Red Echo

July 27, 2014

Floodland 2014 happens next weekend.

I’ve been trying to keep it small and focused, and these sorts of events have a way of getting out of control if you announce them too broadly. But we’re nearly down to the wire, this has been one of my major free-time activities for the last couple of months, and I’m really excited, so it’s time to spill.

We have art, music, shade, performance, cushy lounging, and awesome people. We’re going to go spend a long weekend in the sagebrush and make a beautiful temporary village there.

There will be a big “center camp” area for low-key lounging, workshops, craft projects, and socializing. We’ll have a big custom propane bonfire set up nearby – not that it gets very cold at night out in Eastern Washington during the summer, but a fire is still an important social center. And we’ll have some art projects, LED sculptures and the like.

A bit further away, we’ll have another big shade, covering a sound system and a DJ booth, with fabric and lights and some really impressive LED matrix displays…

It’s going to be a really fun weekend. With a little luck and a lot of hard work, this will become a new yearly event, akin to a “regional burn“. But this year will be special; it’s full of wide open possibility, and nobody really knows what to expect.

July 25, 2014

My phone got soaked in a rainstorm and no longer works. If you need to get in touch with me, use email!

July 16, 2014

I haven’t said much about work in a while. I’ve been part of a startup for the last year and a half, and our web site just went live. Development proceeds steadily… it’s all coming together and looking pretty good.

July 11, 2014

This is the clearest explanation I’ve read: “What Is a Bitcoin, Really?

July 10, 2014

The fellow living next door to Rock Star Parking is 92 years old; he’s been living in the same house for 65 years. His grandson was out cleaning up the back yard this morning, and I said hello. We chatted a bit, and he informed me that the name I gave my house is more apt than I had any way to know: Jimi Hendrix’s first band apparently used to practice in his grandfather’s basement, immediately across the driveway from my bedroom window.

July 8, 2014

UrbanGems is a little hot-or-not style site that asks you to pick, from two photos, which shows the prettier scene. This data yielded an algorithm for automatically measuring the beauty of street scenes in photos from Flickr, which is now being used to develop a mapping algorithm which will find not the shortest but the most scenic route from one place to another.

July 6, 2014

Goodness 2014

That was the happiest, most satisfying festival experience I’ve ever had. A lodge in the woods, a couple of big grassy meadows, tall trees, a river, and a hundred or so friends, plus forty or fifty of their kids, throwing down years of Burning Man equipment and experience for a few great days of music and conversation and craft projects. I danced til dawn both Friday and Saturday night. We wore all of our most awesome and ridiculous outfits. We strung brightly colored lights everywhere. We had a big potluck and not one but two campfires going all night.

Sleeping in the back of the Rover is still a great solution for festival camping; I just fold the seats back, flip down the tailgate, and roll out a bunch of blankets. Super simple and comfortable. I think I will cut & sew the canvas tarp I’ve been using as a shade into something that fits over the car a little better, though.

June 28, 2014

June 27, 2014

New propane fire pit


This propane burner holds a pile of rocks, diffusing what would normally be a simple blue flame into a big wispy orange flame like a traditional campfire. I have a perfectly serviceable firepit at home, but this portable burner will be great for festivals and camping in areas with burn bans, where it would be important not to leave a bunch of ash or create flying sparks.

June 26, 2014

Motorcycle ride around Mount Rainier

SoundRider has an article describing a trip around Mount Rainier which sounds like it would be fun.

I couldn’t imagine it without a map, so I plugged all the place-names into Google Maps and here’s what it looks like.

June 24, 2014

New electronics for Eva’s Flowerz

Eva’s big Flowerz sculptures from 2010 have been dragged out to Burning Man and to dozens of other events around Seattle over the last four years, and they’ve definitely taken a beating. My original electronics design was intended for a single, permanent indoor setup, so I’m surprised the lights survived being taken down and put back up in all kinds of environments as well as they have. They’ve gotten increasingly cranky, though, and now that half of them have died it’s definitely time for a replacement set.

LED and controller technology have come a long way since I designed the original lights. The new hardware is simpler, cheaper, and much more sophisticated; the new lights will have four times as many addressable pixels, so the animation space will now be two-dimensional (in polar coordinates) and not just a one-dimensional ring. What’s more, I had to individually hand-solder over a thousand through-hole LEDs for the old lights – there were dozens of tiny little wires running every which way. With the new system, the LEDs come mounted on strips of tape, all bussed up, so one control wire and two power wires are enough for eight RGB pixels. It’s AMAZING.

