Electronics Product Stewardship Canada

September 1st, 2008 No comments

The lure of High Definition is keeping me interested in purchasing a camcorder that I can mount on the motorcycle or remove for shooting the places I visit and the people I meet. Lifecycle sustainability is an important factor in my choice and it seems that the major companies are becoming aware of this. I searched for an environmental report comparing major electronics companies that manufacture camcorders I am interested in purchasing, especially Sony, Canon, JVC and Panasonic. I found some interesting information but no side-by-side comparison.

In Canada we are lucky to have non-profit societies that are working hard on the problem of electronics disposal. Electronics Product Stewardship Canada is developing an “industry led solution” to see electronic waste properly managed. Of the four companies I am interested in, only JVC is not a member of this coalition. The organization is nationwide and has influenced policy in British Columbia so that electronics can be recycled here. Unfortunately, there is a large list of items that are not accepted, so I have to keep storing my broken VCRs until the program expands.

As part of the “Live More Lightly Project” I hope to raise awareness of these programs so that more people will utilize them and keep dangerous materials out of landfill sites. There is a fee to re-cycle electronics but there are depots throughout the province and a handy map to locate a depot near you. Other provinces have similar programs and I encourage you to use them.

Re-use of working electronics is always preferred to disposal and organizations such as Free Geek will accept equipment that is not state-of-the-art, refurbish it and donate it to a needy charity or sell it in their computer thrift store.

Some companies are putting more effort into product stewardship and environmental programs and this will influence my purchasing decision. See a short description of each company’s efforts below. Read more…

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Watch the Watcher

August 20th, 2008 No comments

I have been fascinated by the idea that I am being watched by surveillance cameras since they started to become more common in the 1980s. In 1989 I wrote a play that explored a vision of the future. It was rejected for a Canada Council Grant because it was too much like the novel 1984 by George Orwell. The play contained an act that featured a lonely young man and opened with him watching television alone because his roommate had gone on a date. Read the play excerpt here.

Many of the technologies I envisioned in the play have become ubiquitous in our lives. I wrote about ATM machines, the internet and e-books, but the focus was surveillance and government control. Now I read articles that confirm my fears that every moment we are in a public place, we are on camera (example). Is this something to fear or does it contribute to public security? The example article quotes Norman Siegel, who recommends that everyone carry their own camera with them so they can record their version of any event they witness. This is good advice, but sometimes events happen so fast or unexpectedly that the video camera is still in the case when the action occurs.

The idea of mounting a video camera on my motorcycle did not arise from the idea of documenting civil rights violations, or even motor vehicle traffic law breakers, although that’s not a bad idea . . . my idea came from wanting to share the experience of riding a motorcycle. When I am riding, I am part of the environment in a way that never occurs when I am sealed in the box of a car or van. With only two small patches of rubber on the road — it’s as close as I can get to flying.

Even though I know each time I go to the bank, shop, drive or even walk down the street, I may be on  video and might be on the internet. I know that there is not enough manpower to monitor every video stream; so there must be years of video stored on hard drives that has never been viewed. There are very intelligent software filters and programs that match facial features or license plates to database records, used by large organizations and governments, so humans only become involved if there is an alert. Video is often used after the fact to try to identify perpetrators or get-away vehicles. I try to be nondescript in public and pass under the radar by looking completely non-threatening. Invisible = average height, middle-aged woman.

As part of my camera research I have been looking at the possibility of using a surveillance camera for the always-on option on my bike. The cameras are small, high-quality, durable and stream directly through an ethernet cable to a computer or the internet. There is a lot of money spent on the development of these cameras and so they come in many shapes and sizes. Some manufacturers even make ones with a built-in windshield wiper, de-mister and/or heater! Some are really high quality and I will do another post on camera choices soon.  I already plan to bring a computer and I wanted to stream on to the internet, so this could give the process a jump start. This system example I got from Gary looks like it is used by plumbers to examine pipe insides. The notebook runs on Vista, but I will try to make it work in Linux too.

Notebook Inspection Cam

Carrying my notebook with me everywhere I go would be a good thing as I really do use it, when I bring it along. I need bags on my bike so I can carry it securely and not have to strip everything off every time I stop. I am working on it.

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Another connection with surveillance technology is my interest in highway-cams. On my tour, I plan to identify hiway cams and video them as they are capturing me. I talk about the artistic influences that inspired me to do this here. The ideal outcome will be if I can have a collaborator saving the highway-cam stream on their computer so that I can use the video record in a documentary.

