Proper channels excise tax - noun phrase - The markup paid on commonplace things when you go through proper channels at work to do something rather than going rogue, buying it yourself and filing an expense report. For example, a flight from Chicago to Boston might cost $176us if you paid for it yourself, but by using your employer's internal processes and vendors the cost of the same flight is closer to $630us.
Last weekend the twelfth Hackers On Planet Earth conference, subtitled The Circle of HOPE was held at the Hotel Pennsylvania by 2600 Magazine. As with most years, I made my cross-country pilgrimage to New York City to attend. I flew out on Thursday morning with the eventual goal of making it to my hotel early enough that I could order in, relax a bit, and get to sleep early to shake the inevitable jet lag so I could be somewhat functional the next day. Modulo the usual difficulty in catching a ride from JFK, I made good time and accomplished a decent amount of war driving along the way. There isn't much to remark on until the next day...
Got back from HOPE on Monday. Tired and trying to avoid con crud. Also came home to a deadline at work. More news as time permits.
It's now 2018. Don't ask me how we made it, but we did.
Regular readers have probably been wondering what's been going on that I haven't posted much. The short form, and the honest answer, is that I haven't had it in me to really post, aside from some stuff that I copy-and-pasted out of my notes, polished up a bit, and saved. The holiday season is always a busy time, and my life is no different from anyone else's in that regard.
Lyssa and I flew back to Pennsylvania at more or less the last minute about halfway through the month to celebrate an early Yule with our respective parents. Some last minute jiggery-pokery landed us a pair of get-seats-at-the-gate redeye flights to and from the other coast, which resulted in the peculiar combination of jet lag and sleep deprivation. This resulted in my getting sick again not long after arrival. I was in a fair amount of pain for several weeks due to this particular illness. Frequent readers are somewhat aquainted with my dental history, which reads like a classic farce as written by Hunter S. Thompson. Suffice it to say that I was living in a haze of pain that took most of the wind out of my sails without actually being overtly incapacitating. At least Lyssa and I spent some quality time with our nieces and nephews, and everyone seemed to enjoy their gifts.
As the title implies, I think I need to take a break from blogging for a while. Just a week ago I had plans to write up my notes from DefCon and then go into all of the neat stuff that happened, like pulling a Charlie Brown at the locksport contest (okay, that wasn't so neat but at least I can laugh about it after the fact), the InSoc concert, and all of that happy stuff.
Unfortunately, I've just returned from the east coast. Mid-last week I got a phone call from my mother while walking to work and was told that Robert, a close relative who's been a strong influence in my life (though not necessarily a geographically close one) had gone in for neck surgery the previous Friday. By Sunday he had full-blown pneumonia; a day or two later he'd thrown a blood clot. Details get a little sketchy at this point: It could have been a pulmonary embolism or a heart attack or a stroke. Nobody's quite sure and I didn't spend any time digging for details. I was able to confirm that he'd coded twice and was in a coma.
Less than an hour later, my mother called me back. Bob was dead. She and my grandfather weren't able to travel to Georgia for the funeral so I went to represent our side of the family.
I wrapped up what I could at work and at home, threw a week's worth of clothes into a suitcase, and caught the first flight to Georgia, by way of Arizona and North Carolina. I'll spare you the details of an amazingly shitty cross-country flight which left my knees bruised and running on less than an hour of sleep out of 48, as well as a hotel from a chain that I don't think I'll ever stay in again if I can help it (La Quinta - 0/10, would not stay there again under pain of death).
Also, at one point during the weekend I went with a few of my cousins to see the Suicide Squad movie. Don't bother. All of the good stuff was in the trailers, and they cut most of that out of the final movie. Read the IMDB page and go on with your life.
The flight back was remarkably uneventful so I'll spare you the details. Suffice it to say that now I need to figure out how to get my head screwed on tightly enough to get back to work because, funerals and mourning and all that stuff aside, I still have a family to support and a job to do.
