFIT program is simple - more energy, cleaner energy, and a distributed network. Rather than building more power plants this program can supplement a need for energy without destroying additional green spaces and reducing cost overhead related to dealing with protests and opposition on large projects. There are less protests because of the fact that it is clean and safe. Niagara Windpower uses equipment that has been tested by Canadian and international standards agencies like the CSA (Canadian Standards Association) and UL (Underwriters Limited). It also means more energy in your community, reducing the real need to import electricity from outside of the province.

Rebooting the Canadian Arrow Project

As warmer months approach work has restarted on what I have come to call the "Canadian Arrow", the electric refit of my bike. It is an interesting project with a higher cost than standard electric two-wheel vehicles. Higher voltage, stronger parts, smaller footprint, and a much longer range of operation. Its easy to see why, but cost overages in 2009 slowed construction.

I actually derived the "Canadian Arrow" name from that, referencing the Canadian Military Jet project that was far ahead of its time. As advanced as the technology can be if the financial viability fails everything stops. So just as the Arrow of years past had been disassembled so was the bike refit. Unlike the jet - we're getting a reboot. Since I cannot pledge any money of my own into the project until my student debt is repaid there will be sponsors.

Actually, if enough support comes in for my student debt it would free me. The closest thing to a job I've been involved with as of late is a collaboration with a local renewable energy vendor/installer. I'll have more information about how that effects the project when the snow clears.

Apple Products: Defective by Design

Apple has made it to my blacklist. It should be on yours too until they stop making defective products, and I'm not just talking about their yellow screens and broken optical drives. The point currently at issue is their choice to deliberately interfere with the use of their products. You can see a full list of these problems at http://www.defectivebydesign.org a branch of the FSF.

They lock your music down to only their devices. They deliberately make encrypted interface standards so that you can only use their software to connect to devices like the iPod Touch or iPhone. They make "MP3 Players" that do not play MP3s or highest quality FLAC files, or liberated OGG files. Apple also limits a users ability to take ownership of their own work. They impose unnecessary restrictions and threaten to terminate support if you choose to take down these unnecessary barriers.

There are some people out there that already believe they cannot live a quality life without a genuine iPod, you can. You can enjoy music, and video, and use the best compression and have the highest quality video available all without an Apple product.

It may take some time to get a lightweight device with a RISC processor, flat screen, and plays games. No, the Nintendo DS does that and with a simple product from DealExtreme.com you can run your own software without voiding the warranty. Or how about GPS, and YouTube videos alongside all of the features mentioned - use the Nokia N900 - a computer. The Nokia N900 is mostly free and will not punish you for running your own software. Need a phone - use Google's Nexus One. (Although in Canada... I have also blacklisted most of the Mobile Phone vendors)

It's easy to live without the Apple iThing or their software. In fact it is easier, and you will not experience the "Apple Mystery" where it ceases to work and you cannot explain why, but the cost of repair would likely exceed buying a new one.

I believe in the 40 Year Car, the 40 Year Computer, and the 40 Year Phone. As consumers we just have to put a little brainpower behind our choices. It is a no brainer - if you support freedom of use as I do, do not buy an Apple product.

The Internet Runs on Electricity

I understand that I am stating the obvious, although it has become clear that many people don't understand how much electricity. I hope people can understand how much electricity each kilobyte of data requires and how to reduce their electical impact.

The first example I'd like to make is a common one, sending a text message across the room. To some people they believe that it is as simple as bouncing it from your system to theirs within the house - wrong. Lets use MSN or Gtalk from/to Niagara as an example. Your message from send to receive does this:

  1. Packages itself with a header and goes from your PC outbound
  2. Next stop is your ISPs Data-centre, the one that you connect to
  3. Afterward it will bounce across the continent in seemingly random directions - Toronto, Chicago, New York, Erie, Des Moines, Vancouver. Sometimes up to 30 times until it reaches the host for your text messaging service (MSN usually in Washington State, GTalk usually in Colorado)
  4. At their server it will unpack and read your message and its recipient, then repack it from them to your friend. This involves checking to see if your friend is still online sometimes using more bandwidth than the message itself.
  5. The message makes a long journey similar to yours except the connections may be different depending on internet traffic and available data-centres.
  6. It arrives at your ISP and comes back into your house through the modem you power likely through the router that you power to your friends laptop - and lets presume its charging.

