Green commuting

One of my resolutions for 2014 is to make at least half of my commutes “green”, i.e. bicycling or mass transit. I live in Sacramento and work in Davis, about 40 km (25 miles) away. Amtrak offers an excellent heavy rail connection between Davis and Sacramento via the Capitol Corridor train, with trips scheduled about every 40 minutes during peak commute times. The minor problem with Amtrak (for me) is that I live about 15 km/10 miles from the Sacramento train station. I have several options to get there:

  1. Ride my motorcycle. The City of Sacramento offers free motorcycle parking at the train station, so that’s attractive. But in the time it takes me to motorcycle to the station, park, and walk out to the platform, I can ride my motorcycle all the way to Davis, (where I can also park my motorcycle for free). Riding straight to Davis is also cheaper than taking the train. But on the downside, there is some serious road rage on “The Causeway” (the stretch of freeway between Davis and Sacramento). It’s usually not too bad in the morning, but the evening commute can get pretty scary. And finally, while I get pretty decent mileage on my motorcycle, it’s not really what I’d consider a “green” commute, even if I take it to the train station. (What color do you get when you mix green and brown? Would this be an “olive drab” commute? “semi-green”?)
  2. Drive. This has nearly all the same problems as riding my motorcycle, except that it’s a bit safer. I would also have to pay for parking at the train station (or in Davis). And I get about half the fuel efficiency using my truck compared to the motorcycle. It’s also a lot more expensive, and not green at all! I’ll call this the “brown” commute.

  3. SacRT (Sacramento Regional Transit’s) bus route 29 runs practically from my doorstep to the train station, except that SacRT doesn’t coordinate either of these two scheduled buses with Amtrak’s train schedule. I need to leave home at 06:30 in order to catch the 07:40 Capitol Corridor train. Seventy minutes to cover 15 km?!? But at least it’s a green commute.

  4. Bicycle. When I’m out of shape (as is currently the case), I can make this ride in about 50 minutes, and I’ve worked out a route that lets me avoid most of the worst vehicular traffic. And I can bring my bike onto the train, so I have transportation in Davis as well. It’s about as cheap and green as you can possibly get, and still be physically present for work.

So I’ve got two green options (bicycle/bus+train), two brown options (driving or motorcycling to Davis), and one in between (motorcycle+train). I’d like to set up some kind of scoreboard for my commute, so I can track how I’m doing on my resolution. But I don’t want to do a blog post every workday and update the tally. Tedious as can be, for readers as well as me. I was thinking it might be possible to set up some sort of Twitter “listener” that could scan my tweets for these tags:


Then, as long as I tweet my commute mode every time I got to work, the tally would be updated. And really, how many Twitter users mind all these inane messages? 😉

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Garden expansion

The Accidental Farmer has an eye-opening post on how much to plant for one year’s worth of vegetables. The numbers are daunting, but I think they’re accurate. We already grow most of our own tomatoes and peppers, and our numbers are pretty close to these.

We definitely couldn’t do all of this ourselves. For starters, the climate and building codes here in California’s central valley aren’t conducive to root cellars, and we just don’t eat everything on this list. (Rhubarb, lima beans, I’m looking at you!) But the general idea of increasing self-sufficiency appeals to me.

I think if my wife and I try this, it would be limited to a few additional planting beds per season. Partly to save my back, since I’m the one who does the digging. But it’d also give us a chance to learn how to preserve everything, how the plants do in our climate, how much we really eat, etc.

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Day 4 of 30

Challenge #4 was pretty straightforward: Follow five new topics in the Reader, and begin finding blogs (and bloggers) you love. So I tried a few of my hobbies and found that these 5 gave some interesting results:

I’ll browse these topics for a few days to see which blogs are consistently getting my attention.

There were also a few failures while I was searching. I was surprised that “Maker” and “Make” returned a lot of posts which were of no interest to me. And “Sacramento” gave a grand total of 3 posts, none of which really said much about Sacramento.

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Challenge #3

Challenge #3 of 30 Days to a Better Blog: write the post that was on your mind when you decided to start a blog. Frankly, I don’t remember exactly what I had in mind when I started this. I went back to my very first post (from June 2005) to refresh my memory, but the only thing I found there were the features I was after: pingback and trackback, so that I could get automatic backlinks to referring articles (from my own posts as well as others’). My goal was to be part of a cross-linked multi-blog environment somewhat like a wiki.

One thing that I do clearly remember wanting to write about was a different approach to secondary education, (high school and possibly junior high/middle school, i.e. children aged 12- or 14-18). That would almost certainly end up being a whole series of articles. Although I have no qualifications to write policy on this topic, I’m encouraged by You (Almost) Never Have Nothing to Write About.

So… Challenge #3 isn’t complete, at least to my way of thinking. But I have a topic, and I’ve started a draft. I’m just not anywhere close to clicking the Publish button!

