Ricky Jay R.I.P

Ricky Jay was one of my heroes. I first became aware of him in the pages of the remarkable “Cards as Weapons,” an oversized paperback that I bought at age 13 because it had a few pictures of topless women in it (you really can’t appreciate how much the Internet has changed the adolescent male experience). But “Cards as Weapons” additionally laid out a path:

  • some straightforward guidance on technique (although unlike Jay, I gripped the cards along the short side, trading accuracy for spin)
  • tales of increasingly difficult and improbable tasks (splitting string cheese, penetrating a newspaper, sticking in to a watermelon)

  • and then, catnip to an adolescent in the 1970s, a Guinness World Record distance

It’s an axiom that all magicians are nerds: enthusiastic about a subject to a degree that overwhelms social decorum. One of Teller’s rules of magic is “make the secret more trouble than it seems worth.” Jay, who was one of the best close-up magicians in the world, was crystal clear about the obsession with which you had to practice the simplest of passes: thousands of hours, a lifetime of practice, a set of folding mirrors that you carried in your valise.

I could never drive myself to master palming a card or (to my great regret) walking a coin over the backs of my fingers, but Jay did give me permission to throw pack after pack of cards into trashcans, through the sports pages, and, while I never managed to stick a card into a watermelon skin, I eventually went wall-to-wall in our school field house (a distance, I am compelled to mention all these decades longer, 30’ greater than Jay’s Guinness World Record).

My obsession with throwing things shifted to Frisbee discs, and a complete accounting of that will have to wait for Volume III of my memoirs.

But Jay also modeled a different set of virtues, less spectacular but perhaps more useful to a young nerd. The magicians of the time came in two flavors: waist-coated or unicorn t-shirted. Either way they were flamboyant: the spectacle of magic called for dramatic gestures, plummy line readings, and a transparently pathetic demand to be the center of attention. Jay went a different route: a matter of fact affect bordering on subdued, a patter that took as its foundation true scholarship, and an invitation to look as closely as you wanted at the trick. If you admire the craft of David Blaine, you should watch some Ricky Jay routines to see some true polish.

I see Jay’s influence in another obsession that began around that time and which, unlike throwing cards or Frisbee’s, I still pursue: programming computers. Like close-up magic, software development is a task of unrelenting precision. A trick fails if the palmed card is even glimpsed, a program fails if a semicolon is misplaced or a count to a million is off by one. For professional programmers, the precision is a given. The scholarship is not. The self-effacement is not. There are many blowhards of software development who are missing only a cape and a tophat to complement their boasts of their tours of the courts of Europe and their mastery of hidden secrets.

A magician’s magician, he was apparently well-employed as a consultant in Hollywood and, to the extent that people would recognize him, I suppose they’d recognize his basset-faced visage as the craps dealer in “Deadwood” or from the movies of David Mamet, where Jay would deliver Mamet-like lines such as “Everything in life, the money’s in the rematch.” Jay played a craps dealer; he was the world’s foremost expert in dice.

Obsessive practice, scholarship, and a sardonic sense of humor : those were the elements to Jay’s success. Ricky Jay was not well known, but he was well admired.

“The Deuce” Stinks. A Rant.

I’m a hair’s-breadth away from declaring that “The Deuce,” HBO’s Sunday night “prestige drama” about flesh-peddling and pornos in Times Square and 42nd Street in the mid-70s, is an exercise in trolling, some kind of meta-level commentary on the lack of drama, characterization, or stakes in, y’know, pornos. It’s almost easier to believe that David Simon — the creator of “The Wire” FFS! — is engaged in some kind of multimillion-dollar performance art than that he’s presiding over a writing room as sloppy and listless (dare I say, “flaccid”?) as that churning out the scripts for this season.

The over-arching problem is that there’s no goddamn conflict: the characters just appear, smoke, have breakfast or a Dewar’s on the rocks, smoke, engage in the boring routine of their flesh-peddling, smoke, pour themselves another drink, and then we cut away to another character. I mean, my God, what was going on with James Franco and the dry-cleaning store he owned for two episodes? Why did we spend five minutes jazzing around in the JFK parking lot to establish “she’s going to LA alone because he’s scared of flying”?

