Dave Bullock / eecue

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

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Death Valley In Bloom With The Desert Explorers

Last weekend my lovely wife Penelope and I took a trip to Death Valley for the Desert Explorers Rendezvous. The Desert Explorers are a group of fun, knowledgeable folks who like to spend time exploring the desert. The exploration frequently involves 4WD vehicles traveling over challenging terrain through beautiful scenery in and around Southern California. I've written about the Desert Explorers before.

This year's Rendezvous took place at the Amargosa Hotel and Opera House. The hotel is located in a unique and historic town, currently with a population of three, called Death Valley Junction.

The photos below are from a day trip we took through Death Valley. We hit dirt between Zabriskie Point and Furnace Creek, heading up Echo Canyon road. Along the way we saw wildflowers, petroglyphs and drove up a rock waterfall, a very difficult part of the road. We eventually ended up in the city of Amorgosa, Nevada after traveling roughly 40 miles on a 4WD trail.

Here are some photos from the trip, as you can see the flowers are starting to bloom. I would say this weekend or next would be the perfect time to see them in all their glory:

Primrose and Phacelia

Petroglyphs in Echo Canyon

Telescope Peak from Echo Canyon Road

Blog

Walkabout With Penelope

My lovely wife Penelope and I have been taking walks around Downtown recently. I've been shooting photos as we walk. Here are a few random shots from our last two walks:

Click here for the Walkabout Photos

Blog

Wired Gallery: Igniting a Star With Laser Light

A few months ago while on a San Francisco vacation with my lovely wife Penelope, I took a tour of Livermore Lab's National Ignition Facility.

NIF is an amazing experiment designed to create fusion using lasers. As you've probably noticed, I love lasers and robots, and NIF employs both to get its job done. The NIF gallery just went up on Wired.com. It uses the new gallery format which allows for bigger pictures and the ability to view the whole thing at once. NIF is probably the coolest thing I have ever photographed.

Click the photo below to see the gallery:

Energy of the Future: Igniting a Star With Laser Light

Screengrab hosted by flickr.

Blog

FedEx Shipping with Rails

Today I created a Ruby on Rails module to calculate shipping from FedEx. I based it on a similar module from Ben Curtis which he wrote to calculate UPS shipping.

We both based our modules on the Shipping ruby gem, which hasn't been updated in several years and no longer works with the current version of Rails as far as I can tell.

My module is pretty straight forward, you feed it your zipcode, total weight and number of boxes and it gives you an array of prices and methods available from FedEx. You call it like this:

fedex = FEDEX::Client.new :account =>  '1000000', :meter =>  " 1000" ,
  :origin_zip =>  '90000', :url =>  'https://gateway.fedex.com/GatewayDC'
fedex_quote = fedex.rate_list '80000', '500', '20'

You can check out and download my FedEx shipping calculator module here on pastie.

Blog

GTD with OmniFocus

After three years of life changing organizational goodness, I migrated my plain-text-based GTD system to OmniFocus.

My text list system has not been the most efficient implementation. I decided it was time for a standalone application. After reading this GTD application comparison and watching a screencast about OmniFocus I decided to download the trial and give it a shot.

OmniFocus is a slick application. Thanks to its Cocoa goodness, it integrates perfectly with OS X. It has an easy-to-use interface, but its plethora of features takes some getting used to.

The hardest part was manually importing my several hundred tasks and projects. I had to copy and paste these one by one. It would be a nice feature if OmniFocus could parse plain text files and import each line as a task.

Once my tasks were imported I created projects and folders as you can see in the screenshot below. I then created contexts, some of which you can see in the right hand column of the screenshot.

When I was using my text lists I didn't fully utilize contexts properly, but OmniFocus makes them easy to implement. You can switch to Context mode, select a context like "Office" and see all the tasks that can be done in your office.

OmniFocus has a nice feature called Perspectives, where you can save a predetermined view of your tasks. I have one which I use to implement Zen Habits MITs (Most Important Tasks). Every night before I go to bed I review my Next Actions perspective and flag the tasks I want to complete the next day. The MITs perspective shows my flagged items, which I then (in theory) do.

I also have the iPhone app installed. It's not cheap: $20, but it works fairly well apart from the syncing speed. It takes a very long time (5-10 minutes) to sync changes over the EDGE network, which basically make it close to useless for quick entry. If I know I'm going to be using is I can let it sync for a few minutes.

OmniFocus is supposed to sync to a WebDAV server, but it fails on my FreeBSD server running Apache 2.2.3. I am forced to sync using Apple's buggy Mobile Me. I hope they fix the WebDAV sync issues before my Mobile Me free trial runs out!

