As a long-time (I mean, relatively... I suppose about... 3 years?) blog writer, I know that at least some of you have seen me move lots of times, from alliterationhouse.blogspot.com to nextto666.blogspot.com to sprinttotheend.blogspot.com to cerntainly.blogspot.com to biketotheearth.org... and I thought that I had finally found a more permanent blog home here at fearlesstost.blogspot.com.  I guess not!

Evan and I just finished sort of setting up a WordPress installation on our fearlesstost.com website.  We sort of started building it out during the recent thing-a-day sprint, but we didn't find time to do much more than come up with an overall design for the site.  Presumably the themes on the wiki (at wiki.fearlesstost.com) and the blog (at blog.fearlesstost.com) will be changing to reflect the sort of child-like drawing theme on the main page.  For now, though, we are just happy to have the things up and running!

So it's another blog move.  I didn't even have time to get attached to this blog before now... it's only been about 3 months?  Hopefully blog.fearlesstost.com will last longer.  :)  We'll be migrating these posts to there for posterity's sake... see you there!


diary of an aspiring grad, part ii

There is no time for a haiku!  I want to share the exciting news that I got accepted to UC Berkeley for their PhD program in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science!  And that they will give me full funding, assuming that I maintain good academic standing.  Yeeha!



:D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D


wherever you go...

Lost, oh, my goodness,
Winding beyond the call of...
Anything, really.

We busted out our enormous paper map collection today to see how far we actually went on our bike trip.  Our initial estimate (based on our super old map) was 10,000km for the trip, but as we progressed we realized that we were going somewhat further than that.  During the trip we upped the estimate for the whole shebang to about 11,000km, but we're suspicious that even that is a gross underestimate.

We didn't make it through more than a few days on our mapmyride account, but going through that stack of maps is just heartbreaking.  Our route between Hamburg and Bremmen was about 240km, and according to GMaps the most efficient route (even avoiding highways/taking walking directions) is 110km.  We were so lost.

Anyway, it's fun in a way to do this.  I'm excited to see how the totals finally turn out when we get a bit further with the project!



Bits and bobs get lost,
Scattered at random among
Other things.  But no more!

There are many kinds of trees, but for day 7 today we decided to create an earring tree to hold all my little dangly dudes.  We originally had a plan for a pretty epic metal contraption involving screen door screen, but when I was in the fabric store today I had an epiphany and realized that it would be about 1,000,000 easier to just buy an embroidery hoop and some sexy fabric and stick those suckers through.  We also got some ribbon with little rings sewn in that may be useful for holding necklaces, but since we're not allowed to hang things on the wall yet, anyway, we're holding off on that part.

Also, Fried left this morning!  Sad!  He even did our dishes before leaving.  And he left us with some delicious German chocolate!  If you ever have a chance to host this guy, seriously do it.



What do you get when you combine a $7 painting from Goodwill with $0.07 of craft lace?

Obvious question: just what is that?

Fun is the primary goal of thing-a-day; that said, it also creates a prime opportunity to improve our space in a more practical way. This bargain-basement contraption is none other than our new laundry drying rack. We originally envisioned a freestanding rack with legs (from an ironing board, say) but quickly realized that we could just as easily set this frame across our bathtub.

Which brings me to an important point about thing-a-day (and life in general): simplify where possible. Judging by the semi-official thing-a-day site, this annual creative sprint is not meant to become a second full-time job; half an hour per day is all it takes to build something simple, cool, and possibly functional. (Also remember the famous dictum: form follows function.)



Typing comes later,
For now, markers!  Be a child!
Whimsy does belong.

For day 5, we sat down at Noisebridge to hash out ideas for a website.  We are going, sometime in the hopefully not-too-distant future, to be moving this blog and all of our goodies to fearlesstost.com, and we wanted to come up with a fun site concept together (since Evan did most of the biketotheearth site back in the day).  We managed to pull ourselves out of technical details (writing a blog isn't that hard, anyway) to come up with a fun splash page:

So our blog will be organized into sections: one section for travel (the plane), one for robots (the robot Godzilla), one for our D&D campaign (the Godzilla dragon), one for SF itself (the bridge), one for plants (the island of trees), one for crafts (the craft shop), one for business/resumes (the businessman), one for cycling (the biker chick), one for music (the breakdancing dude), one couchsurfing/warmshowers (the dude on the couch), one for programming (the people on laptops), and one for our kitchen/recipes (the kitchen).  We felt that the whiteboard-like theme was representative of the fact that we feel our site isn't really going to be "refined."

