Last of the eighties

At least, one may hope that we’re now done with high temperatures for the year. Both weekend days have got to 80 or thereabouts. I managed some yardwork yesterday, and a washing of the car today. Certainly not an interesting weekend by any stretch of the imagination.

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Recent Reading –

Terry Pratchett’s Raising Steam

In this latest Discworld book, pTerry brings back Moist von Lipwig and Harry King as chief protagonists in this tale of steam locomotives. Aided by The Patrician, The Low King, and an unexpectedly large assist from the recently ascendant goblins, von Lipwig battles extraordinary logistics problems and a recidivist dwarvish community who lay most of their problems at the feet of Ankh Moorpark and upon Moist’s head as an accessible and vulnerable symbol thereof.

Self-taught engineer Dick Simnel solves the most fatal of issues with steam engines, and ushers in a new future on the Disc, and in doing so brings a host of problems to the surface as well. Harry King (at first) and Moist von Lipwig (shortly thereafter, following the usassailable logic provided by Lord Vetinari) guide and protect Mister Simnel along the path (one might say, rails) that Vetinari wants and needs.

Initially distinct plots quickly coalesce into a fast, absorbing and rollicking read that held me right on through the book. As usual with the work of the estimable Mister Pratchett, Highly Recommended.

Unidentified Funny Objects 2, edited by Alex Shvartsman

From the editorial submission page: “We’re looking for speculative stories with a strong humor element. Think Resnick and Sheckley, Fredric Brown and Douglas Adams.  We welcome quality flash fiction and non-traditional narratives. Take chances, try something new, just make sure that your story is funny.”

I met Alex Shvartsman at Capclave last year, and picked up a copy of Unidentified Funny Objects 2 from him. I finally dug out my stack of reading material from that event, and quickly found myself absorbed in this excellent anthology of new, original works by such authors as Silverberg, Liu, Reznick, Hines, Nye, and fourteen others. I smiled, giggled, and laughed my  way through the nearly 300 pages of nicely bound trade paperback. I enjoyed meeting the stories from each of these authors, both old friends and new (to me, anyway) arrivals. If you like Science Fiction and Humor, this is definitely up your alley, as it was mine. I’m looking forward to UFO3, due out in the upcoming week (but I’ll wait and get my copy from Alex in a couple of weeks). Excellent!

Gordon R. Dickson’s Necromancer

Paul Formain, a survivor of the first water, most recently rendered one-armed due to a mining accident, contends with Walter Blunt of the Chantry Guild, and with the super computer that runs Earth. His metaphysical powers make him both the lynchpin of the changes that society is undergoing, and a target of every party that’s interested in a different agenda. Later tales in Dickson’s Childe Cycle stories reveal a bit more about Paul Formain than appears in this book. Necromancer is a superbly constructed tale (as usual for Dickson, then) that allows for the suspension of disbelief both for the SciFi and Fantastic elements in the story. While the story stands well on it’s own, I must recommend ALL of the Childe Cycle stories to you. Find them. Read them. Be Happy.

Clarkesworld Magazine, edited by Neil Clarke

I’ve been a subscriber to Clarkesworld Magazine for a couple of years now. Neil Clarke puts together a world-class collection of new science fiction, as well as reprints, non-fiction, and art, every time. How do I mean, “world-class”? Hmm. How to put this to you … Three time winner of the Hugo Award for Best Semiprozine. Does that cover it properly? I thought so.

I look forward to the first of each month so that I can discover what Neil found for me to read. My particular favorite story from the current (September) batch is Brendan Dubois’s Falling Star. It’s a tightly constructed post-apocalyptic short story that features one of the last of the astronauts as the protagonist. I can’t say much more without spoiling some part of the tale.

In related news, Neil announced that his recent secret project is a push to get more translated works into the magazine, explicitly from China at first. The initial funding is being done through Kickstarter, with the intention of building more readership and other revenue sources to carry the feature going forward. Visit the Clarkesworld: Chinese Science Fiction Translation Project page for more details, and to support it if you can and if it floats your boat.

Clarkesworld Magazine: Highly Recommended.

Oh, I nearly forgot! I’m currently reading Against a Dark Background by Iain M. Banks.

*      *      *

There have been no new casualties announced by DoD in the last 6 days.

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Gone Fishin’

Or more rightly, back from fishin’ …

Marcia & her yellow perch

Marcia & her yellow perch

Friday we headed out of town, driving to Deep Creek Lake for a long weekend. We stayed three nights at a nicely-appointed lakeside condo in McHenry. Fishing on Friday evening, Saturday (on a boat rental) most of the day, and Sunday morning until the rains moved in. Nothing of real keeper/eater size was caught by either of us (though we could have kept Marcia’s yellow perch, pictured above with captor). We cooked in most of the time, only going out to Ledo Pizza on Saturday evening. Oh, yeah … and Marcia slaughtered me when we played Rummy.

I barely turned the computer on over the whole weekend, which is why I’m here now – a day late and several dollars short. So be it.

