Archive for the ‘General’ Category

Review: Exploding The Phone

Sunday, April 12th, 2015

Phil Lapsley’s Exploding The Phone captures the phone phreaking culture with both solid journalism and with the sort of enthusiasm that brings a story to life. I have long known that phreaking was a foundation for the modern hacking and open source communities, but the scene never came alive for me.  Reading Exploding The Phone was like finding my parents’ high school year book for the first time and realizing that they went through the same things I did.  It was enlightening and warming.

The first few chapters are a little repetitive for my taste.  Lapsley follows several seminal phreakers introduction to the phone system, and those paths are different only in detail.  As a result, the chapters are somewhat repetitive.  I think that Lapsley is trying to give these fellows their due and to introduce the cast for the rest of the chapters, but I would have been happier with one detailed chapter and somehow getting just the differences.

Once the narrative begins to talk about the social scene that phreakers developed around conferencing and connecting to one another inside the phone network, the scene becomes recognizable as a forerunner of modern social networks. That’s the point at which it becomes rich enough to go from academic to exciting for me.

In addition to the social networking of the phreakers, Lapsley brings the stories of the phone company employees and law enforcement officers who collided with them.  These folks shared the phreaker mentality and skill set to different extents, just as such folks do today.  It makes the scene more full and believable.

Overall this is a great view of an legitimately exciting time that is the basis for much modern technology.  Jobs and Wozniak figure prominently, and the path from phreaks to hackers is remarkably clear.

Strongly recommended.

Getting the last lick

Friday, December 19th, 2014

There’s really only one place I’ve lived that I cannot imagine moving back to – Poughkeepsie, NY. I spent a year there one summer working for IBM and left every weekend. I just never warmed up to it, and I was very much looking forward to leaving. On my last day I was driving home from work to put the city permanently in my rearview mirror, when my car skidded across the centerline on wet pavement and was totaled. I always thought it was a little unfair for Poughkeepsie to kick me once more when I was down, and apparently the year 2014 also wanted to get one last lick in.

I am writing this from a hospital bed waiting for surgery to repair my third broken hip this year.  Unlike my earlier mishaps, this was pretty much a slip and fall. I was lifting my leg off the bike before I put it in the garage, but it was at a dead stop.

It’s another broken femur, on the right side this time. I’m hoping for another speedy recovery. Watch this space for more details as the morphine wanes!


Thursday, November 27th, 2014


It’s Thanksgiving today, and I’m a very thankful fellow this year.  The image above is from the ride I took this morning.  It’s the first time I’ve been able to ride all the way down to the little beach where it was taken in quite some time, and I’m thankful and happy for that.

I’ve also had the kind of year that makes one take a look at life and consider what’s good and what’s bad.  I turned out to be pretty lucky.  I love where I live, and I like what I do for a living.  I’ve found some ways to spend my time that make me even happier, and maybe help some others, too.

But most importantly, I have a set of friends and acquaintances who are kind, considerate, and engaged with humanity.  Being laid up twice this year certainly helped me see that, but I’m working to notice it even when things are going well.  If you’re reading this, you’re one of those friends.  Today I am thankful for you.  And I’m trying to be so every day.

Keeping on Truckin’

Sunday, September 28th, 2014

I’m still working to balance my love of the bicycle with my love of not being in the hospital or on crutches.  I was officially allowed off the crutches and back to the active life on 15 September, and I’m trying to take advantage of it without overdoing it.  That can be hard, but, on the other hand I take a lot of joy in being able to just carry things from room to room.

I have picked up and begun riding the Surly Long Haul Trucker.  It’s easily the most I’ve ever spent for a bike, and worth every penny.  Just jumping up on it to ride makes me happy, and it seems to be a rock solid platform for getting around.  I’m still making tweaks to it – the rack goes on today – but so far it’s been everything I wanted.

I have gotten back to swimming, and that has been humbling.  I’m barely swimming a third of the distance I’d like to be doing, and forget about performance.  But there are bright spots.  I’m beginning to see improvements.  And I’m certainly tired and certainly sore in all the right places.  I think this will be a good plan in the long term.  Frankly the humbling parts of it are just as important as the physical improvements.  I feel like I grow as a person when I do things that are difficult for me.  Swimming is definitely an opportunity there.

For no good reason, I had a professional barber shop that fronts a speakeasy shave my beard.  It was an expensive evening of personal grooming, but an great experience I’ll remember a long while.  Jim and Sabrina Geldmacher shared the experience and pronounced the cocktails at the speakeasy excellent.  If you like fine grooming or fine drinks – or both simultaneously – take a trip to Blind Barber.

Finally, the support and love of all the folks out there still amazes me. Thanks all!