Stefan S. has been helping out with this project, and in just a couple nights of work we’ve finished all the soldering for two of the lights, with a lot of progress made on the other four. One more work session will finish the job. This is… I don’t remember exactly how many hours I spent on the originals, but it was in a whole different order of magnitude.

It’s a little bittersweet, opening up the old flower lights, tearing out what are now hilariously clunky, awkward, inefficient electronic devices that were nevertheless the very best I could do at the time, and replacing them with a project so simple it feels like cheating… but really, the hardware was always just a display for the animation algorithm, and that’s still the bit where the Art™ comes in.

June 23, 2014

Simple summer shirt design, take 5

I made some more tweaks to the simple summer shirt pattern: rounded the armscye, tapered the sleeve, added a topstitched French placket, and lengthened the hem. I mismeasured the placket width and made this shirt a little too blousy but I’ve taken the pattern in so the next one will be better. This particular shirt also has lapel facings, but that detail is too fiddly to qualify as “simple”. I think I’ll reserve this design for fabrics which don’t have a clearly “wrong” side, then work up a variant with a banded collar which will work better for prints and the like.

June 22, 2014

Boom City is open 9 AM til midnight, from June 19th through July 4th.

June 20, 2014

Electric Harley?

Harley-Davidson‘s entire brand image is built on nostalgia; their reputation for low-quality engineering is the subject of endless biker jokes. Harleys, the non-Harley-rider will tell you, are expensive, unreliable, old-fashioned bikes for people who care more about style than substance. H-D is literally the last motorcycle manufacturer I would expect to announce an electric motorcycle project. There are no specs, there is no timeline, there is no actual product, just a prototype – but it’s a damn cool prototype and an amazing statement from the one company I’d most expect to be flogging noisy, stinky, unreliable gas-burners decades after everyone else on the highway has switched over to electricity.

My plan, of course, is to buy an electric bike as soon as I can afford one; bikes with enough range to satisfy my everyday needs have been out for a few years now. I’ll keep a big, heavy, luggage-equipped gasoline-powered bike around for road trips, but a svelte, zippy, quiet electric seems like the perfect machine for getting around the city.

Looking toward Tesla and its network of superchargers, though, it’s not hard to imagine a not-too-distant future where cross-country electric motorcycle road trips could be totally practical. For car drivers, the idea of stopping for an hour’s break every couple hundred miles to recharge sounds just barely acceptable, but that’s basically what non-Iron-Butt motorcycle riders do on road trips already. Riding is a lot more tiring than driving; you need time to stretch and rest. What’s more, you can’t use the drive-through; you have to stop for a while when it’s time to eat.

Further, an electric motorcycle’s battery pack is always going to be a lot smaller than an electric car’s, and the bike is going to get a lot more distance per kilogram than the car will, so a hypothetical half-hour break at a Tesla-style supercharger could potentially give your electric bike more extra range miles than your body can take before its next rest.

The problem, of course, is that Tesla is sensibly building their superchargers along major highways, the kinds of big-slab roads motorcyclists tend to avoid; a hypothetical Supercharger-compatible motorcycle might be capable of doing a long road trip, but it might not be the kind of road trip you’d actually want to take.

Harley should license Tesla’s supercharger technology for their electric bikes, then identify the nation’s best two-lane highways, the motorcycle roads everyone wants to ride, and they should build their own supercharger stations in the small towns at either end. I’m thinking of roads like CA 299, the Blue Ridge Highway, and the Cascades Loop. Estimates I’ve read suggest that Tesla’s supercharger stations cost about $100k-$175k; for about half a million bucks, then, Harley could open up the entire Cascade Loop to electric motorcycle riders.

The awesome part is that this is either feasible or very close to feasible with current technology, and once you get past the “electric” hurdle, it actually fits right in with Harley’s market. Brammo’s Empulse has a 10k battery pack, a highway range around 60 miles, a top speed of 110 mph, and a Level-2 top-up charge time of 2 hours… but Harley customers are already happy to pay lots of money for relatively big, heavy, slow bikes, just because they look cool, feel comfortable on long road trips, and have lots of torque. Electric bikes already come with huge amounts of torque – so Harley should just stack that sucker up with a really big battery pack, forget about the top speed, set their designers to work making it look cool, and then give people their road trip kicks by rolling out a network of Level-3 fast chargers.

