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hacked by cyber_hunter

A little of this, a little of that

May 11th, 2008

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I finally did some housekeeping on the site.  I fixed, deleted, and added a lot of links to other sites, mainly on the Links page.  I also added a page describing what the Bathroom Server was.  Alas, I don’t have a screenshot of it.

A lot of stuff has happened in the last week. Last weekend was the Boston Trolley Meet. Excellent place to find stuff relating to trolleys. I bought a t-shirt with some Boston PCCs on it, two books on the history of the Commuter Rail here in Boston, and a replacement for my oldest book on Boston transit. (I did not treat my original copy very well when I was a little kid. It’s bound with masking tape and is missing several pages.) I also helped out as a door guard for a few hours.

Also last weekend was the first Level 1 training class at Seashore Trolley Museum. For me it was just a refresher, since I went through the training last year as well, but since I didn’t get around to qualifying I have to retake everything. Two other people (my friend Bernie and another guy) are in the same boat (or should that be trolley car?). Fortunately, it sounds like those of us who are redoing everything will be able to go right into the pilot program after we finish the classroom work. There’s a lot more people in the class this year, so we got less road time. On the other hand, we did get to use SEPTA PCC #2709, which even experienced operators rarely get to use.

Last week I started working part time for the Central Transportation Planning Staff, which is the agency that collects all sorts of ridership data for the various state transportation agencies. I spent the first few days doing ridership surveys on some of the trolley lines. This week I’m mostly doing passenger counts.

On iPods and iPhoto

March 30th, 2008

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One of the features of all current iPods (with the exception of the iPod shuffle) is displaying photos. However, all the click wheel iPods suffer from the same issue of portrait-mode images only taking up about half the space on the screen (thus looking tiny), while square and landscape-mode images take up most of the screen. To counter this, when I add images to iPhoto I often add duplicate copies of any portrait-mode images. One set is left as-is for viewing on my computer, while the other set is rotated for my iPod, which treats them as regular landscape-mode images. For organization, I maintain two sets of photo albums in iPhoto, one for viewing on the computer, one for syncing to my iPod. Except for one set containing rotated images, both sets are mirrors of each other.

This comes with quite a cost in harddrive space, however. I spent some time last night figuring out how many duplicate images I had and how much space they took up. Getting the number of photos was quite easy, as I just had to manipulate the keyword tags across my entire photo library and have a smart album accumulate all the images that ended up having the rotated tag. This produced an album of just under 9800 images - almost 40% of my iPhoto library!

Finding out how much space they took up was harder to do. The smart album claimed it was only 4.6GB, but extrapolating from the size of the iPhoto Library folder on my harddrive suggested they should have taken up 9.5GB. After looking more closely at the folders and files inside the iPhoto Library folder, I determined that iPhoto is storing two copies of rotated images. One set (which is left unrotated) is stored in the main Originals folder, alongside the unrotated images. The other set is stored in the Modified folder. This set is odd because each image takes up twice as much space as the original file. In the end, the rotated images are taking up 3x the space they normally do, or some 15GB worth.

I really should get an iPod touch. Since it can rotate between portrait and landscape mode, I’ll be able to eliminate all those duplicate photos and free up some much-needed space on my harddrive. It’ll also reduce the size of my iPod Photo Cache, as iPod touch-optimized images require less space than 5G iPod-optimzed images.

SITE UPDATE: #5 Blue Line cars finally in service

February 21st, 2008

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Today I headed out to the Blue Line to track down the first train of #5 East Boston Tunnel cars to enter service.  0708-0711 entered service yesterday, the first new cars to do so on the Blue Line in 29 years.  I was quite successful in my endeavor.  I caught them with little wait at State and rode them to Bowdoin, out to Wonderland, and finally back to Revere Beach, where I got off to get some photos from a pedestrian overpass near the station.  I had to wait around in the cold there for almost an hour before they returned outbound, and then waited some more so I could get some photos of them going inbound there as well.  I then caught another inbound train, hoping to catch the new cars at Aquarium.  I just missed them there, but while I waited for them to return from Wonderland I got plenty of photos at Aquarium, which I’ve never photographed before.  I must say, the T has done an excellent job refurbishing Aquarium.  It’s brightly lit, allowing for excellent shots even with my slower lens, and the new (false) ceiling gives it a very modern appearance.  It’s definitely one of the best stations in Boston.  After the new cars came back inbound, I again waited at Aquarium for them to return outbound and get a few more shots.  After that, I headed back home, where I warmed up with some hot chocolate.  Photos can be found here, starting with the last two on the page.