Maggie Gyllenhaal says in one scene that her Little Red Riding Hood porno (are we supposed to gasp in wonder at the visionary genius?) will cost hundreds of thousands. Then the next time we see here she’s being offered $10K for 10% and a blowjob, which she gives, and what are we supposed to feel? “Boohoo, despite her ambitions she can’t escape the expectation that she’s a whore?” “Hooray, she’s doing what she has to do to realize her dream?” I dunno’. I don’t care. I mean, I could care if the writer’s decided to engage in character development rather than just moving on to the next damn thing.

I’ve watched something like 14 hours of this show on the strength of the writing talent of Simon and Pellecanos. That’s enough time to bring a lot of strands together, to get a lot of plots up to a rolling boil. But instead we’re halfway through the second season and goddam Lawrence Gilliard is walking in to a situation, taking it in, walking out, and then having the same damn conversation about how things never change. Yeah, you’re telling me, D’Angelo.

The first season was set in 1972, the “Walk On The Wild Side” pre-punk era, but the second jumped forward five years, to a 1977 that, contra reality, has Talking Heads, Elvis Costello, and The Damned as the soundtrack. (There were parts of NYC where that might have been the sound track, but they sure as hell weren’t mid-town discos.) One episode had a thirty-something musician quoting Rilke and Rimbaud and handing the plotless female bartender an album, which a sharp-eyed viewer can see was Jim Carroll’s “Catholic Boy,” released in 1980. Carroll you may remember from the song “Those Are People Who Died” but in 1977 the real Jim Carroll was not a musician but a poet struggling with heroin addiction. He didn’t start singing until he moved to California in 1978. All of which is trivial, but they’re the ones who decided to have this scene and we viewers are supposed to make sense of it and even if you know all about Jim Carroll, the scene is pointless. (And, by the way, Jim Carroll would have been a freakish red-haired beanpole friendly with everyone from Patti Smith to Keith Richards and would be an excellent character in a series about the bizarre confluence of high- and low- culture in mid-70s NYC which is a setting ripe for drama despite the evidence of “The Deuce.”)

Finally, and I understand that no one will ever get this far in this post, and it really neither supports nor refutes my thesis, but every time “The Deuce” opening credits end, and there is a shot of a building facade reflected in a puddle through which a foot walks, I get pissed off, because that’s a total rip-off of the closing shot in the opening credits for “Deadwood” and if there’s one thing that’s clear about “The Deuce” it’s that they don’t have David Milch writing for them.

Review: 11-Day Diving on the Galapagos Master

Trip Review: Galapagos Master, 11-Night Liveaboard Diving

My wife and I recently returned from 11 days on The Galapagos Master, a 16-passenger liveaboard vessel whose itinerary includes Wolf and Darwin Islands.

The first thing to say about Galapagos diving is… Well, okay, the first thing to say about Galapagos diving is how incredible the fish life is. More on that in a minute…

The second thing to say about Galapagos diving is to talk about the temperature: temperature descriptions generally say something like “60-76F” and you might think “Well, I’ll plan for the middle of that estimate: 68F.” But that’s not right: the diving here is 60F or 76F, depending on where you dive. And even though almost exactly half the dives are in water that was in the mid-70s, the “feel” of the water temperature was determined by those in the 60F area. So 7mm hooded wetsuits and I envied the one person on our boat who dove in a drysuit. (My wife says her 5mm with a 3mm hooded steamer and a LavaCore was also okay, and she had more flexibility on the warmer dives.)

The other thing, for me, is gloves. I never wear gloves since in general I have no need to touch the reef. But in the Galapagos the large majority of dives involve tucking in to rocks and holding on in strong currents. Additionally, at Darwin, Wolf, and Cabo Douglas (Fernandina) there was surge.

