Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Give me stars, planets and a moon

Last night just after sunset we had an uncommon celestial event - the moon was just past new, Venus was just above it, Neptune was just below it, Jupiter was nearby and Mercury was low in the sky nearby. With the naked eye I could see four of the above, and with my 7x50 binoculars I could also see Neptune. Four planets and the moon all in sight all at the same time! I didn’t get a photo, but here is a good illustration from the website Earth & Sky. (Click the picture for a bigger version.)

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Surf Costa Rica

I have wanted to go to Costa Rica (and other places in Central America) for more than 30 years. I want to see the places, but I also want to dive and surf. I made it to Venezuela once, but was with other people and only got to swim once in the Caribbean for a little while. (I had even taken my mask, fins, snorkel and regulator. It was a bitch to carry all that bulky and heavy stuff around for 3.5 weeks and not get to use them once.)

There has always been a small industry for dive tourism at numerous locations throughout the Caribbean, including the Caribbean side of Central America. In recent years ago an even smaller industry for surf tourism has sprung up at a few locations on the Pacific side of Central America (and Mexico).

A few years ago I found out about a then-new destination resort called Witch’s Rock Surf Camp. A neighbor here went there once and really enjoyed it. I made a reservation in 2005 but was unable to get down. Then a few months ago I got an email from WRSC saying they were having a 25% discount for one week only. The discount week happened to be the week immediately after Macworld, and a few weeks after the xmas holidays. It’s a convenient time for me to be away from work, and I could spend a little less money. (Having enough money to go has been my problem for the past 3 decades.) Coincidentally, American Airlines had a 67% discount flight to Liberia, the nearest airport, for exactly that week.

So, finally I get to go to Central America and especially to Costa Rica for a surf trip. It’s only a week, but this is much better than no time at all. And instead of spending about $2,000 (air + hotel), I’ll only be spending about $1,400. (Not including all the various taxes, fees, meals and other costs of course.)

Here is what Joe Walsh, the owner and resident big kahuna at WRSC, says about the surf spots in the area.

TAMARINDO - multiple surf spots in town. The beachbreak in front of WRSC is great for beginners/intermediates, has a sand bottom, best on mid-to-high tide. The rivermouth has lefts and rights and can be good on any tide. There are multiple reefs in Tamarindo, some are rarely surfed. There are many good peaks on the north side of the rivermouth as well, best on mid-to-high tide
WITCH'S ROCK - beachbreak with strong offshore winds making for big barrels, lefts and rights. This spot is always good unless the wind is onshore
OLLIE'S POINT - right pointbreak, sand bottom, can get quite hollow and really fun. Only accessible by boat, breaks on low tide
PLAYA GRANDE - beachbreak that is more exposed to south swells, fun rippable waves, best on mid to high tide
AVELLANAS - multiple breaks that work on low to high tide, sand bottom beachbreak, a rivermouth with some reef, Little Hawaii which is a heavier reef right, plus a couple more spots if you know where to look
MARBELLA - sand bottom break that throws big barrels, definitely the heaviest wave along this stretch of coast. Good tube rides if you know how to ride them, can get bigger than you'd think.

And to add yet one more coincidence, the Costa Rican national surf championship is happening there at WRSC on the first weekend I am in country. Actually, the surf championship happens Friday, Saturday and Sunday and I arrive late afternoon on Saturday. So I may see some of the semi-finals, and next day will definitely get to see the finals. Also, there will be the inevitable big party that Saturday night. (It will probably be really loud near my room, but oh well - I’ll have a few days to recover after it’s over.) From Joe Walsh's weblog:

The Costa Rican surf circuit, known here simply as the CNS, is hosting the Witch's Rock Surf Contest here at Witch's Rock Surf Camp January 10th and 11th, 2009. Inscriptions will be at the camp the night of Friday January 9th. I f#ck%d up and told Sebastian, the owner of Babylon, that we would host the contest party at his club on Saturday night. I did this because I was planning on leaving town on the 10th on surf tour. Then I found out that Red Bull had already purchased the advertising rights to the party directly from the CNS before the season started. I guess I didn't get that memo, probably because Larry forgot to put a cover on the TPS Report. So, as to eliminate confusion, here are the facts:
- Friday January 9th, 5pm-7pm - Surf contest inscriptions @ WRSC
- Saturday and Sunday January 10th and 11th - surf contest, Playa Tamarindo
- Saturday night - 911 La Radio, Red Bull and Witch's Rock Surf Camp present the Torneo Witch's Rock Party at Witch's Rock Surf Camp.

