Columbus Revisited

Formerly lurking, kind reader Doug was sad to read of my problems in Columbus (as you might see in a comment to the prior post).

Let me be clear – the problems in Columbus were those of my cold virus, a car rental company, and an airline. Columbus has always been a gracious and pleasant place for me to visit – everyone is seriously NICE! That’s probably a middle-of-the-country thing that’s also related to the pace of life far away from the loons (like me) on either coast.

I haven’t seen much of the town yet – I usually fly in, work, and fly out again. However, I may try to visit during one of the nicer-weather times of the year … though it wasn’t too bad for mid-February: rain and 40’s is way better than snow/ice and teens. I’ll let you know, Doug!

Through the cold, another school assignment turned in each of the last two days. That and a few hours and a few hundred bucks on new tires yesterday. Sigh. I’m still on track, and it’ll get a bit better in another two weeks, once the one class is done with. Two eight week classes with overlap leads to a hellish pace during the overlap time. I’ll have to pay attention to scheduling for the summer session, or the garden might die…

*     *     *

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

  • Capt. Ryan P. Hall, 30, of Colorado Springs, Colorado, died February 18 when his U-28 aircraft was involved in an accident near Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, Africa.
  • Capt. Nicholas S. Whitlock, 29, of Newnan, Georgia, died February 18 when his U-28 aircraft was involved in an accident near Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, Africa.
  • 1st Lt. Justin J. Wilkens, 26, of Bend, Oregon, died February 18 when his U-28 aircraft was involved in an accident near Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, Africa.
  • Senior Airman Julian S. Scholten, 26, of Upper Marlboro, Maryland, died February 18 when his U-28 aircraft was involved in an accident near Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, Africa.
  • Sgt. Allen R. McKenna Jr., 28, of Noble, Oklahoma, died Feb. 21 in Kandahar province, Afghanistan.
  • Sgt. Joshua A. Born, 25, of Niceville, Florida, died Feb. 23, in Nangarhar province, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when his unit came under small arms fire.
  • Cpl. Timothy J. Conrad Jr., 22, of Roanoke, Virginia, died Feb. 23, in Nangarhar province, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when his unit came under small arms fire.
  • Lt. Col. John D. Loftis, 44, of Paducah, Kentucky, died Feb. 25 from wounds received during an attack at the Interior Ministry, Kabul, Afghanistan.

 

Columbus Day

No, not that Columbus Day! Mine! I was in Columbus for the last two days on business. Still battling the cold from Hell, though. Getting through the days on antihistamines and cough suppressants, and getting through the nights somehow.

Today I finished up really early, and got to the airport early. There I was reminded of the maxim: If The Deal Seems Too Good To Be True, It Is. That’s because all the money I saved booking flight, hotel, and car through the Southwest Airlines website seems to be a third party package seller working in cahoots with SWA.

So, even though I’m there at 11 AM, they can’t put me on the 1410 flight home, even if there were room on it. So sayeth the ticket counter. So sayeth the bloke at the 1-800 number. So sayeth the first person at the gate I talked to. But through all of that, the saving grace was it didn’t matter, the flight wasn’t just full, it was overbooked.

When the boarding of that flight was done, and I overheard that there were still three seats empty, I asked the gate person, “Really? You’ll fly three empty seats and not change my ticket?”

Really. My only option at that precise moment was to cancel the 1830 flight, and buy a one-way there at the gate. $200. Um, not gonna do that.

But that wasn’t the ONLY fun part of the trip, oh, no! I also learned that the cheapest rental car really was. Cheapest, that is. Thrifty appeared not to have maintained that particular Chevy Aveo much – it rattled and shook when I stepped gently on the gas, and threatened to cut out if I pressed harder. The wipers didn’t wipe much (and it was raining). The check engine light came on, during the drive back to the airport this morning. I’ll give it this – it didn’t break down (entirely), I was everyplace I needed to be, on time. And I didn’t have to change a tire on that car.

What? Oh, yeah. I get to BWI, hope the shuttle to the daily garage, hoof it over to my car … flat left front tire. Sigh. Sigh. One quick tire change later (the wheelbarrow undersize spare tire was in fine shape) and I was on my way home.

Now I’m here. Nice to see y’all! Ciao!

New Heat

The old furnace

The old furnace

The old furnace was a wee bit crufty, and I really don’t like supplemental condensate pumps – they’re prone to failure, which makes a basement prone to water damage. But worst, we had a corroded burner in the old Janitrol, and not a replacement to be found – they don’t make them anymore. Now, thanks to A. P. Mathews, we have something new to heat the basement:

The new Trane

The new Trane

The new Trane – well, for starters it’s 21 years younger. It’s more fuel efficient, and moves more air, too. Two other big wins. We got rid of the condensate pump, and are using gravity to get to a sump access point. We also got rid of the effectively non-functional electrostatic air cleaner, and now have a HEPA filter in that inlet tunnel to the bottom left.

