Tag Archives: San Diego

Geek Bonfire Burny Burny Fun Time

Went to a San Diego Geek Bonfire last night, organised by Mitch Wagner of Information Week, and Gina Trapani, editor of Lifehacker (which I comment on sometimes). We met at one of the concrete fire pits provided by the city in this lovely little cove. When I arrived, there were already a bunch of people there, and there were a couple of families with children playing in the water.

I stuck on a ‘Hello my name is…’ badge and dived in to talking to people. I met several nice friendly geeks, many of whom were told about the High Speed Rail link I’m working on – some were even interested. (joke) Vote yes on Prop 1a!

Among the new people I met and swapped geek info (Twitter usernames, moo cards etc) were the above mentioned Mitch and Gina, A Kovacs, Lightwave Will, and many more. (I left the cards I collected at home today, soz)

Small World Update – one of my current crop of blogs I read is Bad Astronomer, which I mentioned the other day, and it turns out A is a friend of Phil Plait, and was lucky enough to be on the recent Galapagos trip. It was fascinating hearing about that, especially the sea lions.

We hung out, ate toasted marshmallows and drank soda-pop-drinks, and discussed all sorts of stuff. Short incomplete list below.

  • What is a geek?
  • Ringtones
  • Cartones (I reserve a TIE fighter sound for me)
  • Twitter on iPhone vs Palm (iPhone wins because of weird code on the site)
  • Spaced
  • Doctor Who
  • Marine Boy
  • Speed Racer
  • Battle of the Planets / Gatchaman
  • Daleks
  • The Clone Wars
  • Trains
  • Maglev from LA to SF, suspended over the 5, and why it won’t happen
  • California High Speed Rail
  • Vote YES on Prop 1a this November
  • … and many other geek topics.

One set of photos is here. After the beach got a bit too dark, despite the roaring fire, I drove to O’Connells Bar for some “Tech Karaoke”, which was pretty good fun. Despite a huge range of songs, I couldn’t decide what to sing, and ended up doing My Life by Billy Joel again. I left before I was due to do Veronica by Elvis Costello, which is probably a good thing.

More geek fun please!

Pacific Train Thoughts

~ from notes found on my laptop, dated several weeks ago ~

Early evening, coming out of Santa Fe Depot. 3 hours away from Los Angeles. I’m on the
Pacific side of the train, but I don’t know if I’ll see much of the ocean. At the moment
there’s a hill in the way. The sun will be dropping over the course of the journey. According to my calculations, it will set at about 30 seconds after 8pm.

I’ve lived in the United States of America for nearly 3 weeks. The various pieces of the
critical path jigsaw are slotting into place (must have this before that, then that
number goes on this form). What do I know now that I didn’t before the move? Not much
that’s quantifiable. Little things. How annoying it is to have a newsreader trying to
emote and react to the news instead of just reading it.

Landscape so far is scrub, rock, orange soil and grasses, hilly and rough. A few palms
springing up from scattered buildings. Telephone wires.

And after a break in the hills, we are now riding right along the shoreline, overlooking
the narrow beach with a few scattered walkers and surfers, floating in and out of the sun
on the water. Then over another estuary as we pass the racetrack inland outside Solana
Beach, and a large crowd board the train. Glad I got a seat when I did. Also glad to see
the train is so popular, although it is Friday evening.

The people on the beach wave at the train, while they stand around the concrete fire pits and crack open a beer, something I’ll be doing as soon as I can.

Updating Fire Eagle Location Using Plazes And SMS

In the spirit of following through, here’s an update on the auto-location thing I was writing about last week. I asked a question on the Fire Eagle website about how to update via SMS, and I got a helpful email from one of the Fire Eagle team, the man himself, Tom Coates, suggesting I use Nokia’s newly acquired German-based location service, Plazes.

Plazes will allow updates from SMS, and it can update your Fire Eagle location. So after reading the Privacy Policy, I signed up. Another login and password for my list. Still, I’m following Bruce Schneier’s advice on all these passwords, so it’s not too much of a problem.

Once I’d signed up, I asked Plazes to “plaze” me. This used a slightly different method from Fire Eagle, which just asks for your address and then parses it in a similar way to Google Maps. In contrast, Plazes asks for a location name, like “My Office” and then tries to ascertain a location. It then asks you to fill in the address gaps. It calls these location names “plazenames” and stores them, and allows a “plazename” to have a history of who has been there. This location history is something that Fire Eagle doesn’t provide, instead only storing the current location. Plazes allows you to set your locations to public or private, but still, I think I prefer the Fire Eagle model.

“Plaze Me”, “Plazenames”, I’m not sure about these words. They require more effort to say, because of the “Z” sound requiring more pressure in the mouth. It makes me want to say “plazenamez” and you end up sounding like Timothy West in that Tales of the Unexpected where he turns into a bee.

