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TL;DR it’s SHA1 with no newline

We wanted to create off-line templates for our Netgear SmartManaged switches (which runs a blatant IOS CLI ripoff), but needed a way to generate the encrypted password hash from a given plaintext password:

username test password test
-to-
username test password encrypted a94a8fe5ccb19ba61c4c0873d391e987982fbbd3

For the life of me I couldn’t figure out what algorithm they used, it wasn’t an obvious salted hash (lack of $x$saltsalt$ prefix) nor was it the old style Cisco MD5 mechanism. Wasn’t SHA256 either.  It’s 40 characters long, consisting of [a-z0-9] which looked like a hex representation of something. Frantic googling wasn’t helping me, nor the myriad of various password generators.

I was at my wits end and was about to post on r/networking (yay talking to rubber duckies) about it when I decided to go back at the list of algorithms I tried and wondered if we tried SHA1 with no line return like I had seen in some examples. That worked:

bwann@basic76:~$ echo -n "test" | openssl sha1
(stdin)= a94a8fe5ccb19ba61c4c0873d391e987982fbbd3

Fully vaccinated

Got both doses of the tracking chips in and my 5G coverage is increasing!

(I forget how this is supposed to work, do the tracking chips provide 5G and GPS, or do the 5G towers attract bats that infect people with covid? or do the 5G towers cause covid and the vaccination will kill my 5G service? Do I need to buy a bat? What about my GPS service while I’m in a tunnel or underground garage or the shower?  Is there a data cap? Will my 5G shed RF matter on other non-vaccinated people? So many questions!)

The mass vaccination site I went to in Oakland was something straight out of a CERA setup in Division 2 with all the cones and barriers and National Guard and pop up tents.

The first dose (Pfizer) was a no-op but the second dose kicked my ass. At first was headaches, then some wicked chills. I got up to use the bathroom at 3 AM and started shaking so bad by the time I made it back to bed I buried myself in all the covers and had to catch my breath. A couple hours later I was sitting in front of my space heater on full blast. Then I was just dead tired for the rest of the day, couldn’t even be bothered to use a laptop while laying down.

Tossed and turned all night, practically didn’t sleep at all.  Finally a bit better yesterday evening, a bit headachy and groggy.

I wonder what the booster shots will be like?

2021 coming in hot

Welp, it didn’t take long for 2021 to get crazy

Jan 3  Washington Post has audio of Trump pressuring GA to find votes
Jan 4  UK declines to extradite Assange to the US
Jan 5  Dr. Dre in ICU due to brain aneurysm
Jan 6  Protestors storm the US Capitol, Senate chambers and offices
Jan 7  Congress confirms Biden vote in early morning
       People I know get COVID vaccines
Jan 10 Everyone bails on Parler, site taken offline;  all data archived
Jan 20 Biden sworn in, Q people freakout at lack of mass arrests and martial law
Jan 28 Gamestop GME hits $500 high, reddit rejoices
Feb 11 Oklahoma, Texas, most of central US get hit by blizzard
       water/gas/electricity shit hits fan
Feb 21 777 engine explodes over Denver
Feb 22 Daft Punk breaks up
       US hits 500,000 covid deaths

 

Working in a Ubuntu world now, I really miss the Anaconda installer that CentOS/Fedora used. Every time I find myself having a problem with the d-i installer when doing network PXE installs, I find myself grepping and tracing through the source code.

While doing a Ubuntu 18 network install with a preseed file (all of which had previously worked just fine, no changes) we hit this error after the installer brought up the network: Downloading a file failed: The installer failed to access the mirror. This may be a problem with your network, blah blah blah.

Getting on the machine and diving into syslog, this is where things were going south:

Oct  6 23:10:48 anna[4786]: 2020-10-06 23:10:48 \
  URL:http://mirror.example.com/repository/ubuntu/dists/bionic/main/binary-amd64/Release \
  [109/109] -> "-" [1]
Oct  6 23:10:48 anna[4786]: WARNING **: bad d-i Packages file
Oct  6 23:10:48 anna[4786]: 2020-10-06 23:10:48 
  URL:http://mirror.example.com/repository/ubuntu/dists/bionic/Release \
  [22243/22243] -> "/tmp/_fetch-url_net-retriever-4838-Release.4839" [1]
Oct  6 23:10:48 net-retriever: Not verifying Release signature: unauthenticated mode enabled
Oct  6 23:12:34 anna[4786]: WARNING **: bad d-i Packages file

This was very confusing because watching the logs on the mirror server, Packages was never even attempted to be downloaded, so how could it complain about a bad Packages file?  The Releases file seemed sane, downloading it with wget on another machine, size, checksum all lined up.

