San Francisco

the Golden Gate Bridge at sunset
the Golden Gate Bridge at sunset

Now that we’ve been in sunny San Francisco for over two weeks, I guess I should blog the fact that we’ve arrived here safely. šŸ™‚

The offshore sailing portion from Coos Bay to San Francisco Bay was mostly uneventful – the weather turned gloomy and damp and the winds shifted to a meandering northerly 10kn, and days at a time were spent drifting along at 3kn. For our new US friends, that’s three nautical miles, or a whopping 3.4 miles per hour, and for the Canadians (and the rest of the world) it’s a speedy 5.5km/h. Not exactly the kind of speeds that win you any races, but obviously enough we didĀ arrive in SF safe and sound. The single most surprising thing learned during the five-day sail? Minke whales have terribleĀ breath! We had one surface several times within about ten meters of TIE Fighter.

We anchored in the lovely Aquatic Park for the first few days while we got our footing, then motored over to Treasure Island when it became apparent that the Aquatic Park anchorage would be the best place to stay while taking our first aid course and we didn’t want to wear out our welcome too early.

a robot wheelchair at the Noisebridge hack space
a robot wheelchair at the Noisebridge hack space

That first weekend I had the opportunity to spend a couple of days attending Hackmeet 2011, a gathering of technologists, cryptophiles and social activists at a hack space called Noisebridge near Mission and 16th Street. I got to meet a few folks with whom I’d only communicated online before, and met a few others in the process. I’ve been describing the event to non-geeks as “…a meet-up of the IT staff for the Occupy Wall Street movement“. There were talks about everything from email cryptography to anti-forensics to effective tools for using the internet for social activism, with a particularly memorable presentation about open-source hardware for sex research taking the flow of the conference off into left field for a few minutes.Ā The Noisebridge staff seemed a little bit nervous at the sheer number of people in their space – I’d put it at around 150 at peak – but they stayed calm and everyone was very well-behaved.

Noisebridge itself was inspiring – I really wish something like it had existed when I was a teen. The space was a large upstairs warehouse space in a busy ethnic neighbourhood, with the main area populated with row after row of shelving units jammed with members’ personal projects – everything from stencil art to clothing [de]construction to lasers and makerbotsĀ and arcane old computer hardware. Honestly, just from the idea of a “hackspace” I would have expected more computer gear, but it was surprisingly free from the clutter of old broken computers that seems to fill every hacker’s bedroom. I particularly liked this wheelchair robot – note the “NOT THREE LAWS COMPLIANT” warning posted on the front.

demolished nose - or at least makeup indicating such
demolished nose - or at least makeup indicating such

Once the Wilderness First ResponderĀ first-aid course started, life got quickly more complicated. The class was held in the Precidio, which was a real treat aesthetically but a bit of a pain to get to every day, with two busses and about a kilometre walk between us and the class. That is, at least until we met Jon and Mark, two classmates who were conveniently staying at a hotel just two blocks from where we were anchored! Jon gave us a ride to and from the class every day, making things a lot easier – not to mention cheaper, those bus fares add up after a while.

One really nice thing was that the bulk of the classroom work for the course was held in a yoga studio in the back ofĀ Planet Granite,Ā a gorgeousĀ rock-climbing gym and fitness facility. We were given breaks of ten to twenty minutes every few hours, and about half the class started bringing their climbing shoes every day and spending the breaks on the very extensive bouldering walls. The first day with my shoes I tried too hard to keep up with the children’s climbing class and could barely lift my arms for three days after – but with concerted effort over a few days I found myself regaining my former levels of bouldering “skill”, climbing most of the V2-rated routes, and finally mastering a couple of V3’s. Like any climbing gym, all I could do was watch in awe as lean, skinny pros made their way up V10’s and V12’s.

Miya "puking" while strapped to a spine board
Miya "puking" while strapped to a spine board

The class itself was very hands-on, and we spent about two-thirds of the time in classroom lectures and the rest in ‘scenarios’, responding to simulated emergencies. Many of these situations involved makeup to make them seem more realistic, which made us feel more confident that we wouldn’t panic if faced with similar injuries in real life. Everyone took turns being the rescuers and the rescue-ees, and we all got very comfortable diagnosing and triaging major traumas, documenting vitals and establishing trends, and preparing patients for evacuations whether or not advanced medical help would be available.

