Posts filed under 'US Trip 2014'

And now it is time to leave

The time has come for me to leave the US after my four weeks of fun and excitement. I realise that I have failed to keep you updated on my trip, but the time required to do that was cutting in to my sleep, which in turn was cutting in to my adventure time. I will be in a better position to provide the stories and highlights upon my return.

As I drove to the airport today after a final bit of Washington DC sightseeing, I felt sad when the air traffic control tower came in to view…as much as I want to go home and see Pebbles and the family again, I also kind of want to just turn around and settle in Indiana. My mood was improved, however, when I was greeted at the airport by the best US President in modern history (and the 2nd best of all time…Calvin Coolidge was the best), Ronald Reagan.
Ronald Reagan at Ronald Reagan airport

This is not the first time I have been greeted by this great man. I also saw him in Michigan when I visited Hillsdale College, where he stands near a truly great lady, Margaret Thatcher.
Ronald Reagan at Hillsdale College
Margaret Thatcher at Hillsdale College

In Washington DC I did some of my sightseeing at night. It was cold but this had the benefit of making me almost the only tourist at the time, so it was easier to take photos and explore.

The Capitol Building is much larger than I thought and is very impressive.
Capitol Building
Capitol Building

And the White House was exciting for a moment…there were moving vans out the front! For a brief moment my hopes were raised that the current occupant, a man who ranks among the worst Presidents in history and does not deserve to have his name uttered in the same blog post as Reagan and Thatcher, might be moving out. Alas, no such luck…he was having some sort of party and the vans were for the equipment belonging to the entertainment.
The White House

And today before I went to the airport I took a few moments to use up more of my prepaid fuel, drive my “Rush is right” bumper sticker around DC, and catch a glimpse of two fantastic conservative organisations which are almost directly across the road from each other: Hillsdale College’s DC outpost “Allan P. Kirby Jr Center for constitutional studies and citizenship”.
Hillsdale College's Washington DC outpost

And The Heritage Foundation, currently run by a most excellent former Senator, Jim DeMint.
Heritage Foundation, Washington DC

It has been a wonderful trip in which I have driven 2,934 miles according to the rental car companies, but I am now looking forward to coming home and sharing more photos with you soon.

Samuel

1 comment March 9th, 2014 at 07:49am

Audio from my time with Casey Hendrickson on News/Talk 95.3 MNC today

It was good fun being on with Casey today. For the most part it was a normal show covering a normal gamut of topics for a local talk show, but it was switched up a little in the final hour when Casey opened the lines for “Ask An Aussie”.
Casey Hendrickson and Samuel Gordon-Stewart at News/Talk 95.3 MNC
Thanks to Casey’s producer Tim for taking the photo

Casey podcasts his show, so although my recording in the hotel room worked, I can just direct you to Casey’s podcast if you want to hear any of the show. I’ll also be nice and give you direct links to the specific downloads.

The third hour is where I was most involved.

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In the other two hours, I was there, but not as involved as I was in the third hour.
Hour 1

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Hour 2

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(Each hour runs about 38 minutes as commercial breaks and news breaks have been omitted).

Many thanks to Casey for having me on today, as well as producer Tim, station program director Jon Zimney, and a shout-out to Mark McGill who hosts MNC’s morning program Michiana’s Morning News…you got me with that phone call…I had no idea who you were or what you were going on about, and I was so confused that I didn’t (at the time, anyway, I have re-listened since) catch all of the Aussie slang you threw in…well done! And as Casey said, thanks for arranging the tour of ABC57, it was great to see how a local TV station does things in South Bend in comparison to how things are done in Australia.

Samuel

March 1st, 2014 at 01:59pm

Hello from cold South Bend, Indiana, and an impending radio appearance

As I write this, South Bend is well on track to reach the predicted overnight low of -10 Fahrenheit (about -22C), and the prediction is for wind chills to make the early part of the morning feel like -20F (about -28C). Thankfully it’s warm in the hotel.

Here’s a photo I took on my first day in South Bend from the window of my hotel room. There had been a bit of direct sunlight on the window so it felt warm from my side, but it definitely was not warm on the other side.
South Bend, Indiana

During the day on what has recently become yesterday I went to Hillsdale in Michigan and saw Hillsdale College, including some of the statues of great historical figures. Here’s a photo of the Margaret Thatcher statue.
Hillsdale College's Margaret Thatcher statue on Liberty Walk

And of course before South Bend I was in Fort Dodge, Iowa, which was also quite cold but not as cold as South Bend is right now.
Part of the Fort Dodge Fort Museum

This one might interest the music buffs. The Laramar Ballroom in Fort Dodge is where Buddy Holly performed just three days before his death in a plane crash. Legend has it that bad weather in the region made it difficult to drive to wherever he was next going, and caused him to take the fatal flight instead. Here I am at the front doors of the Laramar Ballroom.
Samuel at Fort Dodge's Laramar Ballroom
Photo credit: Bill Grady

As I’m sure you can imagine, I have a lot of photos to post from this trip. The forecast is for a decent bit of snow over the weekend so between that and the generally cold weather, I’d say there’s a good chance I’ll have time to upload some or most of the photos before I leave South Bend.

Radio appearance
Today, Friday, Casey Hendrickson returns to his show on News/Talk 95.3 MNC (WTRC for those of you who like callsigns) between 3pm and 6pm Eastern (12pm and 3pm Pacific/7am Saturday and 10am Saturday Canberra). At this stage the plan is that I’ll join Casey during the final hour or half-hour, and MNC’s stream is available internationally so if you want to listen in, please do.

I’ll record this like I did when I was on Alan Stock’s show on KDWN in Las Vegas, but I get better reception of MNC than I did of KDWN so I shouldn’t have any problems sharing the audio with you later.

For now, as it is nearly 1:30am, I shall bid you a good night.

