Mount Bierstadt

My youngest three sisters and father came and visited me for a week. It was the first time my sisters had been in Colorado, so what else would we do, but climb a 14er. The 14er in question was Mount Bierstadt. We chose it because it was supposed to be an easy day hike, it was less than 2 hours from Denver, and some friends had done it recently who assured us it was doable. That’s myself and my sister and Anna at the boulder field right before the top.

Elevation Profile
GPX file

The mountain was doable, and we did climb it all in a day, but boy was it steep. Once you start going up, you just keep going up. I also seemed to undo my altitude acclimation by going to Liberia the week before. I had to stop a couple of times and catch my breath and I had a headache for a while. My two youngest sisters climbed straight up with no problems at all. It made me feel a little out of shape… and old.

But once you get the top, the views are awesome. We packed lots of water and cold weather clothes, but we ended up not needing it all. The weather stayed around 75 the whole time, but better safe than sorry.

 

 

Posted in Colorado, Hiking / Camping | Comments Off on Mount Bierstadt

Embedding Ushahidi

This is mainly a test for a friend that was asking what it would take to embed an Ushahidi map in a blog. Pretty much it just took an iFrame, and adjusting the CSS and layout of the map page to fit all nice and neat. Though I will say that Ushahidi isn’t shy when it comes to CSS and objects on the screen that take up space, so it did take some time to get everything squeezed together.

The map that you see here is made by the Admin Map plugin that I wrote. You can download the Enhanced Map plugin here. Obviously I’m biased, but I don’t think an Ushahidi instance should leave the repository with out it. In addition to this nifty, tiny, embeddable map, you can also get this sweet, huge, full screen map. If that’s not enough you also get a really cool map on the back end that lets the admins see all the private reports and stuff too, but of course, I can’t show you that.

The map data comes from Liberia 2011, the Ushahidi map for monitoring the 2011 elections in Liberia that I have the honor and privilege of working on.

2012-07-28 Update: The plugin has been renamed to “Enhanced Map” to better capture its nature and wide array of features. If you’re running an Ushahidi site with more than 1000 reports I’d recommend switching to the high performance version. You lose the ability to integrate with other plugins that filter search results, but you won’t have to wait 20 minutes to run a simple AND query.

Later.

Posted in ICT, Liberia, Software | 14 Comments

Back to Liberia

I had the privileged of being a part of the New Tech at Work: Planning for Liberia’s Election and Beyond workshop, so I got to go back to Liberia. Which was awesome. It was so much fun to go back. I’ve written a blog post about the New Tech at Work event here on my company’s blog. This’ll just cover the personal side of the trip.

Liberia is doing well. Seku Toure Avenue had finally been paved. There are big billboards up advertising the off shore  oil explanation that’s going on. Chevron has a big office in Monrovia as they look for oil. I remember one Liberian, when I still lived in Liberia, talking about the curse resources are for a county that can’t handle them, saying, “Let’s pray they don’t find oil here.”

In other news the surfing was great. After a 7 month hiatus I caught my first wave and a friend was there on the beach to catch the action. I was only in town for a week, so theSaturday before I left we headed out to Robertsport. The swell that day was big, and only grew as the day went on. Unfortunately my shoulder didn’t hold out for the bigger waves, so I got to watch my friends tear them up. For example, see Keith Chapman destroying that massive beast at right.

Finally, my friend Yoscha has started a makeshift zoo at the Kendeja  hotel. It started off with saving some baby leather back turtles, then saving some more turtles, then an alligator, and now three dygers. It’s pretty cool. Nothing like getting off a plane for 15 hours and then immediately holding an alligator.

Posted in Liberia, Surfing, Travel | Comments Off on Back to Liberia

Upcoming Google Event in Monrovia

As an FYI:

Google and Ushahidi will be co hosting a 1 day workshop/conference on technology and its possible uses in the upcoming elections. It’ll have a focus on how technology has worked in the elections of other countries to help give the citizens a voice, ways technology can be used to ensure transparency, and a few more technical topics, like using Google’s free code hosting service, App Engine. I’ll be speaking along with some people from Google and Ushahidi. The details are:

Date: Friday, June 24th
When: 9am – 5pm
Where: PA’s Rib House
Who: Open to everyone, but you must register online
Cost: FREE

To register, and for more info, go to: https://sites.google.com/site/techelection/. We only have room for 150 people so sign up soon.

