It’s nearly midnight on Christmas Eve. I’m the only one awake, perhaps with the exception of my dog, Oliver, although as the minutes tick by I’m less sure of him. Tomorrow morning the kids will wake us up earlier than we’d like, and we will tear into the presents, eat a wonderful breakfast, and have a fantastic day enjoying each others company.
My commute takes me past the sanitary landfill every morning, a daily reminder to be careful about what I throw away, and what I can recycle. Driving by the dump doesn’t bother me per se, but the maniacs who drive the dump trucks do. I’ve learned to watch the turn into the dump, watching for the massive metal beasts, trying to anticipate when they’ll pull out, and if I’ll have to swerve out of their way.
Statement of Faith
I am a Christian. I believe that Jesus is the Son of God, that he became a man and was born to a virgin. Jesus lived a perfect, sinless life, and died on the cross as the ultimate sacrifice for all of humanity, for all time, past and future. He was raised from the dead three days later, spoke to his disciples, and now sits enthroned in glory in heaven at the right hand of the Father. Through Faith, I accept this truth, and I accept Jesus as my personal savior.
Burn it Down
As the year comes to an end it would be easy to look back and see all of the things that didn’t work. Mistakes were made, endeavors failed, and it was generally a tough year. Some things that I thought would work out did not, and some things I thought I had more time before I had to deal with came due. Sometimes, when things aren’t working out, it’s best to burn it all to the ground and start over.
My wife and I were sitting at the dinner table chatting, winding down for the night, when I saw a pair of headlights shining in our back window. The back side of our house faces the middle school parking lot, with a good amount of lawn and trees between the edge of my land and the beginning of the gravel, so it is not too unusual to see cars back there, but late on a Saturday night did seem strange.
Technical Education in K-12
Our small school is nearing the end of the four-year cycle for a one-to-one program that provides all students in grades six through twelve with a white MacBook. Students are free to take the laptop home, and parents must sign an agreement to pay for any damages. Over the course of the past few years I have become strongly, almost vehemently opposed to the program.
A Daring Adventure
or, A Good Life
Update: July 30, 2013 - Farmdog is not closed, but I am rethinking everything. Paragraphs will continue to be supported for the foreseeable future.
Where We Stand
In the online help for Paragraphs, I have a rather odd statement:
Electrogent's 50 Rules
One of my favorite things about the Internet is finding a little treasure trove of writing and style that I previously did not know existed. Electrogent is one of those little gems, and his list of 50 rules for his son is full of timeless advice.
A World of Things
It is very easy when living in the technology field to ignore the actual physical space we occupy. Skills once thought essential are slowly being forgotten as we move farther and farther away from a culture of being able to create and fix things.
13 Virtues for 2013
Instead of looking back, I like to look forward. As a guide on how I’d like to live the next year of my life, here are Benjamin Franklin’s famous 13 Virtues, written when he was 20:
No More Guns
I’m angry. You should be too. On December 14th, a young man shot his way into a locked elementary school in a small town in Connecticut and murdered twenty children and six adults. This is an abhorrent act by a mentally ill person, but the magnitude of the act was amplified because the murderer had access to guns. Big guns.
The office is empty this morning. I just closed iTunes, and I am enjoying listening to my own thoughts. No music, no talking, no background, just quiet. Sitting in silence is a luxury these days, and one that should not be taken for granted.
A New World
CocoaHeads changed my life. This afternoon I am killing time in a coffee shop, about to head to work for an appointment with HR. When I get there, I’ll turn in my badge, they will wish me luck, and I’ll walk out the door. Monday, I start a new chapter in my life with T8 Webware. To say that I’m a little nervous about this change would be an understatement. I’ve spent time with these guys, they are smart, ambitious, and I believe in what they are doing. I’m going to be part of building something awesome, and I’m extremely excited.
Every so often I get the inkling to make this site more than what it is. Since 2008 I’ve been writing fairly regularly here about whatever comes to mind, and in doing so I’ve covered several topics. I’ve written about Android and Mac geekery, success and failure in Mac development, business, psychology, systems administration, personal stories, and memories. More than anything, I have tried to inspire others, and sometimes, if I’m very, very lucky, I succeed.