(Also for the love of god, why are there no pagers in the install environment?  no less, no more, not even vim, which makes it agonizing to look at logs. There’s just nano.)

Further, going onto another machine at the same site, doing an apt clean and blowing away all of the apt cache directories, then doing an apt update, everything was fine. I was able to download the packages indexes and install a package just fine.

 

So what gives?  The Internets didn’t have any good leads, everyone seems to hit this bad d-i Packages file error while installing from CD-ROMs in 2009.

I went directly to the anna source code to see exactly what it was doing to generate that error. It’s written in C and I couldn’t see any obvious things that were going wrong.  I didn’t find any other way to generate some debug logs for what d-i was doing. The closest thing I could find was doing dconf debugging by putting DEBCONF_DEBUG=developer on the kernel command line and re-trying the network install. This didn’t give me any logging for what anna and other commands were doing, but I did notice around my error it was setting a retriever/net/error value.

Googling around for what might set retriever/net/error lead me to the source for /usr/lib/debian-installer/retriever/net-retriever.

(have I mentioned how much I hate all the janky shell scripts that this installer calls out to?)

Inside the net-retriever script it’s doing some things with Package files which caught my interest. On my trouble system, I shoved an echo $* >> /tmp/blah-cmds to get it to record all of the arguments that the script was getting and tell me its secrets.

I hit retry on the installer, got the same error, but got this output of things fed to net-retriever:

# cat /tmp/blah-cmds
cleanup
config
packages /var/cache/anna/Packages
packages_one mirror.example.com /repository/ubuntu /var/cache/anna/Packages bionic
error packages
packages /var/cache/anna/Packages
packages_one mirror.example.com /repository/ubuntu /var/cache/anna/Packages bionic
error packages
cleanup

hmmm. I went back and added a set -x at the top of the file and ran the script with the packages_one line.  (The installer environment uses Busybox, so can’t just say bash -x of course)

Looking at the trace output I saw things like this:

+ pkgfile=restricted/debian-installer/binary-amd64/Packages
+ grep restricted/debian-installer/binary-amd64/Packages$ /tmp/net-retriever-5295-Release
+ line=
+ [ 1 != 0 ]
+ continue
+ exit 1

What’s this debian-installer business?

We didn’t have that directory available on our repos, and it finally dawned on me that it’s looking through the Releases file for various debian-installer/.../Packages paths. Because our Releases file didn’t have entries for them, this is what was causing anna to throw the bad d-i Packages file error. My other system worked just fine because it wasn’t trying to fetch installer packages.  blah!

My understanding of the problem was that in our Aptly mirrors we weren’t mirroring udeb for our various components. Once we fixed that, debian-installer became available and everything was happy.

Outdoors is nice

I literally had my hair cut in a shady back alley in Palo Alto. It was legit business with pop-up tents and chairs and everything, but I just like the clandestine sound of that statement.

The only upside of all this crazy time is businesses doing business outside on a fine California summer day. I think we’ve only had two businesses with any sort of regular outdoor dining in Fremont, now there’s more, even if it is basically outdoor takeout in a parking lot. I really missed all the outdoor dining we had in Austin when I moved to the west coast. It remains to be seen if this is even sustainable for business, but I hope it becomes a more permanent thing.

 

In other news, I finally got my FAA medical sorted out, and well on my way to solo phase check!

Air is hard. People do not seem to get it or can’t be bothered. I’ve watched this play out both during the choking California wildfires and the current Coronavirus pandemic. Air goes in the body, air goes out of the body. I see so many people having heated arguments and confusion now about what masks to wear, wearing masks incorrectly, what’s effective, and how you must hate America if you are sheeple wearing a mask in public (what?). Fuck, people are getting outright assaulted or killed over wearing masks.

I don’t pretend to be an epidemiologist, I just want to talk about air. I like air.  I guess the point of all this is that masks, face coverings, et al, do have a purpose, they’re not completely useless, but lots of people don’t seem to reason through it.

Masks and respirators are different, having different jobs depending if air is going in, or going out. Masks catch things going out, like sneezes, spit, snot; they’re generally loose against the face and on inhale air can easily come in from the sides. Basic respirators will catch things going in, like sawdust, smoke, asbestos, bacteria, and mold, because when worn properly they form a tight seal against the skin around the mouth and nose; air has to go through the filter medium to get into your body.

