Road trip: Joshua Tree, California

Mar 31 2018

I didn't really do anything for my birthday this year, in part because I just wanted some downtime (rather than go to Pantheacon I stayed in a hotel and caught up on my reading, and later on went on a coffee shop crawl) and in part because my birthday gift this was a a road trip to Joshua Tree, California for a long weekend in March.  It's been a long time since I was last in the high desert and, even though it didn't seem like it at the time I was looking forward to both the road trip as well as a couple of blessed days in the middle of nowhere in a rented AirBnB flat.  Even though we were in the middle of the desert, I was most certainly not off the grid.  I didn't expect to have strong cellular connectivity there, though DSL bandwidth was bobbins.

We didn't drive ten hours to the high desert to goof off online, though.

The first time I was in the high desert, I was there on assignment.  When driving to the flat we'd rented we drove past Edwards AFB, and it felt like I was coming home.  There are few places that I've ever really felt at home, and the high desert is one of them.  I felt welcome someplace for the first time in a long while, and took full advantage of it by spending a good four or five hours a day hiking and rock climbing in the desert of Joshua Tree, exploring the desert, following some trails, taking pictures, and discovering that I haven't been climbing in a long time indeed (causing my knees and lower back to complain mightily for a couple of days).  We made a couple of trips to Joshua Tree Outfitters to pick up a few things, and while I was there the owner was nice enough to repair one of the seams of the backpack I was using on this trip.  I didn't bring any of my radios with me (probably unwise) so I didn't spend any time working local repeaters.

I haven't seen that many stars in the sky since I used to go camping at Four Quarters Farm back east.  There was practically no light pollution that far out, and we could hear the wind almost the entire time.  I felt a little regret packing up at the end of the long weekend to go home, when fate threw a spanner into our plans.

After packing up the TARDIS and getting ourselves settled in, the first thing we did was turn on the air conditioning... and a curious thumping, fluttering sound filled the passenger cabin, swiftly followed by a strange, almost acrid scent.

"Oh, shit.  Did something climb into the engine compartment and get shredded when the engine turned over?"

The next couple of hours was spent searching for a garage in the vicinity that could work on a fairly recent hybrid, by way of a stop for breakfast to both get our blood sugar up and give whatever it was that might be inside the engine compartment a chance to either climb or fall out.  Ultimately, we were only partially correct, much to our relief.  The mechanic we saw informed us that, in the high desert it is not uncommon for local mammalian wildlife, including kangaroo rats to climb into the engine compartments of vehicles from below to stay warm overnight.  Of course, they also tend to bring food with them, and we found a couple of seedpods cached here and there inside the engine compartment.  We were also shown a nontrivial amount of leaf litter and assorted cruft that had accumulated atop the cabin air vents beneath the hood that probably wound up inside the ventilation ducts.  In short, no dead critters, just some amount of plant matter that was dislodged and fell inside the ductwork.  It's a fairly straightforward fix, but one that we can't do ourselves.

Since I last worked on this article a couple of days ago, the TARDIS was taken in for maintenance.  I'm sorry to say that the initial assessment was incorrect; there is, in fact, a dead desert rat trapped in the environment control system.  It sounds as if the air circulation fan didn't do in the critter because none of the usual adjectives were used to describe the situation (shredded, chipped, pureed, liquified, needs a squeegie).  It also didn't sound like it was a very large desert rat because, we were informed, if it was bigger it would smell a lot worse than it does now.  So, in addition to sundry repairs and tune-ups, the environment control system is being dismantled, cleaned out, and rebuilt, to the tune of $1200us.

Anyway, enough of my rambling.  Here are the pictures I took while I was out hiking and rock climbing.

Neologism: GSCA

Mar 31 2018

GSCA - acronym, verb - Using grep, sed, cut, and awk on a Linux or UNIX box to chop up, mangle, or otherwise process data on the command line prior to doing anything serious with it.  This is not to preclude the use of additional tools (such as sort).

Neologism: Nopefully

Mar 31 2018

nopefully - adverb - Something in a state or manner in which one fervently hopes something does not happen.

Some notes on locksport.

Mar 27 2018

A couple of weeks back, as part of our continuing education program at my dayjob I ran a hands-on class on locksport, the quasi-science (perhaps art) of picking locks for fun and... well... fun.  I'm a security wonk so most of the talks I run have some security content in them, but I wanted to do something that was fairly suitable for everyone (coders and not).  So, I got the go-ahead to expense a few more locks and some intro picksets to give away from The Lockpick Shop (no consideration for mentioning or using them, they had what I needed at a good price) and hauled most of my collection of locks and tools to work over the course of a couple of days.

I used the Creative Commons licensed lockpicking village slides from the TOOOL website for my talk after editing them a bit to condense them for time and spent a couple of evenings practicing both my slides and craft to gear myself up for the class.

What follows are some pictures and ruminations I have on the topic of locksport that come from years of playing around with locks (after spending about as long trying and failing to get any locks open) and doing formal and informal sessions on the topic.  Please bear in mind, I'm far from a master of this particular art.  I've competed only once (and pulled a Charlie Brown by picking the lock backwards, thus jamming it at the worst possible time) and, while I recognize that there are some very talented people out there who are into locksport for the sheer artistry of it, I'm not one of them.  I'm a pragmatic lockpicker: I'm on assignment, I need into something, I'm going to pick the lock and get in.  I'm not a spring steel artist.

