Dave Bullock / eecue

photographer, director of engineering: crowdrise, photojournalist, hacker, nerd, geek, human

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links for 2008-07-31

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SAR: Highline Training

Two weeks ago my Search and Rescue team practiced a highly complicated technique known as a highline during our training at Deep Creek. Basically a highline is a rope across a canyon on which a litter and attendant can move both vertically and horizontally.

We started the day by lugging the huge amount of gear a highline requires to our destination. This gear included over a thousand feet of rope, over 50 pounds of hardware, rock protection, webbing, the litter and our personal packs.

This training was different from our usual highline training because one of our teammates was shooting photos on rope. We rigged a separate system for him about 10 feet above the highline so he could get a good angle.

The first part of rigging the highline was getting the rope across the gap. To do this we employed a giant slingshot that we used to launch a little buckshot filled bag. The bag is connected to a high strength kevlar thread. Once this is across we attached it to a heave line which we attached to the thread. We then reeled it back in using fishing pole. That line was then attached to the ropes which we sent back and attached to an anchor.

Once we had the track line rigged we rigged another line through a pulley at the far anchor. Then brought it back to a very large pulley called a kootenay which is where the litter hung from. This line was used to pull the litter out away from the haul team.

Another line was attached to the other side of the kootenay to pull it back towards the haul team. Finally one very long line was connected through the kootenay and down to the litter on a pulley. This line was the reave line and was be used to raise and lower the litter.

As you can probably tell this was a complicated system. It saw strength levels not normally seen in a standard rescue system so certain special features like high-strength tie-offs were used. High strength tie-offs use two prussiks (basically loops or rope wrapped around a larger rope) to increase the strength of anchor point tie ins.

Running the system was also non-trivial as the haul team had to respond to commands other than just up down and stop. They also had to to move the patient and attendant horizontally.

At the end of the day we actually did a great job of rigging everything and got set up in a reasonable amount of time. Especially considering that we also needed to rig a separate system for our photographer.

Kinsey Hanging

Hanging from a highline Mark Kinsey works as a litter attendant during a training session for the San Bernardino Sheriff's Cave Rescue Team

More photos after the jump...

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Wired: Virgin Galactic Unveils WhiteKnightTwo Launch Vehicle

This morning I took a 20 minute flight on Virgin America out to the Mojave Spaceport to witness (and photograph) the unveiling of WhiteKnightTwo. I had a great time and wrote an article about it for Wired Science that I posted on the tarmac waiting to fly back to LAX. I ran in to Xeni Jardin and met Brian Lam when I was there.

Virgin Galactic Unveils WhiteKnightTwo

Virgin Galactic Unveils WhiteKnightTwo
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Skid Row Photography Club

Recently I have been participating in the Skid Row Photography Club (SRPC). When I was part of the Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council (DLANC) I requested funding for club which Michael Blaze started. DLANC ended up putting in $2,000.

Per the funding proposal I submitted, half of that money was to go towards purchasing cameras. We ended up buying six Fujifilm Finepix Z20FD digital cameras and six 2GB cards.

The 10 megapixel cameras remain property of DLANC, but each were assigned to a member of the SRPC. So far the participants have been very happy with their cameras. I have been ecstatic with the resulting images.

After a few more months of shooting, I will be curating a gallery show with prints from each member. We have another $1,000 in the budget to matte and frame the work. Any income from the sale of the photos will be split between the SRPC and the photographer.

It is inspiring to see the participants enthusiastically embrace photography. Each member of the club has their own style and interests. I am very excited about the upcoming show and this great group of photographers.

The Skid Row Photography Club meets every Tuesday at 3:00 p.m. in the UUCEP lounge on the corner of 6th and Stanford in Downtown Los Angeles. Everyone is welcome, no camera required.

Note: The Skid Row Photography Club is seeking funding and donations for more camera and computer equipment. We are also looking for a gallery or other venue to display the work during an upcoming Downtown Art Walk. If you know anyone how would be interested in helping, please let me know.

