737 Reef

I love flying and scuba diving, so it would seem only natural that I’d like this.

It’s a cool idea, yet somehow still very sad. 

Of course, much like Homer crying as he eats the last buffalo, I’ll still dive the wreck.

I don’t know how airliners are supposed to die.  It sucks to see them cut up, parted out, melted down, sunk, or relegated to a dusty museum or boneyard.

Basically, I think all airplanes should always remain airworthy and be flown by people who love them.

See?  This is why I could never leaseback an airplane.  Too much attachment.

Hey, here’s a cool idea:  sink a few planes, and build an entire airport under water!  It would be especially neat if you could put a few seaplanes down there.  Lord knows there are already enough of them under water, all you’d have to do is collect them into one place.

Foo Fighters Good; Sony Bad

Some of the most relaxing moments of the San Carlos dive trip were had during surface intervals on the boat. A ‘surface interval’ is a period of time spent on the surface in between dives. This time allows the body to naturally rid itself of excess nitrogen accumulated while breathing compressed air at depth. Without an appropriate surface interval, a diver runs the risk of having this nitrogen come out of solution in the blood and form bubbles which can cause pain, vomiting, paralysis, and even death.

Anyway, our surface intervals were typically in the 60-90 minute range. We’d use the time to eat lunch, fish, and just relax. Well one day, David put the new Foo Fighters CD, In Your Honor, in the boat’s CD player. It’s a two disc set — one hard rock, one acoustic. The acoustic side was just mellow enough to fit perfectly with that quiet contemplative time out on the water. I really loved it and made a mental note to pick up the album once we got back to the States.

I finally got around to it today, and the first thing I did was rip it to my hard drive so Retrospect could back it up tonight along with the rest of my data. Few people back up CDs for disaster recover purposes, but who among us hasn’t scratched a CD just enough to turn it into a $14.99 coaster? I also use the local copy to free myself from having to schlep the CD back and forth between the car and house.

So much for simple plans. I discovered that Sony uses a copy protection scheme on the album which prevents the listener from burning an archival copy of the CD. The technology, from Sunncomm International, is called MediaMax. It stops rippers (I tried Winamp, Easy Media Creator, Nero, and Media Player) from doing the deed. Some may appear to rip the tracks, but when you listen to them they skip incessantly.

Got an iPod or use iTunes? Then you’re out of luck, too. As Sunncomm explains it, “Apple’s proprietary technology doesn’t support secure music formats other than their own, and therefore the secure music file formats on this disc can’t be directly imported into iTunes or iPods.” You’re essentially limited to using Windows Media Player or another ‘secure’ player that MediaMax can get its claws into.

Needless to say, this stinks. Thankfully, J. Alex Halderman at Princeton University has dissected the MediaMax copy protection system and found an easy way around it.

Basically, MediaMax works by installing a proprietary driver as soon as the CD is inserted. This driver not only prevents ripping of protected content, but won’t even allow said content to be played unless the appropriate licenses are present. So disabling the copy protection is as simple as a) disabling the MediaMax driver, and b) ensuring the Windows auto-play functionality doesn’t have a chance to reinstall it.

For the nitty gritty, check out Halderman’s site. The instructions were stone simply and only took me 30 seconds to accomplish. Since then, I’ve been able to rip, archive, and play the Foo Fighters CD as though the copy protection scheme never existed. Because as far as my computer is concerned, it never did.

To the best of my knowledge, circumventing MediaMax neither immoral or illegal. I’m simply making an archival copy for my own use, and not doing anything I could’t do by simply carrying the CD around with me wherever I go. Reverse engineering the MediaMax software is prohibited by the license agreement, but then, I never agreed to it. And even if I had, I’m not reverse engineering anything. I’m simply removing a driver from my system — something I’d want to do anyway. Windows gets so cluttered up with needless software that it slows boot up times and consumes precious memory. Efficiency and security both dictate that any services not absolutely required for operation be disabled or downright removed from Windows.

If I’d known this copy protection junk was on the album, I never would have bought it in the first place. I love the music, but at the end of the day my money went to support — and therefore encourage — Sony’s adoption of intrusive software which prevents me from using music I paid for in ways which are completely legal.

…Down Mexico Way

I’m back from Mexico and can report that no animals were harmed in the making of this dive trip. No non-human animals, at least. Er… well, we did catch quite a few trigger fish during the surface intervals, but I don’t count those because they make for such tasty ceviche.

I’ve got quite a few pictures to post in the photo gallery, but I’ll whet your appetite with some highlights.

The new Schulz house in San Carlos is really something to behold. I’d estimate the size to be more than 3,000 square feet. Newly constructed on the side of a hill overlooking the bay, this pad is equipped with a home theatre, high speed internet access, a gourmet kitchen, and is furnished so smartly that it looks like something out of a Pottery Barn catalogue:

Living room

The house sits atop a hill about 150 feet above the water level. Here’s a photo I snapped on our last day of diving as the boat re-entered San Carlos Bay:

Exterior as seen from the harbor

One of my favorite rooms was the TV room. Or, if you prefer, “home theatre”. Equipped with a big screen TV, satellite hookup, surround sound, leather sofas, and a wet bar for those times when you get hungry for a liquid snack:

Home theatre

Here’s one photo I took on the patio during a typical Mexican sunset. The ever-present towering cumulonimbus clouds can be seen in the background. They do get some spectacular thunderstorms down there; mother nature is in charge and she never lets you forget it. Keep in mind that this image is not retouched or edited:

