Year Winding Down

We’re about two weeks out, and at 36″+,  just a little under eight inches shy on precipitation compared to annual normal. Of course, the tree abutting the deck has put on some bulk in the last couple of years, and it’s entirely possible that the current siting of my rain gauge is in tree shadow part of the time. I’m thinking of re-siting it (or even getting a more comprehensive weather thing) in the next year. But that’s a project for another day (month?).

But this year certainly has flown by.

*      *      *

If you saw what I was working on last week, you’ll be pleased to know that I got the sump pit monitor (incorporating a Raspberry Pi, an HC-SR04 Ultrasonic Sensor, and code courtesy of Al Audet) functioning and in place yesterday. The most recent output: “21:06:05,8.0″ – That’s eight centimeters of water above pit low. Eventually I’ll graph some of the data, but right now I’m just happy that it’ll send me a text if the water gets too high. There ware a couple of gotchas in the distributed code that I’ll want to document and get back into the public code base – mostly just comments that need to be in the raspisump.conf file to ensure that configuration items are done properly so that people don’t make the same mistakes I made.

*      *      *

I also got some coffee roasted, applied polish and elbow grease to my dress shoes, had a couple of good days on the elliptical, and finished up the monthly patch cycle of a batch of $FIRM systems (late Saturday night and early Sunday morning). What am I forgetting: that doesn’t seem like enough stuff to fill a weekend. Hmmm, oh, yeah: Shopping. Sending some ZFS filesystem snapshots from a production host to a copy of said host for testing purposes. Email read and responded to. Tickets reviewed, commented upon, and resolved, as appropriate.

*      *      *

Recent Reading: I’ve been re-reading Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon on the phone in dribs and drabs. I use the phone as dead-time reading because I don’t carry the Kindle or any dead trees with me much anymore. At the bedside is Aspirin & Nye’s Myth Alliances, which I’ve apparently had on the shelf for a good long time, and somehow never managed to pick up before. And on the Kindle (also bedside reading) is Joseph Lallo’s Unstable Prototypes. Plus I’ve got a stack of IEEE, ACM, USENIX ;login:, and woodworking magazines to get through one of these days.

*      *      *

Our condolences to the families, friends, and units of these fallen warriors:

  • Sgt. 1st Class Ramon S. Morris, 37, of New York, New York, died Dec. 12, in Parwan Province, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when the enemy attacked his vehicle with an improvised explosive device.
  • Spc. Wyatt J. Martin, 22, of Mesa, Arizona, died Dec. 12, in Parwan Province, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when the enemy attacked his vehicle with an improvised explosive device.


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“A date which will live in infamy”

So said Franklin Delano Roosevelt, President of the United States of America, after the attack at Pearl Harbor by the Japanese. Here is a transcript of his speech, courtesy of GMU. This important historical even seems barely mentioned by big media these days. I was pleased to see that the flags in Maryland are at half staff today to honor those who died in the attack.

*      *      *

Along with finishing up Marcia’s quilting cabinet (see the December 4 post), and getting some house cleaning done, I managed to spend some time working on building a sump pit monitor using the code and recommended hardware from Al Audet’s Raspi-Sump webpage. This useful project came to my attention via the October issue of Linux Journal.

It’s also good fun to find something properly useful to do with my version 1 Raspberry Pi Model B. I recently got a Model B+, so I’m going to have to do something with that, too.

I poked at the project for a while, and geared up a bit for some electronics work (which I’ve not done for a long damn time). This evening, I got it working, and finally grokked the fiddly bits of the config file, which uses the word “distance”, when the word “depth” would be much more useful. I’m also going to rig up a water sensor as a backup: once the sump failed by pumping the water out of the pit, but not out of the house. Yup, a water sensor would be good thing.

But next, I’ll start monitoring to get a sense of how the water ebbs and flows, so that I can tune the variables in the config file properly. I’ve also still got to configure the alerting system.

