disengage.ca a quest for the technomadic lifestyle


January is a Whirlwind

I'm realizing that I'm slipping into the old habit of not writing, which is especially irritating given that it was one of my unwritten (see?  argh.) New Years Resolutions.  For posterity, the list - I might as well get these down now, to help break the cycle:

  1. write more,
  2. develop and trust my emotions,
  3. procrastinate less (see #1), and
  4. seize any opportunity to gain new skills.

The first of the four is pretty obviously failing so far, but that is because #4 has been taking up a lot of my time.  I've become involved with the Vancouver chapter of the Bluewater Cruising Association, a support network for offshore sailors who are either planning to head off into the great blue yonder, who are currently out there living the dream, or who have "been there, done that" and returned to tell the tale.

Miya with sparklers

Miya on New Year's Eve

So far, I've been mostly taking advantage of the education offered through the BCA - I've enrolled in two classes, one for offshore meteorology and another for ham radio operations and licensing.  Both classes are proving to be well worth the time and money spent - the more I learn about ham radio, the more it interests me!  The world of amateur radio - and more specifically, 'packet radio', or computer networking over the airwaves - has a distinctive feel to it so far, one that strongly reminds me of learning about the world of modems and dial-up bulletin board systems, back before the internet gained popularity.

Furthermore, my day job has increased in responsibility, so now I am working very nearly full-time hours during the week.  Part of me is tickled to spend my days working in cloud computing and my nights learning how to interpret cloud formations!  Still, with full-time hours and courses five days per week, I'm not left with much free time to socialize.

Miya sadly had to move back to Seattle this week - her day job was only willing to allow her to work remotely for two months, and those two months flew by faster than either of us expected.  Given that I spent a lot of time paring down my possessions and footprint to make room for a second human aboard the Tie Fighter, her moving off has left the boat feeling somewhat cavernous and empty.  We'll still be together moving forward, with her moving back onto the boat in a few months, but that's a subject that could (and will) make an entire posting itself.



A few weeks ago I dropped into a show at the Lotus Sound Lounge on a Saturday night, a bit after midnight. I hadn't really planned on going to a club but I was already downtown and had friends there, so without a second thought I stopped by. When I got to the door the security staff went to pat me down for weapons, at which point I remembered that I was carrying my every-day pocket knife, which is a particularly vicious-looking sailing knife.

Myerchin Navigator Lightknife

Myerchin Navigator Lightknife

The knife in question was a Myerchin Navigator LightKnife; a half-straight, half-serrated blade for cutting rope accompanied by a tapered steel spike called a marlinspike, used in splicing and knotwork - or in my case, mostly used for untying seized knots. Of course I immediately brought the knife to their attention, so that they wouldn't think I was trying to sneak in with a weapon.

"Oh, um, hey - there's a large knife in my right front pants pocket."

The guard stopped searching me and looked somewhat taken aback. "Um. What?" he said.

"It's nothing sketchy, it's just a sailing knife, I live on my sailboat. I forgot I had it with me. I'm happy to check it with my bag or whatever.". I had the attention of the second guard now, who stepped closer.

"You can't take that inside, you'll have to leave it with us..." he said. So long as I could pick it up when I left, I had no problem with that. They both agreed to hold the knife at the door for me.

I also had my Leatherman Kick in my backpack, so I had to surrender that as well, but of course when I got out of the bar I flailed and forgot to retrieve the knives. In my defense, there was the small matter of having to step in and break up a fight between a big guy and the skinny prostitute on the ground that he was kicking, but that's a whole other story. A friend who works at the Lotus is currently trying to retrieve the knives for me, but I'm sure it'll be no surprise to hear that nobody knows exactly where they have gone. *sigh*.

Anyhow. I'd like to say that the Myerchin knife has served me well in the five or so years since it was given to me by an ex-girlfriend, but in fact it is the third iteration of the same knife. The first knife lasted three years, but finally the locking mechanism stopped working. With a lifetime warrantee, I had the knife replaced, but the locking mechanism on the new replacement fell apart within two months! The third iteration has lasted about a year so far with no troubles, but has grown quite dull in a very short time - and I don't own a good sharpening kit.

Spiderco 'Atlantic Salt'

Spyderco 'Atlantic Salt'

I mentioned the dullness in passing in a chat with my sister Heather, who lives on Grand Manan Island in New Brunswick with her boyfriend Matt, a professional diver for the east-coast fishing industry. He started enquiring about the knives on my boat, and was startled to find out that I didn't have a Spyderco 'Atlantic Salt' knife onboard , and apparently stomped around the house muttering "How can he not have one?!  He lives on a boat!!".  He (and she) promptly ordered me one for my birthday, along with a knife sharpening kit which he insists that all marine-type folks should have. The knife and sharpener are currently sitting in my other sister's apartment waiting for me to come and pick them up. Apparently the Spyderco knife blade is made from "H-1" steel; a "precipitation-hardened steel containing nitrogen instead of carbon, which cannot rust".