My daughter had an ear infection. A common occurrence in children, so I brought her down to our local doctors office. The doctor took one look at her ear and knew what needed to be done. He wrote out a prescription, gave me a few instructions, and sent me on my way. I then had two choices, I could drive the twenty miles into the city to get her prescription filled by Walgreens, or I could drive seven miles over to the next town to see if the local pharmacy could take care of it. I decided on the shorter trip.
Found On The Path
I woke this morning at 5:20, got dressed, and went outside for my morning workout. Today’s weather was beautiful, perfect temperature, and the smell of fresh rain. Lately I’ve been riding my bike, a Schwinn that is neither strong enough to be a mountain bike, nor sleek enough to be a road bike. I would call it a “small town bike”, as it gets me around all four corners of our small town.
Introversion Intuition Thinking Judgment
INTJs apply (often ruthlessly) the criterion “Does it work?” to everything from their own research efforts to the prevailing social norms.
Weekend With Android
I should have known better… I do know better, but it was on sale, and it was Black Friday, and I bought an Android phone. I purchased the HTC Desire, a perfectly reasonable choice in high-end smart phones. Android 2.1, a 1GHz processor, 512M of RAM, and an 8G MicroSD card for storage. The phone is well designed, solidly built, and aesthetically pleasing, but at this point, its still on probation, I might take it back.
Android Marketplace Inconsistencies
Living out in the farmland of Iowa where we do, there’s really only one carrier who provides decent service, US Cellular. US Cellular has a great service for battery replacement. If you find yourself out and about and your battery dies, you can drop by any US Cellular store and they will replace the battery for free. I was in that situation today, so I spent some time looking at the Android phones HTC Desire and Samsung Mesmerize.
Last night I did my civic duty by casting my vote at the local community center. I walked down since it was not far from my house, and enjoyed the crisp night air. Once I arrived at the community center I noticed that the voting process was being run by a group of elderly women, two of whom had Lenovo laptops, which were curiously tied together by an ethernet cable. Each of the laptops had a label printer attached to it via USB, with the other USB port occupied by a mouse. As I approached one lady noticed me and asked me to fill out a form, which I did, and then asked if I had voted there before, which I had not. That turned out to be a bit of a problem, one that was easily resolved, and one that was caused entirely by the laptops.
The Smell of Salt
A long, long time ago, what seems like a different life now, I was a Sailor. Towards the end of my teenage years, I came to a point where I knew I had to do something with my life, and at the time, that something was not college. My adoptive father was in the Navy, so I decided to follow in his footsteps and joined the Navy myself in October of 1995. From June of 1996 to July of 1999 I was assigned to the USS Platte, an oiler. During this time I made the best friends of my life, met my wife, and travelled across Europe and even into the Middle East.
Iowa got its first big storm of the winter season yesterday, and as of right now its still going on. We couldn't go anywhere even if we wanted to. We got about 13" of snow so far, but the wind gusts up to 50mph are the big problem. Just about everything is shut down, schools, work places, and even some of the larger roads.
Good day to get caught up on somethings I've been meaning to get done.
Teach A Man To Fish
As a general rule, I really don’t like consultants. Not that I have anything against any of them personally, it’s just that as a whole, most consultants I’ve worked with are no better than our own engineers and administrators. The exception that proves this rule is our recent VMWare consultant, who was both knowledgeable and willing to teach. Bringing in an outside technical consultant to design, install, or configure a software system is admitting that not only do we as a company not know enough about the software, we don’t plan on learning enough about it either. Bringing in a consultant is investing in that companies knowledge, and not investing in our own.
My Mama said if I’d be good, she’d send me to the store. She said she’d bake some gingerbread if I would sweep the floor. She said if I would make the beds and watch the telephone, She would send me out to buy a chocolate ice cream cone. And so I did, the things she said And she made me some gingerbread. Then I went out, just me alone And I bought me a chocolate ice cream cone. Now on the way home, I stubbed my toe upon a big ol’ stone. Need I tell you that I dropped my chocolate ice cream cone. A little doggy came along and took a great big lick. So I hit that little doggy with a great big stick. And he bit me, where I sit down. And he chased me all over town. And now I’m lost…can’t find my home. All because of a chocolate ice cream cone!