Samuel

February 28th, 2014 at 05:28pm

The last time I’ll see a temperature above freezing for over a week

Kansas City has been great, even though it has only been a brief stop. Today I’ll be heading up north to Iowa, and in particular the town of Fort Dodge. I have deliberately left the trip until the middle of the day as the temperatures are a bit nippy and I’d rather when it’s only cold, not when it’s super cold…it’d be nice to have a couple hours to get used to it.

Before I leave Kansas City I’m going to take a trip down to what I’m informed is a nice little old shopping precinct rather close to my hotel. I’ll have a look around there for a bit prior to leaving town.

Before I leave the hotel, here are a few photos of the view from my hotel room.

Kansas City at dawn

I took this photo around dawn.

The next two I took a short time ago.
Kansas City at dawn

Kansas City at dawn

If I have time, I’ll try to get a few photos of some of the rather nice old houses in the area as well.

Now, the weather. It should be above freezing by the time I leave Kansas City, although only just, and so far the temperature is still a little below the hourly forecast figure (at 10:45 it was still -1).
Kansas City forecast for 23 Feb 2014

Fort Dodge forecast for 23-25 Feb 2014

Fort Dodge should be sitting at about the maximum temperature when I get there this afternoon, before rapidly plummeting to -20 tonight. Thankfully I will not still be there to experience -25 on Tuesday night.

South Bend forecast for 25 Feb - 1 Mar 2014
South Bend forecast for 2 - 3 Mar 2014

It looks like I will get my wish in South Bend of seeing snow.

(As usual, Weather data is courtesy of AccuWeather)

Oh well, time for me to get going.

Samuel

February 24th, 2014 at 04:03am

We’re off to see the Wizard, the…err, nope, just skirting the edge of Kansas

It’s time for me to pack up my hotel room and bid farewell to Las Vegas. I’m off to Kansas City which skirts the border of Kansas and Missouri. I couldn’t get a direct flight, so I’m flying via Phoenix, Arizona (flights US544 and US430 with US Airways). This will involve me going forward two hours from Pacific Time to Central Time, so by the time I get there, the day will be pretty much over.

It’s a colder day in Las Vegas today than it has been of late.
Las Vegas hourly forecast for 21 Feb 2014

I’ll be in Kansas City until Sunday morning and it is definitely a bit colder there.
Kansas City forecast for 21-23 Feb 2014

And then to a place which is much colder…Fort Dodge, Iowa. There’s a good chance I’ll see some snow, and I’m very glad I packed some cold-weather clothing.
Fort Dodge forecast for 23-25 Feb 2014

I’m looking forward to it…and the cold weather should give me plenty of time in my hotel room in the evenings to catch up on uploading photos.

As usual, thanks go to AccuWeather for the forecasts)

Samuel

February 22nd, 2014 at 02:03am

Today’s plan

Yesterday’s show with Alan Stock went very well. Alas the audio I recorded off the air has more static than I would like and while I was able to clean it up a bit, the original audio and the cleaned audio are both not great in my view. There’s a good chance I will be able to get cleaner audio today or tomorrow so I’ll wait and see what happens and then make a decision about what to share with you.

In the meantime, today is going to be a bit of a busy day. I have a few things to do this morning, and then I’ll be heading out to Hoover Dam. The prediction is that we will have some cloud cover in Vegas from about midday, which will ironically make it easier to visit the area near a gigantic solar power plant outside Vegas on the other side of the state border…it’s about the size of a small Canberra suburb and can apparently power all of the houses in Canberra, but only when the sun is shining. Regardless, it’s something worth seeing but due to the way it is set up it’s hard to visit when the sun is shining as it reflects a large amount of light in all directions.

And after that…well I really should catch up on uploading photos and writing a bit about the days since I left Petaluma.

Samuel

February 19th, 2014 at 03:33am

I’ll be on KDWN AM 720 with Alan Stock this morning

A happy Presidents’ Day to you from Las Vegas.

I have been just a wee bit busier than I expected since I arrived in Las Vegas and as such haven’t had much time to post some photos. I intend on taking a little time to correct that later today.

In the meantime, in a little under two hours from now on this holiday Monday, I will be on KDWN 720 AM with Alan Stock from 6am to 9am local time (1am to 4am Canberra time). People in and around Las Vegas can obviously hear this on their radios, while people across the US can listen online at kdwn.com or find KDWN on TuneIn or a similar service. Unfortunately KDWN’s stream is not available outside the US unless you know how to get around the geoblock…and they have the geoblock on for a reason so I’m not going to advise anyone to get around it (in fact I wonder if recommending to do that would fall foul of the DMCA law, possibly through some sort of “circumventing digital rights management” clause?).

Alan Stock on KDWN 720 AMAlan Stock on KDWN 720 AM
A cute little bit of Las Vegas marketing. Why have a business card when you can have your own casino chip?

It looks like we’ll be discussing, in addition to the news of the day, some of the issues facing Australia and what both countries can learn from each other. There are a lot of very similar issues in both countries and a lot of the public policy battles which Australia has been through are ones which the US is currently going through, and vice-versa. I’m looking forward to it…it should be good fun.

AM radio reception is affected by nearby electrical interference, and so leaving a radio near my laptop to record the show turns out to be more difficult than I had hoped, but with a bit of trial and error I was able to find some locations in my hotel room which allow me to record KDWN without too much interference which is, in my view, preferable to recording their webstream as I would like to record it as it went to air, not with the ads replaced with a webstream promo loop. If things work as I think they will, I’ll post some or all of the show online later today. In many ways to is largely dependant on the unattended recording going to plan.

Now, to tide you over until I have some time to get some more photos online, here’s a few select photos.

On Saturday night I went to dinner and a show in downtown Las Vegas with Alan and his wife Rhoda and had a great time. I’ll go in to more details about that later. For now, here we are at the H20 Tank in the middle of the Golden Nugget.
Rhoda Stock, Samuel, and Alan Stock

The weather yesterday in Las Vegas was lovely, warm, and sunny. Here’s the view from my hotel room on the 25th floor of the Trump Hotel.