When I told Matt that I already had a knife, and showed him a photo of my Myerchin Lightknife, he scoffed and called it a 'city boy knife'. I found this funny, because most of the city boys I know don't carry knives at all, and the ones that do are just as at home in the backcountry as they are in downtown Vancouver.

I quite liked the Myerchin, for several reasons:

  • it has a half-serrated, half-straight blade - hard to sharpen, but good for lots of cutting tasks,
  • a marlinspike for untying knots - very useful,
  • a shackle key in the blade, very handy on a sailboat,
  • a basic LED flashlight in the handle,
  • decent sized with a pocket clip, fits well in my pocket, and
  • it looks and feels good.

What I didn't like about the Myerchin was pretty much only one thing: the build quality. With the warrantee I just have to walk in to any West Marine store to order a free replacement, and the edge is apparently maintainable with a little attention every few weeks, but I haven't had the tools to properly sharpen it.

My friend John Foulkes feels that every man should carry a knife, and refers to this type of knife as an 'EDC' - an 'Every Day Carry'. I don't think the Spyderco 'Atlantic Salt' would make for a good EDC in the city, but I can certainly see how it would be if one were working around boats as a day job.   I am very much looking forward to adding the 'Atlantic Salt' to Tie Fighter's equipment.

the Boye Knives 'Cobalt Basic 3'

I do wish sometimes that I were the sort of person that could get away with wearing a small fixed-blade knife, but unfortunately, due to my social nature and my general clumsiness, wearing a sheathed knife on my hip - regardless of size - is an invitation to trouble either in the form of accidents or unwanted attention from authorities. Perhaps in the future, when I've both calmed down somewhat and moved on from the bustling city life, I will be able to wear a sheathed belt knife. When that day comes, I will purchase the Boye Knives 'Cobalt Basic 3'. The Basic 3 is - in my humble opinion - a *gorgeous* small fixed-blade knife that would be absolutely perfect for life on a boat.

...that is, for older, calmer, less city-living people than I. Furthermore, it's a $300 knife, which is currently out of my price range.

If I don't end up getting my Myerchin back from the Lotus, I think I have decided to purchase the same knife again. I'm fond of it, I'm familiar with it and the list of things I like about it far outstrips the list of things I don't. I've been shopping around the internets for similar knives, and I just haven't been able to find another knife that I like better than the Myerchin.

If you're looking for an EDC, check out these links:

Columbia River Knife & Tool - good quality pocket folders, no sailing/rigging specific tools though.

SpyderCo - excellent reputation and variety.

SOG Speciality Knives and Tools - good variety, though a somewhat difficult site to browse.

Do you have an EDC that you love? Please share a link in the comments!


Countdowns All Around

It's Thursday, and I've got three major, looming deadlines staring me in the face.  I think I've got a handle on all of them, but it's definitely not a relaxing time in my life right now.


On the work front, I've migrated two very large web properties into the Amazon Elastic Computing Cloud over the past eight months or so.  I've been learning the ins and outs of the new technology as I go, and the playing field really has changed.  There have been a tonne of little headaches and bugs and glitches, and I've been pulled out of bed at 5am more often than I care to admit.  And now - just when we're finally stable - a directive has come down from the Evil Masters to port both sites to a common backend using the latest new Drupal code.  On one hand this will open a lot of doors for us, allowing us to scale a lot quicker and use some of the more modern tools, like storing all images on a Content Data Network (CDN) instead of on our current frontend webservers.  Still, the deadline for launch is February 12th and that's coming up faaaaaaaaast.  I've barely got the preliminary test servers in place!


On the boat front the engine work continues, though the work seems to multiply every time I put time into it.  I'm finding a great deal of satisfaction in it, actually - I mentioned to a friend yesterday that it is very much like 'The Legend of Zelda', in that the puzzles are difficult, but once solved there is immediate positive feedback (ie the engine works better) and you can move on to the next puzzle, often using knowledge or tools you gained from the previous level.

Yesterday's miniboss was changing the zincs in the engine.  Sacrificial zincs are bits of... well, zinc.  The theory is that if you bind several types of metals together in a marine environment, the weakest metal will corrode.  Because of some kind of galvanic voodoo, the other metals will not corrode until the weaker metal is completely corroded away.  Zinc is a very weak metal, easy to work with and cheap, and so quite a few different parts of the boat have sacrificial lumps of zinc attached to prevent the more important bits from corroding.

