April 27, 2012


I know I haven't been blogging as much now that I'm using twitter a bit more. Last week I actually took a seven day diet from social media while we were on a family vacation to Disneyland.

Monorail Driver 

I have my short term fill of the Tiki-Room and It's a Small World is still playing on my mental playlist.  One of the coolest things that we were able to partake in during this last trip was to ride up front with the driver on the Mark VII Monorail.  I've wanted to do this for decades, but it never worked out until this trip.  Yes, that is a really nerdy thing to be excited about.

While I'm not a big wig like Guy Kawasaki, I did get a chance to see the outside of Club 33 at Disneyland...  the secret club that is members only and serves booze in Disneyland.

The other things that I figured out on this trip.

  • My oldest son loves the Monorail as much as I do.
  • My youngest son is deathly afraid of non-human characters.
  • The Disneyland childcare center has the best little tiny toilets for those of you trying to potty train a child.
  • While I love churros, there are times when I do not desire to eat them.  I never thought I would write that.
  • The fireworks look so much better when viewed from the carousel in Fantasyland.


January 12, 2012

BART to the future...

It looks as if BART has made a leap forward in their quest to update the train cars in the system.  The original car design has been running with minor changes and refurbishments since 1972, so this will be a welcome upgrade.


(Photo Courtesy of BART)

So if all goes as planned, we might be riding these in September 2016.  BART is still taking community input in regards to the internal seat configurations and the color palette to be used, so if you actually care, let them know.


May 19, 2011

Old BART photos

The San Francisco Chronicle posted a bunch of photos from the early 60's and 70's from when the BART system was first being built.  There is no particular point to this post, just that these pictures are really cool.

(Image from San Francisco Chronicle)



April 23, 2011

The land down under

I've been to Australia a few times and have quite an affection for the country.  The people are friendly and the sun shines bright.  One of the ubiquitous things about Australia (or at least the parts I have traveled to) is the availability and love of VB, or Victoria Bitter.  In the United States you can get a few Australian beers, with Fosters being the prime example, but I had never seen VB until recently...

Two of my favorite Aussies. 

It turns out that a place called Cellar360 in San Francisco imports VB in limited quantities to the delight of  Australian Ex-pats and Austral-o-philes.  No, they don't ship.  No, they don't always have it in stock.  Yes, it is a bit spendy for beer (around $41 USD for a "slab" or a case of 24 "stubbies").   While they promote something called the VB Club, in which you reserve your beer in advance, you can always call to see if they have some in stock.   

a quarter slab 

One of the more amusing things about VB is that it isn't a bitter, but a lager.

Cheers, mate!


January 25, 2011

Free library at your fingertips

Every time I take a long trip I try to bring a book along to read on the airplane just to pass the time.  With the advent of e-readers like the Kindle, you can bring a huge library of books with you with just a few ounces added to your carry-on bag.  One resource that I have found to be amazing is the library at Project Gutenberg.  You can download books that are now in the public domain and read them in various electronic formats.  The price cannot be beaten (free) and the amount of books available increase every day.  They provide the books in file formats that work on the iPad, Kindle, Nook, OLPC and various other reader units as well as regular computers.


As a plus, these books are in the format the author originally published them, not edited or censored.



September 17, 2010

Skyrider Seats. WTF?!?

Recently the Skyrider seat has gotten a bit of press.  It reduces the standard legroom on a domestic flight from 30 inches to 23 inches.   I am tall and have zero legroom on a standard coach seat and maybe 2 inches to spare on economy plus. 

airline torture chair. 

I swear I will boycott any airline that deploys this utter crap.



July 19, 2010

When GIS info goes stale

In the neighborhood I live in, there is one street that has been blocked off for at least 20 years or so.  Unfortunately my local city hasn't updated the map GIS data properly, so map software like Google maps and most car GPS units try to route you directly through a solid wall. I was logged into Google services at the time and saw that there was an option to submit an error report on routing data.  They actually responded in a timely manner.  Not so bad for a service that does not cost anything for the end user.





While automated mapping technologies are great, it is always good to have some sort of backup whether it be paper or map data from another source.

** UPDATE July 22, 2010 **

Google completed their map update.  Yay!  A company that actually listens to complaints?  That is rare these days.


January 05, 2010

Concrete Ships and other oddities

Over the New Year holiday we were down in the Santa Cruz area for some relaxation.  While in Aptos, we were walking by the large concrete ship attached to a pier.  I remembered seeing this as a child, but I never knew the exact story about it, so I did some research on the web (ok, I just googled it and came up with the info), and found Sandy Lydon's website with tons of odd history in the Santa Cruz area.  The ship turned out to be the S.S. Palo Alto, which has a long and storied history.  I knew a little bit about Liberty Ships made of concrete, but I found out way to much random info at Mr. Lydon's website.