*      *      *

Our condolences to the families, friends and units of these fallen warriors:

  • Capt. William H. DuBois, 30, of New Castle, Colorado, died on Dec. 1 when his F-16 aircraft crashed near a coalition air base in the Middle East.
  • Staff Sgt. Matthew R. Ammerman, 29, of Noblesville, Indiana, died on Dec. 3, in Zabul Province, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered from small arms fire while conducting a clearing operation.
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A Finished Cabinet

I finished Marcia’s rolling cabinet for quilting supplies late this afternoon. She’s happy with it…

The cabinet

The cabinet

Cabinet drawer for storing templates

Cabinet drawer for storing templates

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Catching Up

The calendar is catching up to the weather, in fact. On Tuesday into Wednesday, we’re due for “wintery mix,” which sounds much nicer than it really is. But 30’s and 40’s for December are just fine. It’s the teens and 20’s that make us cranky, here in Chez Bilbrez.

*      *      *

I’ve got the week “off” – burning some unused hours before I lose them to policy, come the end of the calendar year. Primary focus: finish building Marcia’s rolling cabinet, which is do-able, methinks. Here’s the carcass, much progress:

Marcia's Rolling Cabinet Carcass

Marcia’s Rolling Cabinet Carcass

In the last two days, I’ve got finish on all of the drawers and the body of the carcass. This afternoon, I made the face frame components and attached them. Tomorrow, I’ll sand the face frame and apply finish coats of urethane to the whole thing. Then I can get the hardware attached, and start working on the top and the drawer fronts.

Also on tap for the week: the house needs a deep cleaning, and the basement floor continues to need my attention. We’d like that to be done by the time Marcia’s recovered from her right knee replacement (surgery scheduled for January).

*      *      *

Our condolences to the families, friends, and units of these fallen warriors:

  • Sgt. Maj. Wardell B. Turner, 48, of Nanticoke, Maryland, died on Nov. 24, in Kabul, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when the enemy attacked his vehicle with a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device.
  • Spc. Joseph W. Riley, 27, of Grove City, Ohio, died on Nov. 24, in Kabul, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when the enemy attacked his vehicle with a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device.
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Winter is … What? Over 70 degrees tomorrow?

Yeah. This week we spent a significant amount of time at or below freezing, including a couple of mornings around 20°F. But according to the various forecasts, tomorrow it’s supposed to get up to 73°F. But two days later we’re back down to the deep freeze, with potential snow/sleet on Wednesday. Very weird.

I spent most of this weekend working in the woodshop on drawers and carcass for a rolling storage cabinet for Marcia, to use in her quilting space:

New cabinet for Marcia

New cabinet for Marcia

Most of today was spent laying out and pre-drilling holes for the drawer mounting hardware. Then I’ll finish the drawer bodies and the carcass in an off white. The drawer fronts and trim on the cabinet body (as well as the cabinet top) are going to be made from the pine shelving that I got from Jolene’s yarn shop a few years back.

*      *      *

DoD has reported no new casualties in the last week.

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Jet Lagged in Seattle

That was me. The first five mornings of my seven odd days at LISA’14 in Seattle started between 0400 and 0430 in the morning, as my body insisted it was time to rise and shine. The most fun, though, was the wake-up due to SMS, when our garage door failed to open for Marcia. Turns out the spring catastrophically unsprung itself overnight Sunday night (though Marcia couldn’t figure out the source of that noise until morning). Fortunately, “catastrophically” didn’t include damage to either house or cars. She consulted, then called Overhead Door, who came out and made it all better, for money. Well spent, that.

*      *      *

The LISA conference was useful, educational, and fun.