I also took a few photos of Revere Beach while I was waiting for the new cars to return there. Here’s a view of the beach looking north. The lamppost was rather interesting. I also thought this apartment complex just north of the station looked kind of interesting, with its blocky profile.

SITE UPDATE: Cape Cod Central and Mass Coastal photos

February 9th, 2008

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Today Bernie and I went out to find the new Mass Coastal Railroad locomotives.  We were successful, finding all of them lined up behind the engine house in Hyannis.  After getting plenty of shots of them and the Cape Cod Central coaches there, we went to Bourne to photograph the lift bridge over the Cape Cod Canal.  The photos are here.

Everything except the song I want

February 5th, 2008

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Since Amazon opened it’s MP3 store in September, I’ve been slowly converting my collection of DRMed songs acquired for free from iTunes to DRM-free MP3s as they become available on Amazon. I’m now down to 44 iTMS free songs that haven’t been replaced with MP3 or iTunes Plus versions. Not bad, all things considered, but there’s a handful of those remaining songs in relation to which both stores have become quite annoying. For two of those songs (”German Test Drive” by Spymob and “She Moves In Secret Ways” by Polly Paulusma), both stores offer high-quality versions of every album released by the artist - except the one the song came from. >_<

Another song ("Telescope Eyes" by Eisley) appears to have all but completely disappeared off the face of the earth. Even the physical CD ("Laughing City") is out of print. Making this even more annoying, the song itself is not entirely gone - but all the available versions of it are 30 seconds shorter than the one I have. I don't care if the upgraded version of a song I buy is from a different album, but I want the same version of the song.

Finally, there's one other song ("In The Shadows" by The Rasmus) which is available from Amazon. However, since I ended up buying the whole album from iTunes shortly after getting the song for free, I'm waiting for it to show up in iTunes Plus (which, btw, has another album by the same artist >_<).

That brings me to another rant. At this point, all four major labels have decided that DRM isn’t working and agreed to offer their catalogs on Amazon. However, only EMI has agreed to do the same on iTunes. This is getting rather annoying, as I’d like to upgrade as many as possible of the remaining 728 DRMed songs I have in my library, both for the higher quality and to get rid of the DRM. While iTunes and the iPod are unlikely to disappear for decades, I’d like to future-proof my library as much as possible in the event they do disappear, as well as leave open the possibility of using equipment that can’t handle Fairplay. Hopefully the contracts will come up for renegotiation later this year and the other labels will agree to make their music available on iTunes without DRM.

On an unrelated note, Apple today released a 32GB version of the iPod touch. That’s the minimum size I would consider buying, as my music library is some 18GB. The $500 price tag means I won’t be buying one anytime soon, though, unless I get a lot of cash and/or Apple gift cards for my birthday next week. I read somewhere that flash memory prices are supposed to drop dramatically this year, so I expect by September Apple will cut the price. Or better yet, release a 64GB version, which I’d rather have as it’s about the same capacity as my current iPod, so it will hold the same amount of photo and video content.

SITE UPDATE: Capen Street Station at night

January 15th, 2008

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I tried to head into Boston this afternoon to meet my friend Bernie, but never got out of town due to weather-related problems (we just had a snow and ice storm). When I got to Capen Street, there was a trolley idling at the inbound platform and a hi-rail line truck on the side of the road. The motorman informed me that the line was being bustituted because a tree had fallen somewhere on the line. Naturally, no bus ever showed up at the usual Capen Street bus stop (as I subsequently learned, the T seems to have adopted for such emergencies the same bussing scheme it used while the line was shut down for the loop rebuilds: busses via River Street or Brook/Central, and vans to Capen Street and Valley Road). Eventually I walked back to the station to see what was happening, arriving as they were partway through getting the line truck onto the tracks (the trolley had backed up to Mattapan in the interval). The truck proceeded to Mattapan on the inbound track, so I assume that’s where the fallen tree was. About 45 minutes later it came back on the same track, and switched back to using rubber tires. That was about 6:15, and at 6:20 service on the line resumed, with several trolleys in a row returning from Ashmont or wherever they had been sitting.