However! Adding an extra caveat in today’s world, most consumer and professional respirators are only designed to filter air coming in, and have a valve to allow air to go out unobstructed for comfort.  Medical respirators are solid (no valves) and will filter air in and air out, and are a little more moisture proof.

Bay Area air quality index 2018

During the 2018 Paradise fire, the Bay Area was blanketed for days in smoke. It was very obvious when you walked outside and could smell it (and quite frankly, taste it). The government air quality index considers a “Good” AQI to be on the order of 0-50; during the worst, where I lived hit around ~180, “Unhealthy” for people with heart/lung disease; just over the hills in Livermore they easily hit ~270, “Very Unhealthy”, all older adults and children should avoid physical activity outdoors.

The tiny particles of burned up houses (PM2.5) that could irritate the lungs were only filtered out if you had a N95 respirator or better. Yet many people were walking around wearing surgical masks instead of respirators. I would’ve expected this to work itself out, “Geee, I’m going to all the trouble to wear this thing on my face and I still smell burning smoke, what ever could be the problem? Maybe I don’t have the right thing?”  Alas, it didn’t, many people still walked around with surgical masks loosely dangling off their ears, still inhaling smoke from around the sides of the mask.  I guess, oh it’s good enough?

Today we’re dealing with both air in and air out. We want to filter droplets from entering the respiratory tract that may have Coronavirus in it, this protects the wearer. We want to filter droplets from leaving the body, when we breath out, talk, sneeze, cough, this protects everyone around us.

Duration matters too, there’s a huge difference between walking somebody in the store and being in close proximity to somebody else for hours on in end in closed quarters.

I feel like most people finally understand the former case, air-in. Wearing a respirator directly protects the wearer, such as a healthcare worker, or your parent.

 

“But I’m not sick! Why do I have to wear a mask to go to the grocery store! You’re all stupid sheeple!”

Now we’re up to the air-out case, with the added bonus of contagion. The big problem: lack of early symptoms of covid, or a complete lack of symptoms. It’s been shown that a person is most contagious right before they start showing symptoms.  A person could be breathing/spitting/slobbering infectious particles for days before realizing they are sick and decide to stay inside and away from others.

The elephant in the room are asymptomatic carriers. It’s been shown there’s a likely a huge amount of asymptomatic carriers walking around that have no idea that they’re infected because they never feel sick, breathing/spitting/slobbering particles forever that could make other people sick. 60% of sailors on the USS Theodore Roosevelt that tested positive for covid did not have symptoms. I frankly assume I have a good chance of being an asymptomatic carrier because I live near some of California’s hot spots. We won’t know we’re asymptomatic until we get some sort of test that can detect the presence.

 

The thing en vogue today is “mask” or “face covering”.  This is dealing with air-out and the blast radius of your breath/spit/slobber/snot. It’s true, masks are not filters. They will not filter out every micron of air leaving your body. But, they help you from breathing/spitting/slobbering particles (which is what viruses ride outside) all over the produce at grocery store, the handlebars on the train, or gym equipment. In the former case I mentioned above, a face cover could help reduce (not eliminate!) the spread before you can take yourself out.  I don’t have numbers on how effective face covering are, but it seems pretty obvious that it limits your blast radius before particles get a chance to fall out of the air.

This is where we start running into problems with respirators with valves, which can be a false sense of security depending on the intended purpose. If the intent in the current state of the world is to filter air-out to protect others, air is not being filtered at all on exhales. At best it’s just slowing down the air and limiting your blast radius. The joke is I could wear my full-face gas mask with P100 filters in a crowded store, I would protect myself all day long from others, but my bad breath goes right out the front without any sort of filtering.

(Technically I’m kind of boned because even though I trimmed my beard way back, my mask can’t get a solid seal so some air still gets in around the sides)

Nose cockers, why do you do this

My #1 pet peeve is people walking around wearing a mask but only covering their mouth, leaving their nose dangling out. I saw this as far back as the beginning of March. Your nose hole and mouth hole are directly connected inside your head, you’re still either exposing others or exposing yourself. Why intentionally half ass-it?  Whyyyyyyyyyyyy? The majority aren’t wearing glasses so I know fogging isn’t an issue. Either wear a mask or not, I don’t care. Whyyyyyyyyy do people do this?

I still don’t get the earlier kerfuffle from earlier this year where CDC., et al., were telling us not to wear a mask, wear a mask, don’t wear a mask, wear a face covering. No wonder people are confused and revolting about masks. I actually saw the same thing during the California wildfires, some health officials were saying not to wear a mask.