And the rocks are covered in barnacles. I didn’t wear gloves for the first several dives and my hands got sliced up.

Dives are limited to 50 minutes. We were all diving nitrox and spending the majority of our dives at 60-80’, so I thought that duration was good: long enough to linger when the sights were good, short enough so that air consumption wasn’t a limiting factor, and brief enough that no-deco was very manageable (I had a few 4th dives where I was deco-limited.) In the cold water at Cape Douglas (marine iguanas) and Punta Vicente Roca (molas and penguins) the dives were shorter — 40 minutes. (The water was cold, but with the marine iguanas my max depth was 19’! I would have happily spent more time with them.)

Each buddy-team was given a DiveRite audible alarm powered by their low-pressure BCD inflator and a Nautilus Lifeline GPS/VHS radio. We never had any cause to use either, but the Nautilus, in particular, struck me as a showing a good concern for safety.

Itinerary and Diving

Our 11-day itinerary was: board the boat in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on San Cristobal. Same day we had a 20-minute check-out dive in the harbor: cold, poor vis, just a chance to get your weight correct. (Some sea lions came in and played with us, which was fun.)

2nd day was a dive apiece at Mosquera and North Seymour Island. I thought these would be more “check out” style, but actually the dive at Mosquera was excellent! First hammerhead of the trip, a big school of mobula, schools of barracuda, steel pompano, big blue-spotted trevally, “some kind of bonito.” Our 2nd dive, at North Seymour, was apparently more-commonly a highlight, but we got somewhat skunked.

We did a brief land excursion on North Seymour and, for me, it was one of the highlights of the trip — our only chance to see nesting blue-footed boobies and frigate birds. We saw several males displaying, a few pairs “dancing,” and even one sitting on an egg. (I’m kicking myself at missing a post-dive-trip day-trip to Isla Lobos from San Cristobal to see more breeding birds.)

Then we steamed for Darwin Island. We apparently got a late start for this, leaving North Seymour at 4:30PM when we were “expected” to get out of there at 1:30PM. (But that’s a little confusing to me, as we may have dawdled an extra 30 minutes or whatever on the land expedition, but the overall schedule was set by the boat.)

The upshot was that we didn’t arrive at Darwin until 8:30AM and dove immediately. The next 4 days (2 at Darwin, 2 at Wolf, 4 dives per day) were amazing. Warm, with occasional hints of a thermocline, moderate-strong currents (I think once we had a spot with something like 2 knots), insane density of fish. Jacks, hammerheads, Galapagos sharks, yellowfin tuna, smaller tuna… just amazing.

Visibility was not “murky” but it was definitely “hazy.” Maybe 25-35’-ish total, but things at the limits of visibility were definitely more silhouette-y than defined. So even though there was tons of wildlife, you would really only very-clearly see maybe 3-4 close passes per dive.

Our panga (“Jaguar Sharks!”) was quite experienced (professional divemasters, marine biologist, etc.: with just over a thousand dives, I was by far the least experienced). I think on a difficulty scale of 1-10 for recreational diving, this was 7-8 stuff: cold, currents and surge, limited viz. This would not be a place for divers uncomfortable with their gear.

Additionally, particularly at the south side of Darwin’s Arch, if you drifted away from the group and were not in the panga right around that 50-minute mark, you could get close to some extremely dangerous wave breaks. The dive guides knew the topography and drifts very well and if you paid attention to the rules and stuck with them, it was all fine. But again, it was the type of place where a mistake that separated you from the group could get very serious, very quickly.

I could go on for thousands of words detailing the diving, but suffice it to say that it was great. There were endless schools of predators such as jacks and bonito as well as reef fish such as creole fish. The sharks varied depending on the specific dive location and time of day, but typically you’d settle in at 3 or 4 stops along the reefs and usually when you settled in, some amount of hammerheads and Galapagos would come by. Sometimes, when the current was strong, you’d be in a perfect situation where the hammerheads were slowly making their way up-current and it was just an unending conveyor belt.