Skid Row Photography Club

Members of the Skid Row Photography Club pose for a group shot in the UCEPP lounge in Downtown Los Angeles.

Skid Row Photography Club
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links for 2008-07-15

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Cave of The Winding Stair

Recently I took a trip that included 300 feet of rappels to the bottom of Cave of The Winding Stair. My Search and Rescue Team specializes in Cave Rescue. Every few months we do our best to train in-cave.

Last month we headed out to the Providence Mountains in the Mojave National Preserve. After camping overnight, we met up with some folks for the Barstow Mine Rescue Team for our joint in-cave-familiarization training (video of our previous joint training, in-mine). We then made our way on a relatively rough 4WD trail to the cave parking lot.

Being that we were doing a rescue scenario, we had to hump a good deal of gear. The trail is less than a mile long, but up the whole way. I prefer walking up-trail before caving. Walking up-trail caving is no fun.

Once inside the cave we split into two groups. The first group, which I was part of, was comprised of people who had never been in Cave of the Winding Stair. Our goal was to rappel down to the bottom and ascend back up while the second team prepared the rigging for the rescue scenario.

John Norman led our group, having been in the cave many times. He rigged each of the 3 drops and we rappelled down after him. The final drop was a 130 foot free hanging rappel. Fun!

We made it to the bottom of the last rappel in roughly two hours. Once there we climbed down to the lowest point of the cave and signed the register. After climbing back up to the main room we rested, snacked and then begun our ascent.

Rappelling is easy, you just go down the rope. Ascending is hard work. I use the Frog System which works well for tight squeezes and passing knots and rebelays. It's a real workout going straight up a rope, and even more challenging to go over an edge or through a squeeze. Either way, though, it was good fun.

As you can see in the photo below, I was wearing shorts. I probably should have worn pants as the rope ended up giving me an abrasion on my leg that made the final ascents painful.

Once we were back at the top of the cave in a section called "The Office", the second group had finished rigging the rescue scenario. To make things a bit more... interesting, we had two photographers from the Sheriff's department with us. We rigged a separate system for them which included an interesting winch-like device called a paillardet. The paillardet is great for raising and lowering a single-person load, but it weighs a ton.

We ran the rescue scenario successfully, pulling our mock patient, a litter attendant and both photographers out of the cave. Unfortunately I didn't get a free ride out!

Caving is great fun and I highly recommend it as long as your aren't afraid of tight spaces, the dark, spiders, bats, heights, exposure or getting dirty.

Me in Cave of the Winding Stair

This photo taken by my teammate Jen Hopper shows me hanging at the bottom of a 130 foot rappel in Cave of the Winding Stair.

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Mount Agassiz: From Sea Level to 14,000 Feet

Yesterday I climbed a roughly 14,000 foot tall mountain in search of a missing hiker. As I've mentioned previously I am a Search and Rescue volunteer. The mission yesterday was my most physically demanding search so far.

It all started out on Sunday when I got a call-out for a mutual-aid search near Bishop, Calif. I put down my homemade wood-fired pizza and responded that I would be there in the morning.

Because Bishop is roughly 5 hours from Downtown Los Angeles I had to be up at 3:00 a.m. and on the road by 4:00. I threw my winter alpine, cave and 24-hour gear in the FJ and headed out to the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Office/Jail where we store our trucks and team gear.

At the SO I met up with John Norman and Mark Kinsey and we promptly hit the road to Bishop. Four hours later we were in Bishop and were given details about the missing hiker we would be searching for. We then proceeded to hurry up and wait (standard SAR operating procedure) for an assignment.

Finally around noon Kinsey and I were tasked with ascending Mount Agassiz to check the summit registry. The missing hiker always signed registries. If we didn't find his signature in the log we would effectively be narrowing the search area.

The Forest Service was running helicopter transport to our insertion point. They requested that we don Nomex flight suits as a precautionary measure, one which we've never had to do before. Once in our suits they dropped Kinsey and I off one at a time in Bishop Pass.