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There are also threats to privacy in the proliferation of spyware. A description of what these programs can do is found here on a site that sells software designed to assist network administrators to monitor computer use. Downloaded spyware can track every keystroke you make, where you go on the internet, what pages are viewed, for how long and what you are clicking on. Then, the program will send all of this information back to over your internet connection to the company or individual who invaded your computer. Computers running Windows are most vulnerable to this type of background program and regular use of Spybot and Ad-Aware are recommended to all of my Windows computer clients. Just to demonstrate how devious these programs can be, a recent invasion of spyware was caused by a company masquerading as Ad-Aware. Please ignore all other sites and download only from Lavasoft.

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Life-Cycle Responsibility

August 9th, 2008 No comments

Time is slipping away so fast with so many details to take care of to realize the Live More Lightly Project. One of the reasons this project is so complex is that I have taken life-cycle responsibility for the product that I am producing. The product in this case is a multi-media book, but the principals apply to anything produced. In this post, I will refer to the concept of the universal product as a “widget”. The recent rush to re-cycle widgets properly is to be applauded, but the idea of considering the environmental impact of every aspect of producing and maintaining the product is often overlooked.

My particular widget, the “Live More Lightly Songbook and Workshop Guide” will be printed using the most environmentally friendly processes available. The included disk will have to be made from virgin plastic, so the choice will be based on price, although I plan to choose a company that uses environmentally sound practices when they can. This is the point where many producers believe they have done enough, but I continue to examine my practices: can I live more lightly?

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I am writing the book using a computer that I built from mostly re-cycled parts and the notebook I bought to take on the tour was manufactured by AsusTek, a leader in re-use and re-cycling of its products. I am using Ubuntu Linux on both computers (the notebook came with Vista, so it is dual-boot) because I believe that open source software is more efficient and uses less resources. This is a statement I can’t provide academic proof for, but I know it saves my resources. With Windows and Mac computers I have to spend time working to be able to afford the product, then after spending considerable sums of money, I usually have to spend hours troubleshooting. With Linux, if you can get it to work — it is yours. I want to have good karma on this project and use legitimate software only. The software I am using in Ubuntu would take me months of work to afford because I do not want to be a software pirate.

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Portrait by Drockleberry

August 6th, 2008 No comments

Thanks for the great portrait of me — in a helmet!

I really am pleased.

Click to view drawing of Victoria.

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Hard Cases not included

August 2nd, 2008 No comments

My beautiful, big bike is 18 years old and accessories are not easy to find. I really need some hard luggage to do any serious touring. This fact has become very clear as I had to carry my gear in a bag all over the Folk Festival on Saturday. On Sunday my daughter arranged for me to stash my biking clothes backstage, so it wasn’t so bad. Now it is time to get serious about this issue. I must get custom bags.

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Right now I have a piece of local motorcycling history, Skookum bags made in Vancouver many years ago. They have a lot of good features, including a plastic cover in a velcro pocket on the bottom that covers the bags in the rain. They have been sturdy and durable, but I have to be careful to keep them off the pipes or they will get damaged by the heat. The biggest problem is lack of security as they really can’t be locked. I was inexperienced in the world of big bikes and touring when I bought this motorcycle, but now I would not buy any bike that does not already have suitable luggage. This has been a difficult and expensive addition to my wheels.

I am showing measurements now for potential replacement bags, so here is how much room my Skookum soft bags use. The tape measure is resting on the exhaust pipe and it is 16″ to the top of the seat.

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Stuffed full, they add 12″ to the width of the bike on each side and hard case mounts will increase the width. I am showing this detail because I know I can live with these bags and something this wide will not be a problem.

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Categories: 1990 Yamaha FJ 1200

Vancouver Folk Music Festival and the Canon A80

August 2nd, 2008 No comments

It has been raining in Vancouver now for a couple of days and I have been riding, because I put my van in the shop just as the clouds were gathering. As the rain pours down in a foreshadowing of the winter that will arrive all too soon, I think back to the clear skies and endless sun we enjoyed July 19 + 20th for the 31st annual Vancouver Folk Music Festival.

Despite my frustration with how slow everything is progressing with my project, I still dropped everything to go to the Folk Music Festival with my daughter and her friends. It is really hard for me to concentrate on spreadsheets when I know there is some fine music out on Jericho Beach.

This is also a story about cameras because I was left with my venerable aged Canon A80 to take to the Folk Fest and to the Javanese Shadow play. This is because I invested in the Canon S series as a suitable camera for my daughter and it is really too fragile. I ended up with her old S2 after the power supply blew out and I bought her an S3. I had my Canon A80 and had just bought some lenses for it when I got the S2 repaired and have been using it instead of the older A80. Alas, the S3 blew out it’s power supply and I returned the S2 to my daughter while it was in the shop. So, I was left with the A80, but I had lenses to try out.