Still, the days were long. Miya and I got up each day at 6am to be ready for the 8am class start, and by the time we got home at 7pm we didn’t have much energy left for… well, for anything really. Most nights found us asleep before 10pm! This was the first time I’d been in a full-time class since college, and my body had a really hard time adjusting to the change. The fact that the course only gave us one day off during the whole ten days was difficult; we all agreed that one day just wasn’t enough time to completely rejuvenate.

The course culminated in a night-time scenario where we were presented with a multi-casualty incident; a plane crash in a heavily-wooded area. We organized ourselves into an incident response unit, performed a search-and-rescue sweep and found and treated all of the victims – all of which were strangers to us, and in full theatrical makeup, with bones and blood and intestines (technically condoms filled with oatmeal, but surprisinglyĀ realistic) everywhere. The hardships of such a rescue were magnified when later on it was discovered that the woods were infested with poison oak. I apparently got away unscathed, but many of our classmates – Miya included – had a rough time of it. We spent the next class day washing all of the rescue gear down with Tecnu.

the SF skyline from the top of Hyde Street
the SF skyline from the top of Hyde Street

The class is now finished, and slowly we’re recovering and returning to normalcy. The boat is anchored at Treasure Island once again and we have a 21-day extended anchoring permit to stay here, though we have yet to decide whether or not we’ll still be in the city in 21 days, or whether we’ll be headed off to Monterrey, Big Sur, San Diego and beyond. For now I intend to spend much of my time working on contract work and experiencing all that San Franciso has to offer – so far it seems very similar to Vancouver, with the notable exception of my not having had to wear socks for the past week.

What up, San Fran? Send me your activities! I want to go out and do things!

It’s The Future!

Some days, you just have to shake your head.

I just got off the phone with a colocation facility in Houston, Texas, trying to figure out why our servers are dropping like flies today. Four down so far, and signs of trouble on a few others, almost certainly foul play – I’m trying to keep in mind the old sysadmin truism ‘Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity’. Still, my lip curls a little at the thought of some fourteen-year-old kid in his mom’s basement in Iowa sending his massive botnet up against our servers in response to some unrealized slight. Or maybe he’s earning money somehow, or even just the admiration of his peers. Or maybe he’s just being a dick. *shrug*.

I’d say “he or she”, but I have yet to meet a girl with both the skills to launch a DDoS attackĀ and the sociopathic tendencies to actually do it. I’m sure she’s out there somewhere.

Just to juxtapose, by “phone” I actually mean “Skype from my tiny laptop, sitting in the sun on the roof of my sailboat”. Seriously, had you told me five years ago that this would all be possible, I don’t think I would have laughed outright, but I would probably have smirked. All of these little incremental upgrades in technology and lifestyle have slowly and quietly added up to the WORLD OF TEH FUTUR3!!@1 that we were promised as kids. It’s finally here!

…now where’s my rocket car?

Anyhow. I was actually only using Skype because my cellphone batteries are currently dead, and I left the charger in New Brunswick the last time I was there. Since it’s a basic no-frills Motorola flip I can charge it up with a regular mini-USB cable I had lying around, but unfortunately my MacBook Air only has a single USB port. I get to choose – would I rather have my cellphone charged up, or would I rather be on the internet? Internet, I choose you.

Also in the realm of electricity, my diesel engine currently isn’t starting. I turn the battery selector to the starter battery bank, I pull the power toggle, flip on the lights and test the alarm to verify that the panel is receiving power, hit the starter button aaaaaand… nothing. Nada. Not a grumble, not a click of the solenoid, nothing at all. I’mĀ hoping it’s just a wiring problem, as the wiring is a real mess and I may well have accidentally disconnected a wire when I was cleaning up the other day, but frankly I can’t tell.

To add to that problem, I have no water. I’m drinking (and cooking, and cleaning) from a 10l jug currently, because my water tanks are empty. Filling the tanks requires motoring up to the nearest hose, and, as I said, my engine isn’t starting. *sigh*.

Man. I think it’s time to convert this blog over to WordPress. I’ve been using Drupal for the past year, and in a solid year I have yet to find a reasonable way to upload photos. For instance, I’m sitting less than four feet from the exposed wiring rats nest that is my starter panel, and my laptop has a camera – but for me to take a photo of that and post it to the blog involves using Skitch to take and resize the photo, uploading the photo to the webserver, and referencing the URL using full HTML tags. I canĀ do that, but I don’tĀ wantto. With WordPress, I can do all that in one step, and I think that’ll make a huge difference for me.

