Experimental music, photography, and adventures

Archive for March, 2007

Great weekend, and my first bicycle commute

Monday, March 12th, 2007

Sarah and I had a great weekend. We spent a lot of time outdoors and did some photography. I also put in over 40 miles of road riding over the weekend. I’ll post more on those topics later; For now, I want to talk about my first commute by bicycle, which I did this morning.

I had worked out a route in advance, and did a trial run on Saturday (see the route on Bikely.com). It’s only 2.79 miles, and it took me 12 1/2 minutes on my test ride. Of course, that was at a pretty brisk pace, and on a Saturday afternoon during spring break. Today, it took about 15 minutes, and I averaged 12.4 mph. Normally, it’ll take a bit longer than that.

Last night, I gathered most of the things I knew I’d need and put them in a backpack. I need to get a rack and some panniers or another kind of bag, but for now, I’m using the backpack. In the backpack, I put:

  • Undershirt, underwear, socks — intended as spares
  • Belt and shoes
  • Deodorant, some wet wipe things to clean my face, comb
  • Pump, patch kit, bike lock, Sarah’s old digital camera

This morning, I got up, took a shower, and put on my pants that zip off into shorts, a white T-shirt, and a jacket. I put a pair of dress pants and a shirt in the backpack. Sarah had told me it was only 32 degrees outside, so I grabbed my full-fingered biking gloves and put the cutoff gloves in the backpack. I had discovered the night before that my coffee mug actually fits in the water bottle holders in my bike, so I put that in there. I put on my biking shoes and left.

Due to the time change, it was still a little bit dark this morning, but not bad. I set out and turned onto the bike path — I didn’t see a single other person on it (not that it’s that long), and it’s fun to ride because it’s hilly and you can really get moving. The only problem is that it spits me out at the Bypass, a very busy road that I have to cross, and there’s no stoplight or stop sign there, so I just have to wait for a gap in the traffic. Fortunately, I didn’t have to wait too long.

After that, almost the entire route is on 7th Street, which was pretty vacant due to the lack of IU students (spring break). I went at a moderate pace, slower than I usually ride, since I didn’t want to work up too much of a sweat, but I kept moving pretty well. Most of the stop signs I rolled right through, as nobody was around. IU’s campus is fairly pretty, so it was a pleasant ride, but I’m worried that it’ll be too crowded once the students come back.

There are only two stoplights along the way, and they’re at consecutive streets, so it’s unlikely I’ll have to stop at both of them. I had to stop at the first one this morning, but the second was green by the time I got to go.

I had prearranged to put my bike in a storage room during the day, but I have to open the door from the inside, leaving the bike outside while I do so. In fact, there are two sets of doors, but the inner one even had a doorstop, making it very easy to bring my bike inside.

I should have changed clothes in the storage room, but instead went and changed in the stall in the bathroom. This was far from ideal, as it’s hard to change in such a confined space. My shirt was a little bit wrinkled, but the wrinkles came out after I wore it for a few minutes. My back was a bit sweatier than I would’ve liked, due to the backpack. I combed my hair, put on some more deodorant, changed shoes and put my biking shoes back in the storage room.

All in all, I’d have to say that my first commuting attempt was a success. However, there are some improvements I need to make:

  • Get a rack/bags so I don’t need to use the backpack
  • Leave shoes at work
  • Change in the storage room
  • Wear something other than an undershirt while riding, since I’m going to change it anyway.
  • Remember my breakfast

Things I liked:

  • Riding is invigorating and helped me wake up
  • The bike path
  • Riding through campus (again, this was probably only enjoyable because it was vacant)
  • Birds flying alongside me as I rode
  • Fresh air

If you look at those lists, you’ll notice that the only problems I had were related to carrying gear and changing my clothes — no problems with the ride itself.

I’d like to thank VelociPete and SpiralCage for their excellent commuting blogs, which in part inspired me to try this. I also hope to start something like SpiralCage’s “Commute Pic of the Week,” if I keep this up.


Thursday, March 8th, 2007

Sarah and I were at Kmart last night, and I looked around the toy section to see if they had any cool toys that I could use for music-making purposes. I’ve been on a circuit bending kick, or at least I’m trying to learn how to do some circuit bending. Circuit bending is taking existing devices and messing up their circuits to get them to do different things, such as changing the pitch, adding effects, making glitchy sounds, etc. It’s generally done to toys, although ones from the 80s-early 90s are best, since newer ones often have all the circuitry on a single chip.