OmniFocus: The Good

  • Feature rich GTD management.
  • Contexts rock for doing what you can, where you can.
  • Perspectives make reviewing, viewing and doing fun and easy.
  • Simple, system-wide quick-entry is only a keystroke away.
  • Due-dates and start-dates make planning and remember tasks easier.
  • Automated email parsing pulls tasks from Jott and other email based note taking systems.
  • SneakyPeak version with syncing is still in beta and thus is free.

OmniFocus: The Bad

  • WebDAV export and syncing is broken.
  • Syncing to iPhone app over EDGE takes over 5 minutes, making the app nearly worthless for quick entry.
  • iPhone app is expensive: $20
  • Desktop app is even more expensive: $80 ($120 for family pack)

Despite the imperfections and relatively high price, I really like OmniFocus. As soon as they fix the syncing (or they stop extending the free trial) I will be purchasing a license.

GTD with OmniFocus

GTD with OmniFocus
Blog

My Adventures with Leopard : /home, Epson 3800, ATSServer

I'm an early adopter. When the OS X Beta came out in 1999 I jumped right on it, being a FreeBSD user I was right at home with the BSD subsystem and command line. When Leopard arrived via FedEx at my office yesterday I hesitated only slightly before installing it.

I asked some of my other nerd friends if they had encountered any problems, and I took at look at Apple's discussion forums, paying particular notice to this issue, which currently has over 350 replies and 25,000 views. One of my friends said that if I ran the disk utility from the Leopard install disk before I upgraded it would solve that problem. I ran disk utility, it found a problem and fixed it and I had no trouble upgrading.

Once my system booted up I went through all my applications and checked to see if they functioned properly, and everything did until I got to Zend Development Engine, which opened up fine, but my project had no files in it! I try to add them back to the project, but when I went to /home I noticed that it was totally empty! I thought that the upgrade had delete my web development files, and I was pissed, but luckily I had a backup that wasn't too old, and most all of my projects are in CVS, SVN or git repositories. I posted this thread on the Apple discussion forums and the next day I got the following response which restored my /home directory and all its contents!:

The good news is that your files are still on the drive. This is because 10.5 is now a real, certified Unix OS. However, I think that the default setting should have been to preserve the /home as a local directory. See the explanation here.

That worked, my files in /home were unharmed, Apple's new "real UNIX" features caused an invisible volume to be mounted using /home as the mount point.

My next problem came when I tried to print to my Epson 3800, I downloaded the new drivers from Epson's website (they have a 10.5 driver) and installed it. Now when I tried to print to the 3800 the printer was auto-detected but I still couldn't print. I'm sure this will be fixed shortly and it's not an emergency for me.

The third issue I noticed this morning was that ATSServer was using 185% of my processing power (I have a Core Duo MacBook Pro). Right now it's not a huge deal as I'm about to go out to take some photos anyhow, but this could put a damper on activities that do require my processors full attention like working with RAW files in Lightroom.

All in all, I'm very happy with Leopard's new features. The system is actually faster, if you can believe that! Moving around windows, loading websites and opening applications seem to work much more smoothly than before. This is a great update from Apple, I'm sure they'll work out the kinks soon. They did just release a Software Update to fix the login problems and the 802.11 issues, none of which affected me.

Update: I forgot to mention, I check my mail through an ssh tunnel to my IMAP server and I've been getting server timeout warnings. My server isn't actually timing out though, and this was never an issue in Tiger... I'm guessing Leopard's Mail.app is just more sensitive. It actually hasn't been a problem this weekend, only on Friday.

Blog

Getting Fresh with Keepon @ Nextfest

Last night I got a chance to get up close and personal with Keepon, the friendly dancing robot, at the WIRED Nextfest Creative Commons Benefit. I was hoping to see him perform live with Spoon, although honestly I'm more of a Keepon fan than a Spoon fan, but Keepon's performance was in the lobby, not on stage:

Keepon

I had a chance to chat with Marek Michalowski and Hideki Kozima a bit about their robot and they even took off Keepon's pants/dress so I could get a shot of his guts which consist of 4 geared DC motors and a RISC processor to control the motors:

Keepon Lower Guts

They didn't take off his skin, but they said they would for me during the press preview on Thursday. The did let me peak behind the curtain at the beautiful rats nest of cables, interfaces and two MacBooks being used to control the quartet of Keepons.

Keepon Brains

Marek Michalowski and Hideki Kozima showed off their robots to an interested crowd:

Marek Michalowski
and Hideki Kozima demo

Evidently girls really, really, really like dancing squishy robots (I mean really):

Keepon Gets Kissed

You can see more in my Nextfest Creative Commons Benefit gallery.

