Blue Skies Above Us

Just here to have fun.


5-Minute Read

Over winter break I created a twitter bot called @lacrashbot. It automatically tweets every injury-collision that occurred in Los Angeles County in 2014, and it does so exactly when each one happened. It’s depressing!

I did it using python. And I put the code on github. I thought I’d share how I did this (so this post is basically just the readme file). This is a tutorial for creating a twitter bot that reads a csv and tweets content based on a timestamp.


2-Minute Read

This post is a bit of a follow-up to the one where I plastered my bike with reflective tape. I’ve since added green spoke lights. They took five minutes to install. I think they make me way more visible than standard front and rear lights because:

  1. They move. They’re on the spokes, and the spokes are always moving. Moving lights catches peoples’ attention.
  2. They’re green. We see red and white lights everywhere on the streets. But we see green ones way less often.
  3. They’re really bright. As you can see in the picture, they create an orb of light on the ground below the wheel.

Spoke lights

I got them from Amazon for $6. About a year ago I bought them from a seller on Etsy for $20. I thought he made them. They’re simple devices (string of 3M LEDs with a battery and a switch), and he made a video talking about his creation (plus you can’t resell stuff on etsy unless it’s vintage). But, I’m fairly sure he was just selling these RTGS brand ones with a big markup. Also, I followed his installation video and after a month both fell off and broke because they advised using two zip ties.

So! Make sure to attach them using FOUR (4) zip ties. I don’t have a picture. But just wrap two zip ties (next to one another) around the battery box. Then slip two zip ties under those two (perpendicular to the first two). Then wrap those two around your wheel hub. Tighten it. For the LED string, wrap it around one spoke a bunch of times, heading toward the wheel. Once it gets close to the wheel, turn and go around the perimeter. Wrap the string around every other spoke as you go.

This is a cheap and easy way to be WAY more visible while riding your bike. I’ve definitely noticed that drivers seem to spot me immediately. And it looks cool.


2-Minute Read

Six years ago I posted the soundtrack to the 1981 surf movie, Bali High. To obtain this soundtrack, I transferred the VHS tape to DVD, then DVD to MP4, and then I extracted the audio. Needless to say, the quality wasn’t great (and I couldn’t exclude the narration). However, it’s a great soundtrack, and the posted garnered some interest. In fact, it caught the attention of the songwriter, Michael Sena! He was happy to see people still appreciating the soundtrack and new people were discovering it. I’m always concerned that someone will object to me posting their music on this site (though no one has), and it’s really nice when they’re stoked. I’m not making any money here – I’m just trying to spread the news – but I don’t want to contribute to bands losing sales. That’s why I only post music that’s long out of press, or, in this case, was never available as a stand-alone album.

Then, a year ago, Keith from Anthology Recordings (an imprint of Mexican Summer), contacted me. He discovered the Bali High soundtrack from here, loved it, and wanted to reissue it on vinyl as part of a surf film soundtrack series! Since Michael had left a couple comments on this blog, I had his email address. I passed it on to Keith. I wished him luck. A vinyl release of Bali High would be outstanding – beyond my expectations.

I checked Anthology’s site a couple months ago, and there it was! Bali High OST on vinyl, CD, and MP3!ARC016_Bali_High_front-500Keith sent it to me, and it’s beautiful! It’s a gatefold, double LP. There are liner notes by both Michael Sena and filmaker Stephen Spaulding, as well as some really great photos (including one of Sena at the time of the recording).

If you dig Bali High, pick this up! Forget that crappy recording I posted. The fresh, clean recording is SO much better! And the artist, and Anthology, deserve our support. They also released soundtracks to Morning of the Earth, Crystal Voyager, and Litmus. AND I just noticed that they made a Bali High t-shirt!