A typical sunset at Casa de Schulz

It’s not all fun and games. The mosquitos came out en mass every morning and evening. Without bug spray you’d be eaten alive. Not to mention the heat and humidity, which can be far more oppressive than anything you’ll find in Arizona or Florida. But that’s the way Mexico is, and once you adopt what I call a ‘tropical mindset’, it becomes more like a relaxing sauna you can just melt into. Anyway, it’s tough to convey a real sense of what it’s like standing on that deck watching the sun set over San Carlos Bay, but this panoramic will give you a general idea (click on the image to zoom in):

Panoramic view of San Carlos Bay from the lower deck of the house

For me, the real test of any Mexican residence is how well the shower drain functions. I’ve been to Mexico dozens of times. Rosarito, Cozumel, La Paz, San Carlos, Hermosillo, etc. And in every case, no matter where I’ve stayed, the shower drains clog like the lungs of a three pack a day smoker. It’s irksome because I have this thing about showers. See, I like to use them to get clean. But that can be tough to do when you’re standing in a tepid pool of filthy water. This time, however, the drains ran clear for the entire week. A Festivus miracle!

The diving was great — how could it not be when you’ve got a pimped out 38′ boat and a dozen college friends as part of the deal? I’m happy to say I’m one of the few who was in the water for every single dive, even after late evenings anchored by Cuervo 1800.

One dive sticks out as particularly memorable. Due to some unfortunate currents, four of us — all highly experienced — ended up marooned on a rock for half an hour while the boat shuttled around to pick up divers who’d been carried off by the water. Lounging on the rock wasn’t so bad, but eventually we had to jump back in and make a 50 yard surface swim through waters peppered with the dreaded Portuguese Man-of-War.

The craziest thing from the trip was actually an article from the August issue of Outside Magazine about an airline pilot named Dave Shaw. Shaw liked to dive — deep. He set a world record by reaching a depth of 927 feet in a South African freshwater cave called Bushman’s Hole. For those of you who don’t dive, recreational divers are supposed to limit themselves to about 60 feet. Even highly experienced divers rarely pass 100 feet. By the time you reach 300 feet, air is no longer breathable because under that much pressure it becomes toxic to the human body. A man-made mixture of helium, nitrogen, and oxygen must be used instead. Anyway, I won’t give away what happened to Shaw, but you can read the article here.

The coming and going from Mexico was interesting. First of all, one of our divers has been in Mexico City for the past few months and decided to travel to San Carlos the cheap way, via bus. It took Seth more than 36 hours. Read all about it.

I thought he was crazy to be traveling by bus, especially since I made the savvy decision to go by air. Yeah right. It took me 36 hours to get home! Which is especially maddening when you consider that my conveyance was travelling at 500 mph, more than 10 times the speed of Seth’s taco bus.

Here’s what happened. First of all, the America West Dash-8 was about four hours late getting to Guaymas to pick us up. There was some sort of mechanical delay in Phoenix. Then, we dodged thunderstorms all the way to Phoenix only to find the airport closed by the weather. We held for more than an hour before diverting to Tuscon, which was totally unprepared for us. We got AW to comp us some lodging, but not before Arnie let off a little steam at a supervisor. The next morning, our flight from Tuscon to Phoenix was late departing, and I barely made my connecting flight to Orange County. Most of the guys on this trip drove, and they made it home in 1/3 the time it took me via America West. The old saying is true: “Time to spare? Go by air!”

There is some talk of diving in Honduras next year. The destination was voted on and unanimously approved over dinner, but virtually everyone at the table was drunk at the time, so who knows. Wherever we end up, I’ve no doubt it’ll be an adventure.

South of the Border…

South of the border, down Mexico way

It’s that time of year again. The annual dive trip to Mexico!

Most of the guys are driving down to San Carlos this time. Personally, I think it’s crazy to spend 16 hours driving across the featureless desert when America West offers daily (though spotty) service to nearby Guaymas. And right out of John Wayne, too! No getting up at 3 am. No fighting the congestion at LAX. No overloaded flights.

I don’t even have to lug my dive gear around. The guys were kind enough to stop by on their way out of town and schlep it down there with them, just as a precaution. None of us has forgotten how America West lost all our dive gear a couple of years ago.

Despite the hassles of air travel, I’m glad to be going this way. It figures that the only two people to insist on flying just happen to be pilots. Arnie and I are going to meet up in Phoenix and plan our Mexican mayhem on the flight down to Guaymas. Hopefully he’ll keep the max depth to less than 200 feet this time. Note to self: next time, get the DAN membership.

Anyway, I’m outta here! See ya next week…

La Paz Recap

I’ve been back from Mexico for a bit, but haven’t had the time to really post anything about the trip until now. Since a picture is worth a thousand words, you can get the gist of things by checking out the photos.

The trip started with an easy non-stop flight from LAX to La Paz. Normally I wouldn’t take note of the flight, but this was a pleasant change from last year’s fiasco in which all our dive gear was lost when we changed planes in Phoenix. America West eventually found the gear and got it to us in San Carlos, but since they only have one flight per day into Guaymas, we had to do our first day of diving with equipment we cobbled together from spare parts floating around the house and boat. We dove in two shifts, which worked well until the computers started going berserk because they thought the same diver was doing back-to-back dives without a surface interval. They locked up (by design), meaning we did most of our dives sans computers.
Continue reading