Anyhow – an email just came in requesting an RSVP for theĀ Open Web Vancouver speakers’ pre-conference social next Wednesday night – and I’m realizing that I’m just over a week away from speaking to 400-odd geeks about work that I’m currently procrastinating against. Soooo… I’m going to cut this abruptly and get back to work.

Monday, Again

Ok, five days since the last post. Wheeeeere to start.

I survived the rains of last week without incident. Actually, the rains are a really good thing, as they help by pointing out any spots where the cabin still leaks. I *think* I’ve got them all now, and it’s almost time to start painting! I have to admit, the boat is looking better and better and better – I mean it goddamned well better be, given the amount of hours and money I’ve been pouring into her. Still, I needed a good project and every hour that I work on her she becomes more “mine”.

I spent the whole weekend working on her, again – third weekend in a row of two solid eight-to-fourteen-hour days fixing, upgrading, grinding, fiberglassing, sanding, sanding and sanding. I’m starting to run out of things to fix which is a really, really good sign.

Thursday was a bit odd though – I basically wore out my Mastercraft random-orbit sander. The bearings just “went”… I went back to Canadian Tire to see what they could do about it, and they said not much without a receipt or at least a transaction number. Of course, I can’t remember when I actually bought the sander, I think it was around two months ago. Two lessons learned: keep your receipts, and don’t buy the cheapest power tool just because it’s on sale. A hundred dollars later, I have a new DeWalt sander.

When I returned from the store with the new sander, I arrived at my rowboat and looked out to see a large, shiny, expensive fishing boat tied to mine! Obviously I jumped right in my boat and rowed out as fast as I could to find out what was going on. Apparently the guy lost one of his two transmissions, and wasn’t able to get his boat out of ‘forward’ to steer back into his marina properly, so he quickly dropped anchor and called his mechanic – but apparently where he dropped anchor wasn’t the best place, so he drifted right over into my boat. He put out his fenders so there wasn’t any damage, but he was still bumped right up against me. He explained the situation

“So,” he said, “I thought I’d just tie off to you for a while until my mechanic got here…”

Which he had – his docklines were now tied to my boat, and my docklines had been untied and lay on my deck. Now, I’m a pretty friendly and gracious guy, so I didn’t lay into him – still, I’m pretty sure that boarding someone else’s vessel without permission is considered a hostile act under maritime law, so at theĀ very least it was very poor manners. I glowered at him some and hurried him along until he realized that he was utterly unwelcome to stay tied to my boat for any longer than absolutely necessary. He made some noises early on about leaving his boat there overnight, but I think my derisive snort got my point across.

To top it off, my anchoring permit, with my cellphone number written on it in sharpie with a message saying “IN CASE OF EMERGENCY, PLEASE CALL:” wasright there, posted in the nearest window. If running into someone’s boat and having to tie off to it isn’t an emergency, I’m not sure what is.

Anyhow. Within an hour his mechanic got there, and they got the boat untied and moved along – I’m not sure if he was fixed or if the mechanic was just a better pilot, but whatever. Barely a thank you, and no hint of an apology. I don’t know whether he was just a newbie boater, or didn’t consider live-aboard squatters to have the same rights as people from an expensive marina, or if he was just utterly oblivious. Still, I have half a mind to borrow an RV from someone and go park on his lawn for a couple of hours with ‘engine trouble’.

The weekend was mostly calm, with twenty-odd hours of hard work in the sun putting a new layer on my tan. I got a tonne of work done on the deck, spent way too much money at the marine store again, and finally installed my LED lighting system. I had gone to Ikea mid-week last week to find the fixtures, and managed to find theĀ perfect fixtures –Ā these ones to be precise, in white plastic. They have a fixture-mounted switch, they accept the LED bulbs perfectly, they have a long cable, and they’re mostly plastic so they’re ideal for the marine environment. I am incredibly pleased with these lights! I had purchased five, with the intention of putting two in the salon, one over the navigation table, one in the bathroom and one over my bed – but instead I installed all five in the salon and will have to purchase more. WOW though – I do not at all regret the purchase, nor the decision. In one step, the salon at night has changed from “camping” to “home”. The light is warm and pleasant, and the difference in the general “feel” of the place is staggering. I will be purchasing another five of these lights, at least. The best part is that even with ten lights installed, I will still only be drawing a total of 30w of electricity to light the entire boat – just about half the draw of a *single* regular lightbulb!

Today, it’s back to the grind. We’ve committed to having one of the gossip sites live and launched in the Amazon cloud by Wednesday. Just in time, the weather has turned sour, and later today and tonight it promises to rain. I’ve still got a few holes in the front of the boat, so I’ll need to cover those with garbage bags or something for Tuesday, but then Wednesday and on through the weekend is supposed to be bright and sunny, so I should be able to get that job finished this coming weekend.