On Sunday, I partook of two half-day tutorials: Statistics for Ops: Making Sense Out of Data (presented by Kyrre Begnum and Nicole Forsgren Velasquez); and R for Sysadmins (presented  by Jason Maughan and Nicole Forsgren Velasquez). R is a language/environment for statistical computing and visualization. In a nutshell, Sunday was Math Day. And it’s surprising how much more interesting statistics are when I care about the data and results. Using the vast amounts of machine-generated data I collect, I can use freely available tools to baseline and model the behavior of my systems and infrastructure. Why? To catch out-of-the-ordinary trends before they become problems, of course. These two classes also helped me to understand the underpinnings of the other tools that we utilize for monitoring at $FIRM. And, since my goal for LISA is always to spend my time hanging out with and learning from people smarter than I am, it was a very good first day, indeed.

I would have spent more time in the evening sessions, formal and informal, as well as the late-day “hallway track”, but my body for the first three days was done by eight or so in the evening. I’d hang out in the freenode #lisa14 IRC channel, have a bite of supper, and fall asleep in the bedside chair, with the TV running. Party animal, I’m not.

On Monday, I sat in on a full-day training on the topic of Testing Your Automation Code, presented by Nathen Harvey. While Nathen works for Chef, and I use another automation suite for my environment, the principles of test-driven development for operations management are sound and cross the boundaries I need them to cross. I’m learning to be more effective with the tools I’ve chosen, and this training gave me better leverage for planning, execution, and documentation.

Tuesday I was absorbed in the Defending Against the Dark Arts tutorial offered by Branson Matheson. I’ve taken training from Branson previously – he’s primarily a computer and operational security bloke, but with strong cred across a lot of the fields that comprise modern enterprise information technology. This was a first-time-offered course by Branson, which discussed how well-funded offensive actors are driving into and through most organizations. Topics included how to offer organizational training to oppose trivial social engineering attacks, and how to focus on the layered defenses in a manner so as to shorten the time between a successful attack, and the detection thereof. Since the bad guys generally always have access to a successful attack against a vulnerability before there’s a chance (or even a hope) of patching, it’s better to detect and mitigate their presence as quickly as possible as a primary goal. It was an excellent and stimulating day.

That’s the quick survey of my three training days of LISA 14. As a result, I didn’t get to attend any of the other 18 full- and half-day courses offered during the same time span. Sigh. I guess there’s always next year. And this holds doubly true for the second three days of the conference: Talks (vendor and invited), refereed papers, mini-Tutorials, and more: Oh My! The fun kept happening…

Wenesday opened with remarks by Program Chair Nicole  Forsgren Velasquez (you’ll recognize her name from my stats trainings on Sunday). Nicole welcomed us to the more academic (and more crowded) half of LISA14. Attendance is up quite a bit: 1100+ this year. She was followed by opening keynoter Ken Patchett of Facebook, who talked to us about Open Compute and the Changing Data Center. Very interesting stuff, especially (mostly?) to the two or three dozen companies that deploy systems at those scales. Fun to learn about, but way beyond what I can apply in my environment.

Other things I sat in on Wednesday: H. Wade Minter presenting, “You code like a SysAdmin” – on the importance of coding for ops. Dave Cliffe on the topic of “Best Practices when the s*IT hits the fan.” – planning and rehearsing for the inevitable outages. Lunch was spent with the vendors on the expo floor. Caskey Dickson discussing “while (true) do; How hard can it be to keep running” – resilience at the service layer. “LISA Build: Mind. Blown” was presented by Branson Matheson and the rest of the volunteer LISA Build team, who assembled and kept the conference network going for the entire 6 days. Wednesday’s talks wound up with Lars Lehtonen, on the toopic of “Burnout and Ops.”

Thursday’s keynote was by Gene Kim, entitled “DevOps Patterns Distilled: A Fifteen Year Study of High Performing IT Organizations.” Gene is well know in IT circles for a variety of commercial and academic reasons. He talked to us about what makes the best performing IT organizations distinctive. There’s a paper coming (not out yet) that should substantiate much of what he discussed. The rest of my Thursday included: Steven Murawski on “Building PowerShell Commands.” An hour or so sitting at the LOPSA table supporting our community. Finally, Steven Murawski again, on the topic of Windows Desired State Configuration.

