Barry Smith is back!

(Who?)
Barry Smith once drew the incredibly awesome Angst Technologies webcomic. He went on hiatus for a while, but has restarted his artwork.
I highly recommend reading through the archives – the current strip is on InkTank.com. He’s thoughtfully linked the older strips into archives.
Ya’ll can finally see the origin of the IT Ninjas.

RadioParadise iPhone app!

Last night I wanted to sit down and listen to some RadioParadise during gaming. Unfortunately, my efforts to get a streaming ‘terminal’ available in the living room (other than plugging in one of the laptops) hasn’t gone particularly well.
I remember listening to RP via my iPhone, and since we had Cat’s Bose Sounddock on the shelf, I figured I just had to whip up a connection and dock the phone.
I ran up Safari on the phone, navigated to Radio Paradise, and lo, there was a link to a Radio Paradise iPhone app! For free!
In a blink I had it downloaded and running on my iPhone. The app gives basic functionality, showing the current track and allowing easy music control.
Score another one for the awesome Radio Paradise.

The Macs. They tempt me.

I’ve been having… unpure thoughts lately.
While I’m fairly happy with clipper running Ubuntu 8.10 as my working desktop machine, I realize that clipper is getting a little long in the tooth (I have not worn the keycaps off, but there’s a distinct ‘looseness’ in the keyboard). It’s now 4+ years old, and while it’s ‘working’, it might be time to consider an upgrade.
The macs tempt me. After setting up mom with her macbook, I had a better feel for the mac mobile experience. The latest line of macbooks has enough power in a non-bulky configuration that I can do all my development and serious work on them without making compromises.
I stopped by the Apple store to try out the new macbook touchpad (as I’m not a fan of touchpads in general), and I have to say I was impressed. The ‘glass’ touchpad implements multitouch in a good way (one finger for ‘single click’, two fingers for ‘right click’). I’d still miss the ‘nipple’ pointing device in the middle of the keyboard, but I think I’d be okay.
The last thing motivating me is the need to run some business software. I’ll be taking over more of Stonekeep’s finances, so I need to run Quicken / Quickbooks. While Intuit has done the right thing and put Quicken / Quickbooks online (though with our account with DCU, much of our banking can be done remotely anyway), having native commercial apps available, plus all the wonderful opensource / free apps – is a huge draw.
A properly kitted out laptop from Apple (250gig HD, 4gig RAM, Macbook 2.4Ghz) runs $1800-ish. This would be my machine for another 3-4 years at least – the price is reasonable, though a little daunting.
But then I look at other things that would bring me – like Time Capsule. Brilliant.
It would mean abandoning Linux as a desktop. A moral dilemma to be sure.

Classics app for the iPhone

A few years ago, I posted about reading books on my Treo – an exercise I thought I’d never enjoy, but in the end, enjoyed quite a lot.
Ever since I got my iPhone, I’ve been considering setting up an ebook reader, but never got around to it. Recently I found the Classics app, a reader for the iPhone that is set up to provide a series of ‘classic’ books for the iPhone.
The reader app is quite good, and very easy to navigate (and pretty to look at). What I’ve been enjoying the most though is that the books that are available are, as the name implies, all ‘classics’ – books I should have read, but never got around to.
I finished reading ‘Flatland’, and now I’m about halfway through ‘Robinson Crusoe’. As always, it’s convenient having books with me at all times. I suspect when i’m done with these books, I’ll look at another reader app for other books, but for now, Classics makes it so I have at least 15 books with me at all times.

Not 64 bit.




Not 64 bit.

Originally uploaded by eidolon

Gall dang it.

‘ketch’ will be the new application server at our colo facility. I’vebeen slowly piecing it together and installing pieces on it.

Tonight I sat down to load Debian etch. Lo, it kept coming up with:

Your cpu does not support long mode

Turns out these are older Xeons, and are in fact not 64 bit. They’re also configured for hyperthreading, which I”m also hearing I should turn off.

Still, a pair of 2gig CPU’s will be a vast improvement over what we had, just not quite as shiny as I had hoped.

RAID1 configuration is continuing now. Debian’s RAID setup can be a little convoluted to set up on install, but I managed to wiggle my way through it.

Oh, a hint if you ever do this? Remember to leave a little space on your raid volumes for swap space. 2 40 gig drives mirrored to make one 40gig volume == no space for swap. Oops.