With a week on a good surf beach in a tropical beach town with a national contest and me with no computers to distract me, I’ll probably have a lot of pictures to upload to Flickr when I return. Departure countdown: 12 days from today 28 December.

(And right now I am coming down with a cold or flu, that I picked up from work.)

Friday, December 19, 2008

What Is the Plural of Prius?

It’s a serious question. When a made-up word for the English-speaking market sounds Greek or Latin, how does one pluralize it?

Okay, it’s not a serious question. I think we have at least a few possibilities:

  1. Priuses (for English-only speakers)

  2. Prii

  3. Priae

This came to my mind earlier this evening as I was walking down to La Bodega Estrella for a bottle of chardonnay. In front of my building was a Prius about to turn left into its building, while oncoming was another Prius. Both were in electric drive on a residential street so they were totally and completely silent. Except for the headlights you wouldn’t have known there were there. It was eerie. Two cars passing in the night and they were totally silent, not unlike two ships in the night - and the non-metaphorial version of same.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Quantum of Despair

We went to see Quantum of Solace yesterday afternoon. I don’t check reviews - either written or podcast - but do watch the headlines of same just to get a general sense of what the professional critics think of a given movie. In this case more critics had panned the movie than had liked it, but there seemed to be votes in both directions.

I went in hoping for solace from the critics, but came out desolate, disappointed, in despair.

This movie was chase, fight, chase, character interaction, fight, chase, fight, chase, chase, character interaction, explosion... Roughly in that order, and with the character interaction approximating about 3 minutes of the first 30.

While it is certainly true that we always expect a Bond movie to be filled with action, in this movie it just went on and on. There was little in the way of story or character development, or perhaps the story and character development were just in the way of the chases, fights and explosions. It’s further true that in a Bond movie we don’t expect Bond, M, or the Bond girl to show much if any character arc, but in this movie they just didn’t show any. The villain didn’t show any either.

There can actually be some story and character development even in Bond movies. This is part of why we like the series. Casino Royale had that - a mix of story and character shaken in amongst the fights and chases, and it helped us learn about the new Bond and helped us learn about the other characters in his universe. There was story that kept us watching to see what was going to happen and where it was going.

In this movie though, within 7 minutes we knew all we would ever learn about the characters, and we knew where the story was going. Late in the movie it even got to the point where - though some of the audio was garbled and we couldn’t make out the exact dialogue - it didn’t matter because we knew the characters’ motivations and could read the telegraphy of their next actions.

As in any Bond movie there was a lot of money up there on the screen, and there were some expensive above the line people too, so this movie obviously cost a lot to make. (I don’t have the interest to look up what it cost.) So if you go to these solely for action and explosions, this is your movie.

In addition to my complaints of too much vapid action, let me also register a complaint about how the action is shot and edited. In all the fights, chases and explosions throughout the movie most of the shots were too tight and the edits too damn quick. We liked that in the first two Bourne movies, but it wore out its welcome by Bourne 3 and it’s tired now. Appeal to the producers: please ask your directors use a few more middle shots and let us watch them for a few seconds. In Slate’s review of the movie - snarkily titled 000 (read Double-Oh Zero) Dana Stevens notes that the likely problem with this movie was that the director has made mainly tearjerkers, which is not a job requirement for a Bond movie director.

And my final rant: Why use a Ukrainian actress to play a Bolivian? Were there simply no South American actresses available for that movie? Her accent in English was funky, and they couldn’t have her speak any Spanish (or at least very little).

And my last (only?) kudo? They used my All Time Favorite airplane, a Siai Marchetti SF-260 - and it was even done up with military hard points and gun pods.

(The picture linked above was the best example I could find of the airplane with gun pods. Even so, you can just barely see the barrels of the .30 cal pods peeking out from under the leading edge of the port wing. This site has a history of the SF-260, and the SF-260W or the “Warrior” variant of the basic SF-260.)