North-west view from the Trump Hotel, Las Vegas
Looking north-west

North-east view from the Trump Hotel, Las Vegas
Looking North-East towards Downtown

And finally, it occurred to me last night that I hadn’t watched any of the local television newscasts in Las Vegas since arriving in town, although I did watch a few San Francisco newscasts while I was in Petaluma, so I checked the TV guide and found the next local newscast was Fox5 News at 10pm. The weather appeared every 10 minutes it seemed…so a change from my AccuWeather screenshots…here’s the forecast for the rest of my Vegas stay and beyond (I leave on Friday morning) from Fox5.
Fox5 Weather from Fox5 News at 10pm, February 16 2014
Highs starting at 22.7 degrees Celsius and getting down to 18.3 on Thursday. Lows ranging from 8.3 to 10.
(h/t KVVU Fox5 Las Vegas)

I also watched parts of the 11pm newscasts on the local ABC, CBS and NBC affiliates. The ABC bulletin (KTNV Channel 13 Action News) is by far the best of those three from what I saw, and I dare say that I thought they were all better than anything I watched in the San Francisco broadcast area.

Oh well, it’s about time for me to set sail for the studios of KDWN. If you’re in the area, I hope you’ll listen in at some stage.

Samuel

February 17th, 2014 at 11:51pm

Hello from Las Vegas

Good afternoon from Las Vegas.

I ended up getting in to town at about 11pm yesterday, which was much later than I had planned but had some benefits.

I will explain more shortly, but at the moment I have to get a few little things done as I have plans in about an hour from now. I will be back a bit later on with more details and photos for you.

Samuel

February 16th, 2014 at 10:38am

The plan for today

The fact that the Quality Inn in Petaluma does not have any on-site lunch or dinner has been a blessing in disguise as it has forced me to take a few more short car trips than I had originally thought I would, which has helped me to become much more confident on the road over here. That’s useful when today looks like this:
Map of my travel plan from Petaluma to Las Vegas

Petaluma to Las Vegas, via Bakersfield. Google estimates this as 601 miles/967 kilometres/8 hours and 51 minutes.

The weather is looking a little cloudy at the starting end, but sunny and warmer for the rest of the drive, with my week in Vegas looking like it’s going to have some very nice weather.

Petaluma
Petaluma AccuWeather forecast

Bakersfield
Bakersfield AccuWeather forecast

Las Vegas
Las Vegas AccuWeather forecast
Las Vegas AccuWeather forecast
(h/t AccuWeather for all forecast data. Temperatures listed in degrees Celsius)

Radio listening shouldn’t be a problem either. Rush Limbaugh’s show is on many different stations through the state from 9am-noon, so he should always be in range on multiple frequencies. Around San Francisco he is on AM 960 The Patriot (KNEW) as is Sean Hannity from noon-3pm, although by that stage I should be getting closer to Bakersfield and should begin to be able to hear these shows through KNZR 1560 AM and 97.7 FM where, after 3pm, the great Inga Barks has her own show which I should be able to hear a decent chunk of.

Apparently around Barstow (near the California/Nevada border) I should be able to hear KTIE AM 590 The Answer and Hugh Hewitt, and then as I get closer to Vegas, KDWN AM 720 and KXNT AM 840 and FM 100.5.

Of course streaming radio on my phone is also an option and may be employed at some stage. As it’s a Saturday in Australia, George & Paul are on 2UE Sydney (AM 954) from 2pm California time, so I may have to tune in to them for a little while as well.

I’d better hop to it. With all going well I should be in Vegas in the early evening.

Samuel

1 comment February 15th, 2014 at 03:35am

Sightseeing in Petaluma

One of the things I had planned to do prior to my visit to the US was get a photo gallery up and running again. My old photo gallery was running on old and discontinued software which was starting to not work properly with modern server software, and so some time ago I archived the whole thing, turning it in to a basic website which doesn’t require ancient and insecure versions of PHP. Unfortunately that meant I can not add to that gallery and had to start a new one. There are times on this blog (this holiday being one of them) where I will want to share a lot of photos with you, but posting a gazillion photos in a blog post on a regular basis is time consuming and ultimately an inefficient way to publish photos…and I don’t think you should be forced to scroll through every photo I ever take. The benefit of the photo gallery is that I can upload all of the photos I would like to share, and present you with the highlights here so that if you are interested, you can see the rest on the photo gallery. It also saves me a bit of time as I don’t have to go through and manually make resized versions of photos etc. If you’ve ever visited the /wp-content folder of this blog, you’ll know just how much manual work I do to get photos online.

So, I am pleased to present my new photo gallery at http://samuelgordonstewart.com/photogallery/. It’s a work in progress at the moment with a few empty galleries as placeholders which I will soon fill, as I really just needed to get it up and running for this blog post.

With that out of the way, on with the Petaluma sightseeing.

I took a couple hours this afternoon to go for a wander around the older downtown section of Petaluma and found quite a few nice grand old buildings, with two churches being particular standouts.

St. Vincent De Paul Catholic Church:
St. Vincent De Paul Catholic Church of Petaluma

And the Open Door Church on Fifth St which you might recognise from the movie Flubber:
The Open Door Church of Petaluma

TWiT.tv’s former headquarters (the TWiT Cottage) at 8 Keller St is only a couple blocks away from TWiT’s new headquarters. It has reverted to its old name of “Cavanagh Cottage” after John W. Cavanagh who built it in 1912.
Old TWiT Cottage (aka Cavanagh Cottage) at 8 Keller St, Petaluma

The building is almost completely surrounded by car parking, which would have been useful when TWiT grew to the point that it needed a larger space down the street.