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

  • Sgt. Charles C. Strong, 28, of Suffolk, Virginia, died Sept. 15, in Herat province, Afghanistan while conducting combat operations.
  • Maj. Michael J. Donahue, 41, of Columbus, Ohio, died Sept. 16, in Kabul, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered from an enemy attack.
  • Stephen Byus, 39, of Reynoldsburg, Ohio, working as a civilian supply specialist, died Sept. 16, in Kabul, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered from an enemy attack.


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Work Week Plus

The work week started early … really early. I was up at 0500 this morning, and at my desk at the office by 0555. We had an 8 hour maintenance window to do a raft of VMware and other patching. Licensing issues prevent us from doing things the easy way, so we get outage windows and do things the hard way. That includes getting key virtual machines back online before 0800 on Sunday morning. It was actually a pretty good day – we finished up with two hours left in the maintenance window, which is good estimating. Had something gone horribly wrong, two hours is enough to fix much of it.

Side note – first night down into the 40’s – it was about 47°F out in the back yard when I got up.

Since nothing went horribly wrong at work, I was home and out in the yard mowing by 1300. Got inside and relaxed a bit, and grilled some lovely marinated chicken for supper.

As Sunday’s go, not too terrible.

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Recent Reading – Caliphate by Tom Kratman

No piece of fiction I’ve read in recent years has filled me with sadness for our future like Tom Kratman’s Caliphate. (Note, if you want to read it, the Kindle price at this moment is $0.00.) There is nothing in this book that seems implausible to me. If anything, I find it to be a bit optimistic in the reading of the tea leaves. All civilizations fall, but Europe falling to the radical Muslims through willful ignorance and apathy seems like exactly the path they’re already on. Will events play out as they do in the book? I don’t think so. The radical muslim world are the latest batch of humans happy to play hardball in a brave old world that keeps wanting the game to be played by the rules set by first grade teachers. Be clear: the world is not a kind and easy place. We’ve had it pretty good for the last century or so, but to expect these conditions to last is implausible. What is plausible is Tom Kratman’s premise in Caliphate.

I found the book to be a more-than-good-enough read. Not tightly-paced enough to keep me awake while I read it through. But the story is compelling. I was able to care about the characters, and weep for the world that we’re making for ourselves in this work of fiction. For me, it’s also reminiscent of the Daybreak series by John Barnes. But while there’s tech that doesn’t exist in Daybreak (thus allowing me to distance myself from the action), no such issue exists to prevent me from buying into everything that happens in Caliphate.

You can (and oh, people do) criticize his writing, his stance, his service to America, and everything under the sun. It’s clear how he receives his criticism, right at the top of his website. I wouldn’t say he revels in it, but he want to be sure that before you proceed, there are people foaming at the mouth to disagree with him and his perspective. Frankly, I hope this particular vision of the future is wrong, but I fear it isn’t.

Out of the batter’s box is Terry Pratchett’s Raising Steam.

*      *      *

DoD has announced no new casualties in the last week.

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Top Gear (UK) Tribute

Top Gear (UK) Tribute

Top Gear (UK) Tribute

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A Good Day

Work was work. But the workout was good.

After a bit of stretch, I put in 60 sit ups, 21 push ups, and this:

Elliptical Fun!

Elliptical Fun!

My UP app (from Jawbone, same as the UP24 I wear) tells me I’ve done a million monitored steps since I first put on the device on 31 May. A significant percentage, more than half I’d guess, was done on the elliptical. Go me!

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Late Summer

With three weeks to go in Summer (proper), summer in terms of weather and humidity finally arrived this week. A few days up into the low 90’s brought us some unpleasant heat and occasionally lots of rain. Last night we had 1.3″ here alone. I didn’t look at the weather  radar at the time so I don’t know how broad that front was. But we had lightning and rain for the best part of three hours.

Leading up to that, I spent about 5 hours working out in the yard. Some of that was regular stuff like mowing and cleaning out some dying plants in front.  But I also gave a couple of hours to fence-mending…

A few days ago, Lexi was out hunting bunnies in the back yard, then … she wasn’t. Lexi followed a rabbit, not down a hole, but out a hole. Yep, a hole in the fence which Lexi was able to rapidly enlarge enough to chase through and after. Sigh. The good news is, once discovered, we went out calling her name, and she came running up to me from out of the small wood in the common area behind our property. The bad news was that the fence needed mending.

I ended up replacing about 20 boards, and blocking off a few more bits with patching. I’ve still got to mix up a slightly matching stain combo and get those boards coated. But between the fence and other yard work yesterday, I dropped about 6# sweating. So, I rehydrated for much of the afternoon.

Today: Shopping and patching systems at work consumed the bulk of the day.

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Recent Reading: The Big Aha by Rudy Rucker.

Last year, I backed Rudy’s Kickstarter ™ for his new book, The Big Aha. I’d been a fan of Rudy’s since reading Software in the early 1980’s. The Big Aha is a big departure from the style of fiction, and of writing, from that earlier era. The author credits Bill Craddock’s Be Not Content as his primary stylistic influence. Using quantum mechanics instead of Lysergic acid diethylamide as his tool for making an entire world behave like a bunch of loons is … interesting. However, I found it difficult to follow the story. I found it difficult to care about the characters – they remind me of everything that’s bad about soap operas. And, sadly, though I persevered to the very end of the book (and it’s taken me a good long while), I just didn’t like it.