I've been working on reorganizing and reducing distractions so I can start writing again, both here and items as yet unpublished. Consider this the first in the restart.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Bailout Balls

I've been thinking lately about how these latest government bailouts of private industry compare to some in recent history. Fortunately we have the internet, and for every original thought dozens of other people have thought it at the same time.

So I ganked the graphic from Kevin Drum's blog. He ganked it and the idea from the originator, ProPublica. Isn't it amazing how much welfare money Big Business has received from Big Government when the former has had bad ideas go south? Despite their railing against Big Government that they need to be left alone...

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Rockstar Scientist

Yesterday work had a guest speaker at the Haskins Lecture - Ralph Cicerone. Dr. Cicerone is the president of the National Academy of Science and shared in the 1995 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. He has at least a dozen other awards, but that goes with the territory.

He came to talk about Global Warming and Energy Economics. It was attended by several hundred people, and was very interesting. (It's not every day one gets to see a Nobel prizewinner*.) I'll write more about it later when I have a bit more time.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Blame It On the Democrats

Quote of the day (from Kevin Drum):

"Look, I owe the American people an apology. If I had beaten the old man you'd of never heard of the kid and you wouldn't be in this mess. So it's all my fault and I feel that very, very strongly. So this is an important election for us. Let me tell 'ya."

Who said this? Who else - Michael Dukakis. I never thought about it quite that way before. And of course in a deeply sadly ironic way, he’s right.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Cool Summer

It has seemed to me that this has been a particularly cool summer, and I’m pretty sure we’re in a La Niña year. Here in the Santa Monica Bay we’ve had spring fogs all summer long, even into late September. Also, the water never warmed up much and we haven’t gotten any good south swells. So the cool summer is here in Santa Monica, but the climate effect that causes it is probably stretching across the Pacific and probably to the southern hemisphere and maybe even to SE Asia.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Summer of Euros

In walking around Santa Monica this summer - up and down the 3rd St. Promenade, the streets around that, and the streets up to and around the beach - I’ve noticed more Europeans (both by sight and by hearing the languages) this summer than ever before. This isn’t a scientific survey of course, but I think this is true. Must be the effect of the dollar-euro exchange rate.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Scouting surf spots

I’ve been wanting to start surfing point breaks again for at least, well, since I moved here over five years ago. But it’s so convenient to just walk three blocks down and go out at the local beach break that I haven’t been sufficiently motivated to check Topanga, Sunset and Malibu.

Actually, that’s not quite true. On July 4 of last year one of the people from the Cambridge office was in the middle of his 6-week posting to the Santa Monica office. As I’ve become the unofficial surf instructor for the Cambridge office, he looked me up and I started taking him out. He caught on to surfing faster than anybody I’ve ever seen - it probably helps that he’s 27 and a very good athlete already. Because he was getting good fast I put him on the 7’0“ David Pu’u funboard and he was doing well with it. Unfortunately he didn’t heed my advice to be aware of the board’s presence and position if you get pitched off it. It ended up hitting him hard on the arm - with the sharp pointy end of the skeg and cut him open. We went to the ER and they put about 15 stitches in to close him up and told him to stay out of the water until the wound closed. (Picture will go up on Flickr shortly.) That dry spell happened to overlap 4 July - at which time we also happened to get a fantastic south swell. I decided it would be good to take him to see Malibu, which just happened to be my first time too.

Yes, despite growing up, living and surfing in SoCal nearly all my life I’d never actually been to Malibu. (Reason: Ventura County has a good point break as well as all other types of surf breaks, and frankly I just didn’t want to hassle with the crowds at the ‘Bu in the summer.) We went - and the waves were incredible. (Pictures to follow.) They were consistently 4-6’ set waves and just rolled through all the points. However, there were zillions of people out. But I digress...

This morning I left early and drove out to Sunset to check that point break. I’ve seen Topanga and it’s just not very good - bottom looks not very well-shaped and the put-in is rocky. Sunset has a rocky put-in too, but there was a south swell running today and it handled the sets and waves fairly well. (Pictures here.) There were nearly 100 people out at a place that doesn’t seem to have a lot of takeoff spots, but that won’t matter much if I dawn patrol and go out when few people are there.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Thick lips, good juice

A small south swell came through today and I got waves. I hadn’t been out in weeks - maybe two months - so I went out on the boogie board. Turns out that was probably a better choice than the stand up board because the waves had some juice, so they were fast and walled up. I saw one guy getting rides, but most of the stand-up surfers were getting creamed or just not making the takeoff.