Can you tell me how much electricity that used to say "Yo, your fly is down" in this fashion? No, and neither can I without knowing exactly how many bounces there are between you and your text message service. In your own daily use you probably consume between 1-5kWh on data services. Multiply that by the number of households online - constantly pinging and searching and loading. It can be easy to see that data conservation can start at home.

Advertisements don't support your favourite websites - ad agencies do. Ad agencies do business with those looking to adertise. Gone are the days you'll see "NBC, Brought to you by GE". Now we receive ads as part of an arrangement, with contextual linking. If GE manufactured TV parts and supported a TV station - that was classic contextual linking. If ConAgra supported a cooking show - it made sense. Businesses wouldn't touch some things or weren't allowed to - and Wikipedia saves us all the bandwidth by remaining ad free. Which sites would you support ad free, or which companies do you believe should support which sites? This may not change quickly, and if all our ads come from 3rd party agencies it has been easier to block them and save electricity.

We send too much useless data. The organizations that built, organize and run the Internet have a number of interests even though the goal is the same - to communicate. To be efficient we need to communicate clearly and less frequently. Academics, Business Leaders, and Talkative Nobodies are burying themselves in a pile of their own useless information, riddled with barriers larger than the data, or ads - on top of ads. Let me download all of the data and sort through it locally rather than getting lost.

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The same goes for repeat YouTube Viewings, except on a massive scale, as additional systems are needed just to do load balancing between the multiple servers being used by millions of simultaneous users. With HTML5 coming into use, we can all reduce our reliance on the flash applets scattered across the internet.

The same also applies to my website - which is the real reason you don't see unnecessary java applets or flash applets, or music. In fact I even considered getting rid of my profile picture and logo seen at the top and right of the page. Some things need to stay - so I reduced the file sizes long ago to ease bandwidth use.

I'm asking you to let the people you know that the internet is an amazing tool, and let them know that it comes at an unseen price. Much like how a dripping faucet can fill a bucket in less than a day you can help reduce your electrical footprint on the internet by doing simple things.

  1. Don't send a message if you are in the same place. Use your voice.
  2. Opt-out of High-Definition videos and music in favour of compressed video.
  3. Turn off javascript and flash content - if your favourite site cannot fulfill your needs without these tools - ask them to change or make a change elsewhere yourself. (*See Below)
  4. Use RSS to get the media ONCE rather than reloading ad-nauseum.

At first it can be a challenge. The benefit is that you will discover more free time and a more productive online experience than before. As you too will also not be in a "constant ping cycle" for your internet addiction.

* Digg users - use Diggriver.com when you opt out of Java/Flash
Youtube Users - Choose a browser that supports HTML5 and get away from flash @ http://www.youtube.com/html5

Radio Updates - HAM and Commercial (AM/FM)

Now that the process of obtaining my HAM Licence is done I have started to focus on discovering my interests. This includes what is called "Software Defined Radio" and "QRP" a very low power and long range operating mode. Of course there are limitations and I will have to spend some time listening and learning (yes, more of that - if you have a problem with learning you may want to seek help). Other than that, not much to report about the HAM Radio scene.

Commercial Radio, the tool that I use to find music outside of my personal collection of public domain, classical and techno music has been upgraded. My partner Alie (of AlieBalan.com) found my interest in radio devices an excellent fit for the holiday season and found a device that matches a couple of my interests in one gift. A Solar Powered AM/FM/SW Radio - which is a great value.

Since Christmas ended I have toyed around with this radio doing station discovery. I have added a number of AM Radio Stations to my ongoing list. You can still find the list at - http://www.kurtismccartney.com/amradio for more information. I hope to spend some time splitting the list from Daytime, Nighttime, and Anytime Stations.

I have also committed myself to doing station discovery for the True Sport Hunt Club for those members that are disillusioned with the new satellite television receiver in the Northern Camp. This is as much for me as it is for any of the other members.

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