The snow and ice on the tree branches was quite beautiful at night with the station lights illuminating them, so I went back home and got my camera for some night shots, which can be found here.

New cellphone

I got a new cellphone yesterday, a Motorola RAZR V3m. Looks nice, and it makes calls. It also charges without any trouble, using a regular mini-USB plug (my old phone used a charging station, which was apparently sensitive to changes in the earth’s magnetic and gravitational fields. The last few months I had to stick a cotton ball between the phone and the charger so that the electrical contacts would make sufficient contact with each other for the damn thing to charge). There are some weird things about it, though. ‘Battery charging’ is indicated by flashing the low-battery indicator (yeah, that’s obvious). The belt clip attaches to the front of the phone, so you have to take the whole thing off just to check the time (fortunately, I rarely need the belt clip). And per Verizon SOP, the Bluetooth is crippled. I’m actually amazed that I can use that to transfer photos and videos from my phone to my computer (and add photos to my phone for wallpaper). Music is right out though, as that is restricted to Windows XP users who want to pay more money each month for the right to put music on their phones. Hopefully, by the time my contract runs out in 2010 I’ll be able to afford an iPhone.

SITE UPDATE: New Blue Line photos

December 28th, 2007

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I went railfanning with some friends today.  Initially, it was just supposed to be me and my friend Bernie, but as we entered State Street on the Blue Line he spotted Stevie, another local railfan that we know, waiting on the other platform.  We got off and joined him, and it turned out he was on his way to meet yet another railfan, Brandon, to do the same thing.  We decided to all stick together for the day. 

Prior to meeting Stevie, Bernie and I spent some time at North Station and Government Center.  At the former, we happened across the ‘double draft’: F40PH-2C 1054 and GP40MC 1124 double-heading a train.  The 1054 has a broken HEP generator, while the 1124 has a broken prime mover, so MBCR double-headed them to effectively create one working locomotive.  At Gov’t Center, we discovered that the Brattle Loop was filled with out-of-service trains (four 2-car trains by my count).  Why they were there so early in the day is a mystery.  There’s a pair of photos of them on the bottom of this page. 

After meeting up with Stevie and Brandon, we spent most of our time on the Blue Line.  Our first stop was Revere Beach, where Stevie led us to a footbridge over the Blue Line that provided some good views of the trains.  We then headed inbound one stop to Beachmont, where we got lunch at a small deli outside the station (they make pretty good roast beef sandwiches, by the way).  Photos from the Blue Line are here (new ones start with the second Scollay Under sign). 

We then made our way back to North Station to hang out for a while.  The Downeaster was in, with a wreath on the nose of the cabbage car.  The double-draft was also back.  Eventually we all left, Stevie to a family dinner, while the rest of us went down to Ashmont (which, in my case, is the same as heading home).  Bernie and Brandon joined me on the trolley there for one stop, getting off at Cedar Grove while I continued on home.  All in all, an excellent day of railfanning.

Site Update: Mattapan trolley line reopens

December 22nd, 2007

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The Mattapan High Speed Trolley line reopened today after 18 months of construction.  I went down to photograph and ride the line today.  My photos and videos can be found here.  Hooray! :-D 

On an unrelated note, you may have noticed the Sellaband banner on the bottom of my homepage.  Do check out the band listed there, they’re quite good and I’d love to get an album from them someday. 

Amie Street and SellaBand reviews

November 25th, 2007

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The last few days I’ve been checking out a pair of online music stores that specialize in indie music, Amie Street and SellaBand. Both offer music as DRM-free MP3s, and SellaBand also offers CDs.