That doesn’t mean that you might not like it. You will want to be happy in a place where there are lots of new, made-up words. You’ll want to like characters that make even less sense (when straight, aka not in “cosmic mode”) than people on this screwed-up planet. If you like soap operas, and fantasy, and science fiction, you might like this story. My clear personal failing is that I don’t like soap operas.

The better news, from my perspective, is that with The Big Aha done, I now have my permission to start reading pTerry’s Raising Steam.

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Our condolences to the family and friends of Spc. Brian K. Arsenault, 28, of Northborough, Massachusetts, who died on Sept. 4, in Ghazni, Afghanistan, of injuries sustained when his unit was engaged by enemy small-arms fire.

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Labor Day

Labor Day. It means “do chores at home instead of working at the office”, I think. I certainly did. Marcia asked last night if I’d put up my usual Sunday post. I figured that since it was a three day weekend, I’d put up my post on the last day of the weekend. Yes, that’s reasoned procrastination.

So, chores much of the weekend, working in the basement on the floor, etc. We have new neighbors across the street, which is nice (and they’re nice, too). Tonight, I grilled some chickens, and now I’m here. But I’m not going to drone on and on and on about the chores, so on to the penultimate bit …

Lexi often likes relaxing in the sofa back cushion behind my neck when I take a break and watch some television. Here she is again

Lexi behind my back

Lexi behind my back

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Our condolences to the family and friends of Sgt. Christopher W. Mulalley, 26, of Eureka, Calif., who died on Aug. 22, in Gardez, Afghanistan, as the result of a non-combat related incident.

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Unlike Arthur Dent, I won’t be seeing yellow (first) on a Thursday, but on a Monday. The buses start rolling tomorrow: screwing up the traffic, and taking kids to the place where they can practice disrespecting teachers, learning, and each other every day for the next 9 or so months. Actually, for PG County kids, it’s the 7th, 8th, and 9th graders getting accelerated remedial disrespecting tomorrow, then ALL the kids are on the bus come Tuesday.

The weekend was full of chores. Saturday was house cleaning. Today was yard work. I should have roasted coffee today, but fell asleep on the sofa instead.

We watched the Doctor Who season premier this evening on DVR. That was fun. I expect to enjoy this iteration of the Doctor, played by Peter Capaldi, very much. It’ll take him a while to settle into the role, and for the fans to settle in to having a new Doctor. But I’m hoping for great things.

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Our condolences to the family and friends of Sgt. 1st Class Matthew I. Leggett, 39, of Ruskin, Florida, who died on Aug. 20, in Kabul, Afghanistan, of injuries received when he was engaged by the enemy.

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Back in the Groove

After several weeks of very intermittent exercise, and some backsliding on the dietary controls, I’m back in the groove, I think …

Good exercise days

Good exercise days

Good exercise days – two days running at almost precisely the same pace. Excellent!

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I use OpenSSH for nearly all of my computing platform access, except for that OS from Redmond. Secure access to commandline environments meets about  90% (a made up number, gut check says “true”) of my requirements. It’d be more, but I access a lot of monitoring services via a browser. But close to 100% of actual work is done via commandline remotely over SSH.

Every time I set up a new server, I’ve been logging into the new box and setting up the first user account with the appropriate public key. First I’d copy the key up to the new system, then I’d log in on the new box and run commands like these:

[user@box] ~# mkdir .ssh && chmod 700 $_ && touch $_/authorized_keys && chmod 600 $_
[user@box] ~# cat >> $_

How was I to know that in the intervening years, some one of the smart contributors to the OpenSSH project added the ssh-copy-id program. All I need to do from the client system is type something like this:

[user@client] ~# ssh-copy-id -i .ssh/ user@box

It prompts me for my password, and the work is done. All of the directory and file work, correct permissions included (replacing those chmod commands), all done in one swell foop. Very handy.


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Push Through

I’m tired. There’s been a fair bit of unscheduled work over the last few days, leading to sleepus interruptus. But I got done what must be done, and a fair bit else besides. The big project of the weekend was a bit of reconstruction on the front step, which has been sinking away pretty much since the house was built. For some reason, they didn’t rebar the step into the concrete porch.

What I need to do is break that old step out, drill some holes into the porch and epoxy in some rebar, then pour a new step. But I’ve not had the time to take on that project. Sadly, we’ve spent a lot of time this summer telling people to mind the first step, since it sank another inch in the last year or so. What we had was a 7″ rise, then an 11″ rise. That’s a lot.

So yesterday I put in some pavers over the step, so we now have two 9″ rises. Even height risers are much safer.

Better step height

Better step height

The other fun thing I learned about the original step installation is revealed by the shadow line you see under the pavers. Yeah? Me, too. The underlying, original step is 12″ deep on the left side, and 13″ deep on the right. Sigh.

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Our condolences to the family and friends of Sgt. 1st Class Samuel C. Hairston, 35, of Houston, Texas, who died Aug. 12, in Ghazni, Afghanistan, of injuries sustained when his unit was engaged by enemy small-arms fire.

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