I made 4 waves in :16 minutes, and got punished by each. On the first, I didn’t have a sense of how strong the lips were. I stayed high on the wall after the takeoff and turn, and got hit in the back of the head by the lip. It tore my hat off and I think I got a mild concussion. On the second wave I pulled into the barrel a bit lower on the face, but then the descending lip hit the nose of my board and pearled it so fast that I literally flipped, fins over my head. The water was pretty shallow and I got scared that I was being pushed down so fast that it was going to break my neck, but I didn’t hit the bottom after all. This one overpressurized my ears too. In the third wave I got el rolloed, but by then I was prepared. I got a good view looking down the barrel, which was fun - for about .5 sec.

After the first :17 minutes I didn’t get anything else for another :15, so I got out. Water temp was 68F according to LA County Lifeguards.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Batman, again

I saw the first Chris Nolan interpretation of Batman when it came out on the big screen, and again some later on DVD video. It was a fantastic story. (For those people who dismiss it by saying “it’s a comic book character”, consider that it is another portrayal of a conflicted archetypal hero character. Look at the story in that context.)

I also saw Nolan’s Memento not long after it came out and it was fantastic. It was cryptic too, but at the end one could sort of put the story together.

His new movie “The Dark Knight” opens in three weeks, on July 19. I’d seen trailers and read the description of the making of the movie included in an interview of Nolan in a story in Wired magazine. Rolling Stone has a review that is hugely laudatory as well.

The movie was shot in 70mm for IMAX, and fortunately there is an IMAX theater not far away. Nolan also eschewed digital effects almost completely, instead going with real principal photography and stunts for the spectacular scenes.

So I bought a ticket for the 12:15 (noon) show, and reserved a front and center seat. This isn’t the first showing - it actually shows at midnight:15 early the night before. When I bought the reserved ticket, the theater was already half full with reservations. So the marketing - viral and overt - has worked. But I think people are going because Chris Nolan is such a good writer and director, and Christian Bale, Heath Ledger and Gary Oldman are such good actors.

PS: I’m seriously considering buying another ticket for the showing immediately after!

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Movie - Up the Yangtze

I went to a showing of a new documentary movie “Up the Yangtze” about the effects of the creation of China's Three Gorges Dam. The movie is by a Canadian-Chinese filmmaker, and was financed by the National Film Board of Canada. It is about a peasant farm family who live near the banks of the Yangtze, and are being forced to move off their tiny farm and into a town as the river turns into a lake and the water rises. The oldest daughter in the family, who seems to be about 13 or 14 years old, wants to go to high school but instead has to go to work on one of the luxury cruise ships on the river that carries Western tourists who want to get a glimpse of the "old" China. We also follow a young Chinese youth (who is more metropolitan than) as he starts his first job as a greeter and host on the cruise ship. There are no grand vistas in the cinematography, but we get to see huge apartment buildings that have been emptied of their occupants as the residents were forced to move to higher ground.

The movie gives an excellent portrayal of the family, which lives in a candle-lit hut that they co-occupy with their chickens, a pet dog and a kitten. Neither of the parents can read - they are farmers - but they are sending all their three children (an interesting situation that is alluded to obliquely in the movie) to (at least) primary and middle school. The eldest daughter wants to continue school and has a goal of becoming a scientist, but has to go to work to earn money. The youth on the other hand, is an only child. The man who hires these children to work on the ship characterizes them as young and self-centered, and that seems to be a characterization shared by other adults and even lived up to by some of the youths working on the ship. (These kids' attitudes wouldn't be out of place at all in an American high school or college though.) The young girl from the peasant family is a notable exception, and is easily the most sympathetic character in the movie.

And that is what's curious. Even though this is a documentary, it seems almost like a feature movie. Except that we are deeply touched by the effect the dam is having on the lives of so many people. It is sad and touching.

Apparently the film is showing in the US only at the Laemmle's Santa Monica, but it seems to be available through Netflix.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Screenwriter's Blues

It’s 6:30 AM and I’ve been up for an hour or more. I almost always wake at least :30 minutes before first light, and have done so for decades. Usually I just lay in bed and daydream, or think about what I have to do in the coming day, or think about problems in life I have to solve. But I don’t usually get out of bed until I have to, or maybe even until the very last moment so I’ll be a little late getting to work unless I really hustle.