On Friday, the talks I sat in on included: Chris Stankaitis on the utility of checklists to enhance human reliability. Ben Rockwood: “I am SysAdmin (and so can you).” Luca Deri describing “High Speed Network Monitoring using ntopng.” Brendon Gregg speaking on Linux Performance Analysis. The capstone of the week was delivered by Courtney Kissler, VP of eCommerce and Store Technologies at Nordstrom. Her conference-closing keynote was an enlightening look at what a large, non-technology firm makes of, and utilizes, from the buzzword-drenched ever-shifting technology sands that our industry is today. Three thumbs up for Courtney!

There were many other events, too: An evening social sponsored by Cambridge Computers that was very pleasant. A conference party at Seattle’s EMP Museum (not Electro-Magnetic Pulse, much to my surprise). Music and art and sci fi and fantasy and horror all in a yummy mix there, in the shadow of the Space Needle. The famed hallway track, where unscheduled and awesome conversations happen nearly around the clock.

It was a superb, if hugely tiring, week of smart people sharing their knowledge and wisdom. I loved it.

*      *      *

Now it’s time to utilize some automation tools to do some Linux patching. Be well.

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Post, pending

I got back from attending LISA 14 – the six day, annual, USENIX Large Infrastructure Systems Administration conference – in Seattle late last night. I’ve not had time to compose my trip report, but I wanted to check in and say, “Hey, y’all.”

I’ll be back in a few days with more to report. I’m back on call, and quite tired. Oh, yeah: tomorrow’s wake-up time is at 0300 as far as my body clock is concerned. Go, me.

*      *      *

Our condolences to the family and friends of Sgt. 1st Class Michael A. Cathcart, 31, of Bay City, Michigan, who died on Nov. 14, in Kunduz Province, Afghanistan, of wounds received from small arms fire while on dismounted combat operations.

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Space, Patch, Read

A number of folks who lack a sense of wonder, a sense of adventure, a … spine, perhaps, are whinging in articles here and there online about how awful it is that Michael Tyner Alsbury died testing a near-space tourist plane. How very risk-averse we’ve become, as a culture. I’d do his job tomorrow, in  a heartbeat, if they’d let me. The wonder and joy of experimentation, research at the edges of what’s possible make life worth living, either personally or vicariously (for those of us too old to but dream). Again, risk vs. reward.

*      *      *

Today I finished patching the rest of my Solaris systems. That’s a good thing, and it came off without a hitch, nothing but the 3 hours of time invested, and I was able to accomplish other tasks while monitoring the patch, live update activation, and reboot processes in other windows. Not the life of Riley, but it’s the one I have.

I should have gotten to mowing the lawns and roasting some coffee, but that didn’t happen, so I’m going to have to squeeze those in during the week ahead.

*      *      *

Recent Reading

I finished reading Cheri Priest’s Dreadful Skin this week. Jack is a changed man. Well, a man changed into … something. Avoiding spoilers when discussing stories like this is hard.

Some of the joy of reading Cherie Priest’s wondrously intense writing is the little surprises in the beginnings that set the mood and reveal bits of joy (and horror). As in a well-done horror film, you can tell from cinematography and music that something scary and terrible is about to happen, but you can’t tell what until it jumps out at you from the shadows. Ms. Priest manages that time and again with her writing. I’ve not read the whole of the Priest canon extant, but so much that I have read contains that power to surprise and delight, even in the darkest of places.

I enjoyed this triptych tale, and when you read it (as you should), I hope that you do too. Note – this is probably not for most of the YA and younger crowd. That said, I’d have probably read it by age 10 or 11 without harm. Highly recommended.

I also finally finished up reading Clarkesworld Magazine, Issue 97. My favorite of the fiction therein was Taxidermist in the Underworld, a grim tale with a twisty happy ending. I can recommend Clarkesworld Magazine without hesitation or reservation – I’ve been a subscriber (at a very reasonable price, mind you) for the last couple of years.