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Day #2 of “30 Days to a Better Blog”

The assignment for day #2 of 30 Days to a Better Blog was to edit your title and tagline, and flesh them out more in a widget. I actually found this much more difficult than yesterday’s assignment. When I first started this blog, I had only the most nebulous idea of what I wanted to do with it. In all candor, I’m not a very creative person, which was clearly evident in the old title: SonicChicken blog. The tagline was a little more informative: Information, opinions, ideas and rants from my family and friends in Sacramento, California, US. But that was still too generic to be helpful.

Finally, working on the “About” widget got me to rearrange my sidebar. Still the same stuff (plus the new widget), but hopefully the arrangement is a little more useful to visitors.

Although this was a somewhat difficult assignment, it was also rewarding. I feel more focused and energized about my old blog now. So kudos to the folks at WordPress for coming up with this challenge!

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Space Station visibility gadget

Back in October I was thinking about how I might build a Space Station visibility indicator. Yesterday I ran across a similar idea at ISS Above, and it got me thinking some more about how I would implement my own ISS appliance. My ideal device would be:

  1. small form factor, approximately 10 cm (4 inch) cube or smaller
  2. completely wireless, i.e. battery powered and using wireless communications
  3. simple and intuitive to operate
  4. relatively inexpensive to prototype, hopefully under US$50

I could meet most of these objectives with a Raspberry Pi model A, but batteries wouldn’t last too long. So I think my first prototype will include a power feed.

One of my other projects includes setting up ZigBee mesh networking. Once that’s done, I may look into a fully wireless device using an XBee/ZigBee powered by a LiPo rechargeable battery.

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Day #1 of 30-day blogging challenge

Ever since I began using FaceBook, I’ve kind of let my blog rot. It’s just too damned easy to post on FaceBook, because I hold my blog posts to a higher standard. And due to inertia and habit, I end up with all of my posts on FB. Some of these have turned out to be worthwhile (shocking, I know!), but have you ever tried to go back and dig up a FB post older than a month or two? It’s a serious pain in the rear! No tags, no easy way to search by date, nada.

So now New Year’s Day 2014 has come and gone, and of course everybody is making resolutions. The folks at WordPress have taken this opportunity to issue a 30-day blogging challenge which I’ve decided to participate in. The assignment/challenge for today (day #1) is to write a “who I am and why I’m here” post. So here goes!

I’m Jim, and I’m blogging because I have things I want to share with you. (Yes, you!) What kinds of things? Well, my hobbies and pastimes are likely subjects. I have a lot of hobbies, but of course one can only engage in a few at a time. What I’m currently pursuing is electronics, physical computing, and the “internet of things” (IoT). Many of the projects I’m doing involve Arduino micro controllers, Raspberry Pi computers, and wireless communications (wifi, r/f remotes such as used for garage doors, ZigBee mesh networks, as well as ham radio). Some projects use the Internet or my home network, web servers, or communications gateways (e.g. email, SMS messaging, Twitter, etc.), so I’ll be writing about how I set those up and maintain them.

If you’re interested in electronics or want to learn what the heck the “Internet of Things” is, stick around. And if you couldn’t care less about that, stick around anyway! Doubtless I’ll get interested in other things over the coming year, so the topics will change. It’s a certainty that I’ll be posting some recipes, if nothing else.

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Homemade chorizo

First time I’ve made this recipe:

We couldn’t find ancho chile powder at our local Mexican market, so we substituted paprika+red chile powder+cayenne as suggested.

I made a 2.5 kg batch (5x the recipe) because that was how much pork shoulder I had. A bit too much cumin and *way* too much cloves and cinnamon for my taste. Next time I’ll make a 500 g (1 lb) batch, using half the cloves and cinnamon and dial back the cumin just a bit. Also, hopefully we’ll have some home-grown ancho chile powder to try!

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BoardGameGeek widget

I finally visited the BoardGameGeek site after a prolonged absence and got to fiddling with the widget generator. Here’s what I came up with: Thumbnails of the 5 games I’ve most recently played (and remembered to log on BGG!)

I haven’t figured out how to get the thumbnails to link back to the games, so I did the next best thing–the image links to my gaming history on BGG, and from there you can jump to each game on the list.

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Brian’s gingerbread cookie recipe

Brian brought some gingerbread cookies in to the office last week, and they were amazingly tasty! I asked him for the recipe (and permission to publish it here), which he graciously granted.

Following typical cookie recipe procedure, here are the ingredients…


  • 1.5 cup butter, unsalted
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • half cup molasses
  • one egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • one heaping tablespoon of finely-ground fresh ginger (or more?!)


  • 4 cups flour
  • teaspoon baking soda (I used to a half teaspoon in the version I brought in)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves


  • I sometimes refrigerate the dough
  • I flatten balls of dough on a bed of coarse sugar before baking, sugar side up, at 350 for no longer than 12 min. for medium-size cookies and 15 min. for extra-large cookies.

And if you need some decorating ideas for gingerbread men, check out this post by George Takai on Facebook! 😉

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