But my foray up to Malibu last Sunday morning at 6 AM has become somewhat of a model for what I’d like to do and can do if I just get out of bed.

So I got up at 5:30 this morning to check the surf and maybe go out. But the surf is non-existent.

I did actually check it last night shortly before dusk. It was blown out then, but even so I could still see that there was nothing underneath the miniscule wind swell. And the CDIP showed it still small this morning, so I didn’t even walk down to check. (Surfline says a small southern hemisphere swell may begin to start up late this week and into the weekend. So I may start dawn patrolling soon anyhow.)

But back to the morning.

After not going out, I got onto the computer and didn’t the normal start up chores - check email and check a few random websites. For the past couple of days I’ve been enrolled in UCLA Extension’s Writers’ Program free “Open Cyberhouse“ (sic). It’s a forum where the various teachers of the various writing classes promote their classes and answer questions to interested prospective students.

Like me.

Or like me if I had any questions.

And most of the questions in the forums are frankly not very useful to anybody but the original questioner. So I watch and pick out the tidbits or quips or references that are useful.

Thus far I’ve found about two, one of which prompted this post. And that was a reference to a weblog by one of the writer/teachers, Scott Myers, who has Go Into the Story, a Blogspot blog with his own domain name. Myers apparently is a well regarded teacher of character development, and in one of his recent blog posts he refers to WGA’s podcast interviews of well known screenwriters and TV writers. This sounds interesting. And so I bookmarked both Myers’ site and the WGA site, and found my collection of bookmarks of writers’ sites and started visiting them (e.g. Kung Fu Monkey, by John August). This is inspirational, or perhaps simply catalytic for my current spate of inspiration to start writing again.

Anyway, I avoided (yet again) reading the NIST Guide to Computer Security Log Management. And now it’s 7:20 and time to get ready and then leave for work.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

FileVault test

I got a new computer at work, finally*. Now I have to transfer my account on the current machine to the new machine.

However, the account on the current machine is encrypted with FileVault, and is fairly large. (Possibly larger than the remaining free space on the machine, but I’m not sure about that.)

The question is whether deleting a file vaulted account results in an encrypted disk image of the user’s home folder? I decided to test this at home. (I’m a professional, I can do this.)

I created a new account on the home machine and FileVaulted it. It turned out that I had not set a master password for the machine, and creating an FV account requires that. Who knew…

I created the account and added a few things into Documents, iTunes library, and iPhoto library. I then attempted to turn on FV for the account, but the machine warned me that I couldn’t do this with other accounts open. I switched to my main working account and logged out, then back to the test account and turned on FV. It started the process by effectively logging me out, then encrypting the account by (presumably) creating a new encypted sparse image and copying the test user data into that. It then securely deleted the test user account’s files, and dumped me back into the login screen.

I logged in and checked it (all okay) and logged out. Went back into my main user account and deleted the test account through the Accounts preference pane. This took about :90 seconds, which wasn’t a problem.

Unencrypted, the data volume for the test account’s ~/ was about 142MB. Encypted, the data volume for the test user’s encrypted sparse image was almost 190MB. Apparently there is some overhead.

Next test is to create another test account and then move the orphaned files from the first test into the second test, and see if they properly inherit permissions. Given how the encrypted home was deleted into an unencrypted sparse image I anticipate no problems.

Follow up: I was wrong. There is a problem.

I attempted to open the FileVault Test sparse image with Disk Utility but it failed, both in /Users/Deleted Users and when I moved it to my own Desktop.

So I’ll have to look to the user forums and the books in hope for a solution.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Cape Horn of the Pacific

A friend of mine in Silicon Valley has a cousin who has a boat. ("It's better to have a friend who has a boat than to have a boat.")

The cousin wants to drive the boat (a 34' Boston Whaler) from San Francisco to Santa Barbara. I guess he wants to do it for the adventure of it, because he's going to have somebody drive it back. And he certainly doesn't need to deliver anything.