It’s alive! ketch is powered up

Ketch lives!
About six months ago, it became pretty apparent that boomer‘s newest brother, guardian, wasn’t going to be enough to bring the load off the main server, and that applications needed to be shifted off boomer soon. The paired 80gig SATA drives were getting full – it was time to expand the cluster.

Because homeport is a community cluster, I couldn’t just go to the CTO and requisition up another couple servers. One of our community members coughed up a little cash, thereby setting a budget, and I was off. After much ebaying and craigslisting, I came home with a pair of Penguin Computing Relion 130 1U servers. These were pulled out of a computation cluster, and were missing some small parts (one had no fans in it, and between the two of them they only had 2 40gig drives), but the price was right, the CPU oomph was good (dual Xeon 2gig CPUs), and the budget allowed for further upgrades.

Last week I got the final parts and did the assembly last weekend. ‘ketch’ here is the first machine assembled and loaded, and so far things are going fine. I moved the 2 40gig drives into this machine, and set up RAID-1 mirroring. ‘ketch’ will be an application server, taking the load off ‘boomer’ (which is only an AMD Sempron 2400+). The real kicker load wise was that I’m now deploying Tomcat based applications, and boomer just can’t handle big Java footprints and still manage 20-30 users comfortably.

‘ketch’ will stay here until configuration is done. I still have to build ‘dock’, which is an identical machine, except for a pair of 500gig drives that, once mirrored, will act as homeport’s NFS and MySQL server, further unloading boomer. We have dozens of Drupal sites running now, and the MySQL traffic is pretty hefty.

I haven’t made the final decision on directory services. There’s more and more pressure to just knuckle under and use NIS, certainly the easiest and best-known mechanism for replicating user information around a cluster, though I still hold out hope of a central LDAP based authentication / authorization system.

I hope to have ‘dock’ configured in the next week or two, and once they’re both ready, they’ll be shipped off to our colo facility for installation, bringing our homeport-specific server count to 4 (6 if you count 2 other machines that we share services with).

Pretty durned cool.

Gripe to Eclipse – Fix bugs, don’t put them off

Dear Eclipse Developers… having a bug open for 3+ years, through a myriad number of releases is inexcusable. Pointing fingers at different development groups saying “it’s their fault” and others saying “it’s those peoples fault” is not appropriate.
Just fix the damned bug already.
(NB – yes, that bug is only 6 months old. It is a merge from several other bugs reporting the exact same thing, see )

Lets talk Skiing.

Pretty skiesYesterday (Saturday), Zach and I packed up our gear and headed off to Wachusett to ski for as much of the day as we could tolerate. We had some plans for the evening, so the latest we could get home was around 5pm, but as we left the house at 9am, I didn’t think that would be a real obstacle.

Zach has been doing a great job skiing. He’s now happily keeping pace with me (in fact he’s frequently out in front), and I’ve gotten very comfortable with my Awesome Yellow Six-Ways-From-Sunday Solomon XScream 195cm skis.

This was planned as a escapism day for me. Last week was super-stressful, so I went to the mountain looking for some outdoor, re-centering, thoughtful time with me and the hill. Zach seems to share a lot of my “skiing is a great time for thinking” approach, so though were on the hill together, we didn’t talk much. He skied in his space, I skied in mine, we both focused on what we were doing and just relaxed into things. It was nice.

From here on out, we get into serious navel gazing. Fair warning.

So, first of all. I have this… issue. I’m ridiculously critical about myself. I have a hard time considering myself capable or good at ‘anything’. If someone calls me a ‘musician’, I get uncomfortable. I’m not a musician, I can just play some stuff that sounds okay. I’m faking it. “You’re a programmer” – well, sort of. I write some stuff, I can code bits, but I’m painfully aware of how much I DON’T know, and just fast talk my way through it. “You juggle really well” – I know some tricks, I know a few things, but I haven’t learned anything new in years, blah blah blah. I have a fear of being overconfidence and being arrogant.

While skiing yesterday, I did my usual observation of myself with a critical eye. I watched my skill, timing, form, and control. I watched myself with my ‘outer eye’ – that self-observation that’s always with me, judging. And 2 hours into being on the slopes, somewhere around the time we were considering stopping for lunch and scheduling a lesson for Zach, I came to this conclusion:

I am a skier.

But, more than that…

I am a damned good skier.