 

Posted in ICT, Liberia | 2 Comments

Bison Peak – Hiking

This past weekend I had my first over night hiking experience in Colorado. It was a lot of fun. I went with 3 friends from my church. They had all been hiking in this kind of climate before and I was amazed at how unconcerned they were with the rain. After camping in Florida, Georgia, Washington (state), and Liberia the rain, and having a proper structure with which to escape the rain, is always first and foremost, but these guys were all about just sleeping under the stars. Amazing.

Bison Peak is way cool, There’s a nice little boulder field at the top and even though it’s not a 14er, it still has an excellent view. I had originally been told the hike was a gradual up hill, and the first mile or so is, but after that it’s more of a consistent uphill. Which would have been fine, had we camped the 2nd night near water, but we didn’t. Somehow we thought the place we camped the 2nd night, which was an awesome spot, was a 10 minute walk away. In reality, it was 1.75 miles across and 1373 feet down. Which, after hiking all day, is pretty far. So let that be a lesson to you, consult your map, or GPS, and not your memory when guesstimating how far away water is.

On the whole, a great hike, good weather, and a tad steep after mile 2.23.

KML File here

Posted in Denver, Hiking / Camping | Comments Off on Bison Peak – Hiking

Bear Creek Lake Mountain Biking

This past weekend I went mountain biking at Bear Creek Lake park. I went with a Meetup group, so far the Lakewood Beginner-Intermediate Mountain Biking (LMB) Meetup group has proved to be a great resource for finding trails. We met at Rooney Rd. and Morrison Rd., Morrison, CO 80465. There was a little dirt parking where we all parked. Apparently if you park there you don’t have to pay to park in the park itself.

The ride was pretty good. It wasn’t very technical and didn’t have a lot of elevation change. It also didn’t have much to jump over or move around. There were some fun cut backs and stuff at the beginning with a few bumps, and one down hill section had some water bars, but nothing substantial.

Here’s the the

KML file of the ride.

John

Posted in Denver, Mountain Biking, Personal | Comments Off on Bear Creek Lake Mountain Biking

Five Points Jazz Fest and Mountain Biking

StageThis past weekend was the 8th Annual Five Points Jazz Fest. Five Points, the neighborhood we now live in, is traditionally an African American, which according to Wikipedia, “is considered the “Harlem of the West” due to its long jazz history.” So it’s only logical that we’d have a Jazz Fest. I was a little disappointed that the City of Denver, didn’t bother to tell me that I couldn’t leave my car on the street that Saturday morning. Thankfully my next door neighbors clued me in, and no parking infractions occurred. The picture at the top is the main stage, where top shelf acts performed.

Looking to capitalize on the free bands and the first sunny day in months, Carrie and I decided to grill out in the front yard and invite over some friends. We even bought a new Brinkmann grill from Homedepot. It’s not as sturdy as I’d like, but it seems you have to jump up to the $600 price point to get that.

In other news I started mountain biking after a three year hiatus. There was no way I was going to ship my precious mountain bike over to Liberia. On Sunday I hit up Elk Meadow Park, in Evergreen, CO, which is part of the Jefferson County Open Space. It was a killer climb, that made me walk way more than I care to admit. In an hour and 15 minutes I climbed 1600 feet. It was a good work out and a great test of will, not to mention an excellent way to acclimatize. The base of the trail is at 7582 feet. It didn’t have the rolling hills and jumps that I love, but it was a good exercise and pretty fun. Here is the

KML File of my route.

Later,

Posted in Denver, Mountain Biking, Personal | Comments Off on Five Points Jazz Fest and Mountain Biking

New Computer

Ever since working at the now defunct ECI Telecom right after high school in 2000, where I saw my first double monitor configuration, I’ve longed for my own set of dual screen awesomeness. After my stint at ECI I was a poor college student, and while I did at different times have two monitors they would often be second hand CRTs. I was in school, I couldn’t afford a fancy 17″ LCD. Back in those days the idea of a wide screen, 24″ cinema display in satin brushed aluminium was unheard of.