This lovely old wooden bridge (The John Balshaw River Walk Bridge) crosses the Petaluma River at a bend in the river in the downtown district
John Balshaw River Crossing Bridge, Petaluma

And has some nice views of Downtown
Downtown Petaluma as seen from the Balshaw Bridge

The traffic lights of Petaluma are also all wizz-bang-and-fancy. Some of them talk to you; many of them count down how long you have left to cross the road; most acknowledge when you press the button which helps to discourage one of the things I really dislike, and that is people who stand at the traffic lights and press the button a thousand times thinking it will make the lights change sooner; and they even have pedestrian crossings with button-activated flashing lights along the sides of the pedestrian crossing so as to make it easier for drivers to work out if somebody intends to cross the road.
Pedestrian crossing in Petaluma counting down the remaining time to cross the road

I had six seconds left to cross the road there…thankfully I was already done.

And finally, I had to take a photo of this. I think there is no doubt who is in change of the household from which this truck hails.

Cute little dog protects large truck in Petaluma

Clicking on any of the photos in the post will take you to that photo’s page in the photo gallery, from which you are able to view a larger version of the photo if you wish. Alternatively, to browse through all of the photos, you can get to the “Some of the sights of Petaluma” gallery by clicking here.

Samuel

2 comments February 14th, 2014 at 09:24pm

Fridge Magnets Of The Day: February 13, 2014 from Petaluma

This afternoon while I was wandering around downtown Petaluma and enjoying the sight of some really lovely old buildings, I stumbled across a great little antique shop which has a lot of general antiques, but specialises in military antiques, called The Petaluma Collective, located at 300 Petaluma Blvd North.

The Petaluma Collective military antique store

There were some really awesome things in there including an old field technician’s telephone network test phone, and old microphone, a Beatles 8-track tape (which I almost bought but then didn’t because I’m worried I’d accidentally wipe it in-transit) among other great 8-track tapes and vinyl records, and some World War II currency. There were also a bunch of things which I would have liked to buy but know I would never be able to get through Customs such as some really nice knives and a replica of an old Ruger pistol with moving parts (there is no way I would ever get that through Customs).

The store also had fridge magnets…none from Petaluma, but that’s to be expected in an antiques and collectables store. I ended up buying three of them.
Fridge magnets: Atlanta 1996 Olympics; Grand Ole Opry; NYPD car
Atlanta 1996 Olympics; Grand Ole Opry; NYPD car

I loved the Grand Ole Opry magnet as soon as I saw it; The Atlanta Olympics was the first one that I really noticed as a kid; and I have a bit of a collection of NYPD merchandise…although I was a tad hesitant to buy the NYPD magnet while they shopkeeper and a customer were discussing recent speeding fines for doing less than 5 MPH over the limit until they started discussing how one of them had been let off for doing a burnout in an empty carpark because the officer liked the car, and he stood around and pretended to write out a ticket while chatting with the guy in the car so as to prevent another nearby cop from coming over and writing a ticket…and besides that, the NYPD magnet is pseudo-3D with a painted back of the light unit and shaped bonnet.

Side view of NYPD car fridge magnet

I’m going to have to decide what to do about that magnet…I might want to keep it for myself. I’ll probably still post it anyway as I’m sure my friend in Canberra will appreciate it, even if he only gets to keep it for a little while.

Samuel

February 14th, 2014 at 01:50pm

My visit to TWiT; how Leo Laporte uses Tim Tams; and how to download a small portion of a Justin.tv video

I had great fun visiting the studios of TWiT.tv (known as the TWiT Brick House) yesterday. I had all the photos ready to go for this blog post yesterday afternoon, but ironically ran in to a technical hurdle when I realised that there was some video as well. I’ll get to that shortly…but first…

The TWiT Brick House as seen from the other side of Keller St, Petaluma
The TWiT Brick House as seen from the other side of Keller St, Petaluma

The studios are located at 140 Keller St, Petaluma. TWiT’s wiki provides helpful directions, but it was easier to find than I expected. The building is quite distinctive on this street and the recommended parking garage which is listed on the site is about half a minute’s walk from the studios. I took a little longer than that to walk from my car to TWiT though as I took a detour to the other side of the road to take that photo.

I got there a little earlier than I had expected, a tad before 10am.

When I got inside, staff were discussing a lighting issue with some contractors, and accidentally turned off a bunch of lights in the studio in the process. Staff were busy, so I filled out the mandatory waiver and waited a few moments until they were less busy and could take me through. The studio portion of the building takes up a tad over half of the floor space, with other rooms taking up the other side of the building in an upside-down L shape with studio entrances behind reception next to the roundtable set, and another around the back near Leo’s office/set, and a kitchen and toilets. The place actually looks bigger to me in real life than it does on screen. It is quite an impressive setup.

Tech News Today with Mike Elgan was about to start when I took a seat.

Tech News Today with Mike Elgan being filmed on February 12, 2014
Tech News Today with Mike Elgan being filmed on February 12, 2014

One thing which was impressed me was how little of this news program was scripted. Story introductions and some questions were scripted, but most of Mike’s questions were not scripted. I might just be a bit too used to Australian news formats where questions are generally scripted, so it was nice to see proof of an anchor who truly understands the subject matter.

