Molten Glass Christmas Tree

One of my favorite events of the Holiday Season is the Cedars Open Studios Tour. The Cedars is a neighborhood of Dallas south of downtown and is an up-and-coming area. It still has some relatively low cost space and a lot of artists use the neighborhood as studio space (we’ll see how long this lasts – gentrification is a bitch).

In November, the studios open up on one evening for the Cedars Open Studios TourFacebook Link. It’s a fun event and a great way to get some unique Christmas Presents. I always do the tour with some friends on a bicycle, but I guess it would be OK to drive a vehicle, park, and walk. Look for it next year.

The final stop is always Bowman Art Glass (a way-cool place). They have a tree-shaped armature out front. After sunset, they do a skit or two, then, in the dark, the workers bring ladles of hot glass out from the ovens inside and pour the molten liquid over the armature. This makes a glass Christmas Tree.

Glass Christmas Tree at Bowman Art Glass, The Cedars, Texas

Glass Christmas Tree at Bowman Art Glass, The Cedars, Texas

There is always some wood and paper in the armature so the hot glass starts fires.

The only problem is that is is almost impossible to take good photos – the darkness and the contrast of the bright hot glass, plus the large crowd gathered around. But it is a blast and fun to watch. Next year… bet there or be square.

Pouring molten glass onto the Christmas Tree

Pouring molten glass onto the Christmas Tree

They Are So Rusty, So Ugly, So Meaningless And Feeble

“And when at last you find someone to whom you feel you can pour out your soul, you stop in shock at the words you utter— they are so rusty, so ugly, so meaningless and feeble from being kept in the small cramped dark inside you so long.”
― Sylvia Plath, The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath

It wasn’t very long ago, April of this year, to be exact, that I stumbled across the idea of a USB Dead Drop. The concept is simple. You install a mostly-blank usb thumb drive somewhere out in public, where folks can stop by and leave files – anything they want.

It’s called a Dead Drop because it has roots in the sort of activity a spy might do – a secret spot where two people can exchange information without actually meeting. One leaves it behind, the other picks it up.

This is like that, except digital… and public. The idea is that people can do anonymous file sharing. It’s a low-tech peer to peer file sharing system that has a physical component – you actually have to go to the place to drop off and/or pick up a file.

If this seems silly or useless to you, don’t worry – it is. However, to me it is an irresistible attraction.

I checked the database and found one dead drop that was active in my city – visited it, and exchanged a few files (nothing earth-shattering… nothing even interesting, really).

But that wasn’t enough. I had a couple cheap old thumb drives, so I put a couple out myself. One in the creekbottom woods not far from where I live, the other on a bridge across the Trinity south of downtown.

The one in the woods didn’t last a week. I wasn’t surprised, there are a lot of teenagers running around there. Someone pried it out of the concrete and I haven’t bothered to replace it.

But I haven’t been able to check the Love Lock Dead drop on the Santa Fe Trestle Trail. For a long time, the water was so high I couldn’t get to it. And since then the few times I’ve been down there I was riding in a group and didn’t want to hold everybody up while I checked.

So, finally I had time to ride my bike there and it was still good. It’s a little orange USB stick riveted to a red lock along the bridge railing. There’s a whole bunch of love locks there, places where people put their names on a lock and attach it to the steel.

I had brought my tablet and adapter cable, so I was able to check out the USB. It was still good – still working.

The only disappointing part is that it didn’t have anything new on it. Nobody seems to want to go through the trouble of lugging digital stuff that far out into the boonies.

Well, that’s how it goes. You can lead a horse to water…..

Checking my USB Dead Drop on the Santa Fe Trestle Trail.

Checking my USB Dead Drop on the Santa Fe Trestle Trail.

Love Locks lined up on the bridge of the Santa Fe Trestle Trail, Dallas, Texas

Love Locks lined up on the bridge of the Santa Fe Trestle Trail, Dallas, Texas

What I learned this week, August 7, 2015

Bikes locked up in front of Parkway, New Orleans, Louisiana

Bikes locked up in front of Parkway, New Orleans, Louisiana


The New Orleans Restaurant Bounce, After Katrina


Woman writing in a Moleskine Notebook, Wichita, Kansas

Woman writing in a Moleskine Notebook, Wichita, Kansas


Why Keeping a Daily Journal Could Change Your Life


Magazine Street, New Orleans

Magazine Street, New Orleans


Why Are Bicycle Sales Declining (for the 14th year)?


hamburger


Top 10 Restaurants in Dallas, TX

I don’t know if these are really the “top ten” – it tends to list middle-road sandwich places – but there are some interesting choices here.



British artist Richard Long has given us his ‘Dallas Rag’

I absolutely have to go see this.



