Month: May 2006

Burning Flipside 2006

Chalice top

Photos from Flipside are up. I’ve got commentary in the notes on a lot of these photos. I would have taken more, but Flipside instituted very restrictive rules on photos intended for the web—and although I consider the rules unenforceable and overreaching and kind of resent them, I understand the reasoning behind them.

Many of my Flipside observations from 2005 apply to my experience this year as well. But my experience at this year’s Burning Flipside was somewhat different from last year’s. More advance prep, less on-site hassle. This year as in past years, Circle of Fire was my theme camp, and I think everyone who was part of last year’s COF wanted to make this year’s camp a better one, and so we had our shit together a little better. I took responsibility for organizing a shade structure and PA for a DJ to use (luckily, Clint, a friend of the camp, volunteered the use of his DJ rig, and sat in on Friday night to play music for us; Schon played music Saturday). I put together spin-out buckets and soaking tanks for the fuel depot, and made a dozen sets of practice poi for lessons that never quite materialized (in the end, only four pair of those practice poi got used, and somebody else brought even more)—if we’re serious about holding poi lessons, we need to schedule a time and get it on the calendar of events. And have a clock somewhere. And although COF did have functional, acceptable infrastructure for a change, our camp was still put to shame by so many others that had fantastic installations, showing a level of creativity and industry that we didn’t come close to matching. Of course, we had the firedancing, but that was our only draw. Other camps hosted firedancers plus this or that, such as Spin Camp (which always has incredible infrastructure, and had Mark’s Bible lessons and Greg’s spinning jenny) or Groovepharm (which has the best firespinners, even if they don’t come to Flipside to spin, as well as the best DJs, and a giant trampoline-lounge). What can I say? We’re a bunch of slackers.

Circle of Fire did have a much better location than it did last year, thank you site committee. I would have preferred a bigger space for our fire-circle, but since we didn’t really push the boundaries of the one we had, I can’t complain. We had a monumental fire circle that could easily accommodate six people in 2003; this year’s would would be a little cramped with four, but an improvement over 2005, when the fire circle would barely accommodate three, was on a slope, was not obvious, and also happened to be used as an alleyway to cut between parallel roads. On Thursday, I was too whipped after getting the shade structures set up to burn even once, but I had many good light-ups and even some great ones on each of the remaining nights—a few that pushed me to a different level. Firedancing can be considered a form of ecstatic motion, and in its original usage, “ecstasy” referred to a form of religious possession that is something to fear. I’m neither religious nor spiritual, but a really good light-up is one of the few occasions when I feel what I guess must be something like ecstasy in its original sense. Part of this is good, loud music, part of it is energy from the crowd, and part of it is the importance that all the participants invest in the moment. And I only have a few burns to show for it.

The new location, Flat Creek, has pros and cons compared to RecPlan. The fact that it is bigger, and therefore Pyropolis is more spread out, is both a pro and a con in itself: Flipside was definitely outgrowing RecPlan, but things are now sufficiently spread-out that it can take a lot of walking to get between two theme camps. I estimate that I walked five-plus miles a day. !Bob told me that Flat Creek has 600 acres we never even touched. I’m guessing we used 100-200 acres, so that’s a lot of potential for growth, which will bring its own set of pros and cons if it happens.

The fact that Flat Creek is laid out around a roughly horseshoe-shaped road, with “center camp” on a plateau in the middle of it and radial paths cutting across at random, means that it’s hard to get a clear sense of where camps are in relation to each other. Contrast this with RecPlan, which basically has one long road with a couple minor branches. A bicycle will be necessary equipment at future Flipsides; some kind of signage showing which camps are where would be especially helpful (an interesting wayfinding project for Gwen’s office, perhaps). One improvement in layout that we saw this year was theme camps zoned by noise level—that said, I was still camping in the loudest zone, but the fact that we were more spread out seemed to lower the intensity a bit. One curious fact about the Flat Creek site plan is that the plateau feels smaller than the field at RecPlan. A little more ground-clearing (if possible or desirable) to remove some of the trees that break up the plateau’s space would fix that. The terrain at Flat Creek is much rougher than at RecPlan, both at a large and small scale. The field at RecPlan is practically like a city park—smooth, with nice grass. The plateau at Flat Creek is much rougher, with giant divots where trees have been uprooted, prickly pear here and there, etc. And where RecPlan has a gradual hill, Flat Creek has cliffs. Flat Creek has a much more inviting cold-water stream flowing through it, the best feature of the property. It is unlike the creek at RecPlan in that it is removed from everything else—you need to go through a cave and down a bit of a hill to get there. At RecPlan, the creek is right next to the field, so you can be in the water and still semi-connected to the main action. But many people, myself included, spent a lot of time down at the stream, and with the cliff overshadowing it, it was by far the coolest place to be on days that climbed to 100°F.