This is not a statement I can make and be totally comfortable with for… well, just about anything. In a world of self-aggrandizing pomposity, where people have a tendency to place themselves out as ‘experts’ and ‘highly skilled’ and all that jazz, without really being honest with themselves, it’s hard for me to state that I am ‘good’ at anything, and feel comfortable with it.

But I can watch myself ski, and I see a skilled dancer. I see someone in control, competent, not taking things for granted, but working hard on every turn, every motion, every shift of weight – self-chastising when I get it wrong, feeling when it’s right, and safely being able to say to myself “Self, you look good. Excellent form.”

But that’s not what I came here to talk about. It wouldn’t be a post to planet-geek without some geekery.

One of the things I’ve always wanted to do while skiing was listen to music. I remember a very funny story, undoubtedly apocryphal, when I was a kid about some guy who wanted to hear classical music while skiing. He hired an entire orchestra to stand by the side of the slope and play as he skied past, but they couldn’t sync up the brass section with the strings…

I grew up skiing on Hunter Mountain in upstate New York. One winter they started offering rentals of portable stereo rigs to skiers. They were essentially full sized automobile cassette decks in a sort of chest pouch with a bunch of batteries and some headphones. I thought this was the coolest thing ever, but a 12 year old isn’t going to get a chance to try this thing out, so I never heard what it was like.

I never got around to taking a Walkman with me on the slopes (I do remember some mountains actually banned them, worried they’d hurt the skier if they fell, or presented a safety risk when a skier couldn’t hear anything). Nowadays, it’s pretty common to see the telltale white cords of ipod headphones on many a snowboarder. It was time for me to try it.

During our lunch break, I went through the music selection on my iPhone and picked out about 30 tracks I’d like to listen to while skiing. They were mostly stuff I knew I liked a lot (Alan Parsons, Blues Brothers, The Cure, Dave Matthews, Dire Straights, etc etc). I queued them up into a playlist, set up my headphones under my shellaclava and hat, and put my iPhone in the inside pocket of my jacket. This turned out to be a fortuitous location for the phone, as it meant I could squeeze the jacket in the right place and adjust the volume up and down, so I could talk to people with a sort of background music going on when necessary. Thus equipped, and with Zach in a ski lesson for an hour and a half, I ventured out.

The result was fairly magical. The weather was perfect, the conditions were excellent, and the music was awesome. The headphones were comfortable and sounded great (I was wondering if the wind / noise would drown out the music, but that didn’t happen at all). Listening to “Sweet Home Chicago” while working on short-turn fall line techniques on a bright, clear, sunny day had me grinning from ear to ear and feeling about as good as you can get while flying down a hill at 25mph in 15 degree weather.

If you’ve never done it before, and you’re an active skier, I highly recommend trying this out. There are some drawbacks to be sure. You cannot hear anything else that goes on around you, including someone next to you in line wondering when you’re going to move up in the singles line (only happened once, really). Although iPod headphones are ‘okay’, they can shift around, and adjusting the position of the headphones underneath 2 layers of hat can be tricky. For the most part though, the headphones stayed put, something I was eternally grateful for.

But oh the joy.

Zach at WachusettLater, Zach and I got back together and did a couple more runs together. I spent a lot of this time watching him. I realize he’s on the same track I was when I was 11 or 12 (he’s a little ahead of me on the schedule). He’s seeking out the little paths on the sides of the trails, looking for the little whoopsie-jumps that are all over the place (skiers know what I mean by these – when i was a kid, I totally did this). What I also realized was… he needs kids to ski with. I’m boring for him – I’m not digging out the little fun bits, and goofing around, I’m just all zen like in my focus, and he’s already to the skill level where he’s looking for more excitement.

When I was on Hunter, my parents found me a sort of ‘kids group’ program – it was geared for kids 11-13 or so I guess, and was basically one nutty ski instructor and 4-5 crazy kids, and we just went nuts. We’d do a couple dozen runs a day, going hell bent all over the mountain, and it was a blast. I don’t think Wachusett has anything quite as goofy fun, so I’m going to be looking around for other kids groups. Zach has one friend at school who snowboards a lot, I’m going to see if he wants to go skiing with us one day. Zach’s already comfortable going off and taking runs and riding the ski lift on his own – having a friend (or friends) he can ski with I think would make the day a lot more enjoyable for him.

Me? I’m enjoying rediscovering my love for something physical, something I’m good at, and the added joy of sharing it with my son. I do have constant memories of doing this with my parents way back when, and every once in a while I get a little teary thinking of my dad… and remembering him doing these things with me 25 years ago.