Pac Tom website and Level 2
(21 Feb 2010 at 12:44)
I'd like to introduce you to the Pac Tom website, where I'll be organizing my project to run the length of every street in Pittsburgh. New look, look:
If you go there right now you'll see this very blog post, which contains a picture of the site, which is what you're already seeing, which etc. Maybe you got here from somewhere else and you're wondering why the site tells you that you should visit itself. That's cuz it shows all Pac Tom news, and this is Pac Tom news. But there's other better stuff there too, like a new description of the rules, downloadable KML files of my routes, and brand new maps. Here's the main one:
In post 1039 I congratulated myself on finishing Level 1, which is all the roads between the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers (conspicuous sinuous voids in the map above). That was over a year ago, and since then I've made significant progress on Level 2, which is the rest of the city. Each of the colors in the map above is a different trip, though some trips get the same color because there aren't that many colors and they're assigned randomly. I finished off the remote colony of Lemingon-Lincoln-Belmar that's across the river to the far Northwest in one go. (It's pretty weird that this is part of the same neighborhood or even part of Pittsburgh; it's almost entirely a shopping plaza. Must be a tax thing.) The rest of the year has been spent on the neighborhoods to the south of the Mon.
This is way harder than Level 1 was. Obstacles: It's about 6 miles of running just to get from my house to new roads, which I also have to do on the way back, so a minimal trip is 12 miles; they're usually more like 20 so that I can get deep down there and then cover some streets. You can tell from the map that I've been favoring the roads that closest to the borders. I like to do this so that I can "finish off" the periphery and not have to worry about it again; on the way there and back I can pick up some new roads shotgun style. (I'm almost done with South Side flats only via taking different routes through it on my way to other places.) The furthest points imply about a 30-mile round trip (you can see them way off to the West). I haven't done those yet, but I have done some 30-mile trips, so I know it will be possible and painful. Obstacle #2: This area of the city is ridiculously hilly. Level 1 sure had some steep streets but the South Side and West End are worse. Just getting there means running up the Slopes or Mt. Washington, and then the hills roll on. Garmin Connect, which is what I hook my GPS into, pretty much always assumes that the physical activity I'm doing is "Stair Climbing" based on the elevation change. The steepest paved road in the world is there, in Beechview! I'm not complaining, though. I love it.
One of my favorite things to do with the thousands of miles of GPS data that results from the project is various visualizations and computation. There are some more maps on the site and some more coming. I'll post about these soon.
Here's a newly recorded Sick Ridiculous & etc. song, Duckles Chuckles. We wrote it for Stephen and Laura's going away (eventually everybody gets married, gets Ph.D., and gets outta Pittsburgh) party; the cover picture above is from when we debuted it the first time in public (with dance routine) at Club Café on New Year's Eve Eve.
In order to fully understand this song, you need to know that Duckles Chuckles is fringe local slang for Washington, D.C., where Stephen and Laura moved, that Stephen's login ID was "smagill", and that "all up in my Chevy Chase" is like a quadruple entendre, with Chevy Chase being cockney rhyming slang (which you might consider "Duckles Chuckles" akin to) for "face", and also the name of various towns and neighborhoods and agglomerations thereof in the DC area, and thus an example of the confusing geographic status of common to the area, referenced in the first line. Nice one, doods.
Of course if we were writing this song today it would have to include Snowpocalypse, but rest assured that one of our newest unheard songs may or may not be about winter weather!
Most of the Northeast is drowning in flurricane right now. I am missing it, stuck in a Hotel (California)* because all of the flights to Pittsburgh were canceled. I'm sad about this because huge ass snowpocalypses are one of my favorite weather events; I just love when the sky is like STFU noobs! and everything shuts down and becomes intensely quiet and all regulations (e.g. traffic ones) are deactivated. Not that I'd rather be flying; several of my friends are or were trapped in motels by the airport, taxis on the highway, layovers, etc. I just want a coldtastrophe while I'm already in the city and in my apartment. Also, would prefer that my replacement flight was not during the Superbowl.
*This is one of my least favorite songs, no question. Other songs that might be my least favorite are:
"I Will Survive", mainly because of pervasive karaokacophonies, but also especially the Cake version, which is weird because I like or don't mind most real Cake music
"Jack & Diane", because of the combination of pure insipidness and unavoidability, though here I'm pretty sure there are no J.C. Mellencamp songs that don't make me want to shoot myself. I thought maybe the more mild idea to just set off firecrackers near my ears to make myself deaf, but then there's the possibility that the song would be stuck in my head for eternity with no way to replace it. Oddly, the annoying "life goes on" refrain appears to be cribbed from the unusually infuriating Beatles song "Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da."