Just off to the right of the set from the perspective of where I was seated is another set which is used for The Giz Wiz among other shows. The program feed which was going out for broadcast was visible on the main screen on this set.
Tech News Today with Mike Elgan being filmed on February 12, 2014

And if I walked a little way down the Giz Wiz set and looked across where Mike Elgan was seated, Leo’s office/set can be seen through the window, and on this side of that glass is where his weekend show’s call screener Heather Hamann sits. At the far-left of the photo a large analog clock can be seen. This is on the back wall of the studio portion of the building, and is quite an attractive feature of that wall, but is sadly obscured by other objects in the wide shot of the studio used between shows on the live stream.
Tech News Today with Mike Elgan being filmed on February 12, 2014

Throughout the filming of Tech News Today, I had wanted to get my digital SLR camera out, but alas I could not as opening the velcro pouch would make too much noise and I did not want to interrupt or interfere with the broadcast. So I waited until after the show finished, only to discover that it was a waste of time as it could not handle the large variations in light levels of different bits of the room and was either giving me good images of peripheral bits of the set with bright white people and random bright white objects, or it was giving me great images of the main focal points of the show, with almost black everywhere else. This might be fixable if I spent enough time playing with the camera’s settings, but I didn’t go to TWiT to play with my camera.

It was also interesting to note that for this show, the remote side of the conversation can be heard aloud without the need for headphones.

Shortly after this I proceeded to Leo’s office/set where he was preparing for Windows Weekly #349 with Paul Thurrott and Mary Jo Foley. Leo’s set is awesome to be a visitor in, as the guest seating is extremely comfortable and the wireless headphones are also very comfortable (even for someone like me for whom many headphones cause the frame of my glasses to dig in to my head).
Leo Laporte, Paul Thurrott and Mary Jo Foley prepare to film Windows Weekly #349 on February 12, 2014

I’ve never noticed the monitor on the front of Leo’s desk before (it’s never really in shot, presumably so as to avoid a visual loop effect) which makes it easy as a visitor to see how what is happening in front of you is being packaged for broadcast.

Leo Laporte, Paul Thurrott and Mary Jo Foley prepare to film Windows Weekly #349 on February 12, 2014

Over this side of the room, behind the visitor chairs, is a monitor following the TWiT.TV IRC chat session, and the line and preview monitors of the Tricaster vision switcher which is important as Leo switches his own shows when they are being produced from his office/set, whereas other shows are switched from a central control centre in the middle of the TWiT set. Two of the cameras are visible here (one for Leo’s solo shot, and the other for the “Leo plus Skype monitor” shot. On the other side of the glass is where Heather Hamman screens calls for Leo’s weekend radio show and also is the location of the set used by Tech News Today, and then on the far wall, a collection of hats which I was very happy to see for a reason I’ll explain in just a moment.

Leo Laporte, Paul Thurrott and Mary Jo Foley prepare to film Windows Weekly #349 on February 12, 2014

On this side of the set you can see another camera (the one which faces the window so that Heather Hamman can be on-camera) and at the top right of the bookcase is a dropcam producing a live feed on the internet at most hours.

After Windows Weekly finished, I presented Leo with some gifts. One was an Australia hat (Leo’s collection of hats pleased me as I knew then that I was giving a hat to a connoisseur of hats. I also gave Leo some Tim Tams, which led to Leo demonstrating his favourite way of eating a Tim Tam…biting off the ends and then drinking his coffee or tea through the Tim Tam as if it was a straw. I thought by this stage the live stream had switched to the next set (I had stopped paying attention to the monitors by this stage) and only later, to my pleasant surprise, realised that Leo’s Tim Tam demonstration, our little chat, and a quick photo shoot, had been broadcast.


(h/t TWiT.tv. Video distributed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 US) licence)

We chatted about a few things including the time I had Leo on Samuel’s Persiflage, the top I was wearing (seeing as Leo has had some fun with the stories about the NSA spying on everyone and everything, I wore a hoodie with the message “The NSA: the only part of government that actually listens”…I also wore my Linux.Conf.Au 2005 t-shirt as it has a staged IRC session on the back of it which I thought Leo would enjoy, but I was having so much fun that I forgot to show him), and how interesting and mind-bending it is to get used driving on the other side of the road. The conversation was picked up to some degree at first by Leo’s studio microphone, and then later by an open mic in another part of the building. I left it all in the above video for posterity.

Now, for what is now a treasured item:
Samuel Gordon-Stewart with Leo Laporte on February 12, 2014

It was an honour and lots of fun to meet Leo and spend some time in the TWiT Brick House. As always, Leo went out of his way to make sure it was fun…while we had our photo taken he put on an Australian accent…I was too amused to remember exactly what he said but it certainly amused me.
Samuel Gordon-Stewart with Leo Laporte on February 12, 2014

One other mystery which was solved yesterday is the purpose of the symbol on Leo’s clock next to the top half of the final digit of the minutes. I’ve never watched in high definition so couldn’t identify it, but now I know it indicates the Pacific timezone, with the other US timezones not being illuminated.
The clock in Leo Laporte's office

I had a blast. A very big thank you to Leo and all of the TWiT.tv staff.

If you’re ever in the area, may I recommend Halli’s diner opposite the parking garage about half a minute’s walk away from the TWiT Brick House. Absolutely fantastic lunch and lovely staff. I will probably pop in to the diner again today as I would like to do some sightseeing around Petaluma today, and the old TWiT studio (TWiT Cottage) is a short distance from the current studio, and I would like to see it while remaining respectful of the privacy of the new occupants.

Now, that technical challenge I mentioned at the top.

How to download a particular portion of a long video from Justin.tv
One of the video streaming providers for TWiT, Justin.tv, temporarily keeps an archive of everything they stream (the archived video lasts a few days). While it is preferable to record the live video as it is a much simpler process, TWiT’s wiki also details how to download from Justin.tv’s archive.

The basic idea is that, using Firefox and an extension called Downloadhelper, you go to the Justin.tv video you want to watch and then tell Downloadhelper to download that file. The problem though is two-fold:
1) TWiT’s videos on Justin.tv run for many hours as they cover an entire day’s broadcasts and sometimes more (my clip, for example, was 52 hours in to the video).
2) This method only downloads the first half hour of the video.

The solution, until recently, was to mark a section of the video as a highlight, which gave it its own unique URL which Downloadhelper could use to download just that portion of the video. Alas the highlighting function was removed from Justin.tv about a week ago, meaning that downloading the first half hour of the video seemed to be the only option…so how do you make Downloadhelper download a half hour starting at a time of your choosing rather than the start of the video?