The Myth of Big, Bad Gluten



Why Eating Fresh, Just-Caught Fish May Be a Thing of the Past

Actually, this seems like a way to drive the “little guy” out of the marker – who can afford that sort of ultra-freezer?



Wind/Pinball: Two novels

Murakami baby!


One of my favorite things ever is riding in the monthly Dallas Critical Mass ride. It runs from Main Street Garden Park in Downtown Dallas to a different, usually secret, destination – the last Friday of every month. To find out more, check out the Facebook Page.

Here’s a nice video of the last one – which ended up at a party (DJ, ice cream truck, keg, tamales) in the Sheep Barn at Dallas Fair Park.

The month before, June, was epic in that the ride was caught in a massive thunderstorm and we had to take refuge under the overhang of Dallas City Hall.

Here’s a 8X speeded up version of the ride.

And, if you have the patience to sit through it, is the whole thing.

Love Lock Dead Drop

I wanted to put out another USB Dead Drop.

When I stopped by the local electronics store to pick up a replacement for the USB drive that I used in my Spring Creek Nature Trail USB Dead Drop I came across a two-pack of small plastic 8 gig USB drives. These looked good for making a Dead Drop and were inexpensive, so I bought the pair.

These have a nice hole in the plastic housing for mounting on a keychain and I had an idea. I took a red plastic padlock I had lying around and drilled a small carefully placed hole. Then I used a washer and a pop rivet to permanently attach the USB drive to the lock.

You see, one of my favorite spots in Dallas is the Santa Fe Trestle Trail. This is an old unused train trestle that has been converted into a biking/pedestrian trail across the Trinity River just south of downtown. People have copied the French Tradition of placing “Love Locks” – padlocks with two names – along the fencing of the bridge.

What a perfect spot for a USB Dead Drop – The Love Lock Dead Drop.

I caught the train down to the Corinth and 8th DART station, rode my bike down the trail to the bridge, and put my lock with attached USB onto the bridge. Easy as pie.

Closeup view of my red padlock - Love Lock USB Dead Drop, on the Santa Fe Trestle Trail bridge.

Closeup view of my red padlock – Love Lock USB Dead Drop, on the Santa Fe Trestle Trail bridge.

Medium view of my red padlock - Love Lock USB Dead Drop, along with the other locks on the Santa Fe Trestle Trail bridge.

Medium view of my red padlock – Love Lock USB Dead Drop, along with the other locks on the Santa Fe Trestle Trail bridge.

Distant view of the Santa Fe Trestle Trail in Dallas. My Love Lock USB Dead Drop is on the bridge.

Distant view of the Santa Fe Trestle Trail in Dallas. My Love Lock USB Dead Drop is on the bridge.

USB Dead Drop in the Spring Creek Nature Area

The other day I wrote about Dead Drops – places where people have put USB thumb drives out into the public for others to place and exchange data files. There was one in Exposition Park here in Dallas that I visited and took a look at the files within.

Really, if you don’t understand why this is an interesting (as opposed to good) idea, I don’t think I can explain it. But I found it fascinating.

Oh, one hint right off the bat… if you are interested in USB Dead Drops – get a simple USB extension cable. There are all these photos with folks shoving their laptops up to the wall – that seems crazy to me. Digging around my stuff at home – I found two cables that I already had. One of these will make life easier.

The next step, of course, was for me to put one out myself. I started thinking about a good location. I didn’t want to put it in a wall that belonged to someone or that was public property… that seems too much like vandalism. As I thought about it – I realized I wanted to place Dead Drops in more remote locations – places where people wouldn’t stumble across them, but where they could be reached easily. I also wanted to find a place where I could check it fairly regularly. When you look at the Dead Drop Database – so many of them are missing, broken, or vandalized (people are such assholes). I’ll try to keep mine repaired… as best as I can.

There are a lot of web pages with instructions on how to place a USB Dead Drop, but I was most interested in an Instructable on how to Create a USB Dead Drop in Nature.

After thinking about it, I remember an old abandoned concrete bridge piling along the concrete hiking/biking trail that runs through the Spring Creek Nature Area. That would be perfect. Nobody could accuse me of vandalizing a huge hunk of ancient abandoned concrete in the middle of the woods. It is, however, right off the trail and would be easy to get to.

That complex of trails is only a few miles from my house and is my most common recreational cycling route – so I can keep tabs on the drop. The only downside is that those woods are popular with kids and they are the ones most likely to discover and destroy my drop – but that’s something I’ll have to risk.

The first step was to prepare the USB. I dug around and found a cheap, generic, 4 GB drive – a local electronics store sells these at a very low price.