I basically have nothing to do so I went for a long run, as I am prone. Usually in the Bay area (meaning outside of realsville) what's immediately accessible to you is just strip malls, the incessant possibility of being run over, and suburbia. But there's some great stuff both on the Bay itself and in the mountains, if you can handle a 20-mileish round trip. Today I went to the Stevens Creek reservoir in Cupertino, where I had never been before. The reservoir itself is nothing to blog home about, but the trail system and surrounding terrain is pretty great, especially on a misty/drizzly day like today was. There's a quarry right next door so a periodic explosion to wonder about what it is until you see the signs indicating quarry. What made this a blogventure (which is the phrase that Mike and Cortney and I used to use when they lived in Pittsburgh I mean to describe an adventure whose purpose was to generate a story to write about on the blogs, which by the way I am still saying "blog" in every occasion in this post, including inside the word "blogventure" (doubly so), ironically) was when I came upon this crazy scrap metal collection in the woods. There's piles of weird stuff there, like old grills and mechanisms and Your Tax Dollars At Work signs that have been plinked full of bullet holes, piles of old lockers:
Such discoveries are kind of the point of exploratory running, so I'm used to it. But I see an ammunition box among the refuse and for some reason I check what's inside, and it's a hidden geocache! Geocaching is kind of like cross between World of Warcraft for hiking. People take weatherproof boxes and fill them up with one man's treasure, then hide them in weird places and post the coordinates (sometimes there's a puzzle or something involved) online. People usually find them because they went to the spot with the coordinates and started looking. Maybe it's not that strange that I'd find it by accident, since first of all I guess I am kind of a nerd so maybe I look in the same kinds of places, and second there are apparently 1,000,00000000000 geocaches in the Bay area because of all the other nerds. But it was not what I was expecting. Spoiler alert:
(If you're feeling like my World of Warcraft jab is maybe not called for, let me just point out that the thing in the upper-left is a licensed Harry Potter fan accessory.) I did think it was neat to find this cache, so maybe I should be leaving surprises around as part of my Pittsburgh running. I know lots of weird spots.
After running I played through a game called VVVVVV all in one sitting. It is excellent. Really its only problem is that it should be 2–3 times longer than it is. (For a similar game that does not have that problem and that you should have already played by now, enjoy Cave Story (P.S. now available on your Ti-83 graphing calculator??))
Hey, this post is to officially announce that I completed Level 1 of my Pac Tom project. That's a big deal for me but I'm kind of over it because I finished over a year ago, in November 2008! I've been strangely silent on the project since I announced almost being done in the August 2008. It's part of a weird pattern of behavior where I finish or almost finish big projects but then never announce them because my announcement ambitions exceed my announcement wherewithal, which would be such a tiny fraction of the total effort expended (which is weird) so I never actually announce them. This particular case is strange because I'm well on to Pac Tom Level 2, spending many hours every week busting my ass on it in various ways. I'm trying to fix this behavior. Pac Tom Level 1 is done! Soon, the Pac Tom website and my substantial progress on Level 2.
Pac Tom is my project to run the length of every street in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA. I've been doing it for many years now, accounting for many thousands of miles and many hundreds of hours of running. Level 1 is the area of the city between the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers (see map above), which is 23.5 square miles. Those black lines are the routes I ran, tracked with my wrist-worn GPS device. I always start or end at my home or work, usually both. The background map is my old Map of Pittsburgh Neighborhoods which I made for Wikipedia. Click for a PDF so you can zoom to your heart's content, as long as its content does not exceed the limits of IEEE floating point. I have new maps now which are not as sloppy, but also not as colorful.
And then I have to do this:
ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED Every street, continental Pgh
Escape is a block-pushing puzzle game I've been working on (in various forms) for over ten years now. Over Christmas break I quietly built a new version, the first in a few years. It wraps together a bunch of minor changes that I had made since the last release and switches some of the development tools, which means it's easier for me to now make new releases. Nobody cares about that kinda stuff, but I did also finally draw and add animations for teleporting (both the player and Dalek):
The game upgrades itself, or you can download a fresh install if you don't have it and want to try. I got one report that someone had trouble upgrading, so you might want to save a copy of your game files before doing it (on Windows, just make a copy of the game's installation directory, on Mac, just make a copy of the Escape application icon, which is just the game folder). It works smoothly for me. If anyone has trouble, please post here with as much information as you can, so that we can fix it. Sorry, no linux binary for the new release, for now.
Despite no releases for a while, there's been a steady stream of activity in the Escape community. There are almost 3,000 levels built by dozens of different people, many with clever speedruns or creative subversive solutions. Some are just fantastic. Thanks everyone for their contributions!