In progress: I’m still reading Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Doubt Factory. I’m finding it harder to get into than I’d hoped. But early impressions are rarely reliable, so I’ll forebear any judgement until I’m done. That’ll be a while, because unless I’m mistaken, I’ll not be through before I leave the book behind for a week while I’m at LISA’14 in Seattle.

On deck: Clarkesworld Magazine, Issue 98.

*      *      *

Our condolences to the family and friends of Cpl. Jordan L. Spears, 21, of Memphis, Indiana, who was lost at sea on Oct. 1* while conducting flight operations in the North Arabian Gulf.

[* DoD says “previously reported”, but I haven’t seen Corporal Spears mentioned in the DoD timeline]

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Patch Sunday, plus Valentine and Banks

A week or two ago, the Oracle quarterly CPU (Critical Patch Updates) notification went out. So I scheduled my Solaris patching for the maintenance day I have: Sundays. The first round went fine today. Next Sunday, I’ll do the rest. Solaris patching is just about the least troublesome thing I have to do. It takes a fair bit of time, but the reversion path on Solaris 10 with the Boot Environment (BE) feature is as safe as houses (well, not houses badly built in an earthquake zone, or ramblers built on slabs on a flood plain, but you know what I mean).

Boot environments enable me to use the ZFS file system tools to make a copy of all the important bits of the operating system, mount that copy, and patch that. Then I can set it to be the new active BE, and reboot. Once done, I test. If all is good, and patching didn’t break things, I move on. If patching breaks things, I simple set the prior BE to active, and reboot again. Then I’m back to the state of the system prior to patching. It’s an excellent feature.

On the home front, I’m still happily running FreeBSD 10 as my main OS. I think there’s an update available, to 10.1, but I’m not going to try for that this evening. I’m tired – I pushed really hard on the exercise front this last week, and my knees ache a bit. No yardwork at all this weekend. The lawns could have stood to be mowed, but next week will be fine for that.

*      *      *

Recent Reading

Today I finished reading Genevieve Valentine’s SF novella, Dream Houses. You may recall my mentioning that Ms. Valentine read from this work at Capclave ’14 a couple of weeks back. It’s a bit eerie reading a story someone wrote, and hearing the words in her voice … wowsers! A note: You can get Dream Houses in eBook format. Mine is an inscribed trade hardcover edition.

I really liked this story. From the opening words straight through to the end, I was hooked – if it had been as long as this week’s second book, I’d be half dead from sleep deprivation. That’s one of the joys of the novella length. You can get the intensity of the short story form, and add in the missing character development that there isn’t room for 3000 words or so. Ms. Valentine has written shorts that I’ve read and enjoyed in Clarkesworld, but Dream Houses gets under the skin. It’s not a happy tale, I’ll give you that much. It seems that many of the novella length stuff I like, isn’t. (See Scalzi’s The God Engines, for example.) I care about Amadis, last of the crew alive on this run to Gliese. I pondered the motivations of the ship’s AI, Capella. I still wonder how many times Capella binge-watched 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Dream Houses is dark, exquisitely crafted, and deeply creepy. I’m going to have to read it again, sooner than later, to get more out of this marvelous confection. Highly Recommended.

A couple of days ago, I finally finished reading Iain M. Banks’s Against a Dark Background. I’ll give you this: If you’d read two or more of the Culture novels, it’s trivial to identify this tome as one by Banks. Against a Dark Background is deeply embedded in the Banks school of SF, but without any of the redeeming (IMO) quirks of humor that spice up the Culture books.

I guess it was one of those weeks, since this book is dark, dark, dark, too. And at about ten times the word count of Dream Houses, it was more of a workout, too, in trade paperback format. More to the point, it was a mental and emotional workout, almost more than I wanted. I very nearly put this book down. And by the end, only the protagonist, Lady Sharrow, continues to be damaged goods. Damn near everyone else is dead. It’s as if this story was Banks doing a dark, humorless SF version of a season of Black Adder. Everyone dies at the end there, too.

