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.

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.

Pictures from a cruise on San Francisco Bay.

Oct 08 2017

A couple of weeks ago I had an invitation to take a lunch cruise on San Francisco Bay aboard the Hornblower.  It was a work sort of thing, a quarterly fun-thing to do after putting in longer hours than usual organized by one of my cow-orkers.  As luck would have it, that was one of the rare days that it rained in the Bay Area.  You might think that it would put a damper on things but it doesn't rain much out here these days so any change of weather is not only noteworthy, it's a pleasant change of pace for a lot of us.

Anyway, here are the pictures I took.

Art installation: Visualization of city-wide Internet traffic.

Oct 08 2017

"Program a map to display frequency of data exchange, every thousand megabytes a single pixel on a very large screen.  Manhattan and Atlanta burn solid white.  Then they start to pulse, the rate of traffic threatening to overload your simulation.  Your map is about to go nova.  Cool it down.  Up your scale.  Each pixel a million megabytes.  At a hundred million megabytes per second, you begin to make out certain blocks in midtown Manhattan, outlines of hundred-year-old industrial parks ringing the old core of Atlanta..."

    --From Neuromancer by William Gibson

While wandering around downtown San Francisco a couple of weeks ago, I came across an art installation in the lobby of an office building that ostensibly displayed a realtime visualization of Internet traffic as a 3D map of the city.  I'm not entirely sure that's accurate because that would require an immense amount of access to network infrastructure they probably don't own.  My working hypothesis is that it's a visualization of activity of their customers run through a geoIP service with a fairly high degree of resolution (probably correlated against customer service records) and turned into a highly impressive animation.  I didn't record any video footage, I just took a couple of pictures.

Here's a gallery of those pictures.

Alphaville - 11 August 2017

Sep 10 2017

I've been a fan of the band Alphaville since I was quite small.  They seem to have a knack for catch hooks and lyrics that never fail to make you think about when and why they were written.  If you're not familiar with them, you've probably heard Big In Japan and Sounds Like A Melody, so that should job your memory.  So, when I heard that they'd be coming to the States to tour for the first time in eleven years I bought a ticket immediately.  It caught my attention that Christopher Anton (former frontman for InSoc) had assembled a band and would be opening for them.  I'm sorry to say that Anton did not put on a show of the caliber I've come to expect; they did four covers of classic InSoc songs... they did pretty much all covers, really, and not particularly inspired ones.  It was plain to see that Anton and his band were trying to ride on the notoriety of InSoc, even jibbing at them on their t-shirts.  On the other hand, Alphaville killed it.  They played a wide selection of songs throughout their entire stage career and threw in some new tracks from their latest album, entitled Strange Attractor.  It was like a walk down memory lane for me, finally getting to hear all the songs I heard in the car as a child driving around with my grandparents.  Another concert has been knocked off my bucket list.

Anyway, here are my pictures, taken from halfway back in the crowd and here's their setlist if you're curious.  I'm sorry that they're not the greatest quality, I couldn't afford front row seats (which were sold out, anyway).

iVardensphere and VNV Nation at the Bottom of the Hill - 18 August 2017

Sep 10 2017

Because I don't have it in me right now to do a full writeup, here are some pictures from the iVardensphere and VNV Nation concert on 18 August 2017.  They were taken at the San Francisco show of the Automatic Empire tour, in which VNV played both the Automatic and Empires albums back to back.  iVardenSphere was a solo act this time around, and performed an all-improvisational set on his equipment, something that one person carefully characterized as an industrial algorave.  VNV Nation took the stage with their usual aplomb and Ronan spent an unusual amount of time talking with the crowd.  He explained that earlier this year VNV Nation had been invited to play a concert to raise money for a German youthclub the night before playing a sold out show in an abandoned factory in Munich.  The youthclub didn't have much in the way of a PA system or lighting but was packed just the same, and it reminded him of how the band got it start in the late 1990's.  This is why many of the shows on this tour are being played in little hole-in-the-wall clubs instead of the usual larger venues.