Another fun thing to do at Darwin was to drift past the boat on its mooring: there must have been 20 silky sharks swimming along in its eddy and if you could hold on to a panga line or get into the eddy at the stern of the ship, you would just be surrounded by silkies. The islands and birdlife of Darwin and Wolf were fascinating to observe with binoculars from the stern of the ship.

After Darwin & Wolf, the diving was one location per day, usually with a single dive site dived only 3 times per day. In our case, we often dove, 7:45AM, 9:45AM, 11:45AM. Generally diving did seem to deteriorate as the morning progressed, so the only way I’d change that schedule would be a dive before breakfast, but that was never presented as an option to us. I think there was one more day when we had an after-lunch dive.

Fernandina had a beautiful deep-dive to see horn sharks and red-lipped batfish (coldest dive, with 58F on my computer and 95’ of neoprene compression). After that, we did 2 dives in 5 meters to see marine iguanas feeding. Absolutely amazing. I do want to say that when we first got in, I experienced the most powerful surge of the trip: the surge was so strong that it caused my octopus to freeflow and then, even with a good grip, I got peeled off a rock and pushed a solid 10 yards. Again, this is a situation where a less experienced person could make a serious mistake and try to re-grip rather than accept spending the next few waves being washed back and forth.

Another highlight of the trip then occurred: while crossing from Fernandina to Isabella I spotted a pod of orcas in the distance. They approached the boat and checked us out for ten minutes or more, swimming right alongside the boat, tilting on their sides to look up at us, etc.

As with the iguanas at Fernandina, the next two days were destination dives as well: one day to see molas (ocean sunfish) and penguins (snorkeled with one) and the next to see pelagic manta rays. These were fine and again the walls were beautiful, with abundant black coral and bushy brown gorgonians teeming with long-nose hawkfish.

Then a long cruise to Cousin’s Rock near Santiago and the final 2 dives of the trip. I feel silly downplaying any diving that involves a cave filled with white-tipped reef sharks and sea lions but compared to the other diving on the trip, this was anti-climactic.

The final half-day of the trip involved a bus ride to a farm in the Santa Cruz highlands to see giant tortoises. This was quite good: they were free-ranging and it seemed more natural than seeing them in pens. As a reminder of the threat of introduced species, I was bitten by a fire ant as I watched a giant tortoise.

Then we went down to Puerto Ayora and spent several hours, having a couple drinks and lazily shopping for souvenirs. The bus picked us up at 6:30PM and got us back to the boat near 8PM, where we had a final cocktail reception where the “tipping” occurred (more on that below) and then dinner. (Again, this was a case where the schedule was set by the boat, so the fact that we were all starving by the time we were fed near 9PM seems like something they could adjust.)

The next day we were back in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno and taken off the boat at 830AM.

The [official itinerary] describes the cadence as an early dive, breakfast, morning dive, lunch, and two afternoon dives. That’s not at all how ours worked: first, we never had an opportunity to dive before breakfast and on 3-day dives (most days not on Darwin and Wolf) we often did all 3 dives before lunch with only 45-minute breaks. That was fine, since diving was generally better in the morning and getting in and out of a cold wetsuit is a pain.


The Galapagos Master is the former Deep Blue (so you might search for other reviews under that name). There are 4 below- and 4 above-deck cabins. We had an above-deck cabin but I do not think they were worth extra: the windows did not open and being that far above the center-of-gravity of the ship may have made the motion a little more obvious. Other than the standard shipboard reaction of “Oh my god, where are we going to put all our stuff?” the two things that stand out are the beds, which were very uncomfortable (pads over wood, with two single beds pushed together so that the rails created a “chastity bump”), and the electric toilet, which was absolutely incapable of clearing solids (if you know what I mean) with anything less than 4-5 flushes. Toilet paper goes into a container at the side.