I’ve had A. P. Mathews under contract for the last 10 years, caring for our furnaces and AC units here at the house, they’re good, smart folks. Strongly Recommended!

One

One …

One free minute would be nice. Yesterday, I sat for my take-home midterm in Geology. It took me 5 hours. I pity the folks who read slowly and are tortured when it comes to writing. After that, I gave several hours to working on the front matter for an SRS (System Requirements Specification) document due this weekend for my Software Engineering class. I had one bum system last night that needed (remote) rebooting and hand holding for about an hour. There were several Linux systems updates last night and this morning, followed by reboot and testing. I did the weekly shopping this morning, finished and submitted the SRS, and did reading for the upcoming week’s class work the balance of the day. I finished up one course’s reading about 15 minutes ago.

One … is about the number of degrees fahrenheit that it felt like this morning, walking the dog in 18 degrees as measured, and gusty winds on top of that. It never did get above freezing today.

And lastly (on this side of the fold), Marcia has one heck of a cold, poor girl.

*     *     *

One casualty reported this last week by DoD. I got all excited for a moment, before Sergeant Sutton’s notice stopped hiding from my eyes, in between DoD Nutrition Standards and the Overseas Service Photography Project. None of my narrowly averted excitement takes away from my  somber gratitude for the service and sacrifice on the part of Sergeant Sutton. Our condolences to the Sergeant’s family, friends, and the 223 Engineeers:

  • Sgt. 1st Class Billy A. Sutton, 42, of Tupelo, Mississippi, died Feb. 7 in Uruzgan province, Afghanistan.

JoCo Artificial Heart Package

Among the contents therein is the signed CD, which I most incautiously tore whilst attempting a manual decoupling of the liner notes from the case. Sigh. So I used an obtrusive and intimately personal repair method: thin strips of electrical tape. They seem most appropriate, given the title and image of the album. The good news is that it also arrived in Vinyl!

A nearly broken ArtHeart

A nearly broken ArtHeart

Welcome to 2012.

Things that might happen this year:

  1. Universe wraps things up, according to an interpretation of the Mayan calendar.
  2. I finish my tertiary education, and get on with life.
  3. The Eurozone dissolves, most of Europe defaults on euro debt, global depression kickoff.
  4. Obama can’t fix the depression, and Ron Paul wins the Presidency.

Two of those are, I think, likely. Observe that I make no REALLY absurd claims about food or exercise. That’d just be crazytalk.

I do note that the loonier portions of Iraq are claiming a victory over the US because we finally withdrew the last of our combat troops from that cesspit of a made-up country. We had one primary goal – dispose of Saddam. Done. We had a secondary goal, which is to leave that country in a fairly stable sovereign condition. Silly secondary goal: expensive in blood and treasure, and pointless since their second favorite thing after killing Americans is killing and torturing each other. Dumbasses.

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

  • Staff Sgt. Joseph J. Altmann, 27, of Marshfield, Wisconsin, died Dec. 25, in Kunar province Afghanistan, of injuries suffered when insurgents attacked his unit with small arms fire.
  • Sgt. Noah M. Korte, 29, of Lake Elsinore, California, died Dec. 27, in Paktia, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked his unit with an improvised explosive device.
  • Spc. Kurt W. Kern, 24, of McAllen, Texas, died Dec. 27, in Paktia, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked his unit with an improvised explosive device.
  • Pfc. Justin M. Whitmire, 20, of Easley, South Carolina, died Dec. 27, in Paktia, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked his unit with an improvised explosive device.
  • Petty Officer Stacy O. Johnson, 35, of Rolling Fork, Mississippi, died July 18, while supporting operations in Bahrain.
  •  Spc. Pernell J. Herrera, 33, of Espanola, New Mexico, died Dec. 31, in Helmand province, Afghanistan, of injuries suffered in a non-combat incident.