Anyway, I found this awesome toy, a “Zoundz,” made by Zizzle. It was on sale for $15, marked down from $49.99. The idea is, there’s a white surface with three “hot spots” in which you place various “pawns.” Each pawn makes a different sound, and will play different melodies or beats depending on which hot spot you put it on. The hot spots also light up/blink in various colors. You can also adjust some effects, and using the cube pawn, you can record 5 seconds of your own audio. You can also plug in a mic or iPod and play it through the Zoundz. You can see a video of a Zoundz in action on their site or in this YouTube video (not mine).

The Zoundz is pretty cool as-is, but of limited utility for making music. It comes with pre-programmed loops (except the recordable cube). I hope that I can find a way to hack this thing to play my own sounds, allowing me to use the pawns to control it. I haven’t looked inside the device yet, but this seems a little ambitious to me at the moment. I definitely need to tackle some easier projects first.

I’m looking forward to the arrival of the Barbie Karaoke Machine I am getting from eBay, as it’ll be a fun circuit bending target, and hopefully a learning experience.

I’ve already had some circuit-bending success, adding audio outputs to a cheap keyboard I got at Wal-mart, and doing some semi-successful experiments with this old equipment I bought at an antique shop. It appears to be a Dictograph from the WWII era, and would have been used for eavesdropping/spying. It has several elements that are either speakers or microphones, which I am hoping to use as mics. I got one of them to work (sort of) already, although I had to yell to make it pick up my voice. It had a great boxy sound, and I’d love to use it for something, so hopefully I can get it working a bit better.

Moore’s Creek Road, Part II

Monday, March 5th, 2007

I did a 22.3-mile road ride yesterday. I decided to take the same route as last time, hoping that the thick ice that was there before had thawed.

I took Smith Road out, as before, and I still like riding on this road a lot. It’s mostly straight, but the hills are fun and a great workout. There isn’t usually a whole lot of traffic, and the cars that are there mostly know to expect bikes and are pretty courteous. It’s also a pretty, semi-rural road, one of those strange areas that feels a lot more remote than it actually is; a country road within minutes of the mall.

I stopped at a place on Snoddy Road where I remembered wanting to take some photos last time, and took a few minutes to shoot.
Fences, horses, road
Rolling hills on Snoddy Road.

This is sort of how I envisioned the shot, but it’s not quite right. I’ll need to take a better camera out there sometime. I like those rugged fences, and the lines created by them, and the horse at the edge of the frame. While I was shooting, the horses got curious about what I was up to and came over to check me out.

Somebody please bathe this horse.

Moore’s Creek Road was in similar shape compared to how it was last week, but I did snap some photos this time.

Looking up the hill on Moore’s Creek Road from about halfway up.

When I approached the section of road that was frozen last weekend, I saw a guy standing by a parked minivan taking a photo and knew I wouldn’t be able to ride that section of road. Once I turned the corner, I could see that it had indeed thawed, but now was merely flooded. I talked to the guy a little bit, who claimed to be “originally from Terre Haute” (Indiana), but he had a thick accent and even said “ja” at one point. Later, he said he was from Austria. I told him about some other scenic places in the area; I wonder if he checked any of them out. I forgot to take a photo of the spot with the flooding, but here’s how it looked last week, once it froze over:

Do you think this road is closed?
Do you think this road is closed? I mean, seriously, it’s just a suggestion, right?

After I backtracked to the intersection with Snoddy Road, I checked out some other roads in the area, to see what was there and where they went. So I took Rhorer Road to Harrell Road, which was a fun one to ride on, with more rolling hills.

Rolling hills
Harrell Road

From there, I’m a little sketchy on the details, but I ended up on the same road where I had to turn around before due to the flooding. So now I know where that one comes out. By the time I’d explored part of that, I headed home. Along the way, I decided to ride through my old neighborhood where I grew up, since I was feeling a bit nostalgic.

It was a great ride. I need to get to know my way around that area better. All the roads there are pretty fun to ride on, but I should plan some routes so I have a better idea where I’m going. It’d also help to bring the GPS — I need to order a second handlebar mount for that so I can have one on each bike.

Since Van requested it, I posted a rough version of this route. I didn’t use gmaps-pedometer because it won’t let me import a .gpx file, which I can export from my mapping software. Instead, I used bikely.com, which does allow .gpx import. Here’s the route on bikely.com. That site doesn’t connect the dots via roads like my other software does, so it’s not exact, but you can get the basic idea.

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