 

Happy birthday to me

Want to stir up a shit storm? Post a photo of yourself wearing a mask. Holy shit, the Internet has opinions about this and they will let you know. I get it, people on principle are against the government telling them what to do, and there’s been advocacy for shaming people in public for not wearing a mask, even if they’re nowhere near anyone else or a crowded spot.

For the record I’ll wear my buff when I go into stores or the office, but not while I’m out on walks around the ‘hood because people literally go out of their way to avoid each other. Personally I get a kick walking around masked up like a cartel hitman and it’s totally cool to do these days. I haven’t had an excuse to walk into my credit union with a mask on, but have had to pull it down a few times when I get ID checked for beer.

My other hot takes on present memes:

“hurrr durrr but if I fart in my pants, I still smell it, that means cloth doesn’t filter shit”  Technically it did have substantial effect, when you farted, you did not spray shit droplets six feet away.

“hurrr durrr take that goddamn mask off, you’re American!”   err sorry for carrying about your health?

Then again, maybe air really is hard and people are fed up with trying to understand the details. They just want somebody to tell them to what to do today, or maybe not. I largely suspect many people are just wearing a mask for the appearance of due diligence. I guess also a large percent of the population have never had to wear any sort of protective equipment while working around fumes/dust/mold/construction/sawdust and have never experienced the differences.

Also for fucks sake people stop throwing your latex gloves away in the Target parking lot. Think of the sea turtles.

We also have people that think 5G radio waves transmit the virus, so maybe we’re all doomed.

#2020 keeps on delivering. I’m tired of the mask ordeal, I’ve moved onto our upcoming food shortages.

#2020 what a hoot

Hashtag-2020 got off to a heck of a start. We thought 2019 was crazy and it would all be over with after December 31, then it even got worse. It seemed like every single day of 2020 there was some world event we never imagined. Earlier this year I tried to keep a file of the crazy headlines that popped up every day, at some point I gave up.

This is what I had so far, does anyone remember any of this by now?

Dec 31 - Pope slaps woman's hand
Jan 1 - New Years, Dustin Parker shot in OK
Jan 2 - ?
Jan 3 - Soleimani drone strike
Jan 4 - ?
Jan 5 - Iran backs out of nuclear deal
Jan 6 - Ricky Gervais Golden Globes speech roasting most of Hollywood
Jan 7 - Iran fires missiles on Iraq/US base
        Ukrainian flight shot down
        Earthquake in Iran
Jan ?? - Australia is on fire
Jan 8 - Prince Harry and Megan announce leaving royals
Jan 9 - ?
Jan 10 - ?
Jan 11 - Iran admits shooting down airliner
         Anti-vaxxers picketing on street corners at SAP Center in San Jose
Jan 14 - Alameda SO evicts homeless squatters in Oakland
Jan 15 - Pete DeBoer (former SJ Sharks team) goes to Vegas Golden Knights
Jan 19 - SpaceX explodes a rocket for abort test
Jan ?? - Coronavirus becomes a thing in the US
Jan 26 - Kobe Bryant helicopter crash