Anyway, since I have sea experience in that part of the Pacific Ocean, my buddy asked what I thought about him going on the trip. (He has no sea experience other than a few boat trips out of Half Moon Bay to go salmon fishing, and a trip to Anacapa Island from Ventura Harbor.)

I pointed out that they will have to cross two long and wild stretches where, even close to the coast, the ocean is likely to be rough and there will be no place to land if they get in trouble. In fact, one of those stretches, the trip from about Morro Bay south around Point Concepcion to Santa Barbara is a particularly rough and nasty piece of ocean, with no place to come ashore.

In fact the
region around and offshore of Pt. Concepcíon is known by sailors as Cape Horn of the Pacific. (See the story here from 2006 about a sail from Avila Beach around the Point. Or see Richard Henry Dana's 1840 book Two Years Before the Mast.) You can see that sailors have recognized this as a wild and formidable crossing for centuries.

This afternoon I was checking the local surf report for a possible surfing go-out in the morning. I checked the CDIP (SEE-dip) to see the surf and swell report and discovered that the prediction (based on measurements from offshore buoys and oil platforms) showed about 1'-2' swells along the Southern California until Pt. Concepíon, where the surf suddenly jumps to 15'-18'.

Yeesh! Even when I was working on that ocean, spending countless hours driving back and forth across the Channel, if the surf or the groundswell got that big we simply wouldn't go out. And we were running in bigger boats than 34' Whalers. (Well, most of us were anyway.) I wish him well, and hope that he doesn't easily get seasick.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Surf reports - today and yesterday

The weather has turned warm, unseasonably warm even, and the water has warmed up. The air temps yesterday and today here, 600 meters from the water’s edge, are in the low-mid 80s (Fahrenheit), sunny and balmy. There is barely an onshore breeze - the palm fronds are just moving a tiny bit and the trees themselves are not moving. There is not a trace of the June gloom which would be more normal this time of year. The water is up to the low 60s (Fahrenheit) and basically the conditions are perfect. (!)

There is not much swell though, but the surf is still there (a bit) and a lot of fun. It’s actually perfect for me since I haven’t been in the water for at least two months due to my surgical wounds. But I got in the water in the morning, around high tide, both Saturday and Sunday.

On Saturday I took the funboard out and got a few waves in about :25 minutes. Today (Sunday) I decided I wanted more waves so I took the bodyboard out and did get many more waves. I also got a much better workout. Curiously, there were at least three sets that came through with one or two 5’ waves in each of these sets. These weren’t frequent enough of the lineup to move out to meet these waves, and in fact nobody got them. But they were beautiful to see from 20 yards away as they were rising and coming in.

I still haven’t prepped my camera to take it out in the water. (Truth be told I’d forgotten about the housing over these past few weeks.) So I don’t have pictures of these two good days. But I got the images from Scripps’ CDIP (Coastal Data Information Project), and here they are.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Adventures - Then and Now

Bruce Sterling has a post at his blog on Wired about an upcoming Long Now event "Mechanicrawl" celebrating “steampunk”. Now, I’m not too into steampunk - it’s fun to examine for its ingenuity and mechanical complexity, but I’ve worked around enough old machinery that I’m not infatuated or fascinated by such things* - but I am into Long Now events. I may go up for this for another reason too.

This event is going to be centered on and around the rebuilding of the torpedo targeting computer on the WW2-era diesel-electric submarine USS Pampanito. The computer is in the sail, also known as the conning tower, which is where the Combat Information Center (CIC) is located. Apparently the event is going to allow people into the conn to see the computer and the other things in the CIC. This is rare because normally access to the conn and the CIC is extremely limited.


One day at least 25 years ago, not long after I’d graduated from college and was living with a friend in South San Francisco and was still into doing wild and crazy things, we went down to the Pampanito late one weekday when it was late dusk. We bought our tickets and went onto the boat, down into the crew spaces on the main deck. We looked around there and then came up. We looked at the person in the booth, and took a chance and shot up onto the sail and down into the CIC. It was much more interesting in there, and not only because it was forbidden and we had beaten the rules. It’s also the most interesting part of the boat, because that is where all the important business took place. After all, this was a weapon in a shooting war, and that space was where the shooting was planned and took place. (It would have been cool to get into the torpedo room too, but we didn’t get there.) We spent a few minutes there, and I can still remember a big red (lit) plotting board. We also looked through the telescope, but I don’t remember if we were in the main compartment or in the CIC on the conn when we did that. I’m pretty certain we looked through the scope while in the CIC, because I was concerned that turning the periscope would be seen by the ticket-taker/authority and thought we better escape soon. One more thing - the view of San Francisco from the periscope was really great - it was bright and clear with great optics!