Blog

Home Automation with Insteon and Indigo

After many years of using X10 products to control various aspects of my house (apartment actually) I ended up stowing them all in a large box several years ago and eventually selling them all on eBay right before my wedding.

I decided some time ago to start over with Insteon products, I'm glad I waited a couple years for V2 stuff to come out, as from what I've read they fixed some annoying issues. So here is what I bought:

  • 2 x dimmer switches - $40 2876DB
  • 1 x control panel switch - $70 2486D
  • 1 x appliance module - $35 2456S3
  • 1 x usb control module - $70 2414U
  • 1 x tabletop control module - $35 2430
  • 1 x 3 prong dimmer module - $35 2456D3

As you can see I didn't buy any RF extenders, which was my bad, I figured they were only for large houses, and as I live in a fairly small loft I didn't think I would have any issues. For some reason I thought every module had an RF transmitter in it, obviously I was wrong, but luckily 90% of my loft is on one phase so most everything works. I will be ordering a few more lamp modules and a pair of the RF extenders on Monday.

Unfortunately the ICON on/off switch was DOA so I'll have to return that, hopefully it won't be a painful process.

The only issues I have so far is that the table top remote control, the Smartlinc puts out a really annoying high pitched whine. My wife couldn't hear it, but I can hear it quite clearly. It wouldn't be an issue, but I am using the control on my nightstand. I will talk to SmartHome about it on Monday when I call to return my faulty switch.

We are an Apple and FreeBSD based household, so currently I am using Indigo 2 in demo mode, I will probably buy it, although it is quite expensive at $180. When I had an X10 setup I controlled everything via my FreeBSD server using some custom scripts with a php frontend. I see that there are some linux drivers, but nothing for FreeBSD as of yet. Indigo is packed full of features, and is server / client based so it may work for me.

Obviously Insteon is leaps and bounds better than X10 and so far both my wife and I are very happy with it. She especially loves the romance mode I programmed.

Blog

Problems with FilmLA

Filming and the Entertainment Industry in general are both huge sources of revenue for both Angelenos and the City of Los Angeles. I thoroughly enjoy watching movies and I think it is cool that they are commonly filmed in my neighborhood. In no way do I want to see the industry move out of Los Angeles, or even Downtown, not that it would even if it could. Those points aside, there are some serious problems with they way shoots are planned and executed, especially in Downtown.

A bit over a month ago I wrote an emotionally charged piece about my run-in with an especially rude film crew member. The response that I received from fellow downtown dwellers was amazing. Last week, one of the people who first contacted me about the post, Bert Green, started a thread on a Downtown mailing list and posted the responses.

Over the weekend the DLANC powers that be added an addendum to the meeting that was to take place the following Monday, and were able to get a representative from FilmLA to come down and talk to the community and the council. I missed most of the meeting, but I came in time to hear the FilmLA guy talk about how there would be "too much information" if they were to post all the notifications on their website. He also said that trying to send "those union people" to courtesy training would be impossible.

One thing I found especially funny was that he said there were good Location Managers and bad ones, and the bad ones spoil it for everyone, he then went on to name the Location Manager for the recent Tranformers shoot as one of the good ones. The Transformers shoot where they blew up a truck at 7am on a Saturday after only giving notification to residents on the same block. The explosion could be heard for miles.

As I see it there are some issues with FilmLA, which I am sure we will be addressed in the near future, mostly because their contract is up in June:

  • FilmLA's funding comes from the permit fees the collect, that right there is a huge conflict of interest.
  • FilmLA has failed and continues to fail to properly notify residents of pending shoots.
  • FilmLA has little or no government or citizen oversight of the approval process
  • Production companies that continually break the rules are still issued permits and there are no consequences for their actions

The meeting was attended by nearly ever Downtown LA blogger, including: Ed (who wrote about the meeting), Jim, Celia, Don, Ben, and Ginny. If you are interested in being a part of the solution, DLANC has created a task force to deal with the problems and the first meeting is this coming Monday in the P.E. Lofts. More details along with Ginny-Marie's notes from the meeting after the jump.

Blog

Hardware Hacks and Cracks with FPGAs

FPGA Array

"Faster Pwning Assured: Hardware Hacks and Cracks with FPGAs" with David Hulton & Dan Moniz. I didn't stay for this talk, as I'd seen Hikari's original talk at LayerOne a couple years back, but I did get a couple shots of him and the expanded setup of FPGAs.

Hikari, David Hulton

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Ride Out with your Bike Out

Do you have a bike? Do you find yourself sitting in your car going insane, dreaming of being on two wheels rolling around the concrete jungle? Have you ever wanted to just ride around town and see some art or push your pedals with hundreds of other cyclists? Well if you answered yes to any of those questions you should grab your wheels and head down to one of the group rides that is taking place tomorrow and Friday night. Tomorrow is the Downtown Art Ride which Eric Richardson and I started about 6 months ago. The ride coincides with the Downtown Art Walk and we try and make it to all the galleries on the walk except the Library and the MOCAs. Bring a lock (actually we're trying to have somebody out front watching bikes) and a helmet along with a light and your drinking shoes as most of the galleries have free booze.