Just in time, too – coming up, I have a speaking gig on cloud computing at theĀ Open Web Vancouver conference, an open offer of a live-pa set in Victoria, a possible second live-pa set at a music festival out on Texada Island (plus I can sail there!), and a third offer of an acoustic live set over on Vancouver Island. Furthermore I have a lovely young lady coming up from Michigan for a ten-day epic sailing adventure in June, a hacker conference in Washington the weekend after that, and I am putting together a live electronic music show on the only weekend in July without a three-day outdoor festival to go to. It never stops!

I have to pick and choose between the musical bookings, because I frankly don’t know how much free time I’ll have to practice up between then and now – but it’s all very flattering nonetheless. šŸ™‚ Public appearances come with a thrill of adventure, but also with a dark sense of foreboding which drives me to work much harder on my music and performance so that I don’t suck. It’s one thing to play badly in your living room, it’s another thing entirely to play badly in front of hundreds of people!

Constant Hustle

God. Seriously.

It’s Tuesday, and I have two more days to get everything out of my house and have it ready for the new folks to move in. There’s still so much to do!

This week has been very expensive – I thought last week was pricy, what with the purchase of the $1700 generator (which, by the way, seems to be somewhat overkill for my needs! I probably could have gotten away just fine with the 1000w version instead of the 2000w – oh well, I guess it doesn’t hurt to have too much power), but this week has had four >$100 trips to Canadian Tire and two >$100 trips to the boating store so far! Worse yet, there’s no end in sight, as I’ve still got to completely overhaul the electrical system, finish repairing all the fiberglass problems on the deck, and then hopefully I’ll have time to start making the interior look a little more like a home and less like a hunting camp.

One nice thing though – I realized yesterday as I was loading in some groceries that my nomadship (heh) is nearly complete. I’ve got canned and dried food to last a month, two months if I really had to stretch it. All the fuel tanks are full, and there’s another hundred liters of diesel in jerry cans in the amas. The water tanks are full too, giving me over a hundred liters of potable water – all I’m really lacking for an extended absence is a source of fresh protein (ie fish or meat). Not that I really *need* to be ready for any sort of extended absence… but given the econopocalypse, impending west coast earthquake, swine flu, etc, it’s nice to know.

I don’t know if I mentioned, but the second time we had the boat out, the binnacle (thingy that sticks out of the deck like a podium that the steering wheel attaches to) pulled out the deck, exposing poor workmanship – don’t attach important things with short woodscrews! – and a small patch of rot that I’ll eventually have to tend to. I got around to fixing that yesterday, pulling the binnacle completely off and re-attaching it securely to the deck with long bolts and wide washers. When I went to reconnect the steering, however, I noticed a bunch of slack in the lines. I called Bill, the guy who sold me the boat, and asked what he thought of that.

Well, turns out one of the steering lines had slipped from a turning block. That turning block happened to be deep in the stern of the boat, reachable through an access panel, but still at the end of arm’s reach. I got to spend the next hour and a half up to my shoulder in the wall of the salon, trying to free a thick steel cable from the pulley it had fouled. Waaaay fun.

Seriously, every day something breaks on the boat, and I have to learn how to fix it. Sooner or later I’m going to know every square inch of her. In some ways I growl about this, as I look at weekend sailors with their gorgeous, perfectly-functioning boats, but in a much stronger way I know that this is the universe’s way of ensuring that the boat becomes truly mine. It is a series of tests, and as I complete each one I feel stronger for having done so.

Anyhow. Just to add to the stress, I’ve been accepted to speak atĀ Open Web Vancouver, a big web conference in June. I’ve never actually spoken at a conference before, so we’ll see how that works out…

More Conferences

It seems like this is the month for conferencing. Sitting at CanSecWest, realizing that I have finite life for my battery, having stupidly left my power adapter thingy at home. D’oh!

This is certainly a week for physical exertion – by the end of the week I’ll have biked about 100km, the most I’ve biked in one week in months. This is good though, as sooner or later I’m going to have to get back into shape if I intend to use my bike as my only method of city transportation. Well, semi-only, I guess the rowboat could count.

Still worried about the boat, actually… there’s a non-zero chance that the winds of Sunday might have blown the hatches off, and if that’s the case I can expect a lot of water in the boat. Not that the boat isn’t built to handle a lot of extra water, but still – it’s a worry.