Cheap Generic USB Drive for Dead Drop.

Cheap Generic USB Drive for Dead Drop.

With some pliers, I pried off the plastic case to minimize the size.

Innards of the USB drive.

Innards of the USB drive.

Then I wrapped the electronics in Teflon tape – for insulation from the sealant I would use to set the thing.

Drive wrapped in tape.

Drive wrapped in tape.

Most people use fast-setting cement, but I thought I’d go with adhesive sealer – mostly because I had a tube around the house. I put a readme.txt and the deadrops.txt on the drive, along with a PDF of a story I wrote and a couple other little things. I packed the drive, the glue, and a chisel onto my bike and set off.

Stuff used to install a USB Dead Drop.

Stuff used to install a USB Dead Drop.

The place seemed to be as good as I had supposed. There was a hole in the concrete, I enlarged it a bit until most of the drive fit in. I glued it in with the adhesive, packing in some pebbles around for filler.

It only took a couple of minutes. Then I took three photos:

The concrete pillar off the trail where I put the Dead Drop USB.

The concrete pillar off the trail where I put the Dead Drop USB.

A medium view of the USB Dead Drop off the trail.

A medium view of the USB Dead Drop off the trail.

Close up view of the USB Dead Drop mounted in the concrete.

Close up view of the USB Dead Drop mounted in the concrete.

Then I put it on the Dead Drops database to help someone find the drop. Here’s the description I put on the Dead Drops site:

Spring Creek Nature Trail is a concrete bike/pedestrian trail in a beautiful bit of thick creekbottom woods south of Renner Road, just East of US75 in Richardson, Texas.

The USB is right off the Spring Creek Nature Trail. It is in the side of an old concrete railroad trestle just to the west of the DART train overhead – which is just west of Routh Creek Parkway between Glenville and Renner. If you are walking, you can park at Renner and US75 and follow the trail into the woods. When you reach the DART train overhead, turn and you can see the concrete trestle, right off the concrete trail. Walk down to it and the USB is glued to the North side, in the center.

Here’s the location on Google Maps.

Now I wait. It will be interesting if anyone visits the thing.

USB Dead Drop

I have been sort-of interested in… and planning to write about the idea of guerrilla publishing – using modern technology to distribute text in new and unusual ways. In that vein, one day I was surfing around this internet thing and stumbled across an article entitled Dead Drops: What To Do If You See A USB Stick Sticking Out Of A Wall.

This seemed very interesting to me, so I researched the whole idea some more. What you do is leave a USB thumb drive in a public place – like cemented into a wall – with the business end sticking out. Then people can come by and drop off any files they want. The term “Dead Drop” comes from the spy world – where information is dropped off to be picked up by someone else.

There are plenty of problems with this: the USB drive is susceptible to thievery or vandalism, there is the possibility of a virus or other software attack, and finally is the simple uselessness and strangeness of the idea.

These seem surmountable objections to me, so I’m working on plans to put out my own USB Dead Drop.

In the meantime, I wanted to explore the idea further. There is a website with a database, and I found a working Dead Drop here in Dallas. It is in a wall in Exposition Park and was placed there as part of an art project.

Dead Drop, The red arrow points to the USB drive mounted in the wall.

Dead Drop, The red arrow points to the USB drive mounted in the wall.

The USB drive sticking out of the wall.

The USB drive sticking out of the wall.

So today, after a fun bike ride around White Rock Lake and to a local Taco Place, I headed on down toward Fair Park to visit the Dead Drop. It was very easy to find.

In order to protect myself from a possible virus, I used a cheap Android Tablet that I carry with a portable keyboard to write with while I’m on my bike. It has a three-headed USB cable that I usually use for a keyboard and mouse.

My tablet hooked up to the Dead Drop USB. It was very hard to see in the bright sunlight.

My tablet hooked up to the Dead Drop USB. It was very hard to see in the bright sunlight.

It hooked up easily to the USB mounted in the wall. The one problem was that the screen was very difficult to see in the bright Texas sunlight – I kept having to retreat to a shady spot to figure out what I was doing.

There wasn’t much on the thumb drive – three odd images (no porn, surprisingly), a long politically charged video, and a PDF written by someone recovering from a broken relationship.

I wanted to leave something behind, so I copied a PDF – a four page short story that I had written (I didn’t include my name) onto the thumb drive and chose an odd image to add to the ones already there. Someone parked on the street right next to me as I was finishing up – the woman gave me an odd look. I’m sure she was very confused about this weird guy standing on the sidewalk with a tablet hooked up to the wall with a cable.

So no big deal… Now I need to stop by the computer store and buy a thumb drive…. I have an idea where I want to put the thing.