12 June 2016

My heart goes out to all affected by the terrorist attack in Orlando.

*      *      *

Four days ago it was 47° F on my drive in, before 7 AM. This morning before 7 AM, it was 30 degrees warmer than that, and consequently a lot warmer today. Still, I got a few chores done. There wasn’t a need to mow this weekend – we’d had no rain in the last week, and so the lawns pretty much stopped growing. I got some weeding done in the garden beds. And today I got the front automated watering setup working, and added the potted roses to the rotation. In summer’s past, I’d count on being able to remember to water the roses manually. That hasn’t worked out too well. I expect the roses to do a lot better this summer, and be in much better shape come Fall.

No veggies out of the garden this weekend but for one small green pepper. I didn’t want a small plant to put energy into growing a single pepper, so I had two halves of a tiny pepper with lunch yesterday. There are tomatoes appearing on those plants, which is a good sign. A few more weeks and we’ll be eating salsa!

*      *      *

Exercise:

Thursday – 80 sit-ups, 40 squats, 28 push-ups, assorted stretches, and 6300 strides on the elliptical in 45 minutes.

Friday – None. Work, followed by an evening out at a birthday party.

Saturday and Sunday – yard work and house chores counted as “walks” for exercise by the FitBit. But no formal exercise.

*      *      *

This week I read Neil Gaiman’s Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders. Such a joyously talented writer. I also read last month’s ePub edition of Strange Horizons, an online SFF venue that I support. Again, great stuff. Online, there’s fiction every week, reviews, poetry, and other features. Highly recommended. I’m currently reading this month’s ;Login: magazine from USENIX, and also this month’s Clarkesworld, which I subscribe to via Kindle. For winding down at bedtime reading, I’ve got a couple of Pratchett’s Discworld paperbacks at the bedside.

Also, recently, I finally finished reading In the Shadow of the Master, a collection of Edgar Allen Poe’s work, interspersed with essays from some of the best mystery and horror writers of the last few decades. This reading was inspired by our attendance last year production of Poe, an original play staged by the Annapolis Shakespeare Company. For some reason, Poe’s works eluded me throughout most of my education, probably because I was taking some specialty English courses at the same time as the sophomores and juniors in my high school were reading Poe. So, while I appreciated the play, I didn’t have much of a grounding in his works or his life. I know a lot more now, and am eager to attend this year’s production, with a fresh script!

*      *      *

DoD announced no new casualties in the last week. Ciao!

10 April 2016

A good week, overall. I was on-call for the first half, which is tiring, even when nothing happens. Yep, I sleep a lot more lightly when responsibility requires it. But one week out of every few weeks ain’t bad – and our monitoring and remediation are in a state of continuous improvement, so we get far fewer alerts and calls than in years past. All to the good.

I also executed terminal retirement on a stack of former virtualization hosts. Spin down, uncable from last network connections and from the SAN, spin up again with a DBAN disk in the optical drive: boom. No more data. Some may be repurposed as a lab environment, but the decision hasn’t been taken yet.

*      *      *

It was a fairly relaxing weekend, since the house is fairly clean, and it’s too darn cold to do any yardwork … Hey, did I mention that we had sleet, graupel, and snow on Saturday morning? Did I also mention that four days in the last week started off below freezing? So much for Spring. It had been warming up, and everything started to bloom, then BOOM: be cold and die, little plants! Good thing I’d not planted any veg in the garden yet, eh?

So we had Linda and Mike over to supper last night. Marcia made a wonderful, hearty, chicken stew, complemented by Asiago wheat bread and a green salad. Desert was a shortbread laden with blueberries. A good game of Ticket to Ride followed … good because against all odds, I won.

Both weekend days, I gave a few hours to playtime in the world of The Talos Principle (which I finished), and the Road to Gehenna DLC (which I started). Fun puzzle game: Recommended.

*      *      *

I’m currently reading Cordwainer Smith’s The Rediscovery of Man collection, along with last month’s Strange Horizons. I finished up the April edition of Clarkesworld earlier in the week, too. And I’m continuing to work my way through Learning Ruby the Hard Way, 3E. I’ve been spending years getting just enough knowledge to get the job done, but I want some more depth on something, anything. So, before I work on a substantial project, best to begin at first principles. That’s what I’m doing.

*      *      *

DoD announced no new casualties in the last week, for which we are grateful. Ciao!

13 March 2016

Friday the thirteenth falls on Daylight Stealing Time Sunday this month. Yay?

*      *      *

A good week and a productive weekend. Yesterday I got the spring fertilizer down on the lawn (in time for today’s rain-in), and got the garden beds cleared of all the fall and over-winter cruft. I still have to turn over and amend the beds, but a start is a start, so I’ll take it. I also did some aggressive pruning of the crepe myrtles in the front of the house, and weeded some of the beds there, too. Today? Well, I’m a bit sore today.

And I was up before the crack of Daylight Stealing Time dawn to do a small amount of early remote work – putting monitoring systems into maintenance so that someone else could do their job without waking half the world with pager alerts. We broke our fast, then headed out to do the shopping.

This afternoon, I did my (speculative fiction) civic duty and got all of my Hugo nominations entered in. Why bother having the vote if you don’t use it. But because this is the Hugos, everyone who had a vote last year is the electoral equivalent of a delegate this year, too! So my nominating is done. If you love Science Fiction and/or Fantasy genre fiction, you should become a  member of WorldCon and nominate and vote! Note – to vote for the Hugo’s, you need to be a member of MidAmeriCon II this year. You needn’t attend – there’s a supporting membership option that is a quarter of the cost. I will point out that as a part of the Hugo Voting Packet, there’s usually MOST of the works that are up for the Hugos available to read. Purchased, that would come out to considerably more than the cost of the supporting membership. So a good deal all around for the fans and fannish. Yes, I’m a supporting member of MidAmeriCon II this year, as I was a supporting member of Sasquan last year.