Linux remodel, OpenIndiana build 151a, Node.js, and the DTrace Book

Lots of computing updates going on. It all started last week …

*     *     *

It was the Thursday before Christmas, or Wednesday perhaps, the details blur just a bit. I’ve not been using the Linux box formerly known as Slartibartfast as a desktop machine for quite a while now. My old MacBook Pro got refurbished with a small-ish SSD drive, and that’s the primary desktop system these days. It sits in a custom upright support that I created for the purpose a couple of years ago, and finally put to use

Darlion, the sedentary MacBook Pro

Darlion, the sedentary MacBook Pro

Darlion — the OS X Lion -enabled former Darla — sits forlorn at home each day while the Air, known as Agog, travels with me now. But that’s another story. Anyway, the Ubuntu Linux box needed a shedload of updates, so I let it update. Ahem. That was a mistake.

When I was done, the system no longer booted properly. I’d managed to snag not a set of updates for my system, but a distribution upgrade to the latest and greatest ‘buntu. That’s all well and good, but I had lots of system-level customizations, especially on the networking side, that simply didn’t work anymore. Ethernet devices were renamed, the bloody network manager thing from Hell made a reappearance, and other stuff related to dbus and udev flatlined. That I was unhappy was an understatement, especially since it’s still my fault. I managed that system from a functional desktop that operated most of the time as a fairly reliable home server into a flakey piece of crap that didn’t boot. Me, I did this.

It’s ten o’clock at night on a working evening … I’m not getting this fixed today. Marcia’s nightly backups can skip a night, so can my nightly backups from the web (I back up our webs, MySQL databases, etc. every night into a rolling pattern that lets me restore at intervals back at least 60 days). So the backups just fail out overnight, and by Friday evening, I had time to do the work. Or so I thought.

I tried to get an ISO for Ubuntu LTS 10/04 (the long term support version: LTS) that would install. By around 2300 that night, I was ready to adjust the system with the aluminum LART [1] I keep in the house. I walked away, and re-approached the problem in the morning. Finally, on the fifth optical disc, and following two failures with USB media tries, I got Ubuntu Server 11/10 installed. That’s good for three years worth of security updates, and maybe I’ll have migrated to something else before then. I thought hard about OpenIndiana … but that’s the next chapter in the story.

*     *     *

Since I was rebuilding the system from scratch, I backed up the data I cared about separately from the normal weekly backups onto a pair of disks that weren’t part of the restructuring. I then dismantled both midsize towers, at least as far as storage was concerned.

For the purposes of conversation, let’s refer to these machines by the names they assumed at  the end of the process: Serenity, the Ubuntu Linux home server, and Hellboy, the OpenIndiana build 151a server and Gaming OS box. Both have quad-core processors (but Hellboy’s is a bit faster, and has VTS extensions, for later experimentation with Zones and KVM). Both have plenty of RAM, at 4G and 8G respectively.

I decommissioned the PCIe 1x 3Ware RAID card out of Serenity, and pulled the two 750G drives out of that system. I also pulled three 1TB drives, and a 500G drive out of Hellboy. All I left there was the 500G Windows 7 system disk. I put two of those 1TB drives into Serenity, and built them into a software RAID0 mirror set, which is fine for my purposes, and removed the dependency on the “custom” 3Ware RAID card. The performance hit for the purposes of this machine is negligible.

The Ubuntu install on Serenity is fine, and everything works. Why didn’t I go with a Red Hat or derivative? I’ve got current scripts with dependencies on packages that are trivial to acquire and install on Ubuntu, and I wanted this done before Christmas. Like I said, later. I configured the DNS, Samba, NTP and SSH services that Serenity provides, transcribing configs and updating as necessary from my backups. Then I restored the 500G or so of Userland data, and nearly everything was working again. I had to do some tuning on Marcia’s box to make backups work again, and modify some of her mapped drives to be happy with the new system, but that took no time at all. Putting the newer, larger drives into Serenity was actually a power-draw win, too! That system is only pulling about 70 watts at idle, where it was nearly 90 watts with the older drives and RAID card in play.

*     *     *

Next I reinstalled OpenIndiana build 151a onto Hellboy. This time, Hellboy got the two 750G drives as a single ZFS rpool mirror set, and that’s the extent of that system. It’s running, I can experiment with Zones and DTrace and Node.js there, and it doesn’t need to be running 24/7.

Why OpenIndiana? It’s one of the distributions of Illumos, the carrier of the OpenSolaris torch after Oracle abandoned that codebase in 2010. Do you want more Solaris history than that, leading up to what happened? Watch Bryan Cantrill’s Fork, Yeah! presentation from LISA 2011. What an awesome talk! Still, why OpenIndiana? I really like Solaris, but I don’t really want to spend the $2K/year which is the only way to legally license and keep updated Solaris on non-SUNOracle hardware. I want a Solaris playspace at home, and OpenIndiana provides that. And if the rumors are true, which is that internal to Oracle, Solaris is really just being treated as firmware for Oracle storage and database appliances, then the only general purpose computing inheritor of the Solaris codebase will be something evolved from/through Illumos. DTrace is cool. ZFS is über-cool. Zones are super-cool. And I want to play there, in my “spare time.”

