disengage.ca a quest for the technomadic lifestyle

18Jan/111

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.

12Aug/090

Victoria Adventures!

One more big post to get out of the way, and hopefully after that I can just update frequently instead of having to play massive catch-up games!

Monday night I arrived in Victoria and stayed in the harbour in front of the Empress, meeting Amanda and company for drinks.  The moorage was an awesome location, in super rockstar style.  I spent Tuesday morning working, but mostly cleaning the boat and enjoying the parking spot.  Tuesday afternoon I went sailing with the lovely Laurel, and scoped out Esquimalt Harbour for a place to anchor.  She had to be back at work, so we turned around and I dropped her off at the docks at Fleming Beach and headed back out to find an anchorage.  After a few false starts, I stopped at the Canadian Armed Forces Yacht Club to ask advice - nobody had anything constructive to say, with the only exception being the bartender.  She took me out to the parking lot, down a rugged, windy little path through burdocks and blackberry bushes to a tiny little beach, half covered by a large arbutus tree.

"You see the bar from here?" she asked.  I nodded.

"This beach is probably on the Songhee reserve, but most folks think it belongs to the base.  Most of the base thinks it's on the reserve.  The property line is around here somewhere, but nobody is certain where, so it's kind of a no-man's land.  If you pull up your dingy here and hide it under the tree, you should be ok..."

So that's what I did for the night.  Anchoring in Thetis Cove in the Esquimalt Harbour, then rowing a half-mile through harbour swells - not quite as large as the open ocean, but not what you'd consider "sheltered" either - only to sneak onto a disputed beach, hide and lock my dinghy, sneak onto and off of a naval base, and finally ride my bicycle 10km or so into town to go visit with friends.  Some days the mind just boggles.  After riding 10km "home" again at 2:30am, only to have to row another half-mile through the waves with a bicycle in the dinghy, I started to understand that this trip would be a pretty damned good series of workouts!

When I woke up in the morning, I realized that I had accidentally left my laptop power supply at Amanda's house - d'oh!  This meant I couldn't actually start work until I did the row-bike-bike-row sequence again.  I kicked myself thoroughly and was starting to make breakfast when I heard voices outside.  Out a window (one of the only two in the boat that is actually translucent enough to see through), I saw a small powerboat with two men in it idling nearby.  I poked my head out to see what they wanted, and they seemed startled to see me and quickly sped away.  Uh oh.

There was no way I'd leave the boat now, so I pulled anchor and headed back towards Fleming Beach.  I had noticed a lot of "NO MOORAGE" signs, but since I'd be anchoring those wouldn't apply, and since the only "allowed" moorage around was surrounded by reserves I was willing to push the rules a bit.  The "beach" in Fleming Beach is almost nonexistent - but the bay itself is very well sheltered by a large man-made breakwater.  The bay is surrounded by beautiful, million-dollar homes on one side, a large cliff infested with rock climbers on another, and a lovely park on the third.  I anchored, rode in, and got my power supply from Amanda's house, sneaking a shower in the process.  Now that I was clean, powered and mobile I headed to Habit for coffee.

As I walked into Habit, a beautiful blonde woman was walking out.  Our eyes met and stuck, until she reached the door, and left.  I shrugged and ordered coffee, then sat down and began my workday.  Not five minutes later, the woman appeared in front of me again.

"Excuse me," she said with a thick accent, "I think... we are... supposed to talk."

Her name was Hanne, and she was visiting Victoria from Denmark, enroute to Seattle, then Iceland and finally home.  We talked for several hours, and then she invited me to an open mic night at the Bent Mast.  I had to be at a Burning Man planning meeting first, so I went to that - meeting many of my soon-to-be campmates for the first time - and then headed down to join them.  After a few beers, I ended up playing guitar and singing a few songs and having an excellent jam with two locals.  Adam, a bassist with a huge stand-up bass complete with preamp duct-taped to the side, and Vincent, who played fiery leads on a classical guitar with a small amp with the distortion circuit turned up.  Hanne was due to leave for Seattle in the morning, so we talked long into then night, then parted ways.

the lovely Fleming Beach

the lovely Fleming Beach

I got a text the next morning from Hanne, saying she'd stayed in town another day.  We made plans to meet that night for drinks, and I went back to my day job for the day.  Later on we went to a wine bar, and then wandered around Victoria with a bottle of rum until late, having deep discussions on the nature of memory and consciousness - fascinating stuff.