Making up new words for your users to adopt is a bit awkward. “Google” has become common due to it’s simple ubiquity. I use Twitter, but I don’t like saying “my tweets” preferring “my twitter updates”. “My Tweets” sound like something Fergie would sign about. It reminds me of that extremely irritating series of adverts for NatWest bank in the UK, which kept saying that other banks’ branches were being closed and turned into “trendy wine bars”. They kept repeating this in the hope it would become a catchphrase. They even went as far as having an actor (playing another banks customer) say to camera, “…and now my branch has been turned into – you got it! A trendy wine bar“, at which point he was joined by a huge mob of extras yelling the catchphrase like this was a margarine commercial or something. If enough people yell it, it becomes a catchphrase? Nope, doesn’t work like that, sorry. Never mind the fact that wine bars weren’t trendy any more at that time. Ad companies. So wrong. So smug. (end of ranty digression)

The idea was to set my location in Plazes by SMS, then have Plazes update Fire Eagle. I set this up easily with the Fire Eagle authorization.

I first updated my Plazes location from the web. I called the location “PB San Diego” and gave it the address. I set my location as this place, and it showed up as 401 B Street, San Diego. Correct.

NB: this is a published address for PB, and the fact I work there is in the public domain. No-one cares, but it’s out there.

I then checked my location on Fire Eagle, and something was wrong. The location was set to 1198 4th Avenue, which is the same intersection (4th & B), but the wrong building. It’s across the street, and not where I am.

Next I tried an update to Plazes via SMS. I texted “at pb office on 401 b street in san diego” to the Plazes SMS number. I got an SMS response after a few seconds (I wonder if I can turn that off?) which read, “You’ve been placed at PB San Diego on 401 B Street”. I checked the Plazes website location, and it’s correct, with the exact correct address. But when I checked Fire Eagle again, I found the same problem. It’s shifted me across the intersection.

Plazes integration to Fire Eagle is broken. Something about how Plazes communicates addresses to other sites is mixing the address up, or “paraphrasing” it in a way I don’t like. I’ll perhaps try some other addresses, but at the moment, I won’t be using this method.

Peter made a good comment about the previous post on this subject.  He said that this was like “voluntary tagging” in reference to the tags they attach to criminals to track them. Big Brother and all that. It’s a good point, but not a worry for me in this case. Centroid will only send the location SMS when I set it to, and only when I specifically tell it what address to send. Fire Eagle doesn’t keep a log of locations, and can be set to forget your location after a period. The privacy policy is sound, as one would expect from a member of the Open Rights Group Advisory Council.

Updating Fire Eagle Location Using Palm Centroid

Image by Dan Taylor (CC licensed)Yahoo!’s new location-aware service, Fire Eagle (named after the marvellous Ze Frank’s Ride the Fire Eagle Danger Day segment of his year-long the show) is now available to the public. Being the sort of person that signs up for new webby stuff, I had joined a while back out of curiosity, using some freebie invite that was floating around. I used my existing Yahoo! account to sign in and get going. The system basically lets you tell it where you are, and then makes that information available to third-party developed applications that you choose. Various applications are already available, allowing you to contact friends when you’re in the vicinity, plan trips, find services, and various other meatspace trickery.

It was immediately clear that I don’t have much use for it at the moment, not being a particularly mobile type of person. I have about 3 or 4 main locations, and the rest of the time I’m in transit, and do not wish to be disturbed. I also don’t have many friends or colleagues who would use it. People who flit back and forth from London to San Francisco may get more mileage.

You can update your Fire Eagle location using a web interface, GPS with the right tools, and for while you could use popular microblogging site Twitter. By sending a direct message to Twitter user firebot, you could update your location in much the same way as you can be sending a message to gcal to add events to your Google Calendar. Unfortunately, firebot is apparently down because of Twitters IM service being down. I would like to find a way to update Fire Eagle via SMS. If the Twitter firebot worked, it would be possible to update Fire Eagle via firebot, because you can update Twitter via SMS.

I’ve been playing around using a new program on my Palm Centro called Centroid (formerly called TreoSpot) which is a clever bit of freeware that uses the GSM cells to figure out where you are. As you roam around, Centroid records the GSM cell IDs (aka GIDs), and allows you to set alerts to appear when you enter or leave a particular cell. In busy areas, you change cells a lot, sometimes even bouncing between two or more GIDs just while sitting at your desk (as is happening now to me). The software deals with this by allowing you to assign several GIDs to a Zone, which you can assign alerts to instead. I have about 5 GIDs grouped together into a Zone called ‘Work’, and when I enter this Zone I get an alert saying “Welcome to work”. Well, I don’t really, but you get the idea.