I wanted to like Against a Dark Background. I’ve enjoyed all the other SF written by Banks that I’ve laid hands on. The intricacy and attention to detail that are the mark of Banks are present. And in the details of sections here and there throughout, I was hauled into the story, against my will. Oddly, both books this week are about a woman as (eventual) sole survivor, ending badly even so. But while I loved Dream Houses, Against a Dark Background was a slog for me. I keep books I plan on reading again. I have SHELVES full of books I plan on reading again. This book isn’t staying. And that’s a darn shame.

Current reading:

Clarkesworld Magazine: Issue 97. This is my “five free minutes, I’ll read a story on my phone” target. I’ve been a subscriber (through the Kindle store) to Clarkesworld for a couple of years now. The quality and curation of the fiction is superb, the non-fiction is usually interesting and enlightening, and the cover art is awesome. I can always recommend Clarkesworld!

I’ve just started (as in, I’ve finished the prologue) of Paolo Bacigalupi’s newest novel, The Doubt Factory. At Capclave, Paolo referred to this as his “Public Relations Thriller.” I enjoyed The Windup Girl immensely, so I’m please to be able to add this one to my collection. I’ll let you know in a week or two how the ride was.

On Deck:

Unidentified Funny Objects 3, edited by Alex Shvartsman.

*      *      *

Our condolences to the families, friends, and units of these fallen warriors:

  • Lance Cpl. Sean P. Neal, 19, of Riverside, California, died Oct. 23, in Baghdad, Iraq, from a non-combat related incident.
  • Cmdr. Christopher E. Kalafut, 49, of Oceanside, California, died Oct. 24, in Doha, Qatar, of a non-combat related incident at Al Udeid Air Base.
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2014 Garden is done

2014 Garden is done

Yesterday, along with a bunch of lawn work front and back, I put the garden to bed for the year. I’ll probably break out the tiller in a week or two and turn the soil, for good measure. I did get one last batch of assorted (and unexpected) peppers from the maze of weeds, though:

Last of 2104 peppers

Last of 2104 peppers

All told, about 7 hours of yard work yesterday, in utterly lovely weather. Today, I worked inside. More basement floor prep, a bit of cleaning here and there, and I made a pot of spicy turkey chili. Yum.

Recent Reading

I just finished reading Zoe’s Tale by John Scalzi. It was a read that I’d been putting off for a number of years. I knew (in a non-spoilerish sense) that Zoe’s Tale was a revisit of the events from Scalzi’s The Last Colony, told from the PoV of Zoë Boutin-Perry. My problem is that I’m still tired of most retells, more than two decades after I read most of Piers Anthony’s Incarnations of Immortality series. On the other hand, I really enjoy just about everything that Scalzi has written. So when a copy found its way into my hands while I was in the Dealers Room at Capclave last weekend … the time had arrived.

Like most good YA speculative fiction these days, Zoe’s Tale involves young adults in substantial trials and tribulations, and not all ends well for all participants. So, realism: check. That said, Scalzi works hard at a consistent voice as well as honest growth and reactions from his young protagonist. While it’s a bit much to put the politics and martial fate of a big chunk of the galaxy in one set of hands, the plot makes utter sense in the context of the byplay of the preceding three novels in the Old Man’s War series. That an extraordinary young woman rises to, and above the occasion … well, it could happen. Youth are unrestrained by the cynicism and can’t-do attitudes that affect so many of their elders.

If, perchance, you’ve read Old Man’s War, and the others of the series, but skipped Zoe’s Tale for any reason, it’s time to give in and read the book. I cared about the characters, and their fates. That matters to me in a good book. Recommended.

Reading in progress (still): Against a Dark Background by Iain M. Banks. On deck: Genevieve Valentine’s Dream Houses.

*      *      *

No new casualties were announced by DoD in the last week.

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