Then I left the US to work in Liberia. In Liberia computer parts were over priced, and not always of reliable quality. Plus, who wants to spend a lot of money on a fancy computer just to have the generator run high and blow it all out.

The inside of the computerSo finally, upon returning to the US, and letting my savings build up after the wedding, I bought myself a pretty sweet computer setup. Basically what we have is a home built computer composed of the following parts:

  • CPU – Intel Ci7 950
  • Motherboard – GIGABYTE GA-X58A-UD3R ATX 1366
  • RAM – 24GB of Corsair D3 1600 DIMM
  • Hard Drives – 2 Seagate 1TB 3.5″ SATA 7200rpm
  • Graphics Card – GIGABYTE ATI Radeon HD5770 1 GB DDR5 2DVI/ HDMI
  • Case – Thermalta Dokker ATX case
  • Power Supply – Thermalta TR2 RX750W PSU ATX12
  • Monitors – 3 23.6″ ASUS VE247H LED LCDs

So yeah, I blew straight past 2 monitors and went with 3.

Me building the computerI’m running Ubuntu 11.04 64 bit. So far it’s been pretty good. This is my first attempt at running Linux as my primary OS. I’ve run Ubuntu 9 for a long time on an old laptop, but now I’m trusting Linux with my livelihood. That’s me building the beast on the left.

I was super happy that Ubuntu recognized my wireless card (I didn’t feel like running 100 feet of cat5 from the router to my computer) a Linksys WMP600n with out any special drivers. It just worked, like it should. I was also very happy that getting the desktop to span all three screen was a piece of cake. Again, no fancy drivers. I’m not sure if I’m getting all the accelerated 3Dness out of the video card, but I don’t care. I bought it to be productive, not to play games. I did have to buy a DisplayPort to DVI adapter cable to run my 3rd monitor.

All three monitors

I have had some programs randomly close, and a hard disk crashed the first time I tried putting the computer to sleep, more about that below. Most programs are pretty easy to install, but some are a bit tricky, and wouldn’t be something I’d recommend for the non-technical. It’s not as user friendly as Windows, but pretty close.

I been really impressed with how Linux just works with all my hardware. My wife’s old HP Officejet 4315 works, the Samsung DVD-RW works, no installing extra crap. That’s been nice. No downloading drivers.

So far one of the Seagate hard drives crashed. That sucked. It was noisier than I thought a hard drive should be when I first installed it, so it was probably bad from the factory. I had to reinstall all my programs and reconfigure them. I’ve been using Dropbox to back-up all my data, so that was no biggie. Though it takes Dropbox like 40 hours to resync everything. I bought everything from Micro Center and they were super cool with me returning the bad disk. No worries there. I also bought the 2 year service plan. I don’t normally do that, but since I’ll use this computer to make my living, I’d rather just take it to someone and tell them to fix it than waste a lot of my time figuring it out.

I also bought, for the first time ever paid money for, a copy of Windows. I now own Windows 7 64-bit. I run it in a Oracle Virtual Box 4.0.6 virtual machine. This is also my first time experimenting with virtualization. So far it’s been great. With 24GB of RAM, I’ve never had to worry about running out of memory while running another OS and all my favorite programs work fine, except Skype. Skype crashes every time I start it up in my VM Windows. I have no idea why.

I use my virtual Windows machine for checking that the web site stuff I make works on all Windows web browsers. It’s also handy to have a copy of Office around. LibreOffice is pretty good and does a lot, but MS Office is still pretty awesome. I also use the VM to stream movies from Netflix. Netflix uses Silverlight which hasn’t been ported to Linux.

The whole setupAnd of course the computer is fast. So far I haven’t really had to wait for anything, ever. Even when running 30 plus programs and a copy of windows 7 everything is fast. I’ve only ever used up 13 GB of ram, leaving 11GB unused. And with three monitors I no longer used ALT+TAB, I just look to the left.

New DeskWith three monitors I couldn’t keep using the old card table that my laptops used to sit on, so I went to Home Depot, my favorite furniture store, and bought $100 worth of wood to make a proper work bench. Here are some pictures of that as well.