We cleaned it up and are posting it on fearlesstost.com.  The links don't go anywhere yet, but it's a start.  (p.s. in the image below, the grey boxes just mean that it's transparent)


memories of up north

San Francisco is a beautiful city, but there's one thing it's not exactly known for: snow. Last time snow graced the skies above SF: 1976. Last time before that: 1887. What are two relative newcomers from places with real winters to do?

Okay, so maybe not as fun to play with as real snow - but these snowflakes are a welcome addition to our studio apartment!



Sand slips twixt fingers,
They pause, examine a rock,
Tracing changing waves.

Thing-a-day day 3: Zen rock garden!  It was a fairly quick project (I guess they're supposed to all be, but we have some more involved things planned); basically we took a bike ride to the beach and got some sand, then borrowed some rocks from planters around the area, broke a comb in half and bent every other tooth back to make it function as a rake, and arranged our garden in an eye-pleasing manner.  The dish was something we got at Goodwill for $4.49, and the rest of the stuff was free.  Yay!

In other news, we had a Couchsurfer arrive today!  He is our second.  His name is Fried, and he's a high school student from Germany who recently graduated and is thinking about studying computer science.  He seems bright enough... and we'll try to indulge his leanings with some tours around the Valley tomorrow.


Two of them, actually. This is our thing-a-day project for Feb. 2: DM screens designed for an Internet-based D&D campaign we have planned. Pics below:

We had boatloads of fun drawing and coloring these. Next up: a Zen rock garden! More to come.

xhp + python == xhpy

You can say what you want about the moral/ethical/epistemological/whatever implications of Facebook, but they build some cool stuff - and, to their credit, they open source a lot of it. In that vein, they developed XHP as an extension to PHP that allows developers to use XML literals in PHP code.

Like most things, web development follows fads. Rewind a bit: AJAX was the poster child of next-generation web development. Then it was SOAP and other sundry XML-based services. Location and real-time are currently hot topics among the Web 57.0 crowd. In the process, XML fell out of favor, replaced by fancy new data transport formats like JSON and (for your performance-obsessed backend service writers) flexible cross-language interface definition languages like Thrift and protobuf.

Okay. So XML sucks, blah blah blah. Why would you want to hack support for it into PHP, much less Python?

Let me say this: using XML as a templating language is far, far different from using it as a data transport mechanism. For the latter, it's impossibly verbose. For the former, however, it's incredibly natural; if you've done any web development, you've already been using a (less strictly-validated) version of XML.

Fine. Writing XML is like writing HTML. Why should I care?

  • With XHPy (which, for lack of a better name, is what I'm calling this XHP-Python hybrid), you can write your own tags. It's like an extensible version of HTML without all that XSLT crap, expressed in a relatively natural Pythonic syntax.
  • XHPy takes care of HTML escaping automatically, and you can always define tags to perform other escaping/internationalization/general string transformations.
  • XHPy allows you to build templates without requiring external templating languages, template files, or any of that nonsense. In this sense, it is a templating language, but it's a templating language that integrates tightly with Python itself.
Alright, enough ranting about the virtues of XHPy. If you're curious, the repo is up on my github page; I'm currently working on easy_install integration, but for now you'll have to git clone the repo and add it to your PYTHONPATH.

Enjoy! I hope this benefits someone out there; as usual, bug reports/fixes and comments are always welcome.


hourly comic day

These penned images
Speak for themselves, so look!
Look upon them now!

Look, I don't feel like writing a haiku.

Today was the first day of thing-a-day!  We started off the month with the lovely Hourly Comic Day that we've mentioned before.  All of our scanned comics can be seen as a nice collection at http://picasaweb.google.com/biketotheearth/Hourlies#.  Otherwise, you can just look at them spamming the bottom of this post.