The theme camps and installations blew me away, as much as ever. Somebody built a hot-tub on the bank of the stream, for cryin’ out loud. This fits right in with what I called the “extravagant gesture” a year ago. The effigy, a chalice, was built by a Houston crew (that wound up getting into a fight with the Chupacabra Policia, who were otherwise suspiciously well-behaved). The effigy was smaller than the past couple of years and relied more on propane than wood for its fuel, so there was almost nothing left the next morning (in contrast to last year, when there was still a huge pile of burning wreckage). The firedancers had a typical procession, although it was disorganized enough that many of us who were standing right there almost missed it. After the big burn, firedancers formed a couple of fire-circles next to the remnants of the effigy and burned for hours. I had some killer light-ups.

It’s hard for me to condense the Flipside experience down into a few well-organized paragraphs, and I’ve put off hitting the “publish” button on this post for a few days as I try to bring some order to it. Then again, the motto at Flipside is FUCK SHIT UP!, so trying to bring order to one’s reflections on it is perhaps missing the point.

Goin’ down to Flipside, gonna have myself a time

Gwen and I are going to Flipside in a couple of days, and we’ve been in buzz of activity getting ready. I’m really looking forward to it.

Today I went to rent a PA system from Rock-n-Roll Rentals. At least two other patrons there were (I’m pretty sure) renting equipment for Flipside. The guy who took care of my order immediately sized me up.

Is this for Flipside?
I’ve got it written all over me, huh. Are you going?
Yeah
Which camp are you with?
I’ll be at Get Lost.
Oh, do you know Ish?
Sure, I know her

It’s as if we’re there already.

Mailpass

Bank of America has a smart idea they call “site key” as a defense against phishing. Logging into their site is a two-step process: you enter your username, which takes you to another page to enter your password. On this second page there is a picture that you have previously chosen from among many pictures, accompanied by a descriptive word that you typed in yourself when you chose that picture. Barring a security breach, it would be essentially impossible for a scam artist to reproduce this.

Something like this could be applied to e-mail, to help identify it as legitimately from the bank (or paypal, or ebay, or any other institution susceptible to phishing attacks). When the user sets up an account, they type in a unique, memorable phrase that is completely unrelated to their password. This phrase will then appear in all e-mail from that institution to help identify it as legitimate. I’m calling this key phrase a “mailpass.”

I can imagine a technical objection to this, and a related psychological objection. The technical objection is that with rare exception, mail is not encrypted. So the mailpass will be sent as plain text over unsecured channels, making it vulnerable to interception.

Which leads to the psychological objection. Because a phisher could intercept and use your mailpass, the mailpass would need to be viewed as a necessary proof of authenticity, but not a sufficient proof. This point could easily be lost on a lot of people, and there would need to be plenty of attendant scare-language to the effect that you cannot count on a correct mailpass to be rock-solid proof of authenticity, should always exercise due care against scammers, etc.

But mailpass would definitely make e-mail filtering a lot easier. If I were to get e-mail from paypal that lacked the mailpass, I could confidently route it to the trash without even looking at it. And I can’t think of any other reasons this would be a bad idea, though I’m sure someone out there could.

Que onda guerrero

Problem: Bush wants permanent war, keeping citizens scared and Halliburton happy.

Problem: Military recruitment is down, because people don’t like being blown up, and relatively few Americans are so desperate for a job that they’ll risk it.

Problem: Bush wants to create a “guest worker” program, and find a way to permit illegal immigrants to stay in the country without seeming soft on them, perhaps by imposing a fine.

Solution: Create a “guest soldier” program. Our friends from south of the border who want a chance to live in the USA can take their chances getting a green card, or can volunteer immediately for the U.S. military. Illegal immigrants who are rounded up will be given the option of immediate deportation or enlistment. Those who survive a two-year hitch can go back to picking vegetables and ensuring Americans have low food prices (so that we can stay fat and sit on the couch, pretending to blow shit up on our Playstations) without being hassled by the INS.

Yes, I’m joking, but I’m a little surprised some wingnut hasn’t advocated this in earnest yet.

iSubstitute

For nearly two weeks now, I’ve been without my main computer, an iMac G5 with a 20“ screen. It’s remarkable what an annoyance that is.

I do have an iBook that’s a few years old, which mostly gets used for checking the IMDB when watching DVDs and for travel. It has a slow-ish G3 processor and a 12” screen. It’s also running the previous version of OS X (I fear it would have hard time keeping up with 10.4, so I haven’t installed that version). So I do have a computer, and one that would have been impossibly desirable a few years ago, but that now feels cramped, squinty, underpowered, and unfamiliar. I don’t like using it, and I spend much less time at it (my excuse for not blogging much lately). And while I do have backups of almost all my data, I haven’t tried importing most of it to the iBook. If I understand it correctly, there were file-format changes in basic apps like Address Book and Mail in 10.4 that probably wouldn’t be backwards-compatible. Plus the fact that this machine has a small hard drive that I want to keep clean, and the syncing issues I’d have when I do get my main machine back.