There is a salon where the in-door socializing happens, with a big-screen TV with HDMI inputs, so it was easy to do slideshows or watch movies from computers. The mess had one large table and a few smaller ones. It was well-configured for socializing. The sundeck was the major socializing place, and once clearly sported a bar and chairs, but only one chair was attached. Instead, you just lounged along the rails.

I’m not a “foodie” and I thought the food was fine, but I think there was a little eye-rolling from some more refined people. There was always a salad and some amount of vegetables, and then usually a fish and a meat dish with some starch like potatoes or rice or plantains. Often meals started with a soup and there was always a dessert. There were two vegetarians on our trip and the galley seemed to be able to accommodate them well enough. Soft drinks were complimentary, beers were $3 apiece and cocktails and spirits were $6 apiece. Bottles of wine were $25.

The dive deck was quite good, with individual stations along the rails, a wetsuit cleaning-tank and rack in the middle, 2 hot-water hoses with shower nozzles, and a large cameras-only tank. Under the tanks were cubby-holes with milk crates in which you kept your miscellaneous dive gear. Up a few steps from the dive deck was a passage with a long camera bench with 2 air blowers (well, 3, but one wasn’t working). On the other side there would be post-dive snacks and hot chocolate or ice tea. A nice thing were post-dive towels, neatly labeled with your station number, so you would be assured of getting one.

On the first day our nitrox was a little low, at 29+, but mostly we dove around 32% O2. Again, I thought the nitrox vs. time vs. depth balance was just right: you ended the 4-dive days close to deco-limited but I never got close to depth-limited.


This is a pet peeve of mine. I’m from the US and I tip well because I know that, when “tipping” is a big part of how workers make their money, workers get absolutely screwed. Our trip had people from the US, England, and Germany, all of which have vastly different attitudes and expectations about tipping. And although “it’s absolutely up to you” there is a “recommended 10% tip” on your $600-a-day-per-person dive trip that is “an important part of how the crew make money.” This is total BS! If a fair wage for the crew amounts to $60 per day per guest, charge $660 per day and make tipping truly optional.

As one guest from England, who was not prepared to tip in cash (which is the only way), said “Half the trip fee goes to the cost of fuel for the ship. Why am I paying 10% of the fuel cost for ‘service’?”

Also, “tipping” this way creates perverse incentives. After safety, the most important role of the diveguides is to enforce the conservation rules, but that’s made more difficult when you rely on “tips” as a major part of your income for the trip. Which brings us to…

“That Guy”

One of the things we got ready to board the boat is that “there’s always one guy.” In our case, he was a German who fancied himself a “photo-journalist.” What that meant was that in his mind, because he made a few thousand Euros per year from stock photography fees, he was justified in breaking the rules: he didn’t stay in a line so that all divers were at an equal distance from the skittish hammerheads, he dive-bombed other photographers, he pushed my wife out of the way when she had the temerity to videotape a marine iguana with “just” a GoPro, and, worst of all, he would swim up to skittish animals such as hammerheads or mola and blast them with his strobes. He was clearly out of line time-and-time again, and the dive guides never confronted him.

This became a topic of every post-dive talk and we talked to our dive guide about it. He spoke at dinner about the importance of obeying the no-harassment rules and the dire consequences of breaking them. Then again, at breakfast the next day, he reiterated the importance of not chasing the animals.

And then, an hour later “That Guy” bombed a Mola and chased it away. Back on the panga, the other divers were saying stuff and when it became clear that the dive guide wasn’t going to say anything, I gave the guy both barrels. The upshot? Well, he didn’t dive with us anymore, but essentially he got a private dive guide and (according to reports) had a great time swimming up to and blasting pelagic mantas.

Such behavior will continue as long as the rest of us divers, whether photographers or not, tolerate it. We all want to see the animals as well as possible, we all paid a lot of money, we all would love a photo. But sometimes nature doesn’t accommodate our wishes. What we do in those circumstances is the test of our character and, if you label yourself a “photographer” (much less a “photo-journalist”), a test of your ethics.

Don’t be “that guy.”