A clue comes in the way Justin.tv handles a request to move playout from the existing window to another separate window. It adds a string to the end of the URL to tell the new window at what point in the video to start (although the Downloadhelper plugin is not easily accessible from such a window, so simply opening a popout window at your chosen starting point is not going to work for this purpose).

Instead, open the video as normal and figure out what point you want to start downloading from. Then, work out how many seconds that is (in my case it was a little short of 186,960 seconds) and then add the following string to the end of the URL in the address bar:
/popout?playback_time=SECONDS
where “SECONDS” is replaced by the number of seconds.

So, for example, in my case the address of the video went from
http://www.justin.tv/twit/b/502307186
to
http://www.justin.tv/twit/b/502307186/popout?playback_time=186960
which allowed me to make Downloadhelper download 30 minutes of video from a starting point of my choice, and I was then able to edit the video to my required duration.

Samuel

1 comment February 14th, 2014 at 01:25am

Fridge Magnet Of The Day: February 12, 2014 from Petaluma (and a miscellaneous object of interest)

A friend in Canberra collects fridge magnets and it is not uncommon for people, when they go away, to buy some fridge magnets for him and give them to him upon their return. Long before I left Australia I decided that, as I’m out of the country for about four weeks, it would be more fun to buy and post a fridge magnet each day than to simply return and dump a pile of fridge magnets in front of him. Buying a fridge magnet each day might be a bit tough, so instead I’ll be buying one on most days…and because of the cost of international postage, I am not going to post them each day, but once every three or four days instead. That said, today’s fridge magnet was posted today as it was a useful exercise in getting to know the minor differences in the US postal system compared to the Australian postal system, and it came with a bit of a story.

Until today, the only places I had seen any fridge magnets in the US was at airports (admittedly I haven’t looked around much), so after having lunch at the diner half a minute’s walk away from the TWiT Brick House (Hallie’s Diner), I asked the nice staff there if they knew where I might be able to find some fridge magnets (I figured that, being a popular local diner and probably receiving plenty of custom from tourists who happen to be TWiT.tv visitors, it’s a question to which they might know the answer) and they suggested Ace Hardware a couple blocks away. At first I thought they had misunderstood me as I certainly wouldn’t expect to find fridge magnets at my nearest Bunnings, but one of the diner’s customers chimed in and also suggested Ace Hardware. So I went along expecting to find a hardware store, and instead found a store which was part hardware, part general home-making stuff, and part tourist gift shop. Among their selection of fridge magnets I found this one:
Petaluma cow fridge magnet

You wouldn’t know it if you didn’t venture out of the urban town section of Petaluma, but the surrounding area is rich in dairy farming, among other agricultural activities.

I came across something else earlier this evening which may be of interest as well. In the wee hours of this morning I mentioned my first purchase with physical US currency. This evening while looking for something else, I came across the receipt.
Receipt for coffee from Sammy's Woodfired Pizza at LAX

This isn’t entirely irrelevant when talking about the fridge magnet as when I bought the coffee I was simply asked to pay the total amount of the transaction ($2.61) and didn’t notice that item prices are listed without taxes applied, and indeed this has been the case in all of the food outlets I have visited. It was only when I went to pay for the fridge magnet that the difference became apparent as they sales assistant had to look under a few fridge magnets until she found one which had a price on it…this price was an amount that I could easily make out of the notes and coins I had on me, but then as I was about to pay for it, she ran the magnet through the register and informed me of the after-tax price. It was a small difference, but it was one of those useful bits of knowledge which I had completely forgotten about.

Samuel

February 13th, 2014 at 04:24pm

Today’s plan: A trip to TWiT.tv

A little later on this morning I will be heading off to the studios of TWiT.tv to say hello and watch the filming of Windows Weekly (which is scheduled to start at 11am Pacific Time (6am Canberra time)) and possibly also This Week In Google which starts two hours later. I had originally planned to see Security Now, but it moved from Wednesdays to Tuesdays as of last month which made it impossible for me to see it in-person this time around.

I will put some photos up online later in the day. Prior to that, there’s a decent chance that, if you wanted to play Where’s Wally Samuel between 11am and 3pm, you could keep an eye on TWiT’s live streaming video feed where you might catch a glimpse of me at some stage…or their Dropcams which will almost certainly catch me in full monochrome glory.

I have been a fit of TWiT.tv, and in particular Leo Laporte, for many years, so I have a few gifts for Leo and his staff which I hope they will enjoy.

Now, a quick check of the weather in Petaluma over the next few days (with Australian measurements). A bit of fog this morning then partly cloudy conditions prevailing. Currently it’s 9 degrees, so it’s all up from here, and the weather on Friday looks good for the start of my trip to Las Vegas.
Petaluma AccuWeather forecast.
Weather data via AccuWeather. Description by me.

Samuel

February 13th, 2014 at 03:25am

A short (well, that was the plan anyway) version of a very long and good first day of my US trip

As I write this, it is late at night on Tuesday in Petaluma and I have comfortably settled in to the Quality Inn.

It started before this morning (Tuesday Australian time) in a way as my last decent sleep of any sort before I departed was on Monday.

On Tuesday morning I left for the airport. I have posted intermittent messages since then, but the day deserves a proper summation. Getting through Canberra Airport was fine and it was fairly quiet there as well given that it was early in the morning. Sydney Airport was also fairly easy to get through…it helped that I had already checked in my luggage in Canberra and thus did not have to see it again in Sydney. I had roughly four hours to spare in Sydney so I stopped for an early lunch at Pie Face, and then proceeded through the next round of security screenings to the international waiting area and bizarre sprawling duty free shopping area (which felt like a larger, less organised version of Myer if they were to hire a bunch of foreign actors to make the place look busy). I listened to some of Inga Barks filling in for Mark Levin via the stream of Inga’s station KNZR in Fresno) and occasionally listened to the somewhat amusing messages about certain people with very unpronounceable names needing to go to some gate immediately. It was particularly amusing when the person making the announcement could not work out the gender of one of the names and referred to them as “passenger [name]” rather than “Mr. [name]” or “Mrs. [name]”.