It was a neat thing to do hourly comic day; it meant taking a few minutes out of each hour to both relax and to reflect on what was happening.  It's something that people don't necessarily do that often.

Plus, I like drawing.  :D

Without further ado, Fearless Tost's hourly comics:


diary of an aspiring grad

Nerves tight, mind singing,
Phone perched atop nearby ledge.
But when will it ring?

On my plate today was a phone interview with UC Berkeley's EECS Department, that being one of the two schools I applied to for graduate school in the fall.  The other one was MIT's Media Lab.

With respect to the phone interview, it was puzzling.  I frantically asked many people I knew what I might expect from such a thing, and everyone I asked responded that they had never heard of a CS department doing phone interviews.  Hm.

For the record, it was what one might expect from such a thing: it was a few pokes into what makes me tick.  The only three questions were "why CS?", "which school would you go to if you had your choice?", and "how do you plan to pick a professor as advisor?".  The complications of the interview were largely related to the tenuous phone connection that we had... the caller was on Skype, and it simply didn't play well with my phone for some reason.  Although I genuinely couldn't make out more than 20% of the actual words he said, it was still easy enough to understand the questions.  There's a psychology experiment in there somewhere.

Here are my thoughts on the schools/grad school in general/the phone interview questions:
  • They are both doing cool things.  I think some of MIT's projects (like Color Code) are a little too... ah... out there for me.  Then again, they do have loads of really fascinating augmented reality and intelligent surface projects.  Berkeley's department is merged computer science and electrical engineering, which leads to a lot of awesome robotics-type projects.  I am pretty excited about robotics.  Both schools are strong on interdisciplinary projects like bio-inspired materials and robots.
  • I like being near Evan.  I like the Bay Area.  Berkeley is here.  Points.
  • Stanford is also around here, but they are a farm for startups.  I don't want to start/join a startup.  I want to get a PhD.  That's, er, why I applied to get a PhD.
  • I don't want to find myself wasting away for 5-7 years in a school I'm not super excited about.  If I have to wait another year and explore my interests further, so be it.
  • How to pick an advisor?  To be honest, I hate the system for choosing them.  I had to fill out the names of people I would be interested in working with when I did the applications, and it was kind of silly.  An advisor isn't just someone you have to know, it's someone you have to spend LOADS OF TIME WITH.  There's no way to tell if you'll like a prof as a person until, um, you meet him or her in person.  I mentioned this in the phone interview, and the interviewer was amused and echoed that he thought it was silly also.
  • I am still scattered on exactly what I would like to do for a thesis.  I don't even comprehend precisely how large a project needs to be to be "thesis worthy".  It will be something related to robots, technology and society, or green engineering (or all three).
I suppose there are probably other things I want to say, but the State of the Union is about to start over at whitehouse.gov!  Watch it!

circuitous hackery

After about a month of talking about it, we finally took the plunge: this Monday, at roughly 2000, we crashed through the doors of Noisebridge, hung our bikes on their wall-mounted rack, and set to building our very own Volksduino as part of the regular Circuit Hacking Mondays (photos start here; you can see us hard at work with our soldering irons.)

And yes - they both work! Milo (the guy who was helping everyone out) popped in his homebrew serial-to-USB cables and test-drove them from the Arduino IDE, including a quick test of the shield connections using the LoL (lots of LEDs) shield.

So what are we going to do with our newfound 2KB-of-flash-ROM power? Well...we've committed ourselves to Thing-A-Day, and we have at least one project in the pipeline that could make use of an Arduino (or clone thereof) with wireless transmission capabilities. We're planning to head over to Noisebridge as often as possible to pick up the technical knowhow for such a project, so - if you're in the area, join us!



our kitchen, also noisebridge, thing a day, and the google

The ancient ring of
Steel cross iron vibrates the
Pot while it's fired

First, while the haiku is fresh in your mind, I want to say a few words about the Google.  The ACM Tech News e-mail I received this morning included a link to (and summary of) an article on NPR about how Google is doing some AI research to develop algorithms for translating poetry into different languages.  It's neat stuff!  Just think: someday, everyone in the world could appreciate my haikus.  :P

Nerdiness aside, what I wanted to talk about was our interesting kitchen setup here on Market St.  Since it's such a small space and we're so newly on our own, we don't have that many different things.  We do have a few that are AWESOME that I want to advocate for a minute and share with y'all.