(photo courtesy of redteam on Flickr)


December 11, 2009

BART into Oakland Airport! WOOT!

It was just announced today that BART will finally build a train to connect the Oakland Coliseum Station in Oakland to the Oakland International Airport. Why is this so exciting?  For one, the AirBART bus connection was awful.  In the past the only real mass transit route to a major airport was via BART to the San Francisco International Airport, and that train ride was approximately 90 minutes including one transfer.  According to BART's news release, this new train will make the trip in a little over 8 minutes, which makes the trip from my station just 34 minutes total.  Talk about time and money savings!  Just make sure there aren't any Raiders games when you plan on flying!  While it won't be finished until at least 2014, it is definitely something to look forward to.





August 13, 2009

The comfort of hard plastic

While my youthful days of bare minimum travel are over, I still get a kick out of what people will do to save a buck.  Donna McSherry started the site Sleeping in Airports, which is a user updated website that gives you tips on the best places to crash when you are traveling on a budget.  Even if you are not traveling around the world on a pocket full of change, you might find some of the descriptions extremely amusing.


(Photo Courtesy of Holiday-Extras on Flickr)

An example of the crazy reviews that I liked:

Nong Kai - Thai-Lao border - January, 2009
Sleeping at the Thai-Lao border


"I slept at Nong Kai, at the Thai-Lao border in March, 2001. The bus from Bangkok drops you off about 2 am, and it takes a while for the border to open. It is quite deserted, there are benches and tables to sleep on. My friends and I had a great sleep, and we were woken up in the morning by the bells from a nearby Buddhist temple (quite a nice alarm clock!). When the border guards arrived, we realized we had crossed the border in the night and slept the Laotion side! We had to pay an overtime fee but they let us walk back across the border and go through properly." Contributed by Aileen Nowlan" (Added 18 JAN 03)


Good times!


July 13, 2009

Flighty data

According to an article in NetworkWorld, over 12,000 laptops go missing in airports around the United States every week, with 1200 just at LAX.  The thought of outright theft or some other sort of loss is quite unnerving. 

(Image Courtesy of dklimpke on Flickr)

If you travel often there are several things you can do to mitigate the security risks.  If you don't care about your privacy and would just pick up another laptop at Costco or Fry's if you lost it, you can skip this article.  The first item is the backup.  Everyone talks about it, but most of the time, people don't do it at all.  There are several online backup services that allow you to securely (at least for personal data) backup over the internet using an automated client.  At a minimum, make a dump of your data files to a thumb drive or DVD disk every month or so.  If you can't afford to be without your data, you can't afford not backing up.  The next issue is privacy.  Who owns the data on your laptop?  Do you have proprietary data that people would want to buy?  Do you have embarrassing photos from your buddy's bachelor party saved on your laptop?  Do you have personal information that could lead to your identity being stolen?  If so, you should consider full disk encryption.  While it does take some processor overhead, it is worth the extra processor cycles for your data's protection.  Microsoft has their new Bitlocker technology in Windows 7 and Server 2008 R2, PGP has full disk encryption for the Mac and Windows, Checkpoint has full disk encryption for Mac, Windows and Linux in their Pointsec software, and there are also free open-source alternatives such as Trucrypt.  These products render the data on your laptop useless to anyone who wishes to get the content off the machine.  You may lose the monetary value of the laptop, but usually that is much easier to bear than losing millions of customer records or your unfiled patent application.


July 17, 2008

Downtown San Francisco, always amusing.

If you get the chance to visit downtown San Francisco, you never know what you are going to see.  While there are panhandlers and sometimes the sidewalks reek of urine, you also have some really interesting folks that completely make up for it.  One of those folks is Frank Chu.  I would put Frank up there with Emperor Norton in regards to the people who represent the wacky soul of the city.

Where else would you find someone protesting the injustices of the 12 Galaxies shaking hands with a man dressed as a pirate with fake buttocks attached to his shorts?  Nowhere else...

(Photo Credit: Thomas Hawk on Flickr)  

June 12, 2008

Conspiracy theories and operational security

Earlier in the year I read the online article "Unmarked Planes & Hidden Geographies" by Trevor Paglen in the Vectors Journal at  USC.  Different from the normal Area 51 and Dreamland internet conspiracy theory hogwash, it was a truly interesting take on the usage of open source intelligence (or OSINT as they call it in the biz).