I think I came close to dozing off a couple times in the waiting area, but didn’t have that problem while standing around waiting at the gate where there was a catering delay.

Once the Sydney to L.A. flight got underway I decided to try and get some sleep with minimal success. I think I dozed off a couple times, but on most attempts I woke up just as I was starting to drift off to sleep either because my mind suddenly doubled the volume of the aeroplane noises, or because I was stupidly and unwittingly applying logic to the often nonsensical thoughts which occur in that state and catching myself not making sense.

I decided not to have lunch on the plane as I was not hungry. I did have a couple snacks though.

Annoyingly, at 3pm Canberra time, with direct sunlight still beaming through the windows, all the lights were dimmed and the cabin crew requested that the window shutters by closed “for sleep”. At the time, I was reading a very thought-provoking part of Mark Levin’s book “Liberty & Tyranny” which explains why direct election of federal US senators was not part of the original constitution and why Mark believes it should not be in there now…unfortunately the personal overhead light spills a bit too much light on others for me to be comfortable using it for an extended period of time, so I stopped reading. I instead, listened to Mark Levin’s podcast of his show from Friday and most of TWiT.tv’s This Week In Tech podcast, plus a little bit of music at one stage. I also took the time to draft a letter which I have been meaning to write for a very long time, and attempted to get more sleep without success.

Thankfully the person next to me (I chose a seat on the A380 which is in a row of two seats rather than three) also did not sleep much during the flight, and thus didn’t mind my constant activity. By the end of the flight we had (perhaps unwittingly) gotten ourselves in to a habit of getting up and having a little wander if the other person had to get up for one reason or another.

The A380’s in-flight entertainment system (which kept the person in the seat next to me entertained for most of the trip) had a flight tracker which showed the plane’s current location and stats such as current speed and altitude, plus estimated arrival time and the current temperature outside the plane. It also had a view from a camera mounted on the plane’s tail. I had planned on taking a photo of the tracker and of a view from out the window just prior to the “please turn everything off” announcement so that I could use those in the blog post upon my arrival at Los Angeles Airport…but I made a little mistake. As the sun started to come up and the lights were returned to a useful level of brightness, I went to change the SIM card in my phone, forgetting that iPhones have to re-activate when they receive a new SIM card (which is usually a simple process as it is done via the new SIM card’s data connection). With AT&T’s network being out of reach (and proximity being irrelevant given the restrictions on the use of phones outside of “airplane mode”) I had effectively bricked my phone for the rest of the trip. Not a big deal, but an inconvenience. Once on the ground in LA, the phone was happy to activate itself and all started to work, and I was able to finalise my call diversions on my Australian numbers knowing that the US number was correct.

One thing which I had planned on mentioning prior to the flight was my plan for keeping my Telstra SIM card safe while I’m in the US as it is such a tiny thing and four weeks would give it plenty of options to get lost.

I have a bunch of SD cards for my camera, but until recently I did not have enough cases for each SD card and had left some of them in their original packaging, unopened and unused, instead. While ordering cases for those SD cards, I realised that such a case works well for a SIM card as well.

SIM Card, paperclip, and SD card in cases

On the left, the SIM card in a case. It doesn’t lock in to a position in the case like the SD card does, but it has limited scope for movement so as long as it is not placed in checked luggage it should be fine (the AT&T SIM card was fine). The next case has a paperclip, which is needed to eject the SIM card tray on an iPhone, and the third one has an SD card.

After the SIM card was changed in my phone, breakfast was served on the plane. Sausages, scrambled eggs, spinach, a hash brown blob, and some as-yet unidentified substance smothered in tomato sauce. It was actually quite nice, although opening the packet was an art in which I am not trained and so I just cut the packaging to pieces until I could rip it open.

The early morning arrival in Los Angeles meant it wasn’t too busy and was relatively quick to get through Customs. Customs processes happened in the opposite order to what I was expecting…first up was the “who are you, what are you doing here, how will you react if I bluntly ask you a couple seemingly random personal questions in an accusatory tone” interview. I thought I was going to get dragged in to an office for a moment there when I was asked if I have any family in the US and I said “no”…a few moments passed and then just as he was about to say something I jumped in with “actually…ummm…I think I have some relatives on Mum’s side of the family somewhere in California, but I’m not sure who they are or where they are”…but he just went on and stamped my passport and away I went.

After that I collected my luggage so that it could go through Customs inspection…or in this case a quick look at the declaration form I had filled out on the plane and one very quick question about it. My baggage may have been scanned before I picked it up, but it certainly wasn’t check at all as I went through Customs. My detailed list of the values of all of the gifts (including the multiple different prices of Tim Tams from the various purchases I made in the weeks prior to the trip) and to whom I had allocated the gifts seemed like a waste of time and effort…but I’m glad I did it anyway as it was a useful document for my own reference.

I had expected that I would pick up my luggage and then go through Customs where both I and my luggage would be examined…I probably looked a little lost and confused as a result.

After this it was off to another terminal to check in my luggage again and wait a few hours for my flight to San Francisco. For this, I made my first ever purchase with physical US currency: a cup of coffee, and put the batteries back in my radio (I had removed them prior to the first flight and stored them in a separate compartment of my carry-on backpack so as to prevent accidental switching-on of the radio) where I tuned in to KEIB 1150 AM “The Patriot” (an almost new station in Los Angeles in that the same people who run KFI run it, and recently flipped it from progressive to conservative talk, allowing them to clear shows in LA which were dropped by Cumulus and a few other shows too, and allow them to expand the local content on KFI). I listened to most of the last hour of Glenn Beck’s show and roughly the first half-hour of Rush Limbaugh’s show, but I was quite tired by this stage so I decided to walk around for a bit instead which helped a bit.