The zincs in the engine should be replaced about once a year, more or less depending on use.  My engine has three zincs - at $7.00 per zinc, it's a $21.00 job to replace them all, but compared with approximately $10,000 for a new engine, the price is negligible.  The zincs are attached to the end of thick bolts and screwed deep into the heart of the engine.

One of the three zincs is located right on the front of the engine, easily accessed.  The other two zincs are located far down the right side, between the engine block and the wall.  Once I stepped back and surveyed the engine, I found that I could just barely get a socket wrench in a gap, which allowed me to remove zinc #2 with little difficulty - but zinc #3 was a real hassle.  To get at the third zinc I had to remove the fuel lift pump (skills and items gained from previous level!) and the exhaust manifold - and even then the bolt holding the zinc into the engine was seized pretty solidly.  I ended up having to extend the socket handle and actually step on it to get the bolt free; never send a hand to do a boot's job.  I swear I heard victory music when that bolt finally gave way.

So far in the past month I have rerouted the fuel lines, replaced the fuel filter, installed and plumbed a second fuel filter, replaced the damaged exhaust water trap ($300, ouch), replaced the impeller in the raw water pump, and replaced the zincs.  Remaining, I have to have the alternator tested and serviced, pick up new oil, drain and change the current oil, drain and change the transmission oil, take the heat exchangers to the radiator shop to have them boiled out, pick up antifreeze, install the secondary cooling pump, drain the engine cooling system and replace with antifreeze, reroute the raw water intake through the heat exchangers, rewire the instrument panel, and then get the fuel tank polished.  Whew!  Someday soon, I will have an engine that runs reliably; ideally one that I do not have to climb into the engine compartment with a screwdriver to start.  There's almost no chance I'll have all this done by Monday, so I really have to pick and choose what tasks are actually important.

...and then I get to start on the electrical system!  For some reason, since returning from Vegas the house batteries aren't holding a charge anymore.  I have no idea why; I need to replace the batteries and purchase and install a modern charge manager.  I don't expect to get that one sorted out for under $1000.

Lastly, I have Sequential Circus coming up on Saturday.  This is a huge show, with six live-pa acts performing 45-minute sets at a local show venue slash warehouse space.  Everything is coming together smoothly, mostly because it's our sixth time running this show and we're all getting really good at it.  It's really starting to look like we're going to have a solid crowd too, which takes a lot of the financial stress off of my back - if everything works out well, I might just come out of it a hundred bucks richer!

I still haven't figured out where to go on Monday, and the False Creek / Olympic Village security lockdown continues... more on that soon.


Long Overdue Update!

Wow.  Three of the craziest, busiest, happiest months of my life.  How to compress them into one post?  WHY compress them into one post?  This seems silly, but I think the best way to re-jumpstart my blogging is to get this all out of the way in one post, and then go back to more regular updates.  *sigh*.

At my last major post, I was about to speak at the Open Web Vancouver conference at the Vancouver Conference Center.  My talk went pretty well, I guess - I mean, I definitely didn't win any awards, but nobody walked out either.  I met some great new folks and had a good experience overall.  I know now that speaking at tech conferences is almost exactly like doing live-pa techno in front of a big audience - the more prepared you are, the easier it is to let go and just be yourself.

Since then, there's been... God.  Seriously, where to start?!

I've had repeated, profound musical experiences on the boat, jamming with friends.  Picture if you will a mirror-smooth False Creek, with the boat anchored about fifty feet offshore.  Dan Ross playing guitar and singing, Chad Taylor playing muted trumpet and providing some percussive backup and myself on mandolin and backup vocals - folks walking past, double-taking and sitting down on the seawall to listen, applauding between songs.  Making music on the boat with friends has given me far more joy than I ever imagined it could.  Actually, making music on the boat at all - I've been spending on average about eight to ten hours per week sitting on my deck, playing my guitar and singing.  If there is a greater peace than playing music on the water, I haven't found it yet.



I've gone on three epic sailing adventures, the third of which is still ongoing - as of this writing I am anchored in this lovely little bay, surrounded by million-dollar waterfront houses and a beautiful cliff infested with rock climbers.  More on that in future posts - but suffice to say this ongoing solo-sailing adventure is not without its trials and tribulations.

The first of the three epic sailing adventures was with a beautiful woman named Miya who I met at Burning Man in 2008, and who had come to visit me several times over the past year.  Her confidence in my sailing ability was appreciated, though perhaps unwarranted, as we left Vancouver and immediately ran into eight-foot breaking swells just off Point Atkinson, enroute to the Sunshine Coast.  The sailing got a lot better after the first day, but we still had to spend a few days on Bowen Island with engine trouble - mostly waiting around for a mechanic, until we tackled the problem head-on with the manual and some elbow grease, finally solving it ourselves and getting the engine back up and running.  We then cruised up the coast to Secret Cove and Smuggler Cove, where we spent a night before returning to Vancouver.  It was an amazing trip; the ocean opened my eyes and put a good fear into me, and the company was exquisite.  The parting of ways at the end was wistful to say the least.