Feb 5  - Trump acquitted of impeachment
Feb 24 - DJIA/NASD drop off cliff due to coronavirus
Mar 6  - Required work from home at work for to weeks, until Mar 21st
         SXSW in Austin cancelled by city
Mar 11 - Trump bans EU->US flights, NBA suspends season, Tom Hanks has covid
Mar 12 - NHL suspends season
Mar 15 - Restaurants in Fremont close early in anticipation of SIP orders
Mar 16 - DJIA drops 2900 pt
         Bay Area "shelter in place" starts
         FB poke broke (srs business),
         Mandatory everyone WFH till April 7
         Some restaurants pivot to take-out only
Mar 19 - Whole state under shelter-in-place
         US Covid topped 10k cases
         Work tentatively WFH indefinitely
         My birthday home alone
Mar 20 - Kenny Rogers dies, CA allows to-go beer and drinks
Mar 27 - UK prime minister catches covid
Apr  6 - UK prime minister moved to ICU
Apr 10 - Burning Man 2020 cancelled
Apr 20 - Oil futures for May contracts go negative $30
Apr 23 - Don't inject disinfectants or bright light, y'all
Apr 24 - Finally able to buy flour at the store
Apr ?? - Possible meat shortages as processing plants close
Apr ?? - People seriously believe 5G networks transmit the virus, setting fire to 5G sites
         People forget Bill Gates made his billions from Microsoft,
         say he invented virus to make more money
         People are dumb
Apr 30 - Finally see toilet paper on the shelves, frozen meat starting to get picked over
May  3 - Murder hornets invade WA/BC!
May  8 - Saddle Rack announces it's closing for good
May  9 - Elon threatens to close Fremont factory and move Tesla HQ
         Little Richard dies at 87
May 11 - Jerry Stiller, and double-rainbow guy die
         Shady Grove in Austin closes
May 18 - SF Bay Area counties start phase 2 reopening
         Trump casually announces he's taking hydroxychloroquine
May 21 - Yeast finally seen on the grocery store shelf
         Well, shit
May 25 - George Floyd killed by police
May 27 - SpaceX Crew Dragon launch - scrubbed
         US hits 100,000 covid deaths
         CDC warns of starving cannibal rats
May 28 - Boston Marathon cancelled
         California tops 100,000 covid cases
May 29 - More protests and riots break out
         CNN crew arrested on-air, CNN center in ATL vandalized
         Monkeys steal covid-positive blood samples from lab assistant in India
May 31   Sixth day of George Floyd protests, shit's on fire yo
         SJ, SF, LA, under curfew for a week
         Fremont shopping centers closed (Hub, Pacific Commons)
Jun  1   All of Alameda county under curfew all week
Jun  2   BLM protests at Fremont PD HQ (two blocks from me)
Jun  6   Back to flying!
Jun 19   Alameda county allows outdoor dining
Jul 10   Alameda county closes outdoor dining, dispute with state
Jul 13   Santa Clara county allows salons to open
Jul 14   State says all salons must close, suck it businesses
Jul 15   Alameda county says outdoor dining can open again
         Bunch of people on twttr get hacked
Jul ??   Confederate monuments come down
Jul 29   US COVID-19 deaths hit 150,000
Aug  1   Stanley Cup playoffs start
Aug ??   Somewhere the USPS went to shit
Aug  4   Ammonium nitrate explosion craters port at Beruit, Lebanon
Aug 14   3-judge panel upholds Duncan v Becerra opinion, mag ban struck down
Aug 15   NWS issues first ever warning for "pyrocumulonimbus cloud" - fire tornado
         Freak lightning/thunderstorm hits Bay Area, sets several fires
Aug 17   Possible rolling blackouts due to lack of electricity generation (deja vu 2001)
Aug ??   Mypillow.com guy pitches Oleandrin as a covid treatment, Trump loves it (whaaaaat)
Aug 17-26 California is on fire
Aug 26   Hurricane Laura, cat 4, about to hit LA
Sep 1    Pelosi indoor haircut/mask debacle (she should've went across the Bay)
Sep 2    Alameda county allows indoor salons and barbers
Sep 8    Bay Area is deeply orange colored from high altitude smoke (orange in EB)
Sep 9    Bay Area is deeply yellow colored from high altitude smoke (orange in SF)
         Fucking Blade Runner 2020
Sep 10   NFL returns
Sep 11   Finally get gigabit internet at home!
Sep 16   Hurricane Sally, cat 2, hits AL
Sep ??   Protests in Portland still going on
Sep 18   SCOTUS Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dies
         We ran out of hurricane/tropical storm names
Sep 28   Tampa wins Stanley Cup (this should've been played in June)
Sep 22   US COVID-19 deaths hit 200,000
Oct 1    Trump says he has COVID-19
Oct 2    Trump taken to Walter Reed
Oct 4    Trump leaves Walter Reed
Oct 4-7  Everyone else in the White House and DC catch COVID-19
Oct 6    Eddie Van Halen dies
Oct 8    FBI reveals plot to kidnap/assassinate MI governor
         I was able to buy Clorox Wipes for the first time since March
Oct 31   Sean Connery dies
Nov 3-4  Elections, Biden wins, crazies come out
Nov 24   Elon becomes 2nd richest person in world
         DJIA hits 30,000
Nov 28   Iranian nuclear scientist is assassinated, probably Israel
Dec 1    Arecibo receiver crash
         Chang'e 5 lands on moon
Dec 2    LA issues "safer at home" order
Dec 3    California issues regional shelter in place orders
Dec 6    Bay Area counties shut down again, no in/out dining, salons
Dec 11   Supreme Court shuts down Texas Trump case, says GTFO
Dec 13   First covid vaccines ship

Today is April 20 and the craziness is still going on. I still haven’t seen toilet paper in stores in weeks. I wish I had kept better track of what was available in the stores.  I feel like two weeks ago I was finally able to buy bread, last week I was able to buy milk, eggs, and flour (but no yeast).

Update: Oct 9: #2020 still cooking up greatest hits!