I passed the audition

Saturday, September 6th, 2014

Today Brenda was kind enough to drive me out to meet the folks at Topanga Creek Bicycles and have my interview and fitting.

It all looks pretty good.  The shop was great with friendly and knowledgeable people who were both laid back and professional.  They collected a fair amount of info about what I was expecting out of the bike and my health and history.  I’m not sure what they’d do if I was determined to buy the wrong bike, but I think we were pretty much in agreement about what I want and what the Long Haul Trucker will do.  They took a bunch of measurements and they’re off to build a bike for me.

The place had a very relaxed vibe.  They had just baked banana bread and offered us some of that and some coffee, introduced us to the dog, and got all that sort of stuff out of the way before getting to the measurements.  The guys we talked to were able to answer the couple questions I had in ways that made sense, and I’m feeling very confident about the purchase.

I’m expecting to get the bike in about 2 weeks, and be on my feet for it, so more to come.

Next Steps Toward Steps

Sunday, August 17th, 2014

Since I started my soul searching, I’ve made a few decisions and started making progress toward making those plans real.  Here’s a brief update.

I’m pretty sure my next bike will be a Surly Long Haul Trucker. Most of my biking friends agree that it will do what I think it will do, and that it’s a good, well made machine.  I’ve definitely noticed that everyone I’ve met who owns one loves the bike.  I’m looking forward to having one.  I’ve talked to the folks at Topanga Creek Bicycles and set up a time to get sized and get the bike set up for me. Topanga Creek comes recommended by a friend, and I’m impressed by any store that requires an interview before purchase.

I’m also getting set to get back in the water via the Culver Plunge.  I’ve read up on their policies and etiquette and that all sounds fine to me.  I’ve got a new suit and goggles, and I’m ready to show up as soon as my doctor says I’m good to go.

Speaking of my doctor, I had an appointment earlier this week, and the current timeline is to be off crutches in mid-September.  That’s almost a month sooner than I thought, primarily because I counted months instead of weeks and used the high end of the estimate.  This is a more accurate assessment, and I’m delighted by it.  Moving the date up has given me a nice prod to get these other plans moving a little faster.

That’s the state of my plans today.

Soul Searching

Saturday, August 2nd, 2014

Since I hurt myself again, I’ve been thinking a lot about why I bike and what I can do to avoid being laid up again in six months, assuming I go back to doing it.

There are two main things I like about biking: I like getting out and seeing the world and I like the hard work. Since I’ve been biking regularly, I’ve really come to love interacting with the west side of LA from a bike. The scenery can be heart-stoppingly beautiful.  I usually ride in sight of the Pacific Ocean for a couple hours and other times along a path through the recently restored Ballona Creek Wetlands. I’ve seen glimpses of nature great and small that I would not have believed.  The other part of West LA that I enjoy is the people. I’ve chatted with many a fellow cyclist, seen crazy hobos running through traffic, heard the most unlikely pairs chatting about the Lakers, and generally been part of tiny slices of life that make my home real.  And I like not burning gas to get around most of the time. I’m addicted to all of that, and I don’t want to lose it.

The other reason I ride is to work my body. I like the feeling of pleasant soreness that comes from dragging myself and my bike a couple tens of miles a couple times a week.  I’ve got a pretty sedentary job and it’s a good feeling to know that my muscles can still do something.  A workout regimen can slip away from you easily, and before I’d taking biking back up, I’d let my other workouts slip to the point where they weren’t working.  Biking is a good workout because I can start from my house every morning and I know I’ve done work because I went somewhere and came back. It does not admit easy excuses or easy delusion.

These two aspects can be contradictory.  Getting a good workout can mean spending more time thinking about form and pushing your body than looking around, and vice versa.  I had definitely noticed that I was feeling more self-imposed pressure to push myself than to look around.  I don’t remember my accident, but I know I was trying to make good time getting home. Also, while biking is great fun, it’s not exactly a balanced workout.  While my legs and cardiovascular system were getting a great workout, I was neglecting my upper body.

Even if I hadn’t managed to injure myself, I would have been wise to think about how and why I was working out.

Given all that, I think it’s time to get back in the pool.  I swam competitively for years and I really like that kind of workout.  I know how to create my own and how to work myself at it healthily.  It works the whole body, and it is low impact so I can ease back into it as a recovery exercise for my hip.  Basically every other time I’ve broken a bone, it’s been my exercise of choice.  There’s every reason to think I can get my workout fix this way.

The question I’ve been pondering with respect to swimming is whether or not to find and join a Masters team.  Masters swimming is competitive swimming for people beyond college age. On the one hand I like the idea of tapping some expertise and the idea that a commitment will make me more likely to stick with it. On the other hand, I have no desire whatsoever to compete.  At some point I’ll probably go to a meet to get some official times, but I really don’t want to race; I just want to work out.  And most of the Masters teams I’ve seen are pretty competitive.

