November 30, 2006

Google maps fun

What would make Google Maps great for runners? How about if Google mapped trails? Well, now they do. For New Zealand. As best as I can tell they've digitized the 1:50,000 scale topographic maps and included the four wheel drive trails and "single track" trails you can run, walk, and sometimes mountainbike.

The picture below (follow the link to see for yourself) is of my old stamping grounds of Wilton's Bush and the Skyline trail.

Not all of the trails that exist on the ground are there. 1:50,000 is still quite large scale, and no doubt some of the trails on the ground are non-official. Nevertheless, what an amazing thing to have added to Google maps. If you happened to find yourself in Wellington or Auckland and wanted to go trail running you could start planning before you hit the ground.

The other semi-useful thing about Google Maps for New Zealand which you can see if you click on "Map" on the linked image are property boundaries. Those boundaries in between the roads when you get in close enough appears to correspond to people's houses and yards. Something you can't yet see in Google Maps for America.

Posted by eroberts at 11:10 AM

Even better than the microfilm scanner

A couple of weeks ago I waxed poetic about the beauties of the microfilm/fiche scanner. Now I've discovered something quicker and often higher quality: using your digital camera to take photos of the microfilm screen.

One of the disadvantages of the microfilm scanner compared to the digital camera is speed. My best estimate is that in an hour you can take 400 digital photos or 130 scanned microfilm images. That's a substantial difference.

To do this well you will need a tripod so that you can hold the camera steady. You can get a perfectly adequate tripod for these purposes for $30, perhaps less. Or you may already own one. Then it's simple. Line up the camera so that is horizontal and facing at the microfilm screen, put your camera on the setting you use for taking photos of documents, and snap away to your heart's content.

So far I have only done this at my own university's library. There some of the staff and other patrons have just looked at me a little quizically about the tripod bag I'm carrying. It has an uncanny resemblance to a bag you might carry a gun in. No telling what the policies of other archives are about bringing in tripods, so you wouldn't want to rely on this method for reproducing material off microfilm. But a time saving tip worth knowing about if you need to reproduce microfilm images.

As always with microfilm the quality of your image will depend on the quality of the original microfilming. This varies tremendously, but the great thing about digital images of microfilm is that you can use photo editing software to alter the black-white balance to improve legibility if there are serious problems with the original microfilm copy.

Posted by eroberts at 8:40 AM

November 29, 2006

Sinclair Lewis: Too hard on Sauk Centre. Maybe ...

Sauk Centre (yes, really spelt like that) was [un?]fairly panned by its most famous son, Sinclair Lewis, in his 1920 novel Main Street. Not that the town held too much of a grudge, apparently. Within a couple of years they welcomed Lewis back as the man who had put the town into the world's consciousness. It's been a while since I read Main Street, so I can't recall if Lewis condemned the quality of the coffee in Sauk Centre in his general indictment of small-town life.

If he did, he's wrong now. 86 years later! On the main street of Sauk Centre we were lucky enough to find Jitters Java Cafe. All around a good find, and well worth driving the extra 2 minutes from the freeway if you're ever in need of food or coffee off I-94. The sandwiches and salads were tasty. The baked goods were a bargain ($1.25 for two decent sized cookies). The restrooms were clean. And, meeting my particular (fussy) standards of urbanity, the coffee was good. Other accoutrements of the modern urban cafe were present, namely free wireless and board games for patrons to use.

I don't know what Sinclair Lewis was talking about ...

Posted by eroberts at 7:48 AM

November 21, 2006

Just don't do it!

Whatever you were thinking of doing, just don't do it.

(from Nerstrand Big Woods Park)

A reasonable explanation for the sign appeared down the trail where there was an "Animal Exclosure Area" sign. Come to think of it, why didn't I take a photo of that? An "Exclosure" area ... Without a fence either. The animals were just meant to read the sign. Some very literate deer down there. Anyway, it seemed that the area beyond "NO!" was one the DNR is trying to "renew" in some way, and let the undergrowth grow back.

Posted by eroberts at 12:07 PM

November 20, 2006

Down with the glace cherries

The neon-green fruit to which this article refers
are glace cherries, and they are rarely popular in fruit cake. American distaste for fruitcakes is a rightful distaste for bad fruitcakes. Done well with lots of alcohol they're something else again.

Posted by eroberts at 7:23 AM

November 16, 2006

King of the hills

Good article about Wellington-area native, Jonathan Wyatt who has dominated world mountain running the last decade.

Posted by eroberts at 1:06 PM

November 14, 2006

Win the close ones

The DFL takeover of the Minnesota State House this election was pretty stunning in some ways. Getting 89 seats out of 134 looks substantial. There are several ways of looking at the strength or fragility of the margin. One way is to look at the DFL share of the two party (Republican and Democratic) vote. Across Minnesota the DFL took 55% of the two party vote in the state House. That's a substantial margin at the aggregate level, and indicates the DFL could hold onto the state House for several terms. There were only 20 (of 134) districts where the DFL did worse in 2006 than in 2004, indicating the DFL "wave" was quite uniform across the state. You can see this in the graph below. Most of the dots are above the y=x line, indicating the DFL did better in 2006.

Another assessment is to look at the margins in individual races, and see where the majority was won, lost and inflated, and thus where it could decline next time. The DFL won some of the close races they had lost narrowly last time. You can see this in the following graph.

Notice the bunch of districts just above the horizontal 0.5 line, but also just to the left of the horizontal line. Those are the districts the DFL picked up.

The broad wave of the DFL win is indicated also by how they picked up most of the districts decided by small margins.

Notice how there's a clump of districts just above the line marking 50% of the vote (and a DFL win). Of the 11 districts decided by less than 1 per cent of the two party vote, the DFL won 9 of them.

So, the DFL wave in Minnesota in 2006 was impressive. The aggregate vote won suggests it could be maintained for a while, but the small margins in a significant minority of districts suggest the Republicans could pull back 10 seats next time without much effort.

Posted by eroberts at 3:44 PM

November 1, 2006

Obsessive compulsive runner existential dilemma of the day

Like many runners I'm kind of obsessive compulsive (in a good way, right?) about logging how many days I've run and my mileage ("kilometrage" doesn't roll off the tongue), and most years getting out the door 350 plus days a year.

In the past I've taken this to the ridiculous-in-retrospect extent of hobble-shuffling through the few days after a marathon, in one case motivated by the perverse desire to run a year straight without a day off (having now achieved that once I have no desire to better it ever). This year I decided to take a week off for the mental and physical recuperation I needed. It was surprisingly mentally easy.

On 4 of the days "off" running I went to the pool and ran in the water with the funky belt on. The aqua running made my legs feel much better, and in fact scientific research shows that recovery from muscle trauma is better when you aqua run, than when you land run. Apparently it's also true from multiple studies that the aqua running can maintain your fitness for six weeks. This isn't one of those crazy "How many running miles does my long bike ride count for?" questions you see on letsruminate. I was really running. If it wasn't for the beautiful crisp fall weather waiting outside and the inconvenience of getting to the pool and the boredom and the chlorine in my hair I'd keep doing the pool running ... Really, it's that fun bobbing up and down in the pool and going nowhere while the lap swimmers wonder what you're doing.

So if the pool running is physiologically as good as running, here's my existential dilemma: Do I count the days I ran in the pool as days I ran? Do I divide by 5(8) and tally up the kilometres(miles) and add them to the year's total? What if those pool miles were the difference between getting to 4000 miles for the year and not?

Posted by eroberts at 7:51 AM