A key point here is that the GIDs themselves don’t fix your location – this is not a triangulation system. You can set physical locations for GIDs and Zones, but this information is not used in this case. Centroid just knows what you tell it – this set of GIDs is known as “Work”, this one is known as “Home”.

As well as set alerts to appear, you can also tell Centroid to send an SMS based on your location. So, the idea was as follows:

  1. Set a Centroid Zone with a number of GIDs around a location, e.g. Home
  2. Set Centroid to send an SMS to Twitter when you enter this Zone.
  3. The body of the SMS would be a direct message to firebot, updating your location: “d firebot u 999 Letsby Avenue”* (u means update)
  4. Repeat for any other Zones you might want.
  5. Profit!

If all went well, Centroid would spot that I was in the Home Zone, and send an SMS to firebot on Twitter, which would then update Fire Eagle. This would be accepable with a few updates per day, with a cellphone plan including lots of free messages, but any more than that and it scould get expensive. Again, I think I would be a light user of this service.

I currently can’t see another way to update Fire Eagle via SMS. I’ll keep looking.

*The policeman’s house, geddit? And there’s more: Lancashire Hotpot in the name of the law!No dammit, Irish Stew! Irish Stew in the name of the law!

Yay To Freedom – July 4 2008

Sign on the way to Coronado Now that the 4th of August has passed, it’s probably time to write about the 4th of July. Photos here. Cassie came down to SD with Gordon, and we went across town to Coronado, where her brother Don and his family had rented a marina house, complete with yacht, waverunners, terrace and all mod cons! Pretty amazing, really.

During the weekend we spent some time on the Dog Beach at Coronado, which was packed with people and dogs. Those retrievers really love to retrieve, and they don’t care how big the waves are – they have to grab that orange floating dog toy that looks like it might have uses in the bedroom, if you catch my drift.

On the 4th itself had a very nice BBQ at the holiday house, with Cassie’s famous potato salad, her Mum’s amazing BBQ beans, and of course delicious homemade burgers and franks. Cassie’s Dad was kind enough to explain the reason for Independence Day. He told me about an evil empire that oppressed its people, and how a small colony of this empire broke away and fought for its freedom against the angered oppressors. Sounds exciting, I wonder who wrote it.

July 4th Yacht Trip The whole gang took a ride on the yacht, a 30-ish-foot speed cruiser type thing, all bow, with built-in ice bucket and white leather seats. We cruised around SD Bay, past the maritime museum with HMS Surprise, the naval base with the USS Ronald Reagan, and into the marina. This was packed with people and their boats, all moored up, all different sizes, BBQing on the back, kids playing in dinghys and inner tubes. It was really nice – everyone flying the flag and having themselves a time.

Waverunners Cassie and I had a zoom around on the Waverunners – they were amazing fun. I managed to hit 45mph on mine, while Cassie was a demon at over 50! You really feel the speed when you’re bouncing over the waves, with the wind bashing you as you go. My waverunner kept cutting out if I got too much “air”, but 45 was quite fast enough, thanks very much. I let out a few involuntary woops as we zipped up and down.

On the evening of the 4th, Cassie and I sat on the terrace by the fire pit and made S’mores. My first time. Definitely not my last, even if Hershey’s chocolate is rank.

Labor Day is next!

How Are We Doing So Far, Y’all?

In a couple of days time, I will have been living in the US for two months. Every time people ask me in emails or on the phone (thanks Si), “How’s it going?”, I have to tell them that I’m still settling in. Lots to do. Forms to fill in (or “out”).

This chap has been living in San Francisco for a good few years, and his post the other day got me thinking about my own experience so far. He’s also one of the founding members of ORG, which does vital work in the UK, and which you should join. In fact, I think it was his pledge that started it. Anyway.

I’ve been having a good time, no question. Visiting LA, receiving visitors in SD, enjoying a national holiday or two. But all of this is against a background noise of “settling in”. Phone, internet, cable, driving license, parking permit. Driving on the right, automatic, air conditioning, remote garage door opener.

The mundane stuff like grocery shopping is a new adventure. I think I’ve figured out that 1% milk is the same as the semi-skimmed I liked in the UK. I have enough Typhoo to last me a while, and then after that, what do I do? Should I keep trying to drink tea in the British way? Should I succumb to the caffeine-drink snobbery that pervades the middle classes here (“let the bag steep for exactly two minutes, not a second more or you have ruined your tea”, “if you don’t roast and grind your own beans, you are ignorant scum”)? Maybe I’ll just buy a filter machine and swill venti until I sweat.

More to come. In the meantime, I’m fine, settling in, lots to do.