Then on Friday night is Los Angeles' largest group ride, Midnight Ridazz. The theme this month is ¡Viva la Revolución! ¡Viva la Virgen de Guadalupe!

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The Problem with iPhoto

I use iPhoto to sort through and upload my photos to my webserver. It normally works pretty well, although once you have a few thousand photos in one library it really lags. The only real problem I have run in to a few times is the way that iPhoto deals with the information you add to your photos. I just sorted through about 500 photos, creating 4 groups and naming about 100 photos, then all of the sudden iPhoto crashed and when I reopened it, all my work was gone. Would it really be that hard to write to a file every time a change was made? Maybe instead of having one huge file describing all the photos in the library, iPhoto could have individual meta-files for each image file, or better yet, why not just store the info I type in the EXIF header? Oh well here I go again.

chilli powder chilli powder IMG_8774.JPG IMG_8773.JPG golby scale garlic anthers garlic anthers IMG_8747.JPG
Blog

Secure Cacti with Net-SNMP and SSH Tunnels

So I finally got around to setting up cacti/snmp on my servers. Here is what I did:

  1. Installed cacti on the main monitoring server which we'll call slappy. I used the FreeBSD port of cacti. Slappy already had php/mysql/apache installed.
  2. Added a user snmp to slappy and then I generated keys using ssh-keygen for each of the servers that slappy would be monitoring.
  3. On each of the servers that slappy would be monitoring I installed net-snmp from the ports tree and configured it to run over tcp on 127.0.0.1 and then I added a user snmp with a nologin shell and without password authentication as I will just be using snmp to create a tunnel to the snmpd process that will be running on localhost.
  4. Back on slappy I su'ed to the snmp user and created a shell script that would set up the tunnels to each of the servers using a command like this: ssh -i ~/.ssh/keys/hostname -f -N -L 16101:127.0.0.1:161 hostname and then added the script as a cronjob.
  5. Finally I added all the servers to cacti using the basic built-in net-snmp support as well as a couple of qmail and mysql scripts.

So I now have a nice collection of graphs for traffic / disk space / processor, memory and mysql load.

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Pave the Earth, starting with Griffith Park

As anyone who lives in Los Angeles knows, trees are terrible awful things that we as a city have the G-d given right duty to cut down, smash up, tear out and burn down. And if I may say so, it is about fucking time that our city hall has taken the great initiative to reduce the horrid oxygen producing scourge that are trees which have scarred the great park of Griffith for so many years. Not only has the park experience been lessened over the years by the unchecked breeding of these rooted vermin, but a dearth of pavement has prevented both the young and old from feeling the great comfort only tarmac can bring to the human stride...

Read the rest here on blogging.la.

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An Issue with Tiger Mail

Here is a message I have posted to the Apple support page:

Recently I have decided to simplify my email life and in doing so I have for one thing stopped my subscriptions to the hundreds of security and programming related mailing lists I once subbed. Doing this allowed me to get rid of the hundred or so folders I had called "FreeBSD security" and whatnot and I have created one folder called "Old Mail" and several sub folders called "2004", "2003" and so on. This has worked very well for me as I no longer need folders to keep things sorted out and I can Spotlight whatever I am looking for.

THE PROBLEM:

The mail I have placed into my "Old Mail" folder only shows up on the system that I have archived it on... When I go home I only see the archived mail from earlier that morning before I went to work and vice versa. I am using IMAP and I have verified that the email DOES EXIST on the server which is a good thing. I have tried the "Synchronize" function and it does nothing to solve my problem. I am not too worried as I know my email does at least exist on the server, but it is very annoying to only have access to half of my archived messages at any given time.

So what should I do?

I'll keep this page updated as to what happens.

UPDATE I had to take the link off of here because apple's stupid discussion board website isn't smart enough to convert "&" to the non-XHTML compliant & character which it needs to be able to do in order to allow people who care about being XHTML 1.0 Strict compliant (like me) to post a link to their board from a website.

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Help Heart Health with your Bike

I don't have a bike, although I used to mountain bike all the time and I would love to have a nice new mountain bike, but not as much as I want a street bike! Anyway there is a cool downtown 14.5 ride to benefit the American Heart Association on Sunday September 18th. If you're in Downtown LA and have a bike (eric) you should totally go check this out! You can register here by clicking on the button that says "I will be participating in the Bike ride to the Walk."