Camping California

The last few weeks have given us the opportunity to do some camping in and around LA, namely Monte Cristo in the Angeles Forest and a trip to Joshua Tree.joshuatree

Angeles Forest – Monte Cristo

Our first weekend we headed out to the Angeles Forest and spent a night at the Monte Cristo campsite. Campsites are all first come first serve. We got there midday on Saturday and about half the campsites were still available, but by the time sunset came around, the campground was pretty much full.

There’re no rangers at the campsite, so you buy yourself a permit at the entrance, and drop money in the drop-box. There are no ablution facilities besides a couple longdrop toilets which were surprisingly clean. Each site is quite large and has parking for two vehicles. Even though all the sites were full, there’s enough space that you don’t feel people are on top of you. Drinking water taps are shared between adjoining campsites.montecristoThe campsite is nestled nicely in one of the valleys with a river running through it. It is right next to the road, but traffic isn’t that heavy. While the Angeles Forest has plenty of hiking opportunities, none are close enough to the campsite to hike from there. You’ll have to drive to a trailhead before starting a hike.

It was nice to be able to quickly get out of the city and just relax with nothing going on. We didn’t get any cell reception at the campsite itself, adding to the quietness. Angeles Forest has a lot of other campsites which we’re keen to checkout, especially with summer on its way, opening up some of the campsites which were inaccessible during the winter.

Joshua Tree – Joshua Tree Lake

The next week, we headed out early on Friday and drove out to Joshua Tree. Joshua Tree has a mix of reservation and first come, first serve campgrounds. The reservations were full weeks before, and only arriving late on Friday afternoon, we decided to play it safe and camped just outside Joshua Tree at a private campground, Joshua Tree Lake.joshtreelakeThe campsite is quite close to the West Entrance Station of Joshua Tree, which never closes, so you can head into the park whenever it suits you. Joshua Tree Lake has a mixture of campsites and RV spots. The campsites aren’t demarcated, so you just find a spot where there’s space. It wasn’t particularly busy so we chose a spot without anyone nearby. Barrel fires and camping tables are provided, although if it gets very busy, I doubt there’re enough for everyone.

Being in a dessert environment, there’s no grass for camping, but even with a howling wind the whole time, dust was not an issue. Ablutions were clean and showers are also provided.joshtreelakepanoWe spent Saturday in the north end of the park, hiking Ryan Mountain and Lost Horse Mine. All the trailheads have limited parking, and in the busy spring, you’re not guaranteed a spot. We were lucky though, arriving early enough at Ryan Mountain that there were open spaces, and getting lucky at Lost Horse Mine that we arrived as another vehicle was leaving.

Neither hike was particularly difficult. Ryan Mountain is a straight up, straight back down route that is quite popular and offers good views from a central location. Lost Horse Mine was a flatter and longer loop. It goes past an old gold mine, and some of the buildings still remain there for you to see.


My wife has apparently been here before.

Before heading back to our campsite we decided to drive out to Keys View. It’s well worth it, with spectacular views into the Coachella Valley, spanning as far as the Salton Sea. We considered doing a section of the Geology Tour Road, but it’s marked 4×4 only, and although some of it is supposedly accessible to two wheel drive vehicles, we didn’t feel like risking getting stuck in the sand.

On Sunday we drove all the way through the park towards Cottonwood Springs. It was pretty amazing seeing the vegetation change from the Joshua Tree packed Mojave Desert in the North, to the Colorado Desert in the South. We did a short hike up to Mastodon Peak, which again offered good views.


Lost Horse Mine

While we knew Joshua Tree was popular, we didn’t have major expectations, which resulted in an amazing trip. I don’t know if it was just the recent rains, but the park offers stunning scenery with many hikes and other points of interest to keep you busy. We stopped off at Hidden Valley to watch some of the rock climbers do their thing too at some of the world famous routes too.

California has camp grounds everywhere you look, so we’re looking forward to doing some more exploring in the future.


