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.

Posted in Computers, Fallen Warriors | Leave a comment

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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End::Garden

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.

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

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