Right now my plan is to start working out on my own at the Culver Plunge.  Assuming that I can get part of a lane there, that’ll be all I need to get my workouts in.  I’m also a member at the Culver City Y, but there’s a lot fewer lanes there.  More info on this as I actually start exploring.

Even with workouts coming in the water, I want to keep riding.  I think mentally separating the workout part from the transportation part will help, but I’m also looking to get some new equipment that will help me stay on the straight and narrow.  I love my old Sanwa road bike, but it doesn’t seem to be keeping me healthy.  It may just be that I ride it too fast because I like to and it will go somewhat fast.  (It’s not a super fast bike – it is 30 pounds or so of steel frame).  It’s also been crashed a few times and I’m not certain that it’s as stable as it once was.  30 years is 30 years, no matter how you slice it.

So I’m considering a new bike that will be more stable and discourage my inner speed demon.  This means a modern commuter bike that favors stability over speed with some wider tires to help keep its feet and slow it down.  Since I’ve been stuck indoors, I’ve been looking and asking around.  Right now I’ve been looking at some of the Surly bikes.  There are a couple interesting machines there, but I’m leaning toward the Long Haul Trucker.  I’ve also gotten a good recommendation for the Trek CrossRip, which also looks like the right kind of bike.  Sporty, but not too sporty.  Sturdy and admitting some larger road-gripping tires.

Since looking at the Long Haul Trucker, I’ve run into several people who own them and the owners absolutely love the thing.  That says good things about a bike.  The crossrip is probably easier to lay hands on, but I have heard that the aluminum frame is rough riding.  And aluminum is light, which does go against some tenets of the project.  (The LHT is steel, and heavy).

So that’s what I’m thinking.  If you’re read this far and have opinions about the bikes or the pools (or anything else I mentioned), I’d love to hear them.

Deja Vu All Over Again: Another Broken Hip

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014

it’s July and I once again find myself with limited mobility after dumping a bicycle.  Once again, I have been very lucky. Though my injuries will take some weeks to heal, so far it looks like they all will, and I’ll be able to resume my active life.  The outlier in healing is an acetbular fracture of my pelvis.  Basically I rammed the head of my femur through one of my pelvic bones.  The fine folks at UCLA have reassembled it and put more metal in there to hold it together until it regrows.  Unfortunately the knitting bone can’t take weight until that process is complete.

More Adamantium

More Adamantium

Last time this happened, I was able to relate a lot of the story of how I fell and how I found myself in the hospital.  This time I’ve been spared those details.  I don’t know if I hit my head harder; there isn’t so much as a tender spot on my head and I was wearing a helmet. It may just be shock from a wider range of injuries.  For whatever reason, I remember biking home for most of the trip and then being in the Emergency Room at UCLA medical center with Brenda.  I have no feeling of discontinuity – no memory of waking up asking “where am I?” – just the feeling that the brain was running for a while with the recorder off.  Brenda tells me I was in clear diminished capacity when I called her, repeating things and not forming complex sentences. Like I say, I have no obvious bumps and the scans all came back negative.  I’m lucky again.

What I did get this time that I didn’t last time was my HMO (Kaiser Permanente) and UCLA wrangling over who was going to do what for me.  UCLA surgeons did the repair, and I was moved over to a Kaiser facility for a couple days of recovery.  Doctors at both facilities reviewed my case, and everyone was professional and helpful. There were some frustrating hiccoughs in getting transferred and vetted at the new place on a Saturday night, but all things considered it all worked out.

Now I’m home and getting around on crutches.  Today I went in to work for the first time and was even a little productive.

I am humbled by the kindness of my family, friends, and co-workers. Everyone has been extremely generous and helpful.  And they have been the same fabulous people after going through a similar thing with me a few months ago.  My friends continue to amaze me.

In January, I spent a few months getting back up on my feet and back to what I was doing.  This experience occasions some more soul searching.  I simply cannot keep living in a way that puts me in a hospital with serious injuries every six months.  I am keenly aware that I have been very lucky twice in six months, and that’s not a tenable strategy.  Taking one of these falls 30 miles from home on the highway could turn out much worse.

I also love many things about my biking experiences.  So while I can’t do it, I’m going to be thinking about how to keep the good parts in my life and reduce the risks associated with them.  I’ll keep this blog updated as I work that out.

So for the next few months this blog will augment the book reviews with hip fracture reviews; if you get a choice, break the ball, not the socket.

Thanks for listening.

Slippery When Wet

Friday, January 31st, 2014

I like to start a few days a week with a 20 mile ride before I get to work.  On Wednesday (29 Jan) I set out to follow the Ballona Creek Bike Path to Redondo Beach and come back.  It’s a ride I’ve done many times.