They will make MILLIONS, and they’ll bring electric vehicle tech to places it would never otherwise go in the process.

June 14, 2014

I just ordered a full set of body armor inserts for my motorcycle jacket. I can’t really afford it right now, but it feels important. I’ll make it work.

June 7, 2014

Eulogy for John Mullally

John Mullally is one of the first people I met when I moved to Seattle, through the Monday night pool group at The Garage. I don’t remember hitting it off in any particularly special way at first, but we kept on hanging out, drinking, chatting, and playing pool every week. My affection and respect for him steadily grew, and as time went by he became one of my closest friends. Our lives have converged and diverged over the years, as lives tend to do, but as I think back over the fourteen years of our friendship, it’s hard to remember very many weeks in which we didn’t talk or spend at least a bit of time together.

I went through thousands of photos of John over the past week, preparing a slideshow for this memorial service. It’s been interesting to see all these other parts of his life – extended family, other circles of friends, his career, all of his various adventures. What struck me most is just how consistent these photos are with my own memories of John. He’s always smiling, always spending time with people he cares about, always exploring remote and beautiful places. Whether he’s spiffed up and looking sharp, or goofing off in some ridiculous costume, he always seems like he is completely at home in his own skin.

John was loved by a huge array of friends, old and new. He worked hard, built an excellent career, and earned the full respect of his peers. He adored his family and was fortunate enough to be able to spend lots of quality time with his daughters. His wife loved him with all her heart, and made sure he knew it. He had outlets for his creative impulses. He was one of the steadiest, happiest people I have ever known. He lived a really good life.

I rode my motorcycle over to John & Holly’s place last October for an evening of smoking and drinking and cards. Someone waiting at a cross street didn’t see me coming and pulled out into the road, directly across my path. I reacted quickly and managed not to hit the car, but I lost control in the process and went tumbling down the road. So much for cards and whiskey – I spent most of the night in the ER. I’m okay, and I’ll make a full recovery, but six months later the broken bones in my hand are still healing. If any element of the timing that night had changed even slightly, the outcome might have been very different. I could have been paralyzed, or crippled, or killed – or I might not have been injured at all, and wouldn’t have this story to tell.

John and Holly put me up in their spare room that night, and drove me home the next day. It was good to have friends ready to take care of me.

A couple of people asked, while I was recuperating, whether this meant I was done riding. The question surprised me, but it got me thinking about risk, and about how I’ve chosen to manage risk in my life. “Now that you’ve come this close to disaster,” the question implied, “does that change the way you feel about the risk you’re taking?”

I always knew there was a chance that I might be injured or even killed in a motorcycle crash. I chose to accept the risk, because I get so much joy from riding. I feel alive, my mind feels clear, I feel light and free; it’s hard to put this into words without sounding a bit ridiculous, but I’m always happier when I’ve been riding.

I do whatever I can to mitigate the risk I’m taking. I got professional rider training, I bought high-quality safety gear and I always wear it, I keep my bike maintained in good working order, and when I’m riding I pay constant attention to my surroundings. Regardless, I am choosing to accept the possibility of injury or death every time I get on the bike. I was unlucky that day a few months ago, but that event doesn’t change the nature of the risk involved or the fundamental values informing my choice. I will keep on riding because it’s part of the life I want to live. I accept the risk as part of the price of the good fulfilling life I want to have.

John and I talked about mountaineering often. I never had his dedication, or anything like his level of skill, but I’ve been hiking and climbing my whole life, and I understood where he was coming from when he talked about high altitudes and dangerous glaciers. He knew exactly what he was doing. He knew how dangerous it could be, and he knew what he was risking by doing it. But he also approached mountaineering with the utmost care and responsibility. He was constantly learning, practicing, and training. He hired the best guides he could find and he had great respect for their advice. He employed all the resources he had to mitigate the risks he was taking; he was the most skillful, responsible, clear-headed mountaineer I’ve ever met.

Still, he chose to accept the risk, because it was part of the price of living his good life. It was part of being true to himself and to the dreams that drove him forward. As I looked through all the pictures in the slideshow, I saw photo after photo of John out in high, wild, beautiful places, pushing himself hard, seeing amazing sights, sharing intense experiences with people he respected and trusted. In these pictures, he’s always smiling; over and over, he’s smiling and happy. He loved this experience. It is utterly clear that climbing was a key piece of that rich, fulfilled, happy life he lived.