Friday night was a house party at the home of one of the organizers of the Victoria contingent of our Burning Man camp this year - it was Marion's birthday, and so a large group of folks gathered for drinks, dancing and fire play.  I forgot to eat dinner, and wondered why the rum had such a negative effect on me, until I supplemented the rum with pizza and all became balanced again.

Saturday afternoon, I wandered into downtown Victoria with my mandolin and a busker's license borrowed from Laurel.  I set up on a side street full of vendors, and played and sang for about an hour, making a few bucks, until the vendors packed up and suddenly the street emptied.  I put my mandolin away and wandered down to Bastion Square, where a guy was playing guitar with a mic and a little guitar amp.  After hearing a few of his songs I figured I could follow his style, so I asked him if I could sit in and he said sure.

We played for about an hour together, with his income going up significantly now that he was a "band" instead of just a guy with a guitar, and eventually the next act showed up to take over - Bastion Square apparently is a very popular busking location, and requires acts to sign up weeks in advance.  The new guy listened for a while, while unloading a tonne of gear, and finally came up to speak with me.

"Listen," he said.  "My backup guitarist is out of town, and my bassist has run off with a cute French brunette, so I think it's just me today.  Do you want to sit in with me?"

I said sure, and he continued to set up his rig - a full PA system with monitors, mic stands, preamps, a mixer, etc.  Then, out of the blue, his bassist showed up - and to my surprise, it was Adam, the bass player from the Bent Mast a few nights previous!  We did a quick soundcheck, and then they launched into a rowdy set of energetic bluegrass and country, straight out of an east-coast kitchen party.  My roots were tickled!  We played and sang and danced for an hour and a half to a crowd of probably 60-80 people, making decent money along the way.  I did alright I think, especially considering that I'd never heard most of the songs before, and definitely had never played any of them before!  It was a lot of fun, and they asked me to come back to play again the next day - but their set would be early in the day, and I had no intention of being awake that early.

Saturday night I went to the nightclub 'Hush', where "Boy 8-Bit" was playing.  I wasn't impressed with his music, but the opening act "Neon Steve" had me dancing from start to finish.  I ended up drinking and carousing with a great crew of Victorians until well past dawn, before starting the bikeride back to Fleming Beach and Tie Fighter.  When I arrived, I found a little note written in sharpie and taped to one of my oars.

"REMOVE YOUR BOAT FROM THE BASIN IMMEDIATELY!  NO MOORAGE AT ANY TIME!  YOUR NUMBER HAS BEEN REPORTED TO HARBOUR AUTHORITY!", it said.

Now, those three sentences raised my hackles a little bit, for three reasons:

  1. "moorage" means tying to something, ie private property, which can be owned.  I'm anchored in a navigable channel, ie public property, which is protected by the Canadian Navigable Waters Act and has been for hundreds of years,
  2. "Harbour Authority", regardless of whether they meant Esquimalt Harbour or Victoria Harbour, has no jurisdiction here - I checked, the only folks that do are the police, the coast guard, Transport Canada and the military, and lastly,
  3. if you don't have the balls to sign your snippy little note, I can't muster the respect required to listen to you.

I looked around, hoping that the author was nearby so that I could discuss this with them, but they were nowhere to be found - probably a good thing, as I had been awake for twenty-odd hours and wasn't even close to sober.  I rowed out and went to bed.

I didn't leave the boat on Monday at all, staying in and working.  Tuesday was almost the same, though I met Bunny, Amanda, Lori, Mike and Will for beers and pizza, scammed a shower from Bunny, and hit the hay early again.

That brings me up to today.  Today, the police showed up, along with a nice man named Bob in a red sweatervest, who served me with a yellow slip of paper essentially telling me to GTFO, citing Municipal Zoning Bylaw 63(2)(c).

Zoning Citation (click for larger)

Zoning Citation (click for larger)

As it turns out that the Township of Esquimalt has actually put a zoning bylaw on the books somehow prohibiting anchoring in this "water lot".  I'm aaaaalmost certain I could challenge that law and win, as it goes against federal laws protecting my rights to anchor.  We actually discussed it briefly, with me mentioning the federal Act, and the municipal governer admitting that yes, in a storm, anyone could anchor in the bay, but that the bylaw prevents permanent anchorage.  According to other live-aboards in False Creek (I don't know exactly how reliable a source they are, but regardless), the Act doesn't specify how long "safe harbour" lasts, and nobody has ever managed to challenge that in court and win.