The work benchI plan on looking into what it would take to have a RAID array. That one hard disk crashing wasted a lot of time and I’d like to not do that again. So I’ll probably wait a month or two and then look into getting a few more hard drives.

But that’ll be another day,

John.

Posted in DIY, ICT, Software | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

1988 Chevy C1500 Center Bearing Replacement

Yup, it’s time for an informative blog post. Below is an illustrated account of my replacement of the center bearing on the drive shaft of my 1988 Chevy C1500 extended cab, extended bed, pickup, two wheel drive with the 5.7L V-8. For those of you who don’t know, the center bearing, seen below, is used to support a really long drive shaft on really long vehicles.

I was fixing a leaky radiator hose when I noticed that the center bearing on my truck looked a little worn. The rubber that holds it in place and dampens vibrations was pretty much gone, and I could shake the whole drive shaft with my hand. Now I knew why I got speed wobbles on the interstate and what that loud rattling was.

I hate spending money, especially to pay someone to do something I can do myself (Yes I know that the law of comparative advantages says that this is not always to my economic advantage. I also just like feeling manly and using tools.), so I went online and bought a new center bearing. Based solely on the price and what the picture on the website looked like, I chose a Timken Center Bearing for $21.55 plus $10.65 shipping and handling from partstrain.com. A few days later my part arrived.

I had done some research on center bearing replacement from these fines sources: Yahoo! Answers, eHow, and Automotive Helper. I even had the Chilton’s manual for my truck. It all seemed pretty straight forward and easy. I was a little confused about using a press to remove something, but I figured I was a smart, resourceful guy and I’d figure that out in time, more on that later.

First of all, I recommend you have a vehicle that sits high enough off the ground that you don’t need to jack it up, preferably, get one that you can sit up underneath. It’s way easier on your back.  This is in contrast to my wife’s Ford Focus. A new born couldn’t sit up underneath it. Not only that, but I’d have to disassemble half the car to get to the part that needs replacement. Though little Ford Focuses don’t need center bearings, so I guess it’s a moot point. On a serious note, you should block off the wheels of your truck (see picture on right), and if need be, jack it up.

Chalk on drive shaft(left) and transmission(right)

Next you’ll want to use some chalk to mark where the drive shaft intersects the transmission, differential, and where the two halves of the drive shaft intersect. This way you can be sure to put the drive shaft back together exactly the way you found it.

Drive shaft (right) going into differential(left)

Most likely your drive shaft has been balanced to rotate with out vibrations, and if you put it back in differently than the way it was when it was balanced, you’ll have a rough ride. Also, the drive shaft has splines which help ensure you put it back on properly.

Removing the center bearing from the truck's frame.

Now you’ll want to loosen the bolts that hold the center bearing in place, thus allowing the center bearing to move freely. This’ll make disconnecting the drive shaft a lot easier. On my truck a 15mm nut and bolt were used to secure the center bearing to a cross member of the frame. Thankfully the nut and bolt were such that I could loosen the bolt with out having to hold the nut in place. I used some WD-40 to loosen the bolt and nut. I don’t think they had ever been touched in the 23 years of the truck’s life, so they were pretty hard to loosen.

Two bolts holding the metal retainer to the rear differential yoke, securing the universal joint bearings

Finally things get interesting. To remove the drive shaft you’ll want to disconnect the drive shaft from the universal joint bearings at the rear differential.  There are two universal joint bearings, each held in place by a metal retainer which is secure with two bolts. Carefully remove these two bolts and then pull off the metal retainers. On my truck the drive shaft was under enough pressure to hold it in place even with the retainers totally off. I had to use the claw of a harmer to pull the universal joint away from the differential’s yoke. The image at right shows two bolts on one side of the universal joint securing the U shaped metal retainer to the rear differential yoke. Between the rear differential yoke and the metal retainers are the universal joint bearings.

Pins hanging onto universal joint after bearing fell off

In all the instructions I read they said to use tape to hold the universal joint bearings in place. When I used my hammer to nudge the drive shaft away from the differential’s yoke one of the bearings fell open, see picture on left. At first I was terrified, but the bearing is a pretty simple pin bearing and I used a small flat head screw driver to push all the pins back into place and then pushed the bearing back onto the universal joint. See picture on right.