It’s tragic that he is gone. I wish it were otherwise. But honestly, if I could go back in time, would I tell him not to go climb Liberty Ridge? I couldn’t. He didn’t make that climb on a whim. It was no flight of fancy. It was an inevitable part of the long arc of his life, a choice he made with eyes wide open, one in a long line of similar choices he had been making over and over throughout his life. Climbing was a fundamental piece of the brilliant, joyful, loving, rich life he was fortunate enough to live, and we, his friends and family, were fortunate enough to share. John wouldn’t have been John without it.

So here we are: I wish he could have had decades more of joy and love, more mountains, more glaciers, more time with his family, more time with his friends. I’m going to miss sitting around the campfire with him, talking about whatever. I’m going to miss trash-talking over our games of cards. I’m going to miss his goofball sincerity, his constant undercurrent of happiness. And wow, am I going to miss his amazing cooking. But I am glad that he got to have that life. I am glad that he lived a life that was true to himself and to everyone around him. I am glad that he was exactly who he was. And I am glad that I had the chance to call him my friend.

June 2, 2014

John Mullally was a good friend of mine. He died last week while climbing Mt. Rainier. It’s been a strange couple of days absorbing that.

May 30, 2014

I’ve made lots of jackets, vests, pants, and random fluffy things over the years, but I rarely sew my own shirts. There’s no point making your own T-shirt, since a perfectly-finished shirt from some factory in the Far East costs less than the raw materials you’d buy here. Anyway, what’s the point? If I’m going to spend my time making a garment, there had better be something unusual about it.

Button-up dress shirts, on the other hand, are full of fiddly little details, way more complicated than they’re worth. I might make one once, just to prove I can, but it’ll never be as finely tailored as a factory model, and again: if I’m going to make it, there had better be something unique in the design that justifies the time.

But. I had the idea, a couple weeks ago, to draft up a pattern for the simple four-panel half-collared vest I keep including in my dancing ensembles, so I don’t have to re-design it every Saturday afternoon before a big costume party. Get the fit right once, eh? Once I got going, I realized I could easily make it a modular pattern, with optional sleeves, and hey presto – now I have a unique design for a practical shirt.

I’m wearing the first prototype to work today. Five buttons, short sleeves, funky grey print. It’s more casual than a traditional business shirt, but sharper-looking than a T-shirt or a polo. Construction is very simple – I went down a lot of blind alleys with this particular shirt, but now it’s done I could knock out another one in two or three hours. Sewing on the buttons is the most tedious part. It’s a foundation, really, on which I can improvise – just like that flared jeans pattern I got all dialed in a few years ago and which has become the starting point for almost every pair of pants I make.

May 27, 2014

I just ordered a new motorcycle helmet. It looks exactly like my old one, except it is BRIGHT SILVER instead of black. The old spiky beast was getting pretty tired anyway, but it’s definitely retirement time now that I’ve crashed it. I think a silver helmet will still look plenty cool but it will be shinier and thus more visible, so that’s a good thing. And if I ever sew up the custom riding jacket and pants I’ve been fantasizing about for years, it’ll be blue-and-silver Mars riding a red-and-black bike, and that will be super cool.

May 22, 2014

I rode my motorcycle to work this morning, for the first time since October, and OH WOW does it feel good. The bike still looks a bit ugly, but it starts up instantly, runs perfectly, and handles as well as ever. I had forgotten, a little, just how light and free I feel on two wheels. It was a beautiful morning for a ride, too; clear, warm, just a little overcast, and not too hot.

I have felt a bit like a slacker for waiting so long to fix my bike and start riding again, but I’m certain now that it was the right decision. It’s been six months since the crash, but bones heal slowly, pushing on the bars puts a lot of pressure on my thumb, and it’s already aching after just a dozen miles of riding. It’s not so bad that it feels like this morning’s ride re-injured me, but I clearly won’t be taking any long trips for a while.

Even if I don’t get to do any recreational riding this summer, though, being able to commute on my bike again will make for a substantial improvement in my quality of life. The Rover is a great big beast of off-road hauling power, but it is a terrible choice for a commuter car. I’ve been really glad to have it – oh, man, would it have sucked to take the bus every day for the last six months! – but I’m ready to park it and return it to its former role as an adventuremobile.