This is a handsome little cast iron teapot that Evan gave me for Christmas.  It makes nice tea.  It's also a good size for two people, and it happens to hold the same amount of water as one of our pots (we don't have a tea kettle yet, but we're hoping to get one soon).  It's lovely!  The two teas that are sitting here are Japanese green tea with brown rice (the rice makes a huge difference, just trust me) that we purchased at a Japanese grocery store in SF and Turkish tea that we brought back with us from Istanbul.  We've also got a box of Twining's assorted black teas (English Breakfast, Irish Breakfast, Earl Grey, and Lady Grey) that we like, but we don't use them nearly as much as these teas.  Yum!

Next is a photo of our Italian espresso maker, our new milk foamer, and a bag of espresso grounds we picked up in the Castro.  We like these A LOT.  The milk foamer is tons of fun (and super easy) to use, and at just $30 it started saving us money after we'd made a week's worth of cappuccinos.  Plus we've discovered the joys of cold foamed milk + sugar + sunny seed drops as a delicious and refreshing snack in the middle of the day.  We were taught how to use the espresso maker in the Napolitana style by a friend we met in Italy (it's all about the shape of the espresso grounds), so we drink good coffee around here.   :D

This is an image of our knife collection.  They are currently the only knives -- other than butter knives -- that we own.  But we love them!  The two on the left are in the santoku style, and they are pro for cutting vegetables  The ceramic knife (the smaller one) is incredibly sharp, and it was a steal at $20.  We also got a ceramic peeler to to with it!  The half-moon knife on the right is also interesting to cut with... it actually came with it's own, specially-shaped cutting board!  It's about the safest knife there is, since there's not as much up and down-type finger-endangering motion, and as it's German-made, it's a super high quality cutting instrument.

That is our oven knob.  Notice that this is the "Oven Temp," which in my experience is measured in degrees rather than as "low," as "low" is not descriptive enough for baking.  Also, note that this is the "off" position of the knob (as the oven sees it).  We speculate that someone must have broken off the original knob and replaced it with an incorrectly-oriented other-oven-knob at some point.  Either that or the manufacturer was drunk.

These are my mixing bowls.  A rainbow!  They're satisfying to look at, but I regret that we don't have any ceramic bowls, especially since we've started making bread now.  These bowls aren't oven safe, nor are they heat safe, so they're generally terrible for especially the rising part of making bread.  I do love them, though, as we have a mixing bowl to suit any need that may arise.

Er, anyway, that's all I wanted to talk about re: kitchen, I guess, and mostly I was just using it as an excuse to show some photos.  We're still posting more over at http://picasaweb.google.com/biketotheearth , though be warned that the quality might be a little strange as we're now both set up to upload from our mobile devices.

Stuff!  I spent this morning doing the overhauls necessary for my bike, including installing a new tire and ordering a new rack.  Who knew that my rack would crumple from being mailed after it carried 40 lbs for 6 months?  Hrm.  :)

Thing a Day!  We're committing to do Thing a Day, though we aren't going to sign up in any official capacity because we have no desire to get another user account for a website.  They want us to join something called posterous.com?  Has anyone even heard of that?  Anyway, we bought a bunch of materials yesterday for use doing our thing-a-day projects.  We have a lot planned, but if anyone has interesting ideas for short projects, we have a couple unfilled days!

Noisebridge!  We went there for the first time last night to watch their Five Minutes of Fame presentations, which are monthly talks during which people can share whatever it is that they've been working on with the group.  There were a variety of presenters who talked about everything from a watch that talks to your smartphone to Maslow's hierarchy of needs to clown porn.  I think we're going to enjoy spending more time there in the future.  :D