My daughter was armed with the newly repaired Canon S3 and her friends are also photographers with very impressive looking cameras, the usual digital SLRs and even a medium format antique. There were a lot of really expensive cameras at the Festival and good photographers as can be viewed on flikr.

Medium format camera Digital SLR

My daughter looked at me quizzically as I started screwing plastic bits on to my camera. It’s not like my old Pentax K1000, bayonet mount, this is a procedure where parts have to be manipulated. “What’s that?”, she asked. Quick witted as ever, I looked at the part in my hand and carefully read the neat white letters printed on the side, “It’s a wide-angle lens, dear, I’m trying it out.” She replied definitively that I should take crowd shots.

Daughter photo

There was great music at the festival and it was an opportunity to spend time with my daughter and her friends. I had never spent so much time with non-musicians at a festival. Some of them went shopping, so I joined them, as I had never considered shopping at a festival. The wares were very unique, like the small fairy wings some of the girls were wearing. A lot of time was spent talking and enjoying the sun and fine food. Relaxing, socializing and hearing the music like a lounge band at a fine restaurant, this was a very enjoyable and perfectly valid festival experience … but, I was panicking inside because I was missing everything! I had to go and listen to some music without having to talk to anyone. We coordinated cell phones, so we could meet up again, and I went off by myself.

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Ubuntu and Firewire Interface for Audio

July 29th, 2008 No comments

A week ago I went to Long & McQuade in Vancouver and took away a TC Electronics Konnect 24 firewire interface to start testing. I will need to be able to record audio in the field and my recent camera research confirms the need for an external recording device for quality audio. There are dedicated field recorders designed for every quality level and I would really like to own one for the ultimate convenience. For this project, I am trying to minimize the amount of equipment I carry and I will already be bringing at least one notebook computer. Ergo, I need an interface to capture audio (analog) and convert it to a digital signal recognizable by my computer (digital).

Current technology in audio capture is advancing quickly and with any of this technology it is best to wait until the last possible moment to actually lay out the cash. As soon as you make that decision and take the unit home, a leap forward will be made, operating systems will be upgraded and you are on your way to obsolescence.

As I am investing in the Linux operating system now, it is very important that the firewire interface work in this OS. The notebook is dual boot with Vista, so compatibility with that flavour of Windows would be an asset and I want it to work with the studio’s G4 Mac OSX 10.3.9. You may think that every interface would support Windows, but many manufacturers support proprietary systems, such as the Apogee converter system that only works on Apple products. To balance this there are certain other systems that are weighted towards integrating with ProTools software on Windows. There are no dedicated Linux products (July 29, 2008 — in ten years we will see this statement become antiquainted).

T.C. Electronics Konnekt 24

I looked at the Free Firewire Audio Drivers site to see which interfaces would work with Linux. I was pleased to see a front page posting “More Experiments: now with the TC Konnect”. The recording studio I work for has a TC Electronics System 6000 effects processing unit that I also use as a mastering device. This is one of the highest quality pieces of gear I have ever worked with and the touch screen interface is intuitive and quick to operate. Could it work with Linux? Read more…

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Camera Research – Two Streams

July 27th, 2008 No comments

Camera research has taken a lot of my time lately as I am finalizing my options. At this point it seems like a good idea to have two recording systems on the bike. This will be an expensive option, but possibly worth it. A lower resolution, “always on” system that will record every time I ride the motorcycle and a removable high resolution camera that I will control while riding. My previous research can be found here, and much of this page will refer back to systems I have already considered, when adding new information.

Low Resolution Camera

The low-resolution camera and recording system can be integrated into the motorcycle electrical grid, so it can operate as any electrical accessory, in the background. The image is highly compressed, so not as much memory is required to store hours of video. The downside of this is that the video will not be high enough quality to fill a large screen, but the benefit is that I won’t miss some great moment because I didn’t have the camera turned on. I do intend to artistically re-purpose this footage, not just present a travel diary; so split screens and vignettes can integrate lower resolution material, particularly if I catch something interesting.

Equipment Sources

The On-Bike TV site is now OnBoard TV and they carry the Bullet DVR recorder and the ubiquitous 560 line Sony camera. The camera has been improved since December and now has interchangeable lenses. HelmetCamera.com has a similar package and a Canadian company, Micro Video Products has equipped other motorcyclists.