When I was younger, 20 years ago or so I suppose, the New Kids On The Block (NKOTB) were synonymous with cheesy pop music that was taking over our airwaves. They weren’t just a pop boy band, they were The pop boy band. I remember the thing was that if you were a guy and you were a NKOTB fan, it instantly meant you were gay. Which, for an adolescent boy just before his teens, that meant there was absolutely no way that this band’s music would ever willingly land on his ears. Rumors circulated regularly about the NKOTB being caught, red-handed no less, in one disgusting sexual tryst or another. One in particular that I remember was that one of the members had to have his stomach pumped because he was sick, and they found that it was full of sperm. That was the stigma attached to this band.
From time to time I’m asked by members of my family or friends of mine outside the tech industry what it is that I do for a living. When I respond that I’m a sysadmin, or systems administrator for Linux and UNIX servers, more times than not I get the “deer in the headlights” look that says I may as well be speaking Greek. So, for a while, I’ve taken to saying “I work in IT”, or “I work with computers, really big computers” or even “I’m a computer programmer”, which isn’t exactly accurate. Although I do write scripts, or even some moderate perl, I’m still not officially a programmer. I’m a systems administrator, so, let me try to explain, my dear friends and family, what it is I do in my little box all day.
First, some basics, let’s start at square one. Computers are comprised of two parts, hardware and software. Sort of like the body and soul of a person. Without hardware, software is useless, and vice-versa. The most basic parts of the hardware are the CPU, which is the brain, the RAM, which is the memory, the disk, which is a place to put things, and the network card, which lets you talk to other computers. For each of these pieces of hardware there needs to be some way to tell them how to do what they are intended to do. Software tells the hardware what to do. I forgot two important pieces of hardware: the screen and the keyboard/mouse. They let us interact with the computer, at least until I can just tell it what to do Star Trek style.
Getting all of these pieces of hardware doing the right thing at the right time is complicated, and requires a structured system, along with rules that govern how people can interact with the computer. This system is the Operating System (OS). There are many popular operating systems: Windows, OS X, and Linux are the big three right now. The OS tells the hardware what to do, and allows the user to add other applications (programs) to the computer.
Smaller computers, like your home desktop or laptop have network cards to get on the Internet. The network card will be either wired or wireless, that doesn’t really matter. When you get on the Internet, you can send and receive information to and from other computers. This information could be an email, a web page, music, or lots of other media. Most of the time, you are getting this information from a large computer, or large group of computers that give out information to lots of home computers just like yours. Since these computers “serve” information, they are referred to as Servers.
Large servers are much like your home computer. They have CPU, RAM, disk, etc… They just have more of it. The basics still apply though. Servers have their own operating system, normally either Windows, Linux or UNIX. Some web sites or web services (like email) can live on lots of different servers, each server having its own job to do to make sure that you can load a web page in your browser. To manage, or “administer” these servers is my job. I administer the system that ensures the servers are doing what they are supposed to do. I am a systems administrator. It is my responsibility to make sure that the servers are physically where they are supposed to be (a data center, in a rack), that they have power and networking, that the OS is installed and up to date, and that the OS is properly configured to do its job, whatever that job may be.
I am specifically a UNIX sysadmin, which means that I’ve spent time learning the UNIX interface, which is mostly text typed into a terminal, and it looks a lot like code. This differs from Windows sysadmins, who spend most of their time in an interface that looks similar to a Windows desktop computer. UNIX has evolved into Linux, which is more user friendly and flexible, and also where I spend most of my time.
Being a sysadmin is a good job in a tech driven economy. I’ve got my reservations about its future, but I may be wrong. Even if I’m not, the IT field changes so rapidly that I’m sure what I’m doing now is not what I’ll be doing 5-10 years from now. One of these days, maybe I’ll open a coffee shop or a restaurant, or I’ll finally write a book.
It was June of 1996 when I arrived in Rota. The Spanish sun was bright as I stepped off the creaky military aircraft, and I realized that this day would hold a lot of firsts for me. Today, I was going to meet my ship.
The GI Hole
In December 1995 I was halfway through boot camp, a time called service week. Service week was when the recruits went to work in the galley. Some served food, other mopped the floor, and still others handed out miniature boxes of cereal.