Anyway, Long Now is having an event and maybe I’ll go up for that.

*Okay, I’m into machinery just like any guy and this stuff will be cool!

En Guarde!

A long-time friend invited me to go to the Pasadena Convention Center for the Pacific Coast Fencing Championships. This was a "super-regional" competition, meaning anybody inside or outside the Pacific Coast region could attend and compete. He went with his son, and they both competed, singly and with the club (team) they're in.

The picture isn't very good, but still pictures don't do justice to the speed and dynamics of fencing. I also shot a lot of video, but haven't edited that down yet. Will post an update to links when the video is done.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Celebrity Spotting

Some people at work sponsored a workshop (or conference) that brought together artists and media people from the Middle East to get them to discuss how to solve the problems in that region.

Near the end, one of the attendees (
an entertainment celebrity in Damascus) wanted to buy a Macintosh to take home to her sister who owns an advertising agency in Damascus. At the same time one of the organizers also wanted advice on what new Mac she - as a life-long Windows user - should buy. I volunteered to go with them to the Apple store and help them decide.

The next day, as a way of thanking me for helping her with entertaining some of her guests and helping on the Macintosh decision she invited me along to a dinner with another of her guests, the Syrian film and TV writer/director/producer Najdat Anzour.He looks rather like a Middle Eastern John Huston, in his 50s, and has at least as much urbaneness. Najdat is well known in the Middle East as the director of some famous tv soap operas which air during Ramadan, the time of the year when the biggest tv audiences occur (due to the fasting during the day and eating after sunset).

He was here in LA to go to the conference, but also to pitch a movie project to Hollywood. He's got a story, a script, a budget ($50M) and even a big name star, but he couldn't get mainstream Hollywood interested. We spent a good part of the evening talking about the culture of Hollywood, and simply talking about movies. His english was very good, and he has a huge knowledge of film. It's obvious he is well traveled in Europe, and I advised him that getting it into the US might require that he first get it well played in Europe, and get some recognition for it there (e.g. Cannes, Berlin, London, Rome, etc.)

Near the end of the evening we participated in the ritual Exchanging of the Business Cards, and he promised he would send me the script for reading and analysis. And so very unlike Hollywood, he held to his promise. He sent me the script that very evening.

I was supposed to read it this weekend, but was so busy reading other things that I didn't do it. Will have to do it tonight, tomorrow (day) and tomorrow night.

All in all though it was a very interesting event.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Sneak Preview!

One of the local art house theaters (The Aero, part of American Cinematheque) is running 5 days of "heist films", starting with the new movie "The Bank Job" by Roger Donaldson about a famous bank heist in London in 1970. The movie opened last week in the UK (top of the charts there) but doesn't open here in the US until Friday. We not only got to see the movie, but there was a Q&A with director Donaldson ("No Way Out", "The World's Fastest Indian") afterwards too.

Geez I like living here in LA...

Sunday, February 03, 2008

The Onion as Prognosticator

Very infrequently I read The Onion as a source of humor and comedic insight about current events, but I actually remember reading this article seven years ago about the Bush speech proclaiming "Our long national nightmare of peace and prosperity is finally over." (Reference to a speech made while Bush was still Prez-elect, about to move in after Clinton.

What is amazing is how many of the "predictions" they made actually have come true.


Saturday, January 26, 2008

U2 movie

I found that a concert movie of U2 on their Vertigo tour was playing. Even better was that it was in 3D. Even better still, it was at the IMAX theatre in Culver City. U2 in 3D - woohoo! We went to see it. The theatre was packed. We should have got tickets beforehand, but were able to buy some of the few remaining tickets in the very front row. (Of course I’m happy with tickets in the front row. Marianne was a little bit hesitant, but by now she’s sat close enough times - and in front a few times - that she was a good sport and went along. It was great.

That is, this was one of the best concert films I’ve seen. The directors had great camera placement, with multiple cameras, and had multiple angles and tracking shots. Basically, the shots and angles did not get boring. Not that a U2 concert could be boring, but it was not a simple documentary with one or two cameras in static positions.