The proven advantages of these systems are many, as they can be wired directly into the bike’s electrical system, the equipment is very small and easy to install and the flash memory is inexpensive and commonly available. It can be mounted on the motorcycle, more or less permanently, so that it is a very easy task to record constantly. The disadvantages are in the video quality and the difficulties I have had in editing compressed file formats. I find .avi to be the most widely accepted by editors and MEPG4 to be difficult to edit without converting the file. As soon as the file is converted, there is usually a degradation in quality. I will have to now look at available editing tools to see if editing technology has caught up with MPEG4 as this is an essential factor in choosing a system.

High Resolution Camera

The high-resolution camera is requiring a lot of research. There are a lot of options on the horizon right now and the introduction of High Definition (HD) video as a viable, affordable option has changed the “pro-sumer” marketplace. There are many independent video producers who are driving the demand for broadcast quality recording and with recent advances in technology, some are achieving big screen release with low budget gear.

My research last year pointed me towards cameras that had 3 charge-coupled devices (CCD) in Standard Definition (SD) cameras as having the best quality recording, and three CCD cameras still do capture the best quality colour because they use a different sensor chip for each colour — red, green and blue (RGB). Reds in particular are hard to capture and true black is always elusive, although PAL format is supposed to be better than NTSC. PAL format is mainly used in Europe and NTSC in North America and the formats are not interchangeable, although they can be converted.
Now High Definition (HD) cameras have become more available, the 3 CCD models are very expensive, packed with professional features and quite large in size. It has been argued that HD with a single, larger CCD chip recording more lines of resolution can offer comparable results to an SD with three smaller size chips, even though the colour might be a little more washed out. There are a lot of “D”‘s for definition in this alphabet soup because it is the operative word in video quality. Read more…

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Gamelan Madu Sari: New Javanese Shadows

July 20th, 2008 1 comment

Even though I am very busy with everything else in my life, I could not refuse an invitation to join a week-long workshop with five of the most innovative masters of the Arts of Java.

Gamelan Madu Sari, Vancouver’s gamelan that uses Javanese instruments, was producing a show called “Semar in Lila Maya” and they had worked very hard to bring four performers from Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Students could study with one or all of these instructors who specialize in dance, shadow puppetry and music instruction. It was tempting to sample a bit of everything from the rich cultural buffet. The group picture, taken at the end of class, was a bit of an afterthought and I had already changed into my motorcycle riding clothes so I couldn’t sit cross-legged anymore.

Madu Sari workshop with Javanese guests

On the far left back row and below, is my friend Mas Sutrisno Hartana, who has moved to Vancouver and teaches Javanese music at Simon Fraser University. It is because of Sutrisno, that I say five Masters of Javanese Arts, although there are only four visitors. I have taken better photos of him, but he is really concentrating and serious in this image below. He introduced me to the subtle beauty of Javanese gamelan when I was still playing with Gong Gita Asmara, the ensemble using Balinese instruments based at UBC. I did rehearse with Madu Sari and play one concert, and I look forward to having more time to play with them in future. Read more…

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Categories: Inspiration, VIX at Work

Respect For the Big Bike

July 17th, 2008 1 comment

It all comes down to respect for the bike. I am realizing that the wonders of the big-bike are only now beginning to unfold to me. Although I am an experienced rider, I have not yet fully understood how different this bike is from any other that I have owned. Riding a large street-bike is an inspirational experience, but I realize that I have not been recognizing the extent of the difference in riding style and the maintenance required to minimize danger to the rider. I have been riding it like an overweight dirt bike; bouncing over the bumps and flying with very little patches of tire on the road.

FJ with video mount

After falling down, I took the FJ 1200 to Simon to check the brakes and to try to help me understand what happened. We returned to the scene of the first left-hand slider on the third day after the accident. The pavement at 16th and Cambie is very uneven due to Skytrain construction. The place I fell has a split pavement with each side of the lane a different height. The scraped ridge followed a manhole cover pavement mound, bulging from the road right after the bumpy intersection. The deep scratch, where I bent the foot of my centre stand on the pavement and the patch of gas where I had landed, were mute evidence to how much ground I covered on my side while I fell. I was going slowly and braking lightly, not stressed and hauling in the brake.

It felt like the bike had bounced up in the air, then lay down, and originally, I had thought that the bike had rebounded off of a neglected side-stand. Simon and I agreed that I had come too far from where I last parked to have left the side-stand down unscraped. So what could cause this effect? It was succinctly explained to me that if the front wheel locks up the rider can no longer steer the bike as the front wheel is not turning. The bike will slide in the direction it chooses based on tilt of pavement, direction of travel and other factors. Suddenly, I was really scared.

For some reason, I had never really pictured sliding on my FJ with the front wheel locked and not being able to steer. Read more…

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Categories: 1990 Yamaha FJ 1200