So being the gentleman that I am, I recognize when I am not welcome and agreed to leave, saying that perhaps it wouldn't be today, but at the latest I would get out of here by tomorrow morning.  The police took my identification and phone number, ran the usual background check (clean I assume), and left without hasle.

However, being the inquisitive soul that I am, of course I had a few more questions - for one, how exactly are they kicking me out?   The Township of Esquimalt fortunately puts all of their bylaws online, and so I downloaded the zoning laws and had a look.  I'll save you opening the .PDF:

63. MARINE SMALL DOCK [M-5]

The intent of this Zone is to accommodate small private docks on Water Lots adjacent to

residential properties.

(1) Permitted Uses

The following Uses and no others are permitted:

(a) Boat Moorage Facility for small pleasure boats.

(2) Prohibited Uses

(a) Commercial or industrial activity

(b) Floating Homes and Floating Boat Shelters

(c) Liveaboards

(d) The mooring of more than two small boats

(e) Accessory Buildings

(3) Siting Requirements

(a) All Boat Moorage must be located within the boundaries of the Water Lot.

(4) Maximum Size

(a) No section of a Boat Moorage ramp shall exceed a width of 1.5 metres.

(b) The combined length of a Boat Moorage Facility [wharf, ramp, landing and

dock], measured from the shoreline, shall not be more than 21 metres.

(c) The area of a dock or float shall not be greater than 18.5 square metres in

area.

Wow.  Damn.  They do have me there.

Still, I'm betting that if I had the time or interest to challenge this bylaw in court, I'd actually have a case - as I understand it, the feds frown on bylaws that go against federal laws.

My second question was, of course, the subject of fines - Bob let it slip that if I refused, they would fine me $100.  I noticed that aside from the yellow slip of paper in the photo above, he was also holding a ticket book, open to a new page, and I think he was a little disappointed that I was both polite and accommodating.  I wondered afterwards just what the frequency of fines would be.  Staying the night in Victoria Harbour cost me $58-something - if staying a week in this sheltered bay would only cost me $100, I count that as a deal!  So I checked, and:

8. PENALTY

(1) Every person who violates any of the provisions of this Bylaw or who suffers or

permits any act or thing to be done in contravention of this Bylaw, is punishable in

accordance with the “Offence Act”, and shall be liable to the penalties hereby

imposed.

(2) Any person who violates any of the provisions of this Bylaw shall upon summary

conviction thereof be liable to a penalty of not more than ten thousand dollars.

(3) Each day that violation of this Bylaw is caused to continue, constitutes a separate

offence.

Yep, looks like I pretty much have to move.

So anyway, back to work for me.  I will likely head back to the Bent Mast tonight for the open mic night again, which was fun last time, and likely will head over to Oak Bay or somewhere around there tomorrow morning.  Or maybe later today?  Who knows.  At least this brings me finally up to date, and now I can start updating the blog in a more timely fashion.

3Jun/090

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 attack 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'm 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 can do that, but I don't 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 the 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.

19May/090

Fake Monday

Today is Tuesday, but it's technically the start of the week since yesterday was Victoria Day, a statutory holiday here in Canada.

The holiday long weekend was gorgeous. I technically took Friday off of work also, so it was a four-day weekend full of sunny boat repair work. I got so much done! Where to begin...

Thursday night I went out to the Anza Club to catch a show - Tarran the Tailor was playing upstairs. Excellent time, great music as usual - afterwards I biked back to my rowboat, but as I approached I noticed a couple of bicycles abandoned at the top of the dock ramp. As I arrived, I found three 20-something folks sitting in my boat, drinking bourbon - they mistook me for a fellow Midnight Mass rider and invited me to join them. As I explained that I was actually there to kick them out of my boat and go home, they were shocked and extremely apologetic, but really, it's not like they were hurting anything. The boat is always locked up with a padlock, and there's nothing left in it to steal. I mean, if they'd thrown my oars in the water or tried to damage the boat in some way, it would have gone much more sourly - but as it was, they were nice enough folks, geeks even. We exchanged names and URLs, so Adam, Andrew and Rebecca, if you're reading this, feel free to drop me a line. 🙂