*     *     *

Node.js and the DTrace book. That’ll have to wait for a pending post, I want supper! Ciao!

[1] LART – Luser Attitude Realignment Tool, in this case an aluminum baseball bat.

 

Process and Paranormal

Process and Paranormal – it’s not a Jane Austen parody, although those are surprisingly popular these days, especially those with zombies baked in. I’m just thoughtful about two different things right at the moment and rather than make progress on anything, I’ll stop and discuss things here.

*     *     *

Process is much on my mind not just because of my on-again, off-again forays into the land of productivity porn. My in-field class this upcoming Winter session has Pressman’s Software Engineering: A Practitioner’s Approach as the text. Software engineering is all about process (as is personal and work productivity). I’m pre-reading the text before class starts – it’s a practice that I’ve worked at with some little success since I enrolled at UMUC in 2008. Sometimes I merely skim the material, other times (like this one), I’m properly reading the book, and taking a few notes where the process stuff might be immediately useful to me, or when a referenced work might be worth acquiring for further reading.

This depth of reading also means that I manage to stumble over sections, statements or phrases that cause me difficulty one way or another. Sometimes the difficulty is because I don’t know enough about the topic and need more of a mental framework within which to properly hang the information I’m assimilating. Other times I’m catching errors of fact, omission, or commission that make me question the quality of the passage (or if there are enough of them, the value of the whole work).

The last mode of reading problem I have is this: I read something that sends me off on a train of thought that leaves the work at hand tangentially, sometimes so quickly that I’m stuck out in left field. This might, were I in grade school these days, be diagnosed as one or another of the attention deficit disorders that seem so popular among the education set as an excuse for their inability to teach. Me, I think that it happens as a confluence of three things: a momentary lack of mental discipline, combined with a fertile imagination, and a capacious memory for that which I have read before.

Tonight, for example, a sentence from text reads (almost as received wisdom): “People derive as much (or more) satisfaction from the creative process as they do from the end product.” Immediately, I want to know where I read “I don’t enjoy writing. I enjoy having written.” Surely that’s a paraphrase, and one repeated by more than one author of my acquaintance. The intarwebs, courtesy of Google, gives me a University of Manitoba page which quotes Farley Mowat as saying nearly precisely that. But that’s fairly recent, only 20 years ago, and it is a much more universal thing. Others attribute it to Robert Louis Stevenson. The preponderance of attribution seems to go to Dorothy Parker though, with this version, “I hate writing. I love having written.”That has the ring of truth to it: short, pithy, and very DP. I imagine Wilde might have uttered something similar, too. Even Heinlein acknowledged in his fiction that writing was equal parts obsession and curse, making the writer not fit company. I can’t but think that this may be true for other creative types. And now I’m quite a distance from the text that I was supposed to be reading … and I’m writing about the diversion, not the reading!

*     *     *

What, you want to know about the Paranormal part? Well, there was this weird dream I had of trying to save someone, a young girl or woman, from something vaguely troll-ish, by hiding her in my house which was constructed much like a wooden ship. Yah, not very paranormal, but the troll was fairly erudite, although not very forthcoming about how he disposed of his prey (but she was gone, gone, gone).

You want paranormal? This is the right season for it: The Carol of the Old Ones will darken your day, your spirits, and your final hours on this ball of dirt.

Plague of Imagination

The problem of having a rich imagination is this: Anything that can go wrong, already has … in my mind. Imagine driving home from someplace unusual, as I did this afternoon. Imagine using the Nav system built into the car and pressing the “Go Home” button. Once I get out of the area I don’t know and I’m on a known path home, I want to make the car stop talking to me. So I press the DEST button on the dash, select “Del Dest” on the screen, and be prompted: “Delete Destination? [YES][NO]” I tap the yes button, then wonder … when I get home, is there going to be a smoking crater? Have I just deleted my house? Sigh.

So far today I’ve gotten the car serviced (up at 0615, at the dealership by 0720), gone to a funeral service (and driven home, wondering if I deleted the house), and roasted coffee. A busy day.

School is pretty well done for the year. It’ll be a week or two before I get the grade, but I make no predictions since 35% of the grade is the one final project. I may have tanked it completely (again, Del Dest!!!).

Here’s some Lexi for those that love dogs!

Watching Lexi-TV

Watching Lexi-TV