Like Shitty_Watercolour, but with text. And shitty.

Six Months Car Free

A little over six months ago, I sold my car.

Holy shit, right? I mean, I live in Los Angeles, the most car centric city in the world. How can I possibly survive without a car?

Pretty easily, it turns out.

Since this is the first time since I was 16 years old that I don’t own a car, I had to re-learn some things. I had to untrain some habits. I had to make some sacrifices. I had to be willing to spend money I previously would have scoffed at to do some things.

All in all, though, I’ve saved a lot of money, I’ve saved a lot of stress, and I’ve significantly reduced my environmental footprint.

Old habits die hard

One of the reasons I decided I wanted to get rid of my car in the first place is because while I have been using my bike as my primary method of commuting for many years, I felt like I was using my car too much.

Too much?

I would wake up in the morning and instead of riding to work, I’d just drive. Sit through traffic for an hour, spend $10 to park at the office, sit through another hour of traffic. And why? Because I woke up, felt lazy, and drove instead of riding. Not because it was snowing, raining, 120 degrees in the shade, 40 degrees in the sun. No. This is LA, none of those conditions exist except occasionally the 120 in the shade one, but even that’s rare.

I would ride my bike all the way home from work — about a 22 mile ride — then hop in my car and drive 3 blocks to the grocery store I passed on the way home.

I would hop in my car to run to a local restaurant to get food.

I would hop in my car to take my dog to the vet.

I would hop in my car to go buy pet supplies.

Do you see the pattern here?

Most of the time I was spending in my car was for things I didn’t actually need a car for. I wasn’t driving long distances or with large loads (frequently, anyways). I was just driving because it was convenient, and I was being lazy.

After I got rid of my car, this urge to just hop in and go do X, Y, or Z took some time to go away, and honestly for the first few days I was thinking “oh my what have I done”. Fortunately, like any conditioned behavior, it can be changed, and was, and now I rarely think about getting in a car, unless I know that’s the best or only way to go about things.


I had actually decided I wanted to get rid of my car quite some time back, but thought I would need to move before I could do so. In my brain, I needed to be near a ZipCar before I could get rid of my car, because when I travel I board my dog, and driving is really the only way to get to my boarder. After several months of that, I decided I was being silly and struck it from the list of blockers. They aren’t super convenient to my current location, but they aren’t impossibly far away, either, and the slightly inconvenient might actually be a plus, as it keeps me from using them constantly.

Fortunately, both Uber and Lyft have pretty good coverage in the valley, so I can use those for getting around when I don’t want to take my bike.

And of course, my trusty bicycle has since become truly my primary method of transportation. The more I ride it, the more I realize I need to put some more investment into it, like new wheels and a new saddle at the very least, but it gets me from point A to point B so I can’t complain too much!

The downsides

There are of course some downsides.

It’s a lot more time consuming for me to get large distances around the city. For instance, my friends are scattered all over the place, from Pasadena to Culver City to the Arts District, to wherever. If I want to do something after work, that’s fine, but I have to go home to take care of my dog first, and then I’m an hour to get back downtown and another hour to get home! Oof!

I turn into a pumpkin at midnight. LA Metro stops running shortly after midnight, so if I’m on the wrong side of the hill, I have a very long ride ahead of me to get home. I don’t count buses because the daytime buses are unreliable enough, especially with a bike, so I won’t bank on a bus being convenient or able to take me with my bike. This, along with the 2 hour round trip time to downtown, means that I have very little time in the evenings to actually do anything.

For both of those problems, though, I see them as simply problems with where I live, and where I want to do things, rather than problems with not having a car. If I lived closer to downtown, the round trip issue would be significantly less. If I lived in, say, Highland Park, Pasadena is only a short hop away on the Gold Line. If I lived in either of those places, then getting stuck riding home because the trains have stopped is less of a problem, because it’s a direct route home rather than having to ride around the Santa Monica Mountains.

What about money?

I was a bit worried at first that I might end up spending way more money not owning a car than owning one. Between ubers, lyfts, zipcars, and such I’d spend WAY more than I would just owning a car. This has turned out to be far from the case. I haven’t tracked it closely (I’m tracking the next 6 months closely, though, for sure), but for the past 6 months I’d say I’ve spent no more than $200/mo on average, and that’s a pretty high estimate. At first, one might scoff at a $40 uber home from Highland Park. And a $35 zipcar to take my dog to the boarder. $60 in ubers in one night just to go to a show in Hollywood!