Drew and Laurel spinning fire on Tie Fighter

Drew and Laurel spinning fire on the boat at Diversity

The second sailing adventure was with yet another beautiful woman, Carrie, who joined me on a trip to the Diversity Festival on Texada Island.  Technically we were supposed to sail with a crew of six, but Vancouver being the city of flailers that it is, the crew slowly called in to cancel until it was just the two of us.  The winds were against us the whole way there and back, forcing us to motor around 90% of the tip, so it's debatable whether or not we actually saved any money travelling by "sailboat".  We did get the sails up once or twice, but not nearly as much as I would have liked.  The festival itself was excellent, with us arriving in full pirate regalia to great fanfare, spending a weekend surrounded by beautiful people and great music, and rolling out again on Monday with a grand exit.  Sunday was a bit crazy, as the wind suddenly went from 5kn up to 25-30kn, and Tie Fighter danced in four-foot swells for the night - I now have a lot more faith in my anchor than before.  Another boat nearby actually did slip their anchor, and came within a few feet of hitting us, but we held steady and Monday was much calmer.  Another thing learned: rowing a dinghy in calm waters is one thing, rowing through four-foot waves as they break on the beach is another thing entirely!  I made very good use of the drybags my sister gave me for my birthday.

The next weekend after Diversity was the Emrg-N-See Festival just outside of Salem, Oregon.  I went to this festival with Trent last year, and it was probably the best festival I'd been to to date - it was as though someone had sent a personal invitation to every single gorgeous, blonde, dreadlocked, dubstep-loving yoga instructor on the west coast.  I cannot express how many times I had to stop and shake my head at the sheer beauty surrounding me.  This year was similar, though somewhat diluted, as though every guy who went last year went home and explained the situation to every guy he knew.  I know I did, which is why I was surprised that the crew going down fron Vancouver was much smaller this year.  Regardless, I definitely got my fill of amazing dubstep and bassline music, on very excellent soundsystems.  I also got to take a tablespoon of dancefloor dirt out of my nose every morning, which I am choosing to look at as preparation for this year's Burning Man expedition.

The weekend after Emrg-N-See was Sequential Circus 5, an electronic music event that I guess I'm sort of in charge of.  I say that with some reservation, because the show couldn't happen without every one of the seriously talented and driven people involved - we've got the whole thing pretty much down to a science now, and even with six live acts on a small stage, we continue to be efficient and competent, and we still have a good time doing it.  This SeqCirc was probably the best music to date, though we were up against some very stiff competition.  The capacity of the venue is about 180 people, and we had about 100 people, so while it was never packed, it never felt empty, and nearly everyone who was there at midnight was still there at 3am when we turned the lights on, so I count that as a win.  The next Sequential Circus, SeqCircSix, will be in January.

After recovering from SeqCirc, having a few sailing missions out and around English Bay, and basically settling down and focusing on dayjob work for a while, I took off on my first big solo-sailing trip, headed for Victoria...


Ok, Really Screw It!

Unshaved, unshowered and happy



There.  Are you happy?

Actually, I am.  Wordpress is waaaay nicer than Drupal, at least for a blog.  Using Drupal for a blog was kind of like driving a Jeep - I mean, sure, it's rugged and capable and even beautiful, but it uses a lot of gas, it's noisy, and while the ragtop is nice in the Summer it's just impractical in the winter.  Really the only thing that prevented me from moving earlier was the complete lack of Drupal-to-Wordpress migration scripts.  Yes, I did in fact have to migrate each and every post by hand.

Oh well - at least now it's done, and I have a blog I can be proud of again.  Welcome to 2001, Drew - the internet now supports fancy things like "photos" and "videos" and "multimedia"!  Good thing I managed to lose my camera battery charger in the move.  Nice going, Drew.  Seriously though - in order for Drupal to have the simple feature "add image to the blog", you had to resize the image manually, upload it to the FTP site manually, and type in the full path to the image.  Now *that* is some serious 2001 stuff right there.

The downside of this whole migration fiasco is that I've basically had a mental block against doing any sort of blog updates ever since I committed to the jump.  That means that it's been almost three.  frackin'.  months.  since my last update - and honestly, this has been one of the most action-packed, adventurous, utterly insanely awesome Summers of my life.  I don't even know where to start.  I guess it'll be roughly at where I left off, back in June...

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