Wikipedia article not indexed

Recently I’ve been doing some freelance writing for various people via the online service UpWork. For the most part these have been product reviews of some kind, with odd jobs in between. Recently I had the opportunity to create a Wikipedia article for a musician.

In the past I have on occasion made corrections to Wikipedia pages, but never created a new one before, so it’s been interesting to see the whole process and learn all the checks and balances that Wikipedia tries to employ.

By Wikimedia Foundation – Wikimedia Foundation, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Wikipedia is constantly barraged with new articles, some worthy, some not so much. An army of well-respected Wikipedia users man the front, patrolling new articles, marking them for deletion, offering improvement advice, and in some small cases, approving the articles. The problem is, everyone thinks they deserve a Wikipedia page, but that often isn’t true.

Wikipedia has a number of guidelines for what it terms, notability. Especially when it comes to living persons, notoriety helps determine whether someone is deserving of a Wikipedia page. It’s also frowned upon to create your own Wikipedia page, or to even create one for someone else, with the expectation that you place such information into comments when creating a new page (see conflict of interest).

Regardless of all this, I set about learning all this information and creating a new page for this person. Wikipedia has created a Draft space for articles. It means you can create a page, work on it for as long as you want, and then submit it for approval through the articles for creation process. During this time, the site is live, but is not part of the normal Wikipedia Article space. So other’s can see and edit the page, but it isn’t listed within Wikipedia. The goal of the Draft article is to help people build a proper Wikipedia page, before it’s made live.

So this is what I did. Over several days I successively built up a Wikipedia entry for the artist, and when I was happy with the content and references, I submitted it for review as a draft. Here a draft can either be approved (which will make it live), or rejected. In my case the page was reviewed, and a user suggested that I require further references.

So I went and found further references, updated the comments and waited. But now the article falls into a major backlog that both Drafts submitted for approval and live Articles fall into. There are too many pages for the moderators to get through them all. Usually articles which are made live, or which request approval go to the top of a list, get reviewed and life goes on. But now my article was stuck in the backlog, never to be reviewed again.

So I took the power granted to every user, and made the page Live myself. Usually when an Article is made live, it will go to the top of a new list of new pages. But because my article had been created two weeks earlier, it fell into the backlog of another round of moderation, called the new pages patrol. This isn’t a major problem. An article doesn’t have to be patrolled to go live. So the article was live, you could link to it within Wikipedia, and it came up in Wikipedia searches. However if a page is not patrolled, it cannot be archived by Google, or other search engines.

This was a problem. At first I couldn’t figure out what was actually wrong, and eventually came across an article which showed that an article had to be patrolled before indexing is allowed. Fortunately the people who made these rules recognize some of the shortcomings of Wikipedia, and if an article isn’t approved after 30 days, it can start to be indexed.

30 days later, the page still hasn’t been patrolled, but it now shows up when you search for the artist on Google. It’s been a fun project, and makes me appreciate the tens of thousands of people involved in the Wikipedia project, I Just don’t understand where they find the time.

PS: It’s still possible that the page I created will be patrolled at some stage. Hopefully by then the page would have grown a bit and the artist would have built up a bit more notability (he was in a grey area when it comes to this).

More Particle Internet Button Projects

I posted a few months ago about the Particle Internet Button I’m playing with (link). I’ve created another 2 projects in the mean time.

Adjustable Timer

The first is an adjustable timer. The lights on the Internet Button are used to indicate 30s steps, ranging from 30s to 5min. When it turns on you specify the length of time you want to run it for by either increasing or decreasing the steps. When running the 30s that are currently active flashes. At the end of the time, the Internet Button beeps and flashes red. It can be easily adjusted and reset.

particle timer

Left: select length of time
Right: Timer running

I made this back in November, but actually had a problem with it that I couldn’t figure out. I had intended to post to the Particle forums for help but never got round to it. I had in the mean time uploaded the offending code to Github. I recently reinvestigated the code with the intention of this post, and found that someone else had found my code, and solved my problem, so thanks to Github user mseneshen. Working code can be found here: source