I think BASIC’s greatest strength may be that it was something that many people — not just those with a particular background — could learn. There was no gatekeeper, either literally or figuratively: you didn’t have to push punchcards under a bank-teller window nor did you have to learn recursion before learning recursion. In the 80s, virtually every machine ran BASIC and learning how to login and start the interpreter was generally the hardest part of beginning to “program an X machine.”

People get drop-through imperative programming: either the line-by-line flexibility of BASIC or the blocks of FORTRAN and Flash (I didn’t understand Flash until I realized that it’s just FORTRAN with worse numerics and better graphics). You don’t have to be a born programmer to understand:

 20 GOTO 10

I imagine that 95% of the people who got a passing grade in their BASIC programming class or typed in a few games from the back of COMPUTE! magazine never wrote themselves another program. But the 5% who did found that personal computers could help them in their job. And the 1-in-100 or 1-in-1000 who went beyond that found themselves in a community where only drive and talent mattered and credentials meant nothing.

I’m a college dropout and never took a CS course in my life. At 25 I was hired as Technical Editor for a magazine that specialized in Artificial Intelligence and for Computer Language, the best programming magazine of all time (as far as size or circulation goes, we were the “We Try Harder” Avis to Dr. Dobb’s Journal‘s Hertz).

Today, the design of programming languages is discussed at sites like Lambda the Ultimate and while I can muddle through even some of the more arcane papers, and while I understand the value of a dense, high signal-to-noise ratio on certain topics, it seems to me that there’s not nearly enough reflection on the market triumphs of popular languages. I’m not advocating a return to the line-numbered BASIC interpreters (single-threaded, as if that had to be mentioned!) of my youth, but I am saying that 50 years ago, Kemeny, Kurtz, and colleagues captured lightning in a bottle. So did Dan Bricklin, inventor of the computerized spreadsheet, another tool for manipulating data and calculations that empowered an audience vastly larger than that emerging from the bottleneck of “Computer Science courses at good universities.”

I’m not suggesting that marketshare is the only, or even dominant, factor in assessing a language’s quality. In the case of JavaScript, for instance, I see an example of the contingent nature of history, as discussed in Steven Jay Gould’s classic Wonderful Life. JavaScript is a market triumph, it behooves all professional programmers to master it, but I think it’s fair to say that it has some flaws as a programming language.

Nor am I saying that there’s not a lot of discussion of “beginner’s languages.” I volunteer at a local school and am tremendously impressed by Scratch, for instance. Because Scratch is accessible at such a young age, it may generate the same kind of nostalgia that some of us share for BASIC. But I don’t suspect that it will have the truly broad, industry-expanding impact of BASIC or Flash.

Today, there’s some talk of functional programming sweeping over the industry in the same way that object-orientation did in the early 1990s. I am not a functional programming True Believer, but I truly believe that functional programming has advantages. And it seems to me that languages such as F# on the CLR and Scala on the JVM have a “you can have it all” aspect (no-hassle availability of libraries, the ability to integrate with legacy code, object-functional hybrid type-systems) that at the very least make them appealing to some teams.

But, although perhaps not as broadly accessible as line numbers and GOTO, OOP has something of BASIC’s “learnability.” We can teach OOP to a lot of people, without a lot of preliminaries. And some will struggle through, and some will have a comfortable understanding, and some will have taken a step towards design and architecting large systems. With Functional Programming, it’s not as clear to me that there’s that same “muddle through” path. It’s hard for me to imagine a better introduction to functional ideas than the early chapters of Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs, but I think of that as a text that weeds out, not one that expands the base. If you’re a natural-born programmer with a semester in front of you SICP is a great book. But if you “just” have potential or are a working developer with a “where does this help my day-to-day problems?” pragmatism, I don’t know what you should read.

Goto 10

BASIC was the first programming language for most of those in my generation. We sat in front of green- and amber-texted monitors or machines that spooled seemingly infinite reams of paper. We typed on chiclet keys and teletypes, punched papertape and cards and threaded magnetic reels. Compared to today’s machines we had indistinguishable-from-0 working memory or horsepower.