Consulting in Coralville
In 2007 I spent two months working as a network engineer for a small tech consulting company. The work there was amazing. They had built a long range, city-wide wireless network, and were providing broadband to rural areas. They were also providing a “one stop shop” for everything IT for small businesses in town. The people who built this business were energetic and bright, and I was lucky to have worked there. I could have stayed there longer, made a career out of it, or perhaps launched my own solo career from there. That’s not what happened, I left after two months. The reason: I was scared to death.
First Things First
My phone went through the wash today. Turns out it happened first thing this morning. I really should be more careful about cleaning out my pockets before throwing something in the washing machine, but to be honest, I never liked that phone to begin with. It had a faulty battery, and a faulty USB charger, so it would almost never fully charge and when it did, it would drain quickly. The Bluetooth on it didn’t work either. So, it wasn’t that great of a phone, and now its gone, and good riddance to it. Now, I’m faced with the prospect of finding a replacement phone, but this comes with complications.
US Cellular has me for another 10 months. My contract doesn’t end with them till November. I can cancel my contract for $70, and I may wind up doing just that, but then I’ll also have to replace my wife’s phone as well. US Cellular is a good phone company, but when I think about spending money on a phone, its hard to justify purchasing anything other than an iPhone, which takes US Cellular out of the equation. I’m eligible for an “upgrade” in May, when I can get a new phone for a reduced cost from US Cellular, but if I want a phone between now and then, I’m paying full price. That’s $159.95 for a Samsung SCH-u340, which boasts an internal antenna and a VGA camera. When I look at that price, and think that I could get a refurbished iPhone for $9.95 <it>less</it>, it makes my wallet hurt.
So, if I buy an iPhone, won’t I be chaining myself to massive monthly service charges from AT&T? Well, maybe, maybe not. We pay right around $100/mo. for our service now. This is for 1000 minutes shared between our two phones. Looking at our phone bills, I find that we do not come anywhere close to using 1000 minutes. We would be perfectly suited to the At&T 450 minute family plan, which is right around $60/mo. Couple this with the iPhone’s required $30/mo data plan, and we are at $90/mo. Of course, I’d have to have two data plans… because there’s no way my wife would let me have an iPhone and not get her one as well, so that’d bring the grand total up to $120/mo. So, $20 more per month than what we are paying now. Since I’d have to cancel both of our accounts at US Cellular to get this to work, that would cost $140. The iPhones, even refurbished, would cost $300. So, for the first month, to get going, we are looking at $560. We are not poor, but we are not rich either, and that amount of money needs to be well thought out, which brings me to the basement.
We’ve got an unfinished basement that I’m working on as time and money allows. I’ve built a couple of walls, made lots of plans, taken lots of measurements, and bought some tools. I’m a long, long way from being able to have a couple of my kids move their rooms down there. The basement is also where I have my desk, which holds my monitor and Time Machine drive, and where I do most of my programming at. Programming takes a lot of concentration, a lot of studying, and most of all… lots and lots of time. Recently, I’ve been thinking that the unfinished basement would be much, much easier to concentrate in, if it were a little closer to being finished.
The phone going in the wash today has actually been a conduit for me re-aligning my priorities. I’m still very intent on finishing my application, but I think I would be more comfortable, and therefore be able to concentrate on development better, resulting in a better product, if I finish the basement first. Since I’m going to have to adjust the budget for the new phone, and since I’m going to need money to finish the basement, I’m thinking that the new phone is going to have to wait. Work gives me a cell phone every other week so I can be “on-call”. Normally I simply forward the phone over to my personal phone so I don’t have to look like some kind of geek Batman carrying around a utility belt full of gadgets. Now, since I don’t have a personal phone, I’ll just carry the one they give me. I suppose I’ll also have to start carrying the pager again. Yes, a pager, and party like it’s 1989.
So, I’ll live without a cell phone for a while, and I’m also going to put development on hold for a while. Not entirely, I’ll still have a little time in the morning, but I’ll probably put that time to use blogging either here or over at The Apple Blog. The rest of my time, and the rest of my money, is going to go towards finishing the basement. After that’s done, I’ll be in a much better position to move to an iPhone, and finish developing Go in peace and comfort.
New Years Day
“And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? Christmas came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ‘till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”
I’m a geek. Understanding that little fact puts me a little closer to being in touch with myself, and understanding that I’ve got a habit of trying out every new service or technology that comes along. That’s fun, but in the case of online services, I wind up with accounts all over the place. So, the past few days I’ve been pruning my online accounts down to what I really need.