3-Minute Read

My daily commute involves a four mile bike ride to a bus stop. Two miles of the route are on a four lane road with no bike lane and heavy car traffic. On my return trip, it’s often dark out. Feeling safe, and being safe, are my top priorities. I use bright front and rear flashing lights. I follow a “I’d rather be safe than right” mantra when interacting with other road users. And I ride at a safe pace (say, when car traffic is clogged, I don’t whiz between them and the parked cars at top speed). But I don’t wear a whole lot of reflective gear (just reflective bands around my ankles). In order to feel safe on my bike, it’s reassuring to know that people driving can see me well. In many parts of Los Angeles, people driving are not used to encountering many people bicycling, and they’re eager to get home after a long day of work. There’s little point in making them strain to see me.

So I took some cheap, easy measures to increase my visibility:

  • – Reflective tape on my bicycle frame
  • – Spoke lights

This post will only cover the reflective tape. Here’s my rig:

bicycle with reflective tape

In my opinion, the California Vehicle Code’s bicycle safety requirements are inadequate (white headlight, rear reflector, side reflectors on pedals). Even when fully complying, you may not be especially visible to others. And if you fail to include one of those elements, you’re basically invisible from some angles. In Los Angeles, Operation Firefly is a great program, wherein volunteers hang out on a corner and stop people who are bicycling without lights. Then they give them a free set of lights! Great program. Lights can be expensive; they can be stolen; they can break. There are many reasons why people aren’t properly set up with gear.

Luckily, you don’t need special bicycle gear or expensive technology to add more reflective material. Just buy a roll of 3M Scotchlite reflective tape, and get creative! Now, my bike isn’t fancy, and so I have no qualms about covering it with tape. If you do, you can cut the strips into really small shapes and place them discretely on the bike. And you can buy colors that match your bike. The cool thing about reflective tape is that it only works when a light is shining directly on it. Otherwise it looks like normal tape, and can blend in fairly well.

I bought a roll of 1 inch x 20 feet 8830 Silver Marking Film – 3M™ Scotchlite™ Reflective Material. I got it on Ebay. And I used probably 3/5 of the roll. The image above shows how my bike looks in daylight, and how it looks with a light reflected on it. Remarkable difference. As you can tell, I covered much of the frame. I tried to get all angles, and I added some to the pedal crank so that a moving part is reflective. As far as I can tell, other road users are well aware of me.

If you want to get more creative, you can cut the tape into interesting shapes. Some bicycle part manufacturers already sell small reflective stickers in shapes. But a set of stickers is much more costly than a roll of tape from ebay. Perhaps Operation Firefly, or another safety program, can start giving away a few feet of reflective tape. It could also be popular at school-based bicycle safety programs.


2-Minute Read

I thought I’d share an assignment I completed last quarter. Over the course of the quarter I went out to the site (a real block, in South Pasadena), measured everything, and created various architectural drafts (by hand). Then I modeled it using SketchUp. Then I added “enhancements.” In these views, you can see the things I added: pedestrian-activated crosswalk; bike corral; wayfinding sign; parklet; bike rack; etc. I put a lot in there, mostly as an exercise.

Click each image to see them larger.

It’s a nice street, with locally-owned shops, and trees, benches, and nearby amenities (library, farmer’s market, light rail station). My goals were to improve safety for people crossing the street, and to remove some of the free curb parking to allow better use of the space (there’s a huge parking lot half a block away).

I really enjoyed using SketchUp. I used a few third-party sprites: trees and plants; trashcan; bicycles, crosswalk signal; people; cars. But everything else I created myself (including the wayfinding sign, sandwich board, and railing). The third-party sprites bogged down the program. Otherwise, it was a joy to use. I occasionally have anal retentive behavior, and SketchUp really brought it out. There were a few points where I tried to cut corners and, say, not measure the width of a door on a building on the far end of the view, but I just couldn’t do it. Everything had to be perfect.

(If I could change one thing – which I can, of course! – I would remove the black border around the crosswalk.)

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Founded 2005. Over the years I've posted writing, comics, ringtones, and stuff about maps, bikes, programming, pinball. And I had a robust music blog mostly about '90s hardcore punk (category = music).