words with kitchen

thoughts and ramblings of a pedal powered geek

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.

Mailing List Subscriptions

For a long time I’ve been a huge fan of email discussion lists. It’s how I’ve learned about a lot of the software I use. I hop on the list, try to read and absorb most every post, and get ideas about various uses. Mailing lists are incredibly valuable to me, and since I’ve been on so many in the past, I have my own way of handling them.

You Can’t Plan This

In an area where city planners built an impressive, masterfully executed grid system of streets, there exist anomalies. These anomalies fascinate me. Intersections which don’t fit the grid mold. Streets being encroached upon causing interesting artifacts in the layout. Passageways hidden in plain sight allowing easier transit between otherwise isolated areas. These are the subject of my new series of posts.

I honestly don’t know why these anomalies fascinate me so. Maybe it’s just because they break up the monotony of the Valley’s grid layout. Maybe it’s because I think about what it might be to live near one. Maybe it’s just because I’m weird. Who knows?

I don’t intend to limit these posts to anomalies in the San Fernando Valley. In fact, I very much want to do some more urban exploration and find even more. I’m starting with the Valley, though, and specifically ones in my neighborhood because they’re the ones I’ve discovered and visit often.

Another area I intend to explore are the secret staircases in LA. Yes, they’ve been fairly well covered, but I haven’t been to them, and I would very much like to.

Non-car freeway crossings are also of interest to me. There are quite a number of foot bridges and tunnels which cross LA’s freeways and each one is unique. Some have simple run-ups and just cross the freeway, others have spiral ramps marking a sharp rise in elevation in a small space.

If it goes against the grid, I’m probably interested in it. Even better if I can get there easily on my bike!

I already have a couple of posts up about this subject, and hope to get out and find some more, soon.

If you have a place in mind you think fits in this category, let me know and I’ll check it out!

Ranchito and Archwood

Another place I like to go on walks with my dog is an oddball intersection about a mile from my house.

Ranchito swings back to the west just a little bit here (back into alignment with the rest of its north-south path) which leaves this curious intersection.

This intersection has a lot going on:

First of all, it’s a residental street with a merging lane. This doesn’t seem like it would be a very common occurrence.

Secondly, when approaching the intersection from the west you actually seem to have 2 points where you have to stop.

On the left side of the above picture is where the stop sign for east bound traffic actually is. If you’re turning to the south, you can stop there and prepare to merge in with the other southbound traffic.

If you’re continuing eastward or turning north, you have to move up so you can see traffic coming from the north, which brings you into the intersection.

This merge lane is obviously here for safety, since from where the eastbound stop sign is you can’t see traffic coming from the north. The whole reason this extra-wide intersection exists is because of Ranchito’s swing to the east for a block between Vanowen and Archwood.

It makes me wonder what precipitated the need to reroute Ranchito for this short stretch.

Vose Street’s Hidden Neighborhood

Around the corner from my house there exists an interesting little hidden neighborhood.

I was out walking my dog one night and we discovered it and decided to have a look.

The entrance to this neighborhood is partially blocked by what appears to be 2 properties that have encroached on the short street. The passage past the 2 properties is very narrow, and gives this place an atmosphere of a hidden neighborhood.

Once past the gateway, everything seems to be as a normal street would be with street parking and a full-sized road.

The end of the street, where there would normally be a cul-de-sac also seems to have been encroached upon by the neighbor to the north, so half of the cul-de-sac is walled in behind someone’s property.

I wonder if the 3 encroachments are somehow related.

I’ve walked my dog down to this neighborhood quite a bit, and would actually love to live in one of the homes along this street, simply because of the ‘hiddenness’ of it.

Even from the inside it seems very hidden.

Call Sign

Yay, after several days of waiting and spamming the search page on the FCC ULS website, I finally got my call!

KK6AKZ

Now I need to get a radio and make some contacts! See you on the air!