You have no idea how fun it was.

Breaking Bad Ending Prediction

Going on record with my Breaking Bad prediction:


Decrypt with:

var key = new Rfc2898DeriveBytes("BreakingBadEndingPrediction", "o6806642kbM7c5");
var bytes = Convert.FromBase64String(cipherText);
using (var msDecrypt = new MemoryStream(bytes))
aesAlg = new RijndaelManaged();
aesAlg.Key = key.GetBytes(aesAlg.KeySize / 8);
aesAlg.IV = ReadByteArray(msDecrypt);
var decryptor = aesAlg.CreateDecryptor(aesAlg.Key, aesAlg.IV);
   using (CryptoStream csDecrypt = new CryptoStream(msDecrypt, decryptor, CryptoStreamMode.Read))
    using (StreamReader srDecrypt = new StreamReader(csDecrypt))
        return srDecrypt.ReadToEnd();

Kiteboarding: Four Days Since Our Last Tiger Shark Attack

I am holding a bar while floating in a murky bay, slowly drifting towards a shipping channel. If I pull on the bar, 6 things can happen, only 1 of which is good. Not to mention the tiger shark. The tiger shark doesn’t care whether I pull the bar or not, but still. So 7 things. I pull the bar.

For the past decade, I’ve had a cocktail-party story about learning to kiteboard — or rather, not learning to kiteboard — with an obscenely overpowered two-line kite and a guy behind me on a JetSki shouting encouragement as I get pulled downwind, in 20-yard increments, across a mile of San Francisco Bay. “Kiteboarding — it’s like bull-riding, but with more drowning.” Subsequent to that lesson (in which I was literally pulled out of one of my wetsuit booties) I thought “Well, I guess I’m too old for it.” Too out-of-shape and too brittle.

But dammit, they make it look so easy.

My friend Florian, who is an expert in getting off his ass, finally convinced me that what we needed to do was take a long weekend, fly to Maui, and take 3 days of lessons. So, here I was, floating like a nerdy dumpling off the beach in Maui, staring up at 86 square feet (8M^2) of kite bucking in the Force 5 winds, a few degrees from the brilliant tropical sun. At the moment, the kite was flying in its most unpowered state, presenting only its thin, inflated lip to the wind. When I pulled the bar, the kite would turn, catch more wind, and accelerate, exponentially increasing in power, which would be transferred down 20M of finger-slicing line to the harness fastened around my waist. And then:

  • The force would pull me out of line and past the board, which would act like a sea anchor and torque my knees perilously before popping off; or
  • My tentativeness would generate so little force that the kite only moved me another 40 or 50 yards closer to the shipping channel; or
  • The kite would turn too sharply and fly directly downwind, launching me into the air before crashing (this was mostly what happened to me in San Francisco); or
  • The kite would lift my butt out of the water, which would be so astonishing that I’d promptly crash; or
  • The kite would lift my butt out of the water, and then launch me into the air; or
  • The kite would lift my butt out of the water, by which time I would have re-turned the kite not-quite towards the vertical, achieving the proper balance between “launch me into the air” power and “sink back on your butt” stalling.

And then there was the tiger shark. Which isn’t a metaphor or one of those “You swim with sharks every time you get in the water” bravados. Florian’s rental board was bitten by a tiger shark, at that very beach, earlier in the week. Marine Biologists measured the bite radius and say it was about 12′. (“Measured the bite radius”: You know, just like Jaws ).

this was no boating accident

I tried not to think about the shark too much.

So the only bad thing I have to say about the experience is that it’s ruined my story. The 4-line kites they have today are literally 180 degrees from what I experienced in San Francisco: my disastrous time in the early 2000s was with kites that, when they crashed, automatically relaunched and tried to fly downwind. So after you crashed you had 5 or 10 seconds to get things under control and if you didn’t, the kite would relaunch, jerk you another 20 yards, crash, and give you another window in which to recover. The modern kites I learned on in Maui were the opposite: they are engineered to skid upwind until they stall, still in the water, and give you all the time in the world to get your bearings.