This Is A Life

That was a nice weekend. After a scare about Cassie’s car (a drunk driving an SUV and swigging from a bottle of Jim Beam knocked the mirror off, then parked down the road. She had to get it fixed before driving anywhere.) she drove down with Gordon late on Friday. Saturday morning we leapt up, packed the beach bags and drove to OB, planning to grab a free parking spot while they were still available. Once parked, we went to a dog-friendly outdoor cafe for breakfast while the marine layer cloud cleared.

Then a nice stroll past the beachfront property. This varies wildly between rundown shacks with quite a lot of charm (shells hanging from the porch), characterless beige hotel-style condos (STUCCO), and over-designed under-thought-through expensive prestige pads.

We got to the beach and walked over the soft sand to the calm waters near the jetty. We wanted to get Gordon in the water to see if he remembered his lesson from last time, and we didn’t want waves to freak him out. That would come later.

We set up camp (i.e. put the bag down on the sand) then got ready for the water. I picked Gordon up and waded into the (a bit cold) water. Straightaway Gordon started swimming in the air, which was very funny. I lowered him in, and he struck out for shore. After that he seemed happy to follow us into the water, chase and retrieve tennis balls (but not bring them back) and swim around. Very cue indeed, with his look of intense concentration as he paddles. Shuggie never liked the English sea, when he got near it. I wonder how he would cope with warmer water. Gordon got very sandy of course, so we took him for a dog bath before heading home for a nap.

In the evening we chose a nice restaurant from the trusty Zagats. Rainwater’s is downtown, close to the bay and the railway station. It was an excellent dinner, starting with cocktails*, and ending with a dessert of rich cheescake and “chocolate lasagne” which was amazing, even though it bore a remarkable resemblance to a Vienetta. I was sad to see they didn’t have Arctic Roll.

* I’ve never been a big cocktail fan, living in the UK with not much money. In the US, cocktails, and the necessary skilled bar staff, are much more prevalent. After some research, my cocktail of choice is a Vodka Gimlet, as recommended by Cassie’s, and now my, friend Alex, the bartender at the Edendale in LA. A quick check of the recipe for a Gimlet tells me there is a certain snobbery surrounding the recipe, with people saying that a “real” Gimlet only contains gin and lime juice, not vodka. Well then, call me a faker, because I like it with vodka. Also, naff off. OK, I can’t call it a Gimlet. I hereby name this cocktail a, “Pedantic Cocktail Snob”.

Sunday was a bit more relaxed, but not much. We went for breakfast, then to stock up on beach equipment at Target (pron. tar-ZHAY). I resisted buying a wheeled cooler with room for 8 slabs of Bud. If they had a motorised one, it would have been even harder to resist.

After Cassie left, taking a very fluffy Gordon with her, I didn’t feel like unpacking the last few boxes of stuff. They make such good footrests while watching TV and snoozing.

It Was Full Of Comics And Toys

Comic Con - Thursday evening Now that I seem to live in San Diego (don’t quite know what happened there) it only seemed fair to go to the famous Comic Con at San Diego Convention Centre. Brian’s friend got us free weekend passes, which was very kind, and he is staying in my guest room for the weekend. Sadly I had to work yesterday, but I scurried down the road (the Con is about 6 blocks away) after work, and met him after his full day of seeing the sights.

The place looked just as crazy as the news reports show, with swarms of people laden down with poster tubes, bags, badges and all the paraphenalia you would expect. By the time I arrived, it was winding down for the day, but there were still many people dressed up to the nines in appropriate (and some inappropriate) costumes.

We had a quick look round, and I took some photos of a couple of things that caught my eye. B knows so much more about this stuff than I do, so I’m happy to let him guide me around. I was taken with the film props for sale at $20,000 and up. Yes please!

Food was required at this point, so after braving the swarms from the Con overwhelming the Gaslamp Quarter, we drive up to Lefty’s Chicago Pizza in North Park, which is so word-of-mouth it doesn’t even appear in my Garmin! We enjoyed a couple of slices of delicious sloppy cheezy goodness, with fresh tomatoes and basil, then swung by one of B’s old haunts, the Zombie Lounge, which he was sad to see had been changed into The Radio Room by new owners. The old electric sign remains though, as does his old friend who is a barmaid, so if she’s there next time I go, it may be worth dropping a name.

Later in the evening, we got the call to drive out to Winston’s over in Ocean Beach, where klown-fi micro-circus crazy band Gooferman were playing, supported by Dr Madd Vibe, AKA Angelo Moore from Fishbone. The Doctor was playing when we got there around 12am, and he has an amazing voice, some keen moves, all over a laptop playing grooves and chunky instrumental backing. Then the klowns stepped up and did more of the laptop rock thing, with added guitar and deep bass, and a melody line played on a rubber chicken. All this with whiteface and leaping about.

Then home with the seabreeze blowing in the Volvo, and a possum crossed the road. B says they’re vicious.