Amie Street

I’ve spent the most time with Amie Street. It offers a sizable amount of music from various independent labels as digital downloads. Finding a particular artist is easy enough, assuming it’s there. If you’re looking for new music, you have three options. First is to browse the various Top 20 lists on the site’s homepage. Next, you can do a general search by genre. Finally, and most interestingly, the artists on the site are tagged with the names of artists they sound similar to, so you can search by known artists as well. For example, while the site doesn’t have anything by Lacuna Coil, a search for them led me to Nemesea, which I’d never heard of before but decided I liked after listening to the previews. (I ultimately downloaded their album from SellaBand, but more on that in a bit) Song previews on Amie Street are very long, from one to two minutes in length, giving you plenty of time to decide if you like the song or not.

Amie Street uses a unique pricing structure. Newly-added songs start out being free, and gradually go up in price depending on how popular they become, with a maximum price of 98 cents. From what I’ve seen, album prices are merely the sum of the prices of the individual songs. This makes it very convenient to buy one or two songs from an album and then go back to buy the rest at a later time. Buying multiple individual songs from an album is very easy, as each song has a check box. Check off the ones you want, and there’s an action in a popup menu near the top of the page to buy all selected songs. For reasons unknown, Amie Street requires you to buy credit ahead of time using a credit card or Paypal. Easy enough to do, but an unnecessary extra step. Credit is available in several amounts to fit any budget. Buying credit also buys you some recommendations (or RECs) that you can then give out to any song you’ve purchased from the site. If the song subsequently goes up in popularity (and price), you can “cash in” and get back as store credit at least half the difference between the price you purchased it at and the price it is when you cash in. So far I haven’t made any use of the REC system.

Bitrates on Amie Street vary. According to the site’s FAQ, they strive to make as much of their music as possible available in 256kbps VBR, but as many artists submit their music to the site directly, bitrates are all over the place; the handful of songs I bought range from 128kbps to 320kbps. Unfortunately, the site doesn’t list what bitrate any particular song is encoded with - you have to buy the song and download it to find out. For that reason, if high bitrates are important to you (they are to me), I recommend buying one song from an album first to check the bitrate, then buying the rest of the album. (That’s what happened regarding the Nemesea album I found. I bought the first song from Amie Street, discovered it was only 128kbps, then went looking for a site that had the album at a higher bitrate.)

Amie Street keeps track of which songs you’ve purchased on a page called My Library. Unlike Amazon.com or iTunes, this lets you re-download songs without paying for them again in the event your hard drive crashes. (There are, of course, other things you can do with this feature, but I won’t mention those) All in all, Amie Street is a pretty good site for buying indie music from.

SellaBand

SellaBand is more oriented towards getting new artists published than actually selling music. The biggest feature is that you can buy what amounts to a share in an artist. Each artist’s page has a few songs (demos, presumably) that can be streamed (but not downloaded), so you can decide if they’re worth buying into. Once 5000 shares have been sold, the site then pays to have the artist go to a studio and record an album. Besides regular editions of the album, which is sold both in CD format and 256kbps MP3, 5000 limited edition CDs are also made for the band’s shareholders (SellaBand calls them (Believers”). Believers receive the limited edition CDs for free, and can sell extra copies (if they purchased multiple shares in a band) on the site.

As mentioned before, songs can be purchased either on CD or as 256kbps MP3s. Regular CDs are $10, limited edition CDs are $15, and MP3s are 50 cents (some are also available for free). Like Amie Street, SellaBand accepts both credit cards and Paypal, however you don’t have to pre-purchase credit (although that’s an option).

The main problem with SellaBand is that currently only four bands are selling albums on the site, so it’s not a very good resource for finding new music (at least if you want to buy it immediately).

Front Row 2.0: One Step Forward, One Step Backward

November 21st, 2007

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Last night I poked through the revamped version of Front Row that comes with Leopard. The look has been changed considerably, but in general it works the same as it did before, with two exceptions. First, Apple stopped using a random number generator to sort TV shows. Why they were using one to begin with is unknown, but its removal is much appreciated. Unfortunately, the other change was that they removed the Season submenus for TV shows where you have episodes from more than one season. Front Row now lists every episode in one menu, with the most recent at the top. So if someone had every episode of The Simpsons on their computer (I don’t, but it makes a good example) and wanted to watch the first one, that person would have to sit around for a few minutes scrolling through all 405 episodes to get to it. As you might have guessed, this is considerably slower than the simple click-click-click you would’ve done in Front Row 1.0 to watch the same episode. Time to send Apple a note.