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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Progress Elliptical

Elliptical progress

Elliptical progress

That’s the highest single-session stride count I’ve done to date. That plus 96 sit-ups, 48 push-ups, and assorted stretches filled up my late afternoon between arriving home and feeding the dog. Not too shabby.

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Backup Discussion

On the topic of backups…

I like redundancy and backups. Redundancy is this: I have more than one copy of the data on more than one disk in my important systems. So: Mirrored disks == good. This protects me from one of the disks going bad. If the system blows up, or if I simply need a copy of a file I deleted by accident, I need a copy that’s either not part of the mirror, hidden from view, or NOT on the system. Here’s how I go about that.

Having a local copy of something so that when it gets deleted, I can restore it … this is a good thing. For that, on my main workstation these days, I use automated ZFS snapshots. This pulls a painless snapshot of the data in hand every 15 minutes, every hour, every day, every week, and every month. So I can restore in 15 minute increments for the last hour, hourly increments for the last 24 hours, etc. That’s awesome. I’ve also got those applied to my local backup from Marcia’s Windows 7 system, so that I can restore from various points in time (her baseline backup period is daily, however).

But also there is disaster recovery to consider. What happens when my main system bursts into flames, or more likely just corrupts both disks due to an extreme overvoltage event that overwhelms the UPS? If both sides of my mirror pair are gone, I need to be able to restore my system. The operating side troubles me not – I can rebuild that from scratch. But I have active data in my home directory, archived (and other backups) data in a /data directory, and why not make life easy by having an offsite copy of my configuration (/etc) directory as well? What? Hey, you noticed the key word there: offsite.

For theft, fire, extreme stupidity: these problems require a remote copy of the data that can’t be destroyed by the same event that takes out the originals. Now … I’m not really over-protective of this for obvious reasons. I keep my offsite backups at work, which is less than 20 miles away. For a large regional event – basically anything involving the words “blast radius” – my offsite backups don’t qualify as far-enough offsite. But since in that eventuality, I’m likely also permanently wiped, I’m unlikely to care about the state of my offsite backups. But for every reasonable risk, copies of my data at my work site are good enough.

Now, to other risks: If my data is on disks not at home, is it well enough protected there? The answer is, “Sure.” I use encryption. These days I’m using geli whole disk encryption on my FreeBSD 10 system. Oh, and I have three rotating copies of the data, so the offsite stores get refreshed weekly on a three week cycle. That’s all rockin’, but there’s one final issue that I’ve been dealing with: Heat.

I’d previosly been using an eSata shelf installed in the system case, but for a variety of reasons, it wasn’t really working well as a hot-plug solution, so I was power-cycling the system (twice!) every time I wanted to refresh the current week’s offsite disk. I broke down and bought a lay-flat USB 3 hard drive dock from Plugable (via Amazon) a few months back. This worked really well for me for one reason above all others: I don’t have a lot of headroom between the top of the system and the top of the cabinet that houses it. So normal, upright, “toaster” configuration docks won’t work for me. But, like the “toaster” versions, the lay-flat still suffers from heat issues.

These docks aren’t inside the system chassis with managed airflow removing much of the long-term damaging heat from continuously running drives. Now … in many cases, that’s not a problems with docked USB drives: You slot a hard disk, briefly write or read, spin it down, and you’re done. But I’m synchronizing over 500 GB of data. While I’m only writing 10-30 GB on any given Monday, there’s still a lot of back and forth read and write activity that runs for the better part of 45 minutes. That’s a lot of time for the heat to build up in the disk, and not be dissipated quickly enough. To improve the long-term lifespan of these offsite disks, I wanted to remove more of the heat. While doing the initial, 6+ hour synchronization, I borrowed Marcia’s AC desk fan. It worked well enough, but was awkwardly big, and noisy, too. For the long term solution, I recently picked up a Gino USB-powered mini-fan (also via Amazon). I can plug it in, set it pointing directly down on the drive, and run my backup job without overheating the disk at all. See?

USB fan cooling USB docked drive

USB fan cooling USB docked drive

Works like a champ. Both products are Highly Recommended.

*      *      *

The unasked (as yet) question that I’m about to hear is this: Why am I not just using the bog-standard and dirt cheap USB drives that one can pick up for pennies a gigabyte at the corner market?

Dirt-cheap pre-packaged USB hard drives have several strikes against them in my book. First: I’m paying for a cord, a housing, USB and power supply electronics, etc, all just to support ONE disk. With a USB dock, I can buy as many bare  hard disks as I want and use them interchangeably, with less overhead on all that other cruft.

Second: Dirt cheap means the electronics are cheap. And maybe sketchy. Or long-term unreliable. Or ? I don’t know. I can’t know. But I don’t want any issues with any part of a single, complex (yet cheaply produced) product compromising my backups.