In fact the shots were taken not from one or two concerts, but from several - maybe 6 to 8 - across much of South America. The really good scenes or best songs from each concert were edited together so skillfully that we the viewer could not tell that there were several concerts over several days or even weeks. We simply could not tell that this wasn’t one single concert from beginning to end.

So. This was a really good concert film.

But it was then made even better by being shot and shown in 3D. Apparently all the shots were done with two cameras for each shot, and shot in cross polarization. We had to wear polarized glasses to see the film in 3D as well. (I peeked over the glasses a couple of times just to see what the pictures looked like without, and they were definitely not red/blue.) The 3D picture quite realistic, though not totally. More particularly, it was not gimmicky. The 3D effect was not there for the sake of itself but really added a subtle effect to the pictures of the band and the crowds, and it was good and not intrusive. Sitting up front we were able to see that there was a flatness to the images of Bono, so that he looked a little bit like an animation of a picture of Bono on a lifesize cardboard cutout. On the other hand, we were in the front row in an IMAX theater so he appeared so close that we felt as though we could reach out and touch him.

I’ve never been to a U2 concert though. So it was interesting to see Bono up close and to listen to him in such great sound. He’s not actually a very good singer - though I’ll admit that he is seriously emotional and committed to the lyrics. Which is great too. He is so committed that he is sweating like he just came out of a shower, and sometimes he’s so fatigued and out of breath that he has to stop, lean over and catch his breath. Edge, on the other hand, is the epitome of cool. Adam Clayton is like “fashion boy”, even though he’s the bass player and is supposed to be the calm cool disinterested one. (Think John Entwistle.)

I’ve seen some people speculate (in Salon letters) about 3D being too gimmicky and they “don’t like it”. But they’d never seen it. This movie was really great. Sure, the theater was full of fans so they’d like the movie already, but we really were impressed by the movie, its content and the skill with which is was directed and edited, and the musicianship and showmanship, and it was simply enhanced by the 3D. So if you get a chance to see it - and you’re even just a little bit of a U2 fan - then go see it.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Computing Systems Security

I was scheduled to start a class at UCLA Extension this evening in Vulnerability Assessment and Auditing, but it was cancelled (only three people signed up). Too bad, as it sounded very relevant to my new job:

Security professionals, auditors, and IT management must evaluate the security of their systems, both to ensure protection of critical business information and to meet an increasing array of regulatory requirements. This course provides an overview of security assessment methods and introduces technical tools for conducting security assessments. Key distinctions between information security audits, vulnerability assessments, and penetration testing are clarified. Assessment methodologies covered include audit general control reviews, Payment Card Industry (PCI) Data Security Standard, National Security Agency (NSA) INFOSEC Assessment Methodology, and NIST SP 800-30 risk assessment methods. Technical assessments of Windows and Unix environments are discussed, and open-source evaluation tools (such as nmap and nessus) are demonstrated.

Somewhat ironically, tomorrow morning I'm off to MacWorld Expo in San Francisco to be a speaker on auditing, actually - Using Common Criteria Tools Under Mac OS X - How To Audit Systems for Compliance with Business and Government Standards. This is the second year I'll be giving this presentation topic (I gave it in Jan 2007 also). Last year was successful, so along with repeating this presentation I also pitched the MWSF technical chief on doing a BOF session for Federal Systems Administration and Integration. They liked that idea, so I'm leading the discussion in that also (assuming anybody shows up at 6:30 PM). It is supposed to include the following, but as a BOF I think we can be flexible.
  • Configuring Macs for Federal Use
  • Auditing
  • CAC Cards
  • Problems and Solutions
  • Differences in Inspection Requirements
It will be interesting to see how this goes.

I'll be giving largely the same presentation this year that I gave last year, with only a few additions or changes. This is even though Apple has gone completely to Intel CPUs, and to OS X 10.5. I point this out because they haven't actually released the BSM installers for Intel (they can be got by special request), and they don't have BSM ready for OSX 10.5 either (not available by special request!).

Most of the people in the audience will understand though that I am not an Apple employee, or even a messenger from Apple.

Will be fun. (And I hope the swag bag is just as goody-laden as last year!)