However, add them all up and they’re still way less than my monthly payment and insurance was on my car, not even counting gas, maintenance, etc. And other than the zipcars, I’m not even the one driving! I can just kick back and check out!

This leads me to one of the other major reasons I got rid of my car: I no longer have any excuse whatsoever, at all, ever, none, zip, zilch, nada. For driving intoxicated. Which, if you factor in just the direct financial costs of a DUI, makes nearly any dollar amount spent on alternative transportation look like a drop in the bucket. Not even considering worse things than getting a DUI. But when you’ve god a $600/mo car/insurance payment, spending $80 to roundtrip to a party somewhere seems excessive, right?

In hindsight?

If I had it to do it all over again I would actually have sold my car sooner than I did. The amount of times I’ve really needed a car since I sold mine made me realize that car ownership just isn’t for me anymore. I can totally get by without a car of my own, even if I need one from time to time, I don’t need to own one. In so many ways it’s actually quite freeing to not have a car. I can get one when I need one, but when I don’t it’s not burdening me in any way!

What now?

I have to admit. I recently rented a Mercedes C250 ZipCar and it was really an overall quite pleasant experience. I miss driving, and I sure as hell miss driving a manual transmission (ZipCar doesn’t seem to have any manuals in the US, which is sad but makes sense). And I know that, while I can use a ZipCar to satisfy that “must drive” urge, the lack of manual transmission will always leave me wanting for more. After 5 years of driving a manual, driving an automatic is frustrating. It’s always in the wrong freaking gear! And those “auto stick” transmissions are mostly crap as well, especially the one I had on the C250.

What does this mean? Am I getting a car?! Probably not. I’ve had the thought several times that after I move to Portland I’ll probably get another car. So I can get out of the city and into the beautiful countryside a bit. Because in my brain, paying $80/day for a zipcar every weekend adds up really fast. But not realizing that I probably won’t use a zipcar every weekend, and then there are other options than ZipCar.

I probably will end up with another car some day. But it’s probably going to be like an old Jeep I can go offroading with, or like an older bmw convertible I can blast canyons with, or whatever. Pure pleasure car. I’ll work on it myself. I’ll pay cash for it. I’ll drive it into the ground.

We’ll see what I have to say on the matter in another 6 months, though ;)

One Year Smoke Free

Saturday night at about 1am was the first anniversary of me being smoke free! Woo!

It was pretty rough for the first several weeks, but overall it’s been a breeze. Thankfully, I had some help from the fine folks at /r/stopsmoking who both helped me get started and helped keep me going when the cravings got pretty bad.

The biggest realization I had which made it really easy for me to quit was the fact that the only enjoyment I was getting out of smoking was relief from the withdrawal symptoms. I wasn’t actually enjoying smoking most of the time. Sure, there may have been times where it felt good or it enhanced a particularly pleasurable sitation (and those are the triggers which have been the worst to deal with) but for the most part I didn’t actually enjoy it, it’s just something I did.

If you’re considering quitting, I highly recommend it, of course. I’m here if you need any help with it or someone to vent to if the cravings are getting bad!

Farewell Pandora

I’ve been a Pandora user for about as long as they’ve been around, and a paying subscriber to the Pandora One service for about as long as that has been around. Sadly, my time with them has come to an end. I’m moving on to iTunes Radio now for my music streaming needs. Here’s why.

Native Client

For years I’ve been begging for a native Pandora client for OSX. I don’t like chewing up a browser tab to listen to music, and frequently Pandora would decide to use up a lot of memory requiring me to kill my browser, which may have had lots of important things going on that I needed. They did come out with their “Pandora One” player, which is an Adobe Air app, but it required installing yet more Adobe junk and even then it didn’t look very good or work well (for instance, the OSX-style command-arrow shortcuts for highlighting text didn’t work).

For a brief period I tried just using my phone for Pandora, as they have a native iOS client, but then I don’t hear any of my computer’s sounds (many of which are alerting me to things which require my attention) and I drain my battery just listening to music.

iTunes Radio, being integrated into iTunes itself means it’s effectively a native client on any iTunes supported platform. This might be a problem if you don’t like iTunes, but I use iTunes for my music, so it’s acceptable to me.

