Archive for February 14th, 2014

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

The need to explain your reason for wanting a gun quashed in California

See, I turn up in the US and almost immediately the place has more freedom.

SAN FRANCISCO — A divided federal appeals court on Thursday struck down California’s concealed weapons rules, saying they violate the Second Amendment right to bear arms.

By a 2-1 vote, the three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said California was wrong to require applicants to show good cause to receive a permit to carry a concealed weapon.
[..]
Awarding concealed weapon permits is the responsibility of each of California’s 58 counties. Officials are required to follow the state rules requiring applicants to show good cause and moral character.

The San Francisco-based appeals court said those requirements were too strict and ran afoul of a 5-4 landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2008 that struck down a Washington, D.C., handgun ban and said law-abiding citizens are allowed to have handguns in their home for self-defense.

(h/t Paul Elias, AP, via the Sacrememto Bee)

I expect this one will end up in the Supreme Court, but as it’s in line with previous Supreme Court decision I expect the ruling will stand…and so it should. Being a law-abiding citizen is a reasonable prerequisite for a concealed carry permit, but having to explain yourself to a bureaucrat who can make an arbitrary decision as to whether or not they like your reason…that’s just nuts.

Samuel

February 14th, 2014 at 09:37am

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


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