This morning was very foggy. Coming down the path, it was common to not be able to make out the opposite shore of Ballona Creek.  There were crew teams out rowing in, which surprised me.  I was having a very good ride, though.

The bike path turns left to cross a bridge and as I took that turn, the bike absolutely shot out from under me.  The wheels had both let go of the wet pavement together and the bike slammed me to the ground like it was a mousetrap and I was sitting on the bar.  I’ve crashed before, and often remembered thinking “this is going to be bad” as the accident evolved.  This time I felt my helmet and left side hit the road and thought “that was bad.”  And it was.

The road rash wasn’t much to speak of, but I had cracked my hip awfully hard.  I managed to stand up, but realized pretty quickly that while my hip would hold me, I couldn’t take a step with it. Shortly afterward a fellow named Allan stopped and helped me get the bike out of the way.  At this point I’m lying on my side on the path.  I fish my phone out and call 911.  And get briefly put on hold.  Apparently lots of accidents happen in the fog.  Eventually we get to an operator who dispatches emergency vehicles (after another hold).

The paramedics arrived and picked me up with care and put me in the Ambulance. We worked out that I was a Kaiser member, and they took me to the closest Kaiser facility.  I’ve never done that little negotiation about where to tale an injured party based on their insurance.  It all worked out, though.

The fine folks at Kaiser ran me through the x-ray machine, and sure enough my hip bone was broken.  Pretty cleanly and in a good spot, but definitely broken.  Looks like we need to fix that. (Incidentally the only upside of breaking your hip at 46 is that everyone says how young you are.  It’s nice to hear.)

So, now I have a pin in my hip to match the one in my ankle on the other side.  I’m practically bionic.

And, surprisingly, it’s Friday afternoon and I’m home with a walker. Both legs will take weight, and I can walk pretty well with the walker, though it definitely hurts and tires me out. The doctors are still talking weeks  of recovery – and I believe them.  But I can walk around my house 2 days after breaking it.  Days of Miracle and Wonder.

Everyone at Kaiser was great, so thank all of you.

And thanks to all my friends who have been sending kind words and offers to help – including teaching my class on Thursday.

So Long, Good Boy

Saturday, August 3rd, 2013

We had to put our friend Jackson to sleep this week.  He was our unique 14 year-old cat, as singular a breed as he was in every other way.

He was beautiful. Mostly white with beautiful brown markings and white socks.  When Brenda and I were at the shelter looking for cats to adopt, he was, to my eye, the most gorgeous cat in there.  For that matter, he may have been the most gorgeous in the city. He was never the most graceful cat, but when he sat just so, looking out the window with the sun on him, he was the most majestic snow leopard in a fantasy world.

Jackson looked at the world in a state of relaxed confusion.  He generally walked around with a look of wonderment that undercut his movie star good looks.  It was the kind of look that says, “huh, I wonder what that is.  Maybe I’ll have a look after lunch.” It is an incredibly endearing look, and we wanted to put it on billboards and car wraps so the rest of the world could enjoy it with us.  I’d give a lot to see it again.

His relaxed demeanor was unflappable.  On the rare occasions that he was upset or uncomfortable it was often hard to tell until he peed in your shoes. He was more vocal with me, the junior member of his staff.  He’d recline leisurely with Brenda, overseeing whatever she was doing contentedly with a sleepy eye until I came home.  When I appeared he’d amble over and list out the things I needed to do – generally fill the food bowl.

He did love to eat. Because his hunting skills were hilariously sub-par, that meant he loved the Ted & Brenda restaurant experience.

He knew all the sounds of food preparation, and would stroll into the kitchen to let you know the current state of the meal timer.  That timer ran from following closely and maybe rubbing a leg (“I know you just fed me, but I’m sure there are treats”), to standing underfoot and purring (“it’s time to eat, and here I am in case you missed me”), to a kindly reprimand (“Hey, it’s dark and the bowl’s empty.  I’m hungry and can’t make it myself”). He did this all with his same cheerful demeanor – all those quotes are missing a “my good man” as an address. If mealtime had come and no one showed signs of noticing, he would walk loudly into the kitchen. Not many cats can stomp, but he had it down.  When he was fed, he could sneak up on you pretty well; when he was hungry you heard him coming.

I can’t really do his quirks, beauty, and nature justice with a few paragraphs.  He was a bright spot of joy in my life for 14 years and I’ll miss him for 14 more. Just seeing that handsome face with its confused but cheerful look brightened many a long day.

When you lose a cat who loved to eat, every mealtime is a reminder.  When I sit down to eat, I still hear that purr that says “My good man: in case you forgot, I’m here, and I wouldn’t mind a spot of food at all.”  I hope I hear it for a while.