Friday and Saturday I got up at 8am and worked hard on the boat - I finished a bunch of epoxy work, got hinges onto all the storage hatches finally, and made progress in getting the hinges and hasps onto the cabin hatches - that project still needs more work, of course, but the end is finally in sight. I spent a bunch of time in the engine compartment working to get the kill switch in place, and finally succeeded - but when I went to test it, it didn't work, and in fact I've apparently damaged the cable to the point that I need to go and find a new one. Boo - at least now, after two visits to the marine store and one visit to Canadian Tire, I know that the cable is called a 'utility cable' and that I should be able to get a new one from LloydCo Auto Parts.

I also removed the traveler on Friday - ie the seven-foot-long pulleys-on-rails thing that the boom attaches to - so that I could fix a few leaks in the bedding hardware. The leaks were directly over the stove, which meant that every time it rained I'd have to use steel wool on the cast iron stove grill again to get rid of the big patch of resulting rust. The leak had, over time, caused some of the roof to rot; this led to the first cutting of a large hole in the boat roof, and the bulk of the 1/4" of sawdust that covers everything in the galley at the moment. The hole is patched, the surface is fiberglassed, sanded, faired perfectly with epoxy and fairing compound, and the traveler is now ready to be rebedded - perhaps this afternoon, if the weather clears up for a while.

Sunday I had a few guests over helping me work on the boat - it seems unfortunately that adding more people to a project doesn't necessarily make the project go any quicker. Still, it was nice to have the company, and a few projects got nailed down properly - though when I removed the trampolines to fix a few small cosmetic problems on the center bow of the boat, we discovered a few patches of rot that quickly grew into a huge seven-foot hole in the boat. The rot wasn't structural, which was a relief, but all that wood still needed to be replaced. I got a bunch of the wood in, but then Sunday was mostly rainy, so I had to cover the work site with tarps and pray for the best, spending the day curled up, drinking rum and watching movies with a friend. Sunday night was more rain and a lot more wind, which picked up the tarps and blew a cold wind through the boat, though as far as I can tell not much rain got in. It's supposed to be rainy today and tomorrow, but then it's supposed to be calm and sunny for another five or so days in a row, so this coming weekend I should be able to completely nail down the problems in the bow, and be done with it for the foreseeable future.

Today, however, I'm back to the day job. I'm working to figure out why the bottleneck in our EC2 migration appears to be network traffic - the frontend webservers seem to handle my load testing without a hiccup, but the database server spikes to a load of over 50, even though it's an "extra large" EC2 instance. It doesn't appear to be file I/O wait, nor a lack of CPU time, so I'm stuck. I'm not sure what I can do about that - I've always been under the assumption that network bandwidth between EC2 instances would be incredible, seeing as they're virtual instances on more or less the same physical hardware. This week I have to solve the problem, but I'm not sure how just yet.

There's still a few holes in the boat. I still don't have clean water, though that's just a matter of time - a reasonable amount of time actually, because filling the tanks takes a good fifteen minutes, then the bleach should be left in for an hour or so, then fifteen minutes to empty the tanks, then fifteen minutes to refill, fifteen minutes to empty, fifteen minutes to refill, fifteen minutes to empty, and finally a final refill. The traveler is still sitting a few feet away from where it should be mounted, and I still have more research to do on epoxy compounds before I can put the hatch doors properly back on the boat. The work is tiring, but very fulfilling, and a few long days of working in the sun have topped up my stores of vitamin D and left me with a positive outlook and a fantastic tan.

7May/090

Two Lists

Things That Suck:

  • leaky boat windows that, when removed for repair, show signs of rot
  • water supplies that are still not drinkable
  • stoves that still don't work properly
  • boat batteries that don't last long enough
  • generators that shouldn't be used in the rain
  • rowboats in the rain
  • coffeeshop wireless that goes up and down and up and down and up and down
  • blogs that don't auto-save your long, rambling post when you hit 'submit' while the wireless is down
  • goddammit!
  • Things That Don't Suck So Much:

  • oatmeal breakfast with guitars at JT's
  • taking the path less travelled
  • this coffee. I guess.