Bishop Pass is at an elevation of roughly 12,000 feet. Just a few hours earlier we had been at sea level. To say we didn't have much time to acclimate to the altitude would be a slight understatement.

We began our ascent of the western face of Mount Agassiz at 1:00 p.m. On the map and as the crow flies, the distance from the base to the peak is only about a kilometer. Of course that doesn't include the 2,000 vertical feet included in the walk up.

2,000 vertical feet in under a mile wouldn't be too bad if there was a nice trail up. Mount Agassiz has no trail, and every step of the way is on top of loose boulders ranging in size from gravel to VW Bus.

We made our way to the top in a little under 3 hours carrying 35 pound packs. The thin air had us stopping frequently to catch our breath. The loose rock made the ascent unnerving, especially when stepping on a large boulder caused it to shift.

Once we were at the summit we took photos of the register, snacked and then radioed in to the Command Post. They informed us that if we wanted a helicopter extraction we would need to be back down to the Landing Zone by 6:00 p.m. We radioed back our concern that we may need to push it to 6:30 or later. They told us that 6:30 was the latest we could be extracted.

We started on the descent, thinking that it would be faster on the way down. As it turned out it, scrambling down the loose boulders was more difficult than climbing up. When you step up on a giant boulder and it starts to move, you can simply unweight it. When you step down on a boulder and it moves you have already committed yourself and you can't just jump backwards uphill.

At one point I stepped onto a boulder the size of a refrigerator and it slid about 3 feet down the mountain. I surfed it until it stopped and quickly hopped to the side. That was interesting.

About half way down we called in to base and asked if there was any way we could be extracted later than 6:30. They said no. We decided to pick up the pace.

We ended up making it back to the landing zone right around 6:45. Lucky for us, the helicopter was running late. We threw on our Nomes flight suits just in time to catch a ride down the mountain.

Inyo Country SAR treated Kinsey and I to a nice dinner in Bishop and then we drove back to San Bernardino. I ended up getting home at roughly 3:00 a.m.

The mission was extremely taxing physically. Ideally we would have started our ascent closer to 9:00 a.m. Either way it was a great mission, although unfortunately we did not find the missing hiker. Hopefully he is ok and will be found safe and sound.

Update: Here area few articles about the search.

Update 2: Unfortunately DeVan did not make it. His body was discovered today.

The View from Mt. Agassiz

The view from Mount Agassiz as seen on July 7th during a search for a missing hiker.

More photos after the fold...

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Our Great Independence

Our forefathers fought for our enduring yet oft threatened freedom for which we celebrate today. Amid the barbecued beef and the glowing fireworks we seldom think about the sacrifices good men made to create this glorious country. Instead of writing a long post today I quote directly from the great Declaration of Independence which put into words the sovereignty of our beloved nation.

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

fireworks

A series of small fireworks light up the night during an Independence Day celebration in Compton from this file photo I shot in 2006.

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Losing Weight the High-Tech Way

In the past five months I've lost over 30 pounds. I haven't been doing any strange diet or taking any weight-loss drugs. I am doing it the old fashion way, eating less and moving more. I have employed technology to help me reach my goal.

It's not hard to figure out that if you eat more food than your body can metabolize you will gain weight. The hard part is not eating more than you need. I am using an application called DietController to keep track of my caloric intake.

DietController has a fairly complete database of nutritional information including nearly all fast-food (of which I eat very little), packaged food and basic meal components. After every meal I enter in what I've eaten and it lets me know how much more I can eat and still be within my diet plan.

When you set up DietController, you tell it your height, age, weight and basic activity level. You then set how much you want to weigh by when. I chose 195 pounds by February 2009, which will just take me out of the overweight range. DietController then tells you how many less calories than you daily caloric rate you need to eat every day to reach your goal. For me it is 700 less calories per day.