Okay.  Enough chitchat, here's what I actually wanted to write.

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Neologism: Going rogue

Mar 27 2018

Going rogue - noun phrase - Ignoring the directions Google Maps (or whatever map navigation application you have on your phone) gives you in favor of using the knowledge inside your head and local area expertise.  The thing about map navigation applications is that so many people use them, the moment you deviate from the main course you have almost entirely empty streets, with a significant reduction in travel time.

Algorithm for implementing a dead man's switch.

Mar 04 2018

So, you're probably wondering why I'm posting this, because it's a bit off of my usual fare.  The reason is I think it would be useful to make available a fairly simple algorithm for implementing a general purpose dead man's switch in whatever language you want, which is to say a DMS that could conceivably do just about anything if it activated.

But what's a dead man's switch?  Ultimately, it's a mechanism that has to be manually engaged at all times if you want something to happen, and if that switch turns off for some reason, something else happens (like a failsafe).  A good example of this is the bar on the handle of a power lawnmower you have to hold down so it'll move while the engine's running.  If you let go of the bar the engine keeps running but the lawnmower doesn't keep rolling forward.  Another example can be found in locomotives; the conductor has to hold down a switch or lever so the engine will pull the train, and if that lever is ever let go (say the engineer has a heart attack or is otherwise incapacitated) the throttle closes and the train will grind to a halt.  More along the lines of what I'll be talking about are the watchdogs found in industrial controllers and realtime operating systems.  While running normally a software process inside the device flips a bit somehow - say, writing a 0 into a certain device node.  If the underlying hardware ever finds that the bit didn't get flipped within a certain period of time it reacts somehow to fix things (for example, it might reboot in an attempt to un-stick the gizmo).

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On the toxicity of USian gun culture.

Feb 25 2018

I've been keeping quiet about the mass school shooting in Florida some weeks ago because it's such a hot-button topic, and many people speaking out are catching harrassment and death threats - even the students who survived the massacre.  Of course, the National Rifle Association went on the record as saying, quote, "The NRA doesn't back any ban."  Meaning, of course, they'll do their damndest to hamstring any new legislation that has to do with guns.  It's also worth noting that there were multiple law enforcement officers - trained and armed - at the school, and they did nothing.  Which isn't surprising to me; if they're anything like the police in the school I went to, they went out of their way to not do their jobs (the students selling both drugs and guns I graduated with did so with relative impunity).  Oh, and let's not forget what can happen if you play the part of the hero and disarm the shooter - the cops think the hero's the shooter, and open fire.  No good deed goes unpunished.

But that's not what I want to talk about.  What I want to talk about is gun culture, as someone who's part of it, but who stays as far away from it as possible.

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Neologism: Platypus truther

Feb 18 2018

Platypus truther - noun - Someone who doggedly, ruthlessly, and almost to the exclusion of anything else (including good sense) espouses, defends, and picks fights over a position, idea, or hypothesis that is completely and totally around the bend.  Even taking into account the context of this person's other activities (social media history, books written, and so forth) it makes absolutely no sense why they would claim to believe such a thing, let alone fight with people over it.  There is absolutely no way of telling if they're communicating in good faith or not.  It could be trolling, it might be absurdist peformance art, it could even be software mediated madness, or some other combination of phenomena.

The term was coined as a description of a Twitter user who is adamant that platypodes do not actually exist.  The individual's claim is that all drawn depictions of the creature are fanciful, all video recordings are special effects, and all live specimens are actually mutilated creatures of other types.  Nobody knows what the hell they're on about, so all we can do is shake our collective head and close the tab.

I guess this is a milestone, isn't it?

Feb 09 2018

As I write this, it's roughly a week before my 40th birthday.  I'm sitting in a hospital waiting room tapping away on Windbringer while Lyssa undergoes surgery to remove a cataract from her left (and only working) eye.*  When this post goes live on the day of my actual 40th birthday, more things will undoubtedly have happened.  I don't know how much time I'm going to have in the next few days, so I guess I'd best take advantage of the spare time I have due to how busy I've been lately.

A lot's happened in this past year that I'm still trying to wrap my head around.  My grandfather diedSomebody I knew but wasn't terribly close to committed suicide.  I've been in the hospital and laid up at home a couple of times with strict "Sit on your ass and read comic books while you heal" orders (which, as you've probably already guessed, got boring pretty fast).  Our landlord has begun the process of selling the house we're presently renting, which has introduced no small amount of uncertainty into the short-term future.

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Online talk about exocortices.

Jan 28 2018

A couple of days ago I gave a talk online to some members of the Zero State about my exocortex.  It's a pretty informal talk done as a Hangout where I talk about some of the day to day stuff and where the project came from.  I didn't have any notes and it was completely unscripted.

Embedding is disabled for some reason so I can't just put the vide here here.  Here's a direct link to the recording.