So, I'm going to be taking some time away from this blog. In part, I have a lot to catch up on. In part, I don't have it in me right now. I've been doing a lot of traveling so I'm stuck in a state of prolonged jetlag. And... in the last month I've attended two memorials, missed a third, and now I've gone to a funeral and I'm completely out of fucks to give.
Back from DefCon. Don't know how I'm still on my feet right now. Went to lots of talks, went wandering more than is usual for me at DefCon, attended some incredible shows. Still smarting from how much even a lousy meal costs in Las Vegas. Had an incredibly lousy pair of plane flights to and from Vegas.
And now, back to figuring out how to reacclimate with workaday life.
It's mostly been radio silence for the past couple of days. If you're reading this you've no doubt noticed that Switchboard (one of my constructs) posted the slides from my talk earlier this week. As sophisticated and helpful as she is, Switchboard can't yet pick thoughts out of my wetware to write blog posts. And so, here I am, my primary organic terminal sitting at Windbringer's console keying in notes, saving them, and then going back to turn them into something approaching prose. I've just now had the time to sit down and start writing stuff about HOPE XI, largely because after getting back all hell broke loose at my dayjob (per usual) so I haven't had the time. In point of fact, this writeup will probably happen over the course of a couple of days so it might come off as a bit disjointed.
It felt kind of strange attending this HOPE. I missed the last one two years ago because I was in the middle of moving into our new place on the other coast so I felt a little out of the loop. I missed just about everything that happened there and I keep forgetting to go back and track down the video recordings (so I'll have another part of me do that). It didn't take long to get back into the stride, though. Once you start attending hacker cons regularly it's easy to find how everything comes together, dive in, and get out of it what you're looking for. There weren't many vendors there because HOPE is largely a talks-and-talking to people kind of conference but I did come home with a few things to practice with as I always do. I also went out of my way to not buy another full wardrobe of t-shirts because, even after getting rid of 4/5 of my collection (including, I hasten to add, much of my collection of hacker convention shirts) space in my dresser is still at a premium. So goes the life of a self-admitted clothes horse. I also found one of Seeed Studio's FST-01 ultra-miniature 32-bit computers for sale at a table and snapped it up to use it with NeuG as a random number generator in a few of my projects because my Geiger counter died some months ago, but that's a writeup for another time.
After landing, picking up my luggage, and catching a cab to the hotel I met up with Seele, Genetik, and Nuke, whom I was splitting a hotel room with. I was a bit chagrined when Seele told me that there'd been a booking mixup and the Hotel Pennsylvania had to give us a different room. What I hadn't expected was that they gave us what amounted to a con suite, two full-sized rooms hooked together like a smallish apartment that easily had room for twice as many people as would be staying there. There was sufficient room that we were able to spread out as much as we liked with room left over so sleeping was quite comfortable. I never really got over the jet lag this time so my sleep schedule was all messed up. I may have averaged about four hours of sleep a night all weekend, modulo having to take a nap for a couple of hours on Saturday afternoon because I could neither concentrate on anything nor tune out background noise for very long. Either one left me with a dizzying sense of sensory overload which left me unable to see straight. It also meant that I spent the next couple of days trying to catch up and crashing hard after work for ten to twelve hours, with very strong but fragmentary dreams as my primary long-term memory optimized itself. It was the kind of sleep deprivation that you didn't know you had, as opposed to the kind of sleep deprivation where you know full well you've been awake for three days straight and you feel it in your bones, your fingers, and even in your hair. I didn't make it to all of the talks I wanted to but I did make a point of picking up a couple of DVDs before I left of the ones I really wanted to hit; I also downloaded most of the livestream recordings to watch later on the media box, probably after I get off the road the week after next.
A colleague of mine once remarked that there comes a point where you pretty much level out of most of the stuff that happens at hacker cons and you get more out of interacting with everyone there than you do from attending talks or seminars. I was somewhat skeptical at the time but open-minded about the possibility. Now I'm wondering if that's not the case because, from reading a whitepaper or two and having part of me do a search I can pretty much reconstruct the content of the talk (as verified by actually watching a recording of the talk later) and get the same thing out of it. I definitely came away from most of the discussions I found myself in with new perspectives on a lot of things.
So it goes.