Along with the eating less part, I have also been exercising almost every day. My sister-in-law recommended the Polar F11 which I picked up from Amazon. The F11 tracks your workout by testing your heart rate before each session. I actually disabled this feature and just set my age, weight and maximum heart-rate which I ascertained after a long sprint. Right now it has me working out six days a week, of which I normally do at least four.

For my workouts I started out walking. This worked well at first, but it started to get hard to get up to my target heart rate. Later I began jogging in place at home. A few weeks ago I started running with my lovely wife. Today I ran four miles and it felt great.

Every morning and night I weigh myself on a digital scale which I enter into DietController (see my night weight vs. diet plan chart below). Of course I always weigh less in the morning, but I like keeping track of both weights. The graph doesn't show the first few months of my diet as I didn't have a scale, but I know I weighed 268 when I went to the doctor in January.

After losing 30 pounds I feel great. I still have over 40 more to go, but it's just a matter of time until I meet my goal. Technology has played a big part in my weight loss, but my biggest backer has been my wife who has supported me every step of the way. Thanks Penelope, you're the best!

My Weight Chart from Diet Controller

A screen-grab of my weight vs. diet plan chart from Diet Controller.

My Weight Chart from Diet Controller Penelope and Dave on the Chantry Flats Loop Penelope and Dave on the Chantry Flats Loop
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SpamAssassin: Filtering Spam is a Good Thing

I installed SpamAssassin on my mail server. Previously I had just relied on Mail.app's spam filtering functionality to deal with the hundreds of junk messages I receive daily. Now vpopmail sends every message through SpamAssassin which has been extremely effective in filtering the incoming crap.

Relying on your email application to filter spam works well as long as always keep it running. I take my laptop to work with me so I frequently don't have Mail.app running. This causes spam to pile up and makes it a hassle to check email using my iPhone.

Now SpamAssasin and vpopmail automatically move spam from my Inbox into my Junk folder. When I check my mail on the go I am no longer greeted with a bunch of junk.

My users are also benefitting from the install. They have given me positive feedback on SA's management of their spam. Nobody likes dealing with junk mail so anything that makes the process easier is always welcome.

I have noticed that SA doesn't catch everything and sometimes falsely thinks some good email is spam. I update the rule signatures nightly which helps. Soon I am going to implement a spam/ham folder heuristic update script. This will automatically train SA just by moving incorrectly filtered email into one of two folders.

SpamAssassin is a great addition to my mail toolkit. I am very pleased with the results so far and I am eager to help it do a better job. Thanks SpamAssasin!

just mutton

Cans of Just Mutton sit ready for the buying on a grocery store shelf in Fiji during my honeymoon in 2006.

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Cacti: Qmail and Djbdns Graphing Templates

Recently I created two templates for Cacti, the open source server resource graphing application. I have been using Cacti for years, but there were a few things that I was not able to find graphing solutions for.

Qmail is an open source, light-weight and secure email server written by Dan Bernstein. I have also been using qmail for years, but until recently I had no way of graphing its traffic. I found this helpful bit of code on Howie's Stuff which helped me get the raw data I needed from qmailmrtg. After I got that working I started out with this template, which mostly worked. I then created a complex graph and exported the template for it which I posted here. The results can be seen in the graph below.

Cacti Qmail Graph

A Cacti/rrdtool graph showing various information about a qmail server that I run.

The next service that I was unable to find a Cacti graphing solution for was djbdns. Djbdns is a lightweight and secure DNS daemon, also written by Dan Bernstein. Jeremey Kister wrote a great script called djbdns-stats for parsing the djbdns logs and presenting data in the perfect format for Cacti to undertand. I took the djbdns-stats output and created an input and graph (below) template for Cacti, which I then shared on the Cacti site.

Cacti Tinydns Graph

A Cacti/rrdtool graph showing dns usage on my djbdns server.

I have found Cacti to be an extremely useful application over the years. I am greatly looking forward to the next release which will incorporate the helpful Cactiusers plugin framework.

Cacti Tinydns Graph Cacti Qmail Graph
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links for 2008-07-01