The whole repair saga—which hasn’t ended—has been an exercise in frustration. On the night of May 4, a Thursday, we had a major storm. After the first crack of lightning, I turned off my computer. I started the shutdown process on Gwen’s too, but a misbehaving app aborted the shutdown, so hers was running all night. I’ll also note here that both computers are plugged into the same surge protector, and it’s a pretty good one.

The next morning, I turned on my Mac and found it was randomly rebooting itself—sometimes after a few seconds, sometimes a few minutes. After exhausting all the various reset and diagnostic procedures I knew of, my next thought was to take it to the Apple Store, but Gwen and I were heading out of town for the weekend that day, and the Apple Store wouldn’t schedule a dropoff until late that afternoon. So I waited until Monday. On Monday, they told me it would be about 7 days before they could even look at it, but suggested that, since my model had a number of user-serviceable parts, and it looked like the inverter might be at fault, I could order that replacement part online, and that should only take three days.

It took Apple a week to deliver the new inverter. I received it yesterday and installed it immediately. The installation process is rather delicate, involving a total of five molex connectors—one in an inaccessible location—and some very snug-fitting parts and cable runs.

The inverter did not fix the problem. I knew that the diagnosis was a gamble. Oh well.

Unwilling to spend another week waiting for the Apple Store to get around to looking at my machine, I decided to explore other service options (this is warranty work). I found a place on South Congress and set up an appointment for tomorrow. They’re going to try replacing the power supply. I hope that does it.

The episode has been instructional, though. It’s reminded me of a hundred little things that I’ve set up on my main computer to make it work more smoothly—little things like a keystroke expander that automatically corrects “teh” to “the”—and which of those little things were important enough that I’ve gone to the trouble to set them up on the iBook. It’s also shown me how nice the screen on my iMac is, and how much my productivity is hampered by having a small screen with poor contrast. I’ve made friends with command-tab, which is especially handy when most of your windows are maximized.

Update: 17 May 2006

Took the iMac into a local shop, Mactronics. As is so often the case with these things, the technician could not reproduce my problem, but he took my description of the symptoms at face value and replaced the power supply anyhow. I’ve got it back now, and it’s working. He thought it was odd that the Apple Geniuses recommended I try getting an inverter replacement: he told me the inverter doesn’t do anything except power the screen’s backlight, and couldn’t possibly account for the problem I was having. It occurred to me that, in telling me to order a self-service inverter replacement, the Geniuses (funny how I can use that word both literally and sarcastically at the same time) at the Apple Store might have been telling me something that would get me out of the store and let me feel like I was doing something to improve the situation—even though it had no relation to what they may have known perfectly well is not the real problem.

Denotation vs connotation

Out near Johnson City, there’s a new development going in called “Tierra Mañana.”

Consider the impression this phrase creates, and how very different it is from that of “Tomorrowland.”

Ambient notifications in Mail

A blog entry at O’Reilly discusses how the author has set up Mail to notify him of incoming messages. I do something similar, using a more layered approach, so in the interest of meticulously documenting everything you can do with Mail, as well as exploring ideas for ambient notification in mind-numbing detail, here goes.

When the topic of using OS X comes up, I tell people that if you drink Apple’s kool-aid and use its apps religiously—Mail, Address Book, iCal, iPhoto—then it will pay off for you. Since they hook into each other, and other apps hook into them as well, you really do get synergistic benefits. For example: if you keep all your contacts in Address Book, you can filter your mail in useful ways. If you create groups in Address Book to categorize your contacts, mail filters can be more useful.

I filter my mail based on whether the sender is in my clients group or my friends group; each goes to its own mailbox, and other actions are triggered as well.

When I receive messages from friends, their names are spoken aloud to me using this script.

When I receive messages from clients, the “work bell” rings (this is something Mail can do on its own), and a Growl notification appears on-screen using this script. I’d like to make it so that clicking on the notification blob opens the message in question, but I haven’t figured that part out yet. These notification blobs are actually pretty intrusive (they sit there until you click on them to dismiss them), but this was an intentional decision: if it’s work-related, I probably want to be interrupted.

When I receive messages from people I’ve never corresponded with before, it’s very likely those messages are spam. So I filter messages where the sender is not on my previous recipients list (this is a handy, and I suspect little-known feature in Mail) to a “holding pen” mailbox that is essentially a waiting room for my junk box. This makes it a little easier to prioritize and batch-process mail in the eternal struggle for inbox zero.

Recently, I discovered DockStar–this lets me see how many messages are in each of several boxes. This alone would almost be enough, but I like the extra channels of information I get.