Push universal joint bearing back onto universal joint

I was super careful to not touch any of the internals of the bearing and to not allow dirt to enter the bearings. After this I used duct tape to hold the two bearings on the universal joint. Why we can’t engineer a better way to secure a bearing in this age of technological advancement is beyond me.

Half of the drive shaft with the old center bearing still stuck on it at right.

Now that the drive shaft is free of the rear differential you should be able to pull the drive shaft out of the transmission. You should also be able to pull the two halves of the drive shaft apart. Be super careful to keep these open ends clean. In the picture on the left you can see the half of the drive shaft that connected to the transmission with the old center bearing still stuck on it at right.

Here’s where things got complicated for me. So it turns out that the center bearing is just held onto the drive shaft by friction, but not just a little friction, a lot of friction. At first I thought I could just use a hammer and knock the bearing lose, eHow said I could, but I was worried about damaging the drive shaft and causing it to lose its balance. Everything I read said to use a press to remove the old bearing. I thought a press was a machine that pressed things together, so I was really confused as to how you would use something like this to remove something that had been force in place in the first place.  And I still don’t know. I assume you’d have to use a press in reverse to pull the bearing off the drive shaft.  My tapping with a hammer didn’t work, so I got professional help.

All that was left of old bearing

I walked over to Courtesy Auto Services, and the guy there grabbed the biggest hammer he had and smashed the old bearing to pieces. I mean he just beat the heck out of it. This gentleman was not as concerned with knocking the drive shaft out of round as I was.
And in the end he was right. The banging did nothing to the solid steel drive shaft. Even after all of this, the inner bearing race was still firmly stuck onto the drive shaft. After trying to cut that off his coworker walked up with an air hammer and popped the bearing race right off. Then they used the air hammer to force the new bearing on. Maybe it was because my truck was so old, but that bearing wasn’t going to come off with just a hammer, so I’m not sure how eHow thinks if you don’t have a press you can just use a hammer and punch.

Splines on male end of drive shaft

After that I cleaned off everything, put more grease in the open ends of the drive shaft, checked the position of the splines and reversed the disassembly. I put the drive shaft back into the transmission using the chalk and the splines to guide me.

Splines on female end of drive shaft

Splines on female end of drive shaft

Once the the splines were properly aligned it slide right in. Then I did the same thing with the two halves of the drive shaft at the center bearing. Finally put the drive shaft universal joint back into the rear differential’s yoke and bolted the metal retainers back in place.

That’s it. After that I took the truck for a little drive around the neighborhood and all was well. No rattles or vibrations. All told I spent $32.20 on my new bearing and getting it to me. I paid the guys at Courtesy Auto $10 for their time. Not half bad.

-John

 

Posted in DIY, Personal | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

New Country, new wife, and new server

Hey,

It’s been forever since I’ve posted anything and I’m not sure if anyone is still reading.

Here’s a quick update. I’ll write more when I have more time.

1. First of all I switched servers. The site was getting slow and I felt it was time, after 3 years, to hit reset and upgrade, redo, and reformat everything. This is why the images links are broken in all the posts. Currently I’m re uploading all my images. Hope to have this solved over the next few days. I hope to customize the theme soon too.

2. I married Carrie Etherton, formerly Carrie Stanley. We were married on 12/31/2010. It was awesome. Everything went off beautifully and we were blessed with the presence of those who are closest to us. Expect a post about that once the photographer sends us her pics.

3. I live in Denver, Colorado now. While I loved my time in Liberia, it was time to live amongst my people again. I felt the need to get back into a more technologically savvy country before I lost my edge. Living in Liberia you sometimes forget that Google knows what color your front door is and that iPads, iPods, and iPhones are everywhere. Another very influential factor was that Carrie had a job waiting for her at a big international law firm’s office in Denver.  Currently, I’ve started Etherton Technologies, Ltd. (website to come) my technology consulting company, and continue to work for Ushahidi and other clients.

So that’s the state of things at the moment. Looking forward to hopefully blogging and working on some cool projects.

later,

John/

Posted in Personal, Update | 2 Comments