Ham Radio Exam

Recently I decided I wanted to get into ham radio. I bought the ARRL technician class license manual and read through it, trying to absorb as much of the information as possible. Unfortunately, the ham community has a lot of “jargon” and it can be hard to visualize what is actually going on when the book talks about operating. Fortunately, the TWiT network has a great weekly podcast called Ham Nation presented by Bob Heil (K9EID) and Gordon West (WB6NOA) which served as an excellent companion to the book so I could put the book’s words to use in my mind.

Over the past month or so, I’ve watched about 30 episodes of Ham Nation, starting from episode 1, and have gained a huge amount of knowledge about Ham Radio. Things like d-star, IRLP, repeaters, 2m band, 10m band, etc, are all starting to make sense to me. Also, understanding how various frequencies propogate through the atmosphere has been very helpful for me to determine what sort of things I would like to do once I get licensed.

This morning, I woke up and decided I wanted to take some practice exams to see where I needed to do some more reading and research. I surprised myself in passing all of the practice tests with flying colors (except for the first one, where I just barely passed). After taking a handful of practice tests for the technician class exam, I decided to see how badly I would do on the general class exam. I again surprised myself. I took 2 practice exams for general class and passed both of them (but only by a narrow margin, and a lot of it was likely due to process of elimination, not actually knowing the subject matter).

So, pumped up, I decided I should schedule myself for an exam. I went on to ARRL’s exam session finder, put in my zipcode, and saw there were 2 tests happening this afternoon. I clicked on the first one and, sadly, it wasn’t allowing walk-ins. I clicked on the second one, it was near by, and was accepting walk-ins. I was expecting to have to schedule out an exam in a couple of weeks, maybe even having to take an afternoon off from work.

I had a couple of hours before the test, so I decided to swing a couple more times at the technician practice exams just to make sure I had everything, and one more attempt (successful) at the general class exam.

Showing up at the exam session, I immediately knew I was in the right place. Many of the cars in the parking lot had ham antennas on the roof or trunk, and there was a guy with an ARRL badge hanging out just outside the exam room.

I sat down, my test was given to me, and I got started on the technician exam! About 5-10 minutes later, I was finished, and felt really good about how I’d done. Since I was the first one done, my exam was checked pretty quickly and one of the guys running the session came back and said I’d passed and asked if I wanted to do the general exam as well. The $15 fee for taking the exam is for all of the exams. You only have to pay extra if you want to re-take an exam that you failed. Since there was nothing to lose, and the possibility of getting a general class license, I decided to go for it.

Here is the result:

Yay! I passed both the technician exam and the general exam in one sitting!

I just have to wait for my license to show up on the FCC website and I can get on the air!

Now, which radio to buy…

Motorcycle Safety Course

Last weekend I took the California Motorcycle Safety Course at the West Valley Occupational Center in Woodland Hills. I’ve been meaning to do this for a very long time, and I finally just went ahead and registered to get it done. I’m really happy I did. Not only was the course quite informative and educational, it was a whole lot of fun.

I’ve never really ridden a motorcycle that much before. When I was much younger, I rode a dirt bike around in a field for a while, and a couple of years ago I rode a friend of mine’s bike about 30 feet in an alley, but other than that have no experience whatsoever on a motorcycle. I was a bit nervous, especially about just getting out there on time, but it ended up being a pretty laid back affair.

Zig from Avenger Cycle Works was our main instructor for the day. He and his assistants were excellent at coaching us when we were doing things not quite correctly, and making us think about what we did wrong instead of just telling us.

I recommend taking this course for anyone interested in motorcycles, as some of the “not by the book” advice we received from our veteran riding coaches will be invaluable when the time comes to get my own bike and get on the road. It’s a safe, controlled, non-intimidating environment to get a feel for how the bike works, how it reacts, and how to perform some basic maneuvering and operation.

Now I just need to wait for my form to come in the mail, make an appointment with the DMV to get my license, get a bike, and start riding!

I must admit I am still a bit nervous about the whole riding thing, but I’m sure that will change when I actually get on a bike and get going!