Today people are protesting in state capitols the economy should be re-opened. People seriously still can’t figure out how air works, either you’re protecting yourself, protecting others, or both.

A few years ago I made a conscious effort to stay outside more, especially in the winters when I’d go stir crazy. Either sitting out on my balcony or go out for walks at the park or around the neighborhood. I started playing closer attention to the positions of the major constellations, moon, and planets. I think it was last year or the year before where Mars, Saturn, Jupiter, and Venus were all evenly spaced across the night sky. It was neat watching them shift over the course of the summer.

Anyways, earlier this year when I’d be out, the Orion constellation was up. I watched it gradually move further and further west every night until it disappeared during the summer. I think it’s been a few months since I’ve been outside at night, and I just realized the other night, sure as shit, Orion is back up in the eastern sky. Knowing I just watched a constellation make a full cycle made me realize just how much time has passed.

I think tonight is the first night that the longer nights has started to affect me. I just had to go out for a four mile walk around the neighborhood to just get out of the quiet apartment. I can’t wait until I buy a house or condo, I gotta get out of this tiny place into something with more room for once.

Hello flying and new job

A couple of big things have happened the past few months. Most recently, I rejoined the tech workforce a couple of weeks ago after my two year hiatus. A good friend of mine that I used to work with hit me up out of the blue and sold me on this new awesome place he joined recently.  It’s been fun so far, there is so much interesting stuff to do, it’ll keep us busy for a while. Truth be told I was kind of getting bored, I was only going on a big roadtrip every couple of months and not really doing anything terribly interesting. I figured out I’m not as rusty at the Linux stuff as I thought I’d be, but my body sure is still getting used to waking up to an alarm in the mornings.

The other thing is that I started taking up flying lessons over in Palo Alto in June. A long time ago in April of 2001 I finished a ground school class hosted at an FBO at Riverside airport (KRVS) in Tulsa, anticipating I’d start flying after. I don’t even remember how I got into taking the class, I hadn’t even yet met my current flying friends. I didn’t even get into skydiving until October 2002. I guess I thought it would be a fun thing to do. In any event, I had just gotten accepted at the University of Tulsa when my CFI called up to schedule time on a Cessna 152 for training. I called things off, started going to university, ultimately dropping out, business and life happened. I had my E6B and could do crosswind calculations without a computer, 152 dip stick, sampler cup, textbooks, log book, plotter, all ready to go. Most interestingly, 9/11 happened later that year. I still had my scanner to listen to KRVS frequencies and it was a constant loop about the full ground stop advisory for 2-3 days. I wish I had a recording of that.

Fast forward to February 2019. My friend Alex decided he was finally going to go for his private pilot certificate and he started to talk me into doing it at the same time. Like most things I was hesitant about it, I hadn’t thought about it in nearly two decades. By March I was thinking about the “what could’ve been”. April I was re-reading the FAA material and regulations, and hand wavily considering where to go learn how to fly. Alex had finally convinced me that my current funemployment time was the most important asset I had, I could go bang out multiple lessons during the week and probably save a ton of money by not repeating skill lessons over a long time. In May I was getting really excited about the idea, churning through the FAA reading material, but in June it started to sink in just how much money it was going to cost me and I nearly backed out completely.

Finally I just said fuck it, and drove over to Palo Alto on the weekend to schedule a discovery flight to see what it was like. I got matched up with my current CFI that Monday and we went flying over Half Moon Bay. I don’t know what I was expecting, I didn’t know I’d be the one doing the takeoff. After we got near the coast he asked what I wanted to do, and I said I didn’t know, so we did some commercial-grade steep turns that were really whoa, a couple of passes up and down the coast, and coming back a couple of touch-n-goes at Palo Alto. There were some gorgeous views over the coast that I got a couple of photos of, and also of the peninsula, but I was still at the controls and had a plane to fly.

I guess that finally put the bug in me. The CFI texted me not too long after saying he had slots open so I said sure, why not, and that’s how it started. I started flying regularly in July and beyond. The first dozen or so flights were so disappointing, I was so nervous on takeoffs I’d wander way off center line, pitch up way too high during takeoff, nor get on right rudder, or whatever; my CFI said he’d look over and my hand would be shaking on the yoke.

Eventually after a dozen or so hours I think I finally became really aware what to do, finally staying mostly on the center line during takeoff, take in instruments, not pulling back, just gradual up over and away. Landings are another story, those took a lot more hours to get even the basic feel for. At least now I’m finally starting to make somewhat reasonable radio calls!