The second project was a set of dice. Playing Catan and having people complain about how there were no 3s rolled in a game gets old, so why not create a set of dice that keep track of this and tell you facts. Apps are available for this, but then the screen turns off and it becomes a hassle. So I wrote some code to mimic a set of dice.

particle dice

Left: Dice being rolled
Right: Dice have been rolled

To roll the dice you gently shake the Internet Button sideways. The code randomly generates two numbers between 1 and 6, adds them, and outputs them by lighting up the appropriate number of LEDs. To make it easier to read, LEDs are colour coded in groups of 3. The Internet Button only has 11 LEDs, so I if a 12 is rolled, the 11th LED changes colour. Because a 1 is never rolled, I could have used that LED, but it seemed less intuitive. Also, because we play Catan, if a 7 is rolled, all the lights go red.

The whole time the dice are running, a tally is kept of how many times each number is rolled. At any time you can click a button and a distribution is published to the console. I might update this later to automatically graph the data and tweet it, but haven’t tried that yet.

When I first tested the code, I was getting reproducible random numbers, so I introduced a seed from one of the analogue pins which appears to have solved that problem. Because it uses an accelerometer to trigger a throw, when it is on it’s side, gravity is enough to trigger a throw and allows me to get thousands of throws without destroying my wrists.

Some plotted results can be seen here, with actual roll percentage (bars) vs statistical roll percentage (dots).

Code is available here: source

Temperature and Altitude

I recently bought an Adafruit BMP180 that I’m trying to get running with the Internet Button. Will post details once it’s active.

New SA Traffic Laws 2017

Recently in the news there has been some talk about new intended traffic laws. According to this article they are supposed to come into effect on 11 May 2017.  The laws are:

  • Bakkie drivers may not transport children in the back.
  • Bakkie drivers may not transport more than 5 people in the back
  • Heavy goods vehicles will be speed limited by weight, and require a sticker indicating the speed

This is going to happen. It has been published in the government gazette. Further laws that they wish to implement at a later stage, but have no due date, include:

  • Practical driving re-evaluation when renewing licence
  • Re-examine K53 (update it)
  • Lowering of speed limits in certain areas.
  • Goods vehicles with GVM > 9 tons banned during peak hours.

These laws were first discussed in 2015, but similar to the laws the DoT tried to pass in 2011, have been very poorly communicated to the public, and with any luck will be reconsidered. Both the laws that are changing and the proposed ones were published in the Government Gazette of 11 May 2015. And the Justice Project South Africa submitted some excellent commentary. To what it seems was mainly deaf ears.

I wanted to find more information about these topics, so tried looking around a bit. I first went to the eNATIS website, but their news page was returning a 404 error. The Department of Transport website didn’t go to their homepage (first google result), but asked me for login details. After getting to their proper home page, I couldn’t find any info on any upcoming changes to the NRTA. I then looked through Arrive Alive’s website and couldn’t find any news, and my browser warned me that the AA’s website was untrustworthy.

Let’s look at what’s been published though. On 11 November 2016, the 24th amendment to the NRTR was published in the Government Gazette, it had some definition changes, but ultimately the important parts were that as of 6 months after the Gazette was published, the following will come into effect. paraphrased:

school children may not be conveyed in the goods compartment of a motor vehicle for reward on public roads.

No one may be conveyed in the goods compartment of a motor vehicle for reward unless complying with NTLA provisions.

The amendment also immediately specified the inclusion of the following vehicles into the category not allowed to travel more than 100kmph, paraphrased:

vehicles between 3.5 and 9 tons

So what does all this mean? Basically what I put in the first half of this article. It means the law has and is changing. It means that there quite likely will be more changes later on, but there’s no new information.

The DoT really needs to reconsider the laws it’s implementing and take into count the excellent comments they receive back from the public, specifically organisations such as the Justice Project. They also need to do a better job of publicizing changing laws, and not rely on news outlets to publish these details. Very few people read the government gazette, and even fewer can make sense of what gets published.