*      *      *

DoD has announced no new casualties in the last week, for which we are grateful. Ciao!

Kerfuffle, Past and Future

The Hugo Awards were last night.

First off, congrats to the winners. I’m happy for them. I enjoyed the winning work in each category that had a winner. Well, except Guardians of the Galaxy, through no fault of its own. I don’t go to movies, and rarely watch them.

Five categories went to No Award. To me, that seems a bit harsh. I read everything that came in the Hugo packet, and dug up everything I could that wasn’t in the packet. For me, only four or five works out of dozens rated below No Award. The people who annoy me on all the sides of this kerfuffle are the ones willing to vote on the person or the politics, damn the writing. I don’t ask that my authors be sane, or kind, or pleasant. I ask that their writing entertain me. I’ll admit that the authors from the Sad|Rabid side of the aisle mostly floated my boat less than some of the others. But not all of them.

And from all the sides, I find myself in general less entertained by hot-button current issues in the guise of SpecFic. If your characters are interesting, compelling, worth caring about, then it doesn’t matter to me about gender, race, etc. If the character exists only to be the gender or the race or whatever … then that character doesn’t advance the story.

For the coming years, I can only see the Puppies continuing to get their authors into contention. That’s unless the anti-Puppies also start block-nominating. That defeats the purpose of a bunch of people reading and nominating a bunch of stuff, and the best of the best bubbles to the top.

Is there a way around the conundrum? Sure. Get everyone to vote. EVERYONE. If every purchase of a SpecFic book (online, print, whatever) came with a token for a Hugo nomination, then people who read LOTS of SpecFic would get more nomination power. But everyone who just buys ONE book also gets a nomination token. Some tokens will go unused. Others will be sold on a darknet market somewhere. But getting more fans into the process will bring it closer to where I think it needs to be – representative of the likes and dislikes of the readership. There are ways to make it relatively honest, though there will still be a dead (zombie?) vote.

Would this put more voting power into the hands of people who buy popular work, instead of less popular but more “literary” work? Sure. But if I purchase and read 17 works next year (especially easy, since I ought to get a token for every month of Clarkesworld, for example), I can apply all 17 of those tokens to the one literary work I read. Of course, no one of consequence will see this idea, and it wouldn’t happen anyway, because herding cats. But I’ve had fun with the thought experiment.

Also from WorldCon: Sigh. I don’t think I can make it to Helsinki in 2017. That’s a deal, because I was hoping that DC in 17, my local WorldCon bid, would succeed.

*      *      *

DoD announced no new casualties in the last week. Ciao!

Heat

Summer officially arrives next weekend. But so far as I can tell, it arrived this last week. 90+ degree temps, high humidity, big thunderstorms. Today, in fact, we had a storm line pass through that gave us a bunch of lightning and thunder, and 1.4″ of rain in 45 minutes. Note: Lexi really hates thunder. She spent the entire storm (and last night’s late storm) huddled against me, trembling.

*      *      *

The garden is doing okay with this heat, though. I saw one tomato starting to turn color – that’s a good sign. Once I spot that, I’m usually about two weeks away from eating lots of yummy salsa, etc. Tonight, we had freshly killed broccoli from the garden, and tomorrow night, I’m expecting to pull out a bunch of zucchini.

Garden - 14 June 2015

Garden – 14 June 2015

*      *      *

The surprise for me this Hugo season is The Goblin Emperor, a fantasy novel by Katherine Addison (Sarah Monette). While I tend towards the harder, SciFi end of the speculative fiction genre spectrum, this Hugo-nominated work grabbed my attention and held it all the way through. I’m looking forward to the next installment in this series. If I were king-maker for the Best Novel Hugo, I think I’d have a tough time picking between this and Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Sword. There’s still time to become a supporting member of Sasquan, and vote in this year’s Hugo balloting. Don’t fret about the ruckus. Just get the packet, read the works, vote for what you like. Given what’s in the Hugo packet, it’s $40 US well spent, any way you look at it. And if you’re a fan, you should support, read, and vote. You can ALSO pay the separate voting fee to become a supporting member (see the Site Selection tab on the Sasquan site) for the 2017 WorldCon, and vote for DC17. Just sayin’ …

*      *      *

Our condolences to the family and friends of Krissie K. Davis, 54, of Talladega, Alabama, a member of the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) at Anniston, Alabama, and deployed to DLA Disposition Services Bagram as part of the civilian expeditionary workforce. She was killed on June 8, during an indirect fire attack on Bagram Airbase, Afghanistan.

 

Whoa…

Sorry for the lag. I’ve been really busy. We got in some time with family from afar this weekend, and I wasn’t even able to get all of the small new weeds out of the garden:

Growing garden - May 2015

Growing garden – May 2015

*      *      *

I will point out that if you’re a supporting member of WorldCon this year: Sasquan, the Hugo voting packet is now out. I’ve got a fair bit of reading to do, since I’d only read a couple of the contenders. My recommendation? Ignore the controversy, read the works, vote for what’s good and well-written. ALSO, You can now pay your voting fee (which is additionally a Worldcon supporting membership fee for 2017) and vote for where the Worldcon will be held in 2017. I’d be thankful if you did, and voted for DC17 – bring Worldcon to Washington DC. It’ll be a blast and I’d love to see any/all of you there!

*      *      *

Sadly, Petty Officer 3rd Class Devon J. Doyle, 21, of Alamosa, Colorado, died May 16, in Manama, Bahrain, of a non-combat related incident while on liberty. Our condolences to his family and friends.

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.

 

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]

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.

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.