Today I’m around 18 hours into things and while gaining a lot of confidence still dreading things. Stall recoveries still scare me to think about, but I know I need to get used to them. I hear upset recoveries is a gut-wrenching fest to look forward to. I feel like a granny flying a 172 yet it’s capable of far much more of what I want to put into it. 20 year old me may have been yee-haw eventually, but older me isn’t so ready for it.

So here I am at least with a new hobby on the weekend that really tests the mind and doesn’t involve sitting inside and computers (well except iPads) for once.

Old Faithful

[photos: flickr – Grand Teton NP]

[photos: flickr – Yellowstone NP]

I’ve wanted to visit Yellowstone (Yellastone) for a while. I know of at least two people that have been this summer so I finally decided to go for it. Watching the Yellowstone TV show also inspired me, despite it being filmed nowhere near the park. It’s about 950 miles away, so at least a solid day of driving. I took off on a Friday, thinking I’d drive over the weekend and avoid a weekend crowd at the park. I didn’t have a reserved campsite and lodging was $400-$500 night in the park, yikes. I planned to stay on forestry land somewhere outside of West Yellowstone.

The first night I made it all the way up into Idaho on I-84 and slept at a rest stop. I decided to hit up Jackson Hole, Wyoming first, I went up through Idaho Falls and cut over through Teton Pass. I rolled into Jackson around 1 PM on Saturday, and downtown was crazy busy. A sign said Yellowstone was “only” 66 miles away, not great, not terrible. I wasn’t sure yet where I was going to camp, so I decided to stay in Jackson at the world’s most expensive Motel 6 for the night.

Having secured lodging I continued up through Grand Teton. The last time I was here was in May 2010 during my great road trip from Austin. This time things were much greener and less snow on the mountains. I worked my way up to Yellowstone when I realized my grave mistake of not paying close attention to the map: it was 66 miles from Jackson to the south entrance of Yellowstone, then another 30 miles to the first “thing” which was West Thumb. Then another 20 miles to Old Faithful. Another 30 miles or so out to West Yellowstone.

I wasn’t really impressed with the southern approach to Yellowstone, it was 60 miles of solid forest, two lanes and slow drivers. There wasn’t anything to see here, I was beginning to wonder why this place was so famous. Some people may think the solid forest was quaint, I found it monotonous after driving all day.

I got to Old Faithful around 5 PM. Coming over the hill I saw the geyser blow, missed it by about 15 minutes. I was tired and didn’t feel like waiting around for the next eruption, plus I was over 100 miles from my room.

I had looked at options for staying in the park, most of the campsites were filled by 8 AM according to NPS’s website and the visitor center charts. I debated getting a few hours sleep in Jackson and making the haul back up to get in like at 7 AM. Unfortunately that meant leaving at 5 AM. I was tired and decided to get at least one good night of sleep, figure it out later.

Sunday

I had been noticing my ammeter wobbling a couple of volts and thought that was curious. When I started the truck for the first time for the day, it sharply deflected down to 10 volts before coming back up to 13 V, but still wobbling. uh oh. I knew the battery was reasonably new. I was afraid it was my alternator trying to die again, I had just replaced it in 2009, not too long before my last Wyoming trip.

I sure didn’t want to get in the middle of Yellowstone with a dead alternator, no cell service, and be stranded. I found the only auto parts store open in Jackson on a Sunday and bought an alternator as a precaution. I had intended to replace it with a high output unit eventually, I didn’t want to replace it here now, but could if I had to. In the process of checking under the hood I noticed a battery cable was loose. I tightened that and after a bit of hard driving it seemed to fix the wobbling ammeter, yay.

A moose once bit my sister

Working my way back up through Grand Teton, I stopped and took a lot of photos. Somebody tipped me off to a moose at the end of a road, I drove down to find a mama moose in a stream and a baby moose hiding in the grass. NPS peeps were there watching them and keeping people away, and told us quite a bit about them.

There was a big swath of Grand Teton that I apparently had not even driven through back in 2009. I went up to Signal Mountain and got a great view over the valley. Somebody had spotted a herd of buffalo miles away oven in a field that I eventually spotted, too far away to go drive back over to get closer photos. Somebody else spotted an elk on the road up to Signal Mountain, but I didn’t see it on the way back down.