May 19, 2014

May 18, 2014

The last two replacement parts necessary to get my motorcycle going again arrived yesterday, while I was out camping. It’s too late to get going on the repair work tonight – there’s a potluck dinner I’m already late for – but oh, man, am I ever tempted to blow my friends off and go turn a wrench. There were lots of riders out on the highway today and I kept wishing I were among them: sunny, warm, but not too sunny or too warm. I can’t wait to get riding again.

May 12, 2014

I spent some time working on my motorcycle yesterday. I’m still clumsier and weaker than I should be, but I can do the mechanical work without significant pain, and that’s the marker I’ve been waiting for. After stripping off the busted parts, the bike is in better shape than I realized. There are a lot of bangs and scrapes, and it’ll never look pretty again, but the list of replacements came out surprisingly short.

Is it time to go rat-style? Maybe I’ll embrace the bike’s newfound inadvertent rattiness and black it all out. I was thinking of adding some auxiliary driving lights anyway – maybe I’ll bolt on the ol’ ammo-can saddlebags while I’m at it.

Next weekend I’ll be away on a Floodland site scouting trip, but the weekend after that I should be able to get up on two wheels. The weather has been increasingly beautiful and it’s a shame to be lumbering around in my big ol’ gas-hog of a Range Rover when I could be on a bike instead.

May 9, 2014

Bicycle helmet laws are a bad idea

Analysis of statistics from Australia, before and after the introduction of mandatory bicycle helmet laws in Victoria and New South Wales, shows that bicycle helmet laws reduce the number of head injuries experienced while bicycling, but they do it largely by convincing people to stop riding bicycles. From an overall public health perspective, then, they accomplish more harm than good.

This suggests the greatest effect of the helmet law was not to encourage cyclists to wear helmets, but to discourage cycling. In contrast, despite increases to at least 75% helmet wearing, the proportion of head injuries in cyclists admitted or treated at hospital declined by an average of only 13%.

Helmets for motor vehicle occupants are now being marketed and a mandatory helmet law for these road users has the potential to save 17 times as many people from death by head injury as a helmet law for cyclists without the adverse effects of discouraging a healthy and pollution free mode of transport.

Getting started with the LPC1114FN28: a 32-bit ARM microcontroller with 32K flash and 4K RAM which has a built-in clock crystal and a TTL serial-port bootloader in ROM. What’s really unusual is that it’s available in DIP format. You can literally just plug it into a breadboard, hook up your USB to TTL serial adapter, apply power, and run.

May 1, 2014

Ruste Protection is a service which turns ordinary jeans into Kevlar-lined motorcycle jeans, with hidden internal pockets for hip and knee armor. Send ‘em your favorite jeans and they will send them right back transformed into sturdy, protective bike gear.

April 30, 2014

Why it makes sense to bike without a helmet

A long and carefully argued essay about not wearing a helmet while bicycling:

There is another significant way that the use of helmets harm cyclists: Bike helmets discourage cycling. An Australian study on mandatory helmet laws concluded that laws that required cyclists to wear head protection actually decreased the number of cyclists on the road. The implication of this study? The fewer cyclists on the road, the less likely drivers will be accustomed to sharing road space with cyclists, ultimately increasing the hazards faced by cyclists and further dissuading people from hopping on their bikes.

April 23, 2014

Mail-in-a-Box

Mail-in-a-Box is a “one-click” script which sets up a mail server, configured for encryption:

Mass electronic surveillance by governments revealed over the last year has spurred a new movement to re-decentralize the web, that is, to empower netizens to be their own service providers again. SMTP, the protocol of email, is decentralized in principle but highly centralized in practice due to the high cost of implementing all of the modern protocols that surround it. As a result, most individuals trade their independence for access to a “free” email service.

Mail-in-a-Box helps individuals take back control of their email by defining a one-click, easy-to-deploy SMTP+everything else server: a mail server in a box.

I had a nice dinner party last night: I made red peppers stuffed with lamb, onion, tomato, green onion, and topped with feta cheese, plus sautéed asparagus and portobello mushroom in a malbec reduction. Rose broiled up some garlic bread, and Coe made a butter lettuce salad with vinaigrette dressing and blue cheese, while Llew mixed us all manhattans. Yum. Jessie and Nick joined in and we had a lovely time. Afterward we dried out some wood with the flamethrower and had a fire in the back yard, but the rain kicked back up again so we didn’t stay out long.

Yay. Life is good.

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