Ultimately, the hardest thing about kiteboarding for me was that I wasn’t aggressive enough with the kites! They were easy to fly and forgiving, but I had such bad memories about what could go wrong that I was too tentative with the power. Only once did I fly so aggressively that I fell forward rather than backward.

Another hard thing is that when you’re learning, you spend a lot of time using the kite to drag you into position, which involves being pulled through the water by your harness. The force of the water on your chest and all your gear is exhausting and frustrating, because you’re thinking “Why am I panting for breath? I haven’t done anything!”

By the end of my second day, I was getting up and riding for a few seconds. The third day I took a step back because of equipment trouble, and frankly, I was a little worn down from the weekend’s other activities, which included crossing the channel to Molokai to dive with hammerheads (I like sharks just fine when I have a mask on) and shutting down a bar in Ma’alea.

I don’t really know what comes next. I think I have 20 more hours of instruction left before it’s likely I could start doing it myself: 3 more days just getting up and riding consistently and then some time learning beach launches and landings, which are the most dangerous moments in the sport. The Big Island is a poor place to learn to kiteboard — there are no instructors and the only reliable place to kiteboard has a beginner-hostile offshore wind. Flying to Maui for another long weekend of instruction is a possible, but expensive option, but probably not for a few more months, at least.

But on my longest ride, which probably lasted about 20 seconds, I felt like I was looking at an open window. With these kites, physically the sport is open to even old brittle guys like me, and it’s clearly a sport where, once you know what you’re doing you can keep things in balance and not expend a lot of energy. So if I could learn it, I could have a decade or more of a sport that is just perfectly tuned to my sensibilities. So, yeah, I guess I’ll try again.

Tip: Turn off Autoimport from Photostream Before Traveling


It turns out that it’s a terrible mistake to leave the “Autoimport” feature of Photostream on in iPhoto or Aperture when you go on vacation. If you leave it on, and you do the logical thing of moving your daily photographs into your laptop, when you merge the laptop libraries into your main library, you will end up with duplicates of not-quite-everything. By “not quite everything” I mean that your laptop, as soon as it connects to WiFi, probably began sending 1000 photos to PhotoStream.

Name That Arcade Game

Sometime after Space War and Asteroids, but before color was widespread in arcade games, there was a 2-person vector-graphics game in which you and your friend drove “tractors” around and grabbed little diamonds (or whatever) from a pile in the center of the screen and dragged them back to your base. You could shoot the other guy a la Space War, but I think there were also bad guys flying around to shoot a la Asteroids.

Name that Arcade Game!

Update: KSharkey rocks! He correctly identified Rip-Off — with graphics like this, it’s no wonder I was enthralled:


With the advent of color, there was this game involving a grid of city blocks. A dozen or so triangles started moving from one side (or all sides?) through the grid. I don’t recall if you controlled the triangles or you controlled a car trying to get away from them, but over time the triangles would end up crashing into each other and being destroyed. And you either were trying to destroy them all before time ran out or you were trying to keep them alive until you achieved some goal.

Name that Arcade Game!

Update: WillC2 Rocks! Targ it is!


Well, guess I’m going to have to renew my XNA Creator’s Club membership…

2 Things That Made Me Scoff at "Breach"

“I wrote an encryption algorithm with 612 bits of security.” (I really like to imagine the ‘notes’ from the studio on this — “I like how this establishes that Hansen is a very talented programmer, but let’s bump it up 100 to show he was really good.”)

“We need Linux servers…” (In the year 2000, he expected the FBI to run its infrastructure on OSS? No wonder this guy got nowhere!)

Other than that, the movie was okay, even if it had the cliched cop-out “Why did he do it? Well, in the end it doesn’t matter. He did it. And that’s what counts.” That may be what counts in the real world, but in a story the ‘why’ is central to the job.