Back inside Yellowstone I headed back to West Thumb along the way to turn around, some dude on the side of the road flagged me down and asked if I had jumper cables. He had his F350 pulled up behind an RV, trying to jump start it. I put my cables and booster pack on, and the engine wouldn’t crank. Oddly enough the guy in the RV had these foam replica dinosaur bones he wanted me to see while we waited between attempts, weird flex but okay. Eventually we gave up, and he’s “here, have this book as thanks” to me and another person … oookay? Turns out the book was “A Closer Look at The Evidence”, about the evidence of God. Thanks guy, did you just fake RV trouble to pass out your book? Was F350 guy his partner in this scheme? (The book was pretty awful and full of handwavy “facts”, btw)

I made it back to Old Faithful. This time I hung around long enough to see it blow twice. There was a huge number of people there, it was totally a zoo. After each time it would erupt, there would be a huge exodus of people leaving the area. Unfortunately a couple of hours after I got there, it started pouring down rain. This put off wandering around the other geysers in the area.

I headed out to West Yellowstone to find a place to stay around there. Apparently everyone else had the same idea to leave after the rain, the highway to West Yellowstone was bumper-to-bumper for several miles. I caught a great double rainbow over the highway and it was magnificent. I finally got to see more of the park before sunset, there was considerably more to see than the drive from the south. Maybe this wasn’t such a bad park after all!

Rooms at West Yellowstone were well over $200. I saw other RVs parked at the visitor center and tried staying there for the night. Shortly after the police showed up and knocking on doors, telling people they couldn’t stay overnight and had to leave. However the cop that talked to me said there was a truck turnout about a mile outside of town where people could stay, so that’s where I went.

Ironically the Norris campground filled at 11 AM, so had I left Jackson at a normal time I could’ve made it in time to snag a spot.

Monday

I ventured back into the park, people, people, everywhere!  I think the weekday crowd was worse than the weekend crowd, maybe the rain forecast put people off. I stopped at several geyser spots and the Grand Prismatic Spring. That thing was huge, and had so many people queued up for it. The size and color and spectacle of it all made this trip worthwhile. I took what photos I could, as NPS showed up trying to shoo people along.

The surprising thing about the people were how clueless they were. Here are these geysers and hot springs with ~200 F / 100 C water gurgling out of them. More than a few times I heard somebody say “I wonder how hot the water is?” and immediately stick their hand into the water! Fortunately nobody got scalded that I saw, but I was sure waiting for it.

I spent a while at Old Faithful taking photos of the geysers around there, pretty much all afternoon. I had dinner there and headed back out to West Yellowstone for the night. On the way out I hiked up to the overlook at Grand Prismatic Spring, got decimated by mosquitos, but got some photos above the spring. I highly recommend the overlook, you can actually see the entirety of the spring which is difficult to appreciate from the ground.

Tuesday

Finally decided I had seen enough and it was time to head home. But first I wanted to head up to Bozeman, Montana for giggles, partially because the Yellowstone show was set there, and I wanted to see the area again. I was also last there in 2010 during the migration of Jordan from Boston to Seattle, we passed through there on I-90. Big Sky was a lie, it’s in a valley between mountains, Bozeman totally had bigger skies. I got there, visited some stores, and turned around for the long drive home.

Coming down through Idaho Falls, then Blackfoot on the interstate I felt my truck suddenly lose power. I smashed on the gas and it barely accelerated, and after a minute of losing speed, the engine died. It felt like when my catalytic converter burned up, huh. I coasted to a stop on the shoulder. I still had battery and could crank the engine, so I felt like it wasn’t the battery or alternator. I suspected a fuel pump, as that’s how it behaved when it died before.  So at 4 PM I called up AAA for a tow, just in time to make it to a mechanic before they closed for the night.  I asked the tow driver where to go, he suggested a place down in Pocatello.

We dropped off the truck at the mechanic right as they were closing. Funnily one of the mechanics had lived in Fremont and Hayward back in the 80s. He took me over to a Motel 6 where I spent the night.

Wednesday

I waited around all day at the motel, mostly sleeping. The shop said it was indeed the fuel pump, it’d be about $700 to fix, and should have it done by end of day.

Finally at 5 PM they called to say it was done, so I picked it up and got back on the road. This time I wasn’t so gung ho to get home, I was tired and just wanted to get it over with. I drove the remaining 770 miles home in one shot, finally getting home around 5 AM Thursday morning.

Epilogue

It was a long trip and tiring trip, but I got over 600 photos and an hour of video out of it and filled in some of my US “places travelled” map. I highly recommend reserving a campsite in the park, I underestimated just how huge the park it is and it was a lot of unnecessary driving in/out. I certainly don’t recommend driving up from Jackson, start from West Yellowstone, it’s a lot closer to the main attractions of the park.

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