As part of setting up another new blog I had to figure out the best way to upload images that I use in blog posts. If I chose Tumblr, Wordpress, etc to blog this would have been easy because those systems allow for easy multimedia uploads. However, in setting up this blog I wanted to control everything. I wanted all the content available on my machine, not in someone else’s database. Jekyll is great for the written content but it doesn’t have an obvious way to host images. I could have stored them all in an ‘images’ folder but I wasn’t sure how much a large folder of images would slow performance of my blog down the road. It didn’t seem like the ideal solution.

I googled around and looked at the image sources of other people using images on their Jekyll blogs. The two primary apps for image hosting with Jekyll seemed to be Cloudapp and Droplr. You have to pay for Cloudapp and Droplr had a small free service. I was feeling cheap and didn’t want to pay. I also didn’t want to postpone finding a viable solution and I would inevitably reach the Droplr file limit at some point. What to do?

I decided to download the Rack Static Boilerplate I often use to host basic static sites on Heroku. I then drop all the images I want to use in blog posts in the ‘Public’ folder and push to a basic heroku app I set up to host my blog images. Done!

If my blog ends up getting a lot of hits and consequently the heroku app gets a lot of requests for the images this could become an expensive solution. Until that point, its free and there is no limit I know of. At that point I guess I will have to figure out how to personally host an app on EC2, which will be a good thing to learn.

I have a goal: bike across the US next summer (2013). Truth be told, this has been a goal of mine since senior year of high school. Though I wouldn’t call it a goal until now. Before now it was just a dream because it didn’t have a deadline connected to the action. Now it is a goal: it has an action and a deadline.

Along with starting to train regularly I figured I should start meeting with people who have already done this so that I can learn what mistakes to avoid, what I should be aware of, what best practices to follow etc. My first such meeting was with Mr. Fidler today. Mr. Fidler was my computer science teacher senior year of high school and has biked across the US once and down the west coast once. He kindly agreed to have lunch with me while I was back in Boston for break and below is the synthesis of our conversation.

##East to West or West to East? My first inclination was to bike East to West. To me, this seems like the natural way to go. It was the direction of exploration in America’s history and the Golden Gate Bridge is the iconic Bike Across America finish line in my mind.

However, Mr. Fidler offered several compelling reasons for going West to East that have me reconsidering my approach:

  1. Home >If I bike West to East I will finish at home with my family and friends. If I finish on the West Coast I have to crash with friends, take apart my bike, pack up my gear, and take a flight home. Scheduling the flight also creates an end data that you are waiting around for if you finish early or stressing to meet if you have complications and fall behind schedule.
  2. Winds >East to West apparently faces an almost 2:1 ratio of headwind to tailwind, which, of course, is the opposite ratio going West to East. Battling 40mph headwinds in the flats out west can suck the life out of you and be brutally unpleasant and mentally exhausting. Is it worth it?
  3. Company >More riders go West to East. As a likely solo rider, how much would I like to join up with different strangers throughout the trip. Going West to East will increase the odds of finding company and the camaraderie can be fantastic. Mr. Fidler told me stories of people he met along the way and with whom he would cycle for 1-3 weeks. He is still in touch with some of them and he even wrote a graduate school recommendation for someone he met along the way and rode with for 3 weeks!

##Northern Tier vs TransAmerica Adventure Cycling is the premier map provider for bicycle touring and I intend to use their maps for the majority of my trip. As such, in choosing to bike across the country, one tends to pick either the Northern Tier route across the top of the country or the TransAmerica route across the middle.

Adventure Cycling Route Network

I definitely want to bookend my trip with Boston (my home) and San Francisco. The natural route given those two ends is to take the Western Express route from San Francisco to Pueblo, CO where it connects to the TransAmerica trail that runs all the way to the East Coast. Somewhere in Virginia I would branch off and head up the NorthEast corridor through DC, NYC and onto Boston.

Mr. Fidler raised a few points in favor of the Northern Tier instead. Specifically he noted that the Northern Tier is more remote - less tourists, less traffic, more remote natural beauty vs classically beautiful nature - very different culturally, has lots of free camping out west, and is also cooler in the summer months (he noted that on the TransAmerican route I should expect 90-100℉). He said the TransAmerica route has more history and national parks though.

##Bike Knowledge

I should, at a minimum, know how to:

  1. Fix a flat
  2. Fix a broken chain
  3. Fix a broken cable
  4. Replace a broken spoke

##Basic Gear

I would definitely need to invest in a touring bike. These are slightly heavier bikes (the frame is typically made of steel) but the weight isn’t noticeable once one adds on 2 months of gear. The 3 main categories of gear are:

  1. Bike equipment
  2. Clothes
  3. Food & cooking equipment

I asked him whether he would recommend a solo rider use a BOB trailer or panniers. He said he would marginally go for the trailer because it lowers the center of gravity for the bike, gets weight off the rear tire which decreases the likelihood of punctures, offers increased packing flexibility, and the extra drag on uphills is marginal.

##Misc

  • Bring electrical tape
  • Invest in puncture resistant ties
  • Liberally apply Chamois cream
  • Bring a stove and cook food (one can only eat so many sandwiches etc but cooked food can be fun.)
  • Bright bike lights
  • Only logging trucks didn’t yield any space on the road so watch out!

I will continue to document my reconnaissance and planning over the coming months!

I think I may have spent more time testing different blogging platforms, playing with different themes, installing different plugins, etc than I have actually spent writing in the last 2 years. Furthermore, I have wasted at least $100 on stupid Tumblr themes that I have never actually written any content for. I’m not proud of this, and I hope to turn it around starting …. now.

So why am I trying yet anther platform vs just sticking to one I have already tried?

I have used the common trio of blogging services: Wordpress, Tumblr and Blogger. My most recent attempt at blogging was on Tumblr, but I recently decided that I didn’t want a company owning my content, especially if that company had a probable chance of going public and in so doing would face substantial pressure to aggressively monetize. Facebook’s invasive advertising since going public sparked this personal rule. In particular, this photo was the final straw:

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I have absolutely NO interest in McDonalds and definitely don’t want that to be a part of any ‘news feed’ I am reading. So, enough was enough, and while I still use Facebook to see what my friends are up to, I am trying to use it less and less. I would like to write more though and so wanted to find a blogging option for which I owned my writing and on which I wasn’t going to get or serve ads.

I thought about using a fun wordpress theme and hosting it on Heroku, but then realized I still wouldn’t have the content on my own machine. I wanted to own it all. So better, but not perfect.

I then came across Jekyll after John Britton came and gave a talk about Github at Yale.

This seemed like the perfect solution for several reasons:

  1. I owned the code and the content
  2. I could run a jekyll server on my own machine and see it all / test out different designs
  3. It is very malleable and a simple language, so I could use it as a fun project to learn some basic development
  4. Github would offer free hosting of it on Github Pages
  5. I can use it with Github which would improve my familiarity with that service
  6. I would get to learn markdown

So here goes, let’s see if I actually start writing more.