Sound Quality

For a long time I’ve also been asking Pandora what I can do to get better sound quality. I’m a bit sensitive to high amounts of compression and even with a paid subscription to the Pandora One service which provides higher quality audio, I could still frequently hear compression artifacts, sometimes making the song un-listenable.

iTunes seems to be streaming 256kbps AAC, which is actually pretty good compression and is the same level of audio quality as the music they sell through the iTunes Store and the music that comes through via iTunes Match, so you’re not compromising audio quality.


Of course price is a factor. iTunes radio and Pandora are both free services, but they’re also ad supported. Since I can’t stomach ads, I pay, and I’m fine with that. Pandora is $36/year, iTunes Radio goes ad-free if you pay for iTunes Match service, which is $25/year. Sure, it’s not breaking the bank, and if Pandora was on-par with iTunes radio I wouldn’t complain about the extra $11/year, but it is a factor!


There are other things I like about iTunes Radio more than Pandora, but for all I know Pandora has had those features as well forever, so I won’t mention them. My requirements for a Pandora-like service are pretty light, mostly I just use it as background music, so I don’t really deep-dive into the features they offer, but for what I do use, I find iTunes Radio to be a better service. Time will tell if iTunes Radio’s recommendation engine will provide more variety with less maintenance than Pandora (I felt like Pandora required a lot of maintenance on my stations to prevent hearing the same dozen songs repeatedly) but the native client and audio quality is enough for me to jump ship.

Farewell, Pandora. I’ll miss you. I hope you come back swinging and win me back. I really do!


Tomorrow I start my new job as a Systems Engineer at NationBuilder!

NationBuilder is connecting leaders with their communities, and enabling anyone to be able to become a leader. Key features of the platform are a CMS, CRM, and messaging.

I’m really excited to get started as they have a lot of interesting technical infrastructure and plenty of challenges to overcome.

BTC Exchange Gets Raided

While talking on IRC earlier, this article came up in the channel.

Now, normally I avoid reading about bitcoin, simply because I am too late in the game to really do any mining and don’t feel like making an investment, but the fact that an exchange was seized was of interest to me.

From TFA:

The warrant claims Mt. Gox CEO Mark Karpeles did not disclose he operated a financial transfer site when he opened a new bank account for the business. Money transmitting services, according to Gawker, are required to register with the Department of Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCen).

I find this interesting, mostly because of the implications here. If a USD->BTC and BTC->USD exchange is considered a money transmitting business, then BTC is now considered money by the DHS. As it stands with BTC not being recognized as currency, then the operation of this business is no different than an online gift-swapping marketplace and the DHS has no grounds to take action. For instance, if I buy a gift, give it to you, and you sell it, is that a money transfer? If not, then why would that be any different with BTC? Unless BTC were money. But does any government want to set that precedent right now?

Later on in the article is this gem:

“Literally, it allows buyers and users to sell illegal drugs online, including heroin, cocaine, and meth, and users do sell by hiding their identity through a program that makes them virtually untraceable,” Schumer said during a 2011 news conference. “It’s a certifiable one-stop shop for illegal drugs that represents the most brazen attempt to peddle drugs online that we have ever seen. It’s more brazen than anything else by light years.”

This is like saying bittorrent is for piracy and should be banned. Bittorrent is a general purpose file transfer protocol. Some people use it for piracy. Some people have also been known to use FTP, HTTP, SMTP and even DNS for piracy. What this quote is describing is most likely the online black market known as “Silk Road”. Silk road is to bitcoin as the pirate bay is to bittorrent. At best this statement is fear mongering and sensationalizing and propaganda. At worst, it’s downright libelous. Do they not think people buy drugs over the internet with USD? A PayPal account, a prepaid credit card, and someone to buy from are all you need to buy drugs online anonymously. Or what about buying some WoW gold and giving it to someone in game in exchange for some drugs? Is Blizzard registered as a money transfer service? Or would IGE be the one who’d have to be registered? I’d even wager to say that WoW gold is a more secure (in the “I’ll be able to keep it” sense, not the “it won’t fluctuate in value” sense) than BTC, and much easier to come by with many more users!

I get that governments are afraid of BTC. I can understand it, and even to a degree sympathize with them. I’m a hard working, tax paying, law abiding American. I may not enjoy paying my taxes, but I do so because I realize that government can’t operate without income, and I rely on the services the government provides for my daily life. But please don’t use silly arguments like this to try to discount a budding alternative currency.