Third (and most importantly): Disk quality. My understanding is that large system vendors and manufacturers (think Dell, IBM, HP, Fujitsu, etc) get the best quality disks – the ones that scored at the top of all the quality control checks. The second tier vendors, and the large disk resellers (think NewEgg, Amazon, and the like) get the pick of the rest of the best. And I’m told (meaning I read an article on the Internet, so it must be true) that the vendors that churn out cheap, fully packaged USB drives get the stuff from the lower third of the barrel.

Now, I’m not saying by any means that any of those disks didn’t pass quality control tests. What I’m saying is that they didn’t pass them with as much of a margin as the best disks. What does this mean for long term data storage? I’m not willing to run that experiment with my data. I’ll spend more money for higher quality disks. I actually buy the “Enterprise-grade” versions of the disks in the size and speed I require for various purposes. The price bump is on the order of 50-100% over consumer-grade disks, but the reviews and benchmarks tend to indicate that the Enterprise gear is an order of magnitude more reliable. That’s also corroborated by the manufacturer’s warranty on this grade, with is generally 3-5 years, rather than just a year.

So, buy quality products, keep them cool when running, and use encryption: the data will live a long time. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

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Capclave Wrap

Capclave 2014 is a wrap. I was not involved. I was just an attendee who had a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful time.  It’s not nearly as much work to attend as to be celebrated, though…

Capclave 2014 GoH Signing Table

Capclave 2014 GoH Signing Table

At the Capclave 2014 GoH Signing Table last night Genevieve Valentine, Paolo Bacigalupi, and Holly Black. These folks (along with many others) worked hard at this literary Science Fiction and Fantasy convention. I commented to Paolo last night that clearly, being Guest of Honor at a con is a lot harder than previously assumed. I wondered aloud if it was much like a goose being the Guest of Honor at a Christmas Dinner? I got a fair laugh out of that one.

But these folks, along with about 75 other program participants and the talented hardworking team from WSFA that put on the con, worked hard on panels, in workshops, and in the hallways, putting on a good show for the fans and current/aspiring writers who attend this show. I attended the following panels, readings, etc:

  • “Holy Shuftik!” he cried. (partial)
  • The League of Substitute Heroes and the Inferior Five (partial)
  • Dealers Room (spending money)
  • Fast Forward TV interviews GoH Paolo Bacigalupi
  • The 2013/14 and 2014/15 TV Seasons
  • Don’t Go There. Unless You Really Want To.
  • The Charms of Dystopia
  • Interview with GoH Genevieve Valentine
  • DC in 17 Worldcon Bid
  • Reading (Genevieve Valentine)
  • Best Short Fiction of 2014
  • Author Table / Dealers Room (spending money)
  • I Hate His/Her Politics But I Love His/Her Books
  • Creating Religions for your Secondary World Fantasy
  • Mass Signing
  • Awards Presentation and GoH Gifts
  • Beyond Sword, Spear, and Shield: Exotic Weapons for Fantasy
  • Astronomy Through the Ages
  • Bookstores: RIP or Not Dead Yet?
  • Why So Many YA Dystopias?
  • Even Hard SF Uses FTL

Finally, with two sessions left in today, I ran fully out of steam. But as you see, I sat in on a lot of interesting material in two and a half days. I came home each night, and didn’t stay for the late night parties and filking – I don’t have all of the energy I once had… But I did come away with some wonderful memories of a great small con, I met a great number of smart, eloquent people, and I have a nice, shiny stack of reading material. WIN!*      *      *DoD has reported no new casualties in the last 7 days.

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First Frost

We were supposed to make it down into the mid- to low-40’s this weekend … first frost wasn’t on the horizon, far as I knew. But I came downstairs in shorts and a t-shirt, ready to make coffee and walk the dog (which is fine, in the mid-40’s). But the thermometer said 38, and there was frost on the grass and the rooftops. Um, yay? Back upstairs for long pants and a sweat jacket.

Yesterday it was mild, and we took the dog out for a walk around the Eastern Market. Fun. Lots of neat stuff that we didn’t buy, and Lexi got lots of attention. I did get the the leaves raked up onto the grass in front yesterday afternoon, and mulched them down into the lawn. More organics are always good.

*      *      *

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

  • Sgt. 1st Class Andrew T. Weathers, 30, of DeRidder, Louisiana, died Sept. 30, at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, Germany, from wounds sustained when the enemy attacked his unit with small arms fire Sept. 28, in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.
  • Maj. Jonathan D. Walker, 44, of Merriam, Kansas, died Oct. 1, in Dohar, Qatar, of a non-combat related incident at Camp As Sayliyah.
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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.

*      *      *

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.

*      *      *

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.

*      *      *

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

Posted in Beware of Leopard | 1 Comment