WF-F57 Walkman
Samuel’s Blog file photo: Samuel’s WM-F57 walkman

The flight from LA to San Francisco was delayed for an unspecified reason, and was then further delayed on the tarmac for another unspecified reason. Neither occasion was too long, adding up to about 45 minutes in total. I got quite a bit of sleep on this flight. During the delay on the tarmac I dozed off…I don’t remember dozing off, but I do remember the 20 minute delay feeling like it took about three minutes, and I remember the Captain’s message at the start and end of the delay where he noted the same amount of delay in both. The plane then taxied around LAX for what seemed like an eternity of maze-like craziness, and I dozed off during this as well as at one stage we were taxiing and the next thing I knew was that my seventh sense woke me up to obtain a cup of coffee which was about to be offered to me by the cabin crew.

San Francisco airport was, for me, an interesting series of escalators and automated trains to get from the plane to the rental car facility via Baggage Claim. My original plan had been to drive straight to Petaluma and then make the necessary phone calls to home to advise of my arrival, however the scheduled time for this call was “somewhere between 10am and 11am Canberra time”. It was close enough to 1:30pm in San Francisco and 9:30am in Canberra, and knowing the approximate morning schedules of the people I had to call and knowing that I might not get to Petaluma by 3pm, I decided to call from the rental car prior to driving off, which worked out well.

After this, the fantastic website Radio-Locator.com came in very handy as auto-tuning was not very effective from within the carpark and I wanted to find the frequency of Sean Hannity’s affiliate in the area KSTE 650 AM and avoid the pseudo-conservative Michael Savage who occupies that timeslot on KSFO these days.

From there, the interesting fun of getting used to driving on the wrong side of the road and the wrong side of the car. This was a little harrowing when it wasn’t possible to get in to the correct lane for an exit and I had to drive through some busy roads in San Francisco for about twenty minutes, which well-and-truly fixed any confidence issues I had, corrected the instinctive “move the car a bit to the right so the lane markers look like they’re in the right place for where I’m sitting” thing, gave me plenty of pre-freeway time to re-learn mirror positions, and mostly get rid of the instinctive “when turning left, aim for the left of the road” habit. Evetually I got on to the freeway and drove over the Golden Gate Bridge and all the way to my hotel in Petaluma, the Quality Inn. On my way I passed an electronic message board advising people to save water due to the drought, and as I got closer to the hotel and it passed 3pm and the end of Sean Hannity’s show, I tuned in to KSFO 560 AM for Mark Levin’s show, which was interrupted by an amber alert (I’ve heard the automated alert system used for weather warnings, but not an amber alert before…it caught me by surprise).

My Mustang parked at the Quality Inn, Petaluma
My Mustang (well, it’s mine for ten days) parked at the Quality Inn, Petaluma

My room at the Quality Inn, Petaluma
My room at the Quality Inn, Petaluma

The Quality Inn has some really lovely staff and the rooms are very nice. The free wifi is a useful added bonus and I’m particularly impressed by the semi-automatic lighting in the bathroom which turns on when you walk in and turns off a little while after you leave if you don’t override it…and the lighting in the main living area is functional, effective, and can be controlled on a light-by-light basis, which means I don’t have the problem I have in many hotels where the lighting has two options: two bright and too dim. The tap system used on the bath and shower which controls whether water flows to the bath or shower via a pin and water pressure system of some sort is quite interesting and effective too. I’m also a fan of the coffee-bag based coffee machine in the room. I also quite like the interesting layout of the hotel which makes it look and feel like a mini town of a bunch of little cottages…it looks and feels both pretty and relaxing.

One thing to note is that the hotel has a breakfast service, but not a lunch or dinner service, not that it matters as there are plenty of great food options nearby. I took the five minute (or thereabouts) drive to a Mexican restaurant (Don Pancho‘s) and had a fantastic dinner…and it gave me the excuse to get in a bit of night-driving.

Prior to dinner, I relaxed for a little while in the hotel room and flicked through the local TV stations. (Alas their DirectTV lacks Fox News Channel…oh well, it is California). I turned on the TV and was greeted by the local Fox station running Dr. Oz…apparently I can’t escape from him. Some of the stations were running continuous coverage of the amber alert while others were running updates on it, as well as a traffic snarl caused by a police officer getting injured after stopping to assist a broken-down motorist.

I was flicking through the stations so I forget who said what, but I noted two stations, at roughly the same time, informing their viewers that they knew about the amber alert before everyone else because they were under a police helicopter when an announcement was made from the helicopter about it…they both showed roughly the same footage of it. One of the stations even had a story about that electronic message board sign about using less water (yes, I did mention it earlier for a reason) which unfortunately ran in to a few minor issues…the first of which was the amber alert which took over all of the electronic signs and ruined the live cross to the reporter standing in front of the message…the reporter’s package about using less water had an unfortunate but predictable shot of the reporter talking directly to camera about practical ways to use less water such as having shorter showers, illustrated by having him present this piece in front of a running shower which was running for very long time before he stopped talking about it.

While I have been writing this, I have had the radio tuned to yet another station. KKSF 910 AM for George Noory’s Coast To Coast AM. The relevance? Two reasons, my blog post upon reaching LA mentioned George Noory, and more importantly KKSF is Leo Laporte’s “The Tech Guy” San Francisco affiliate…today (I started writing this when it was still Tuesday, but it’s now early in the morning on Wednesday) I’m visiting Leo’s TWiT.tv studios, so I should probably go to bed now and stop making a supposedly short blog post even longer.

Samuel

February 12th, 2014 at 08:42pm

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