I’m not a BTC user. I like a lot of the concepts surrounding BTC, but as much as it purports to be “secure”, “anonymous”, etc., I see too many flaws with the system to be willing to invest much money or time into it. I could write a whole post about my concerns, but at the very least I’m concerned with wallet theft, and that’s enough to stop me from using it in a serious fashion.

I am, however, very interested in the outcome of this action. The DHS has made a very bold move here, and whatever happens will set a precedent, so they have to be very careful moving forward.

Now where’s my popcorn popper?

Python Experimentation

I’ve been a perl user for about 10 years, but recently I decided I should start learning another language. Not that I don’t like perl or anything, but I wanted to branch out and learn something new. After doing some quick research and listening to my gut, I decided python would be my language of choice.

I’m an interactive learner. I can read a book on a language, tool, whatever, but if I’m not actually using it my knowledge retention is quite low. Fortunately, I’ve also been getting into logstash lately, and have some real needs which I can use python to fill.

So far I have 2 projects I’m working on: peabody which I’ve already written about, and now pipestash which I’m hoping to use for shipping apache log messages over to pipestash.

I’m not just venturing into unknown territory with python as the unknown territory, I’m trying to learn some more general programming strategies as well. Pipestash makes use of a queue and multiple processes (thanks to python’s multiprocessing module) and talks to a redis server. Peabody makes use of multiple file descriptors and polling and also a redis output. I might even throw some of my new multiprocessing knowledge into peabody, so instead of using select on multiple file descriptors, I might use 2 threads, one to read stdout and one to read stderr, which should simplify the code a bit and make it easier for my brain to work!

I’d like to get to the point where I’m as proficient with python as I am with perl, and actually where I’m much more proficient. It’s going to be a long, interesting journey!

SCaLE 11x

This weekend I’m attending SCaLE 11x. I’ve been to the conference a few times in the past and it’s always been a good time and excellent opportunity for networking and learning.

If you’re going to be there and want to meet up for a beer or something, drop me an email and we’ll meet up!

I’ll also be at the PGP key signing party Saturday night, let’s meet up and swap signatures!

The End of an Era

You may have noticed some downtime on the site this last week. Sorry about that.

The site used to be hosted on my old machine I had from when I was working for DreamHost. Sadly, it had to be moved from one datacenter to the other and it didn’t survive. And, considering I don’t work there anymore, replacement hardware was not readily available.

Fortunately, the hard drives were fine, so I was able to recover them. I still need to extract the data from them and get the rest of my sites online, but getting my blog back up was my top priority.

I’ve currently got the site up and running at Linode. I chose them because they have a great reputation, static IPs, IPv6 adresses, and aren’t overly expensive (this 512MB vps is $20/mo). I’d like to get back to a dedicated / colocated machine at some point, but for now this should suffice. I don’t need a lot of space, I don’t need a lot of cpu power, so why not just go with something easy?

Also, let this be a lesson for you: my dns remained functional because about a year ago I bought a BitFolk VPS to run my offsite dns for me. BitFolk has been really great, their mailing list is active and knowledgeable, their staff friendly, prompt and also knowledgeable and I can VPN through it to watch BBC.

Anywho, sorry for the outage. I hope to have everything back up and running in another day or so. For now, I’m off to bed!

Just a Quick Update

Just a quick update here. I really should get some pictures for this post, but I’m lazy, and if I put the post off pending pictures, I’ll never make the post. Not like anyone is going to read this, anyways ;–)

I got my new lab box the other day. It’s a quad core AMD something or other with 16GB of ram. The ram, of course, is the only really important bit. I’m working on moving my home services (Jenkins, nagios, gitolite, vpn, etc) over to it but I’m not in any huge hurry, so it’s taking a while.

The main reason I bought it is so I can have a machine to run some VM guests on. I’ve been wanting to try out Vagrant for a while, figure out what it’s capable of, how best to put it to use, etc. I’m liking it so far, but it’s not quite what I was hoping it would be. It is going to prove itself incredibly useful, though, so that works for me.

My folks bought me some fireplace stuff for Christmas. I now have a screen and a set of fireplace tools, so I’ve been going nuts lighting fires in my living room! A coworker of mine gave me a bunch of Pine Mountain logs, so I’ve been using those. I like them, but somehow I suspect I’ll like actual firewood that much better, so I’ll be getting some at some point.

I finally updated to iOS6 on my iPhone 4S now that Google finally came out with their maps app. Both the maps app and iOS6 are pretty slick and I’m happy I was finally able to upgrade.