Since I was staying at the Luxor hotel in Las Vegas a few weeks after I read this, I decided to see what I could do with a digital point and shoot camera.  With 16x zoom (4x optical and the rest digital) I couldn't make out the tail numbers, but it just shows that there are only a few thousand yards between secrets and slot machines in Las Vegas.



May 31, 2008

SPOT my location, please.

Recently I was looking at Electronics at REI.  I ran across this personal locator beacon, that was fairly inexpensive, called the SPOT Satellite Personal Messenger.  This little box has a GPS receiver and a satellite transmitter all in a ruggedized and simple case.  If you are in danger, you can press the 911 distress buttons and it alerts their emergency operations center.  But the cool feature is that it can be used to "check-in" with your location, which gets forwarded to your designated SMS and e-mail recipients.  


I would love to see an SMS or e-mail to APRS-IS gateway that for a device like this.  Could you imagine the search and rescue implications for hurt hiker or boater to give their exact coordinates to the SAR staff this is trying to rescue them.  Heck, this might even be a wonderful tool for people that are outside of normal phone service range that just need a reliable way to signal their need for help.  It isn't complex, nor can it send complex messages, but a location and a distress signal is worth every penny you pay for it when you really need it.


March 27, 2008

Spicy HOT Lanes

In the San Francisco Bay Area, the commute can be incredibly tedious.  Depending on my work location, I need to commute from 30 to 45 miles from my house, which in turn requires between 35 and 70 minutes of transit.  As often as I can I try to take mass transit (BART to San Francisco in my case) to reduce my fuel costs, bridge tolls, wear and tear on my vehicle, as well as stress from driving around a bunch of nutjobs.  With the advent of the Fastrak system of wireless toll collection in the SF Bay area, the possibility of paid toll lanes became possible.  Current rumors have the toll rates along Interstate 580 and 680 in the $4 to $5 USD range.  Would it be worth it to me to pay an extra five bucks to shave half an hour off my commute?  Heck yeah!  The only thing you lose out on this is anonymity.

HOT Lanes! 

Source for images and information: 

March 01, 2008

Tiny little products to make travel fun

When I'm travelling, I try to go as light as possible.  It is hard to be a carry-on only type traveller in the United States these days with the liquid requirements, but with tiny little toiletries it is possible.  Sometimes I repackage my toiletries in smaller containers, but sometimes I get the tiny trial-size versions of the products that I love.  Minimus has built their whole business on this concept.  Instead of paying too much at the hotel or airport for an once to toothpaste, you can get a tiny amount of the brand you like for a reasonable price. 


While you can get in-flight power on most planes these days in Business or First class, most Airlines that I fly on do not have power available in coach.  In Flight Power makes this cool little gadget that pulls voltage off of the airplane's headphone jack at your seat.  With this you can charge your cell phone, PSP, iPod/mp3 player or whatever other low current device you'd like to use on the flight.





February 26, 2008

The real slow boat to China


When I was 22 years old and had just finished my bachelor's degree, I decided that I needed a new goal to set my sights on.  Without much thought I decided that I would travel to every continent by the time I reached the age of 30.  While I've been successful in travelling to over twenty countries so far, I missed this goal several years ago and by several continents.  When I was looking into achieving this, I ran into the interesting concept of freighter travel.  In this mode of transit you literally traverse the oceans as a passenger on a cargo ship as it makes visits to all of the ports of call.  While this method can be slower than an airplane or other traditional modes of transit, but I think the amount of introspective time and solitude could be quite soothing.

These freighers usually follow normal trade routes around the world and have ports of call in places such as Northern Europe, India, The Mediterranean, Central America, South America, The Carribbean, The Pacific Rim, Austrailia and New Zealand.  Depending on the size of the ship and the country of registry, the accomodations on ships can vary.

While searching the internet, I found three such travel providers that cater to English speaking clientelle.

I think that in some ways, this is almost like the working man's cruise ship condominium that people have been talking about.  I'm sure that you would be seeing the world from a much more realistic perspective as well.  While my current life situation and worldly obligations precludes me from taking such a voyage, I think at some point in my life I would love to do this type of trip.  While I'd never get to Antarctica on a freighter, I think I've already decided that I'm going to do a Lindblad expedition to the bottom of the world when I get into a financial situation where I can can drop 20 grand without sweating.


March 18, 2007

Building and running the Byonics MicroTrak300

Building and running the Byonics MicroTrak300 APRS Tracker