On the ham radio front, I haven’t done too much, sadly. The local repeaters all seem pretty quiet, except of course for 435, but even that was quiet for a couple of weeks while it was moved. And of course now that it’s back up it’s back to jamming and general douchebaggery. Hopefully it’ll get better and I’ll be able to enjoy it more.

Tomorrow and Monday I’ll be doing a whole lot of cleaning. My house is a complete disaster and it’s starting to drive me nuts. Also, my dad always told me it’s nicer to come home to a clean house, so that’s my goal. Hopefully the cats don’t undo everything while I’m gone.

Speaking of being gone, I’ll be heading home to Mount Pleasant, IA next week. My brother is getting married on New Year’s Eve, so I figure that’s a reasonable excuse to go home. I’m flying through Denver, so hopefully I won’t have any weather troubles. I’m pretty sure DIA DEN knows how to handle a bit of snow by this point!

On the cats front, Bean and Jimmy are still getting along great. Bean is about the same size as Jimmy nowadays, and I think he still has a bit more growing to do. They’ve been really enjoying all of the boxes I’ve gotten recently from Amazon and elsewhere. They fight all the time, which is good, Jimmy really needs the interaction, he’s a bit on the husky side methinks.

Hopefully I’ll be able to find a nice cozy corner of some coffee shop or somewhere to escape to next week so I can get some work done on my side projects. Pipestash is up on GitHub, but I need to test it with Apache and make sure that’s going to work. Peabody needs some attention, and I hope to get its logstash output working by the time I get home. I’ve really been looking forward to using peabody or something like it at work for some time, and now I feel like it’s within reach. I know, I know. It’s vacation, I should be vacationing. It’s also December in Iowa at my folks’ house. I’m going to need an escape!

I’m really looking forward to getting some Pagliai’s pizza, hitting up John’s Grocery for some beer, and chowing down on some chicken from Mt. Hamill Tap (warning: auto-playing music). I’ll also be heading over to Fairfield on Friday to meet up with someone I found on biglumber to exchange PGP signatures.

When I get back to LA, I need to do some more of my urban anomalies series. It’ll get me out of the house and get me doing more stuff on the blog, both of which are good things!

Anywho, that’s all for now. Have a Merry Christmas and a safe and Happy New Year!

73 435

So, I finally got a radio and got on the air! I picked up a Baofeng UV-5R+ from Amazon and got on the air!

Last night after some struggle, I got the radio cloned using both Baofeng’s software (which is pretty hilariously bad, I must say) and CHIRP to make a baseline backup of the device, per Raccoon’s recommendation (freenode/efnet) and got down to programming.

I feel like using CHIRP to program my radio is a bit “cheating” in a way, because I literally opened CHIRP, gave it my location, and it looked up my local repeaters online and programmed them into the radio for me.

I tuned into the closest repeater I could find, tossed out my call sign and waited. Nothing. I tried another. Nothing. I started getting discouraged, but then I remembered that my radio has a “scan” mode, so I fired that up. I ended up landing on 147.435, which is apparently an infamous repeater in the SoCal area. There was a long and seemingly heated conversation going on, so I didn’t break in, but I did listen for a while before heading to bed.

Well, tonight, after stuffing my face full of deep fried turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, quality adult beverages and fun, I got home and fired up the radio again. It was still tuned to 435, and there was some activity, so I stayed with it and kept listening. I found out there’s an IRC Channel and hopped on there to see what was happening. After a while I braved the airwaves and started talking. Then, something amazing happened. I got a response! Sadly, it was that I was very quiet, which I think is due in large part to the fact that I’m using the stock antenna which came with the radio, which I read in a lot of the reviews is not very good. Fortunately, the people seemed to be receptive and friendly to this new voice on the air, and I got some recommendations for improving and testing my setup, including hopping on the repeater’s teamspeak server for duplex so I can check how the repeater is hearing me.

One thing that is drawing me to the repeater is that they seem to have less concern about “obscene language”, and that’s appealing to me. Not because I have to have profanity in my life to survive, but because it means there are less “tabboo” topics, and I won’t have to watch my mouth quite so much!

Anywho, I’m just happy to finally be on the air, and I look forward to many more rag chews and contacts and Elmer sessions. “73” 435.

Special thanks to N6BHU and KC6USO (though this appears to be an outdated call?) for being patient with me and helping me out, both in the irc channel and on the air.