On Graduation Day
In May of 1995 I should have graduated from high school in the rocky mountains of Montana. Then, in the following fall, say around August or September, I should have started my pursuit of a college degree. Finally, in May of 2000, I should have graduated from college with a bachelors degree in who knows what.
The Master Craftsman
The Master Craftsman works methodically, not slowly, not hurriedly. He has mastered the basics, and knows the essence of his craft. He has moved to a point where he can define his own methods, and doesn’t need to explain them to anyone, unless someone is wise enough to ask. The Master Craftsman enjoys the hardest, most complicated problems, and enjoys unravelling them piece by piece. He enjoys the challenge to his skill, and proves his worth again and again as he overcomes each obstacle.
My wife wanted me to read something that she was writing the other day, so I sat down at her laptop on our table and read through it. While I was there, I happened to glance at her email, an old hotmail account, and noticed that she has emails going all the way back to ‘01. A quick glance at my gmail tells me that there is no way I can tell how far back my email goes, but I’m pretty sure that I’ve lost everything prior to ‘05 or so. I’ve been accused of having email ADD in the past, and I’m fairly certain there is a bit of truth to it. It seems to hold true for a lot of the technology in my life, I’m just never satisfied with it, and wind up tweaking, fiddling, and otherwise screwing around with my tools until they are either just right or completely screwed up and I throw the entire thing in the trash and start over.
This certainly holds true for my email, I have been through @aol.com, @hotmail.com, @yahoo.com, @mac.com, @inbox.com, @live.com, and finally, @gmail.com. It also holds true for my web sites. I’ve started 10 or 15 web sites throughout the years, starting with a geocities site back in… what, ‘99 or so? If I’d have stayed on top of it, I’d have managed to compile a decent amount of writing in one place for 9 years. But, I have some form of technology ADD, and can not seem to be happy with any single system. When I discovered Linux, my curiosity really got the best of me. I must have downloaded and tested 100-125 distros. I installed so many that I started recording them on my old (now defunct) blog, jonstechblog.com, which evolved into the also now defunct, osvids.com. This went on until I “switched” to Mac, and I’ve been fairly happy with my operating system since. At least I know that there is nothing else out there that’s any better than what I have now.
I’ve learned a lot about what I want out of my technology over the years, and I’ve found that when I find a good system, even if its not perfect, its best to stick with it until there is a significant reason to change. My curiosity has unfortunately led to my loosing data. Somewhere along the line I lost a lot of email, and a lot of writing, and there is no way to get that back. So, now, I’ve come to a point where I’m content in the systems that I have in place. My email works great, my OS works great, and I have an excellent blogging platform on a reliable host. I’ve started over far, far too many times, and it’s time to settle down and shoot down some roots. Its time to stop worrying about the method of creation, and focus on the creative process itself.
Writing and Word Processing
A friend of mine is having a heck of a time with his new MacBook. He’s a recent convert to Macs, and as a philosophy student he spends a lot of time in Word. When he first bought his shiny new MacBook, he was surprised to find out there was no word processor in it. I pointed out TextEdit, which he quickly dismissed as not nearly powerful enough for what he needed to do. So, back to the store he went to pick up a copy of iWork ‘08, and started working with Pages.
No Fail Diet Plan
Seriously, does anyone really need to know how to loose weight these days? No matter what super plan you choose, it always comes down to eat less an exercise more. There is no secret formula, and there is no magic pill that will help you achieve the body that you want.
Here’s another truth that no one wants to hear: your weight is your fault. You cannot blame genetics, how you were taught to eat, your job, your wife, your husband, your kids, your dog, the government, or any other outside influence other than yourself. It is true that some people are more prone to weight gain than others, but that does not mean that you can’t do anything about it. Blaming anything except your own habits is a cop-out. To start the 100% guaranteed program, you have to face reality, and you have to take responsibility for your own actions.
So, here’s my super simple, 100% guaranteed, no way you can not lose weight, weight loss plan.
Step one, watch what you eat. That means no McDonalds, Burger King, Hardie’s, or Sonic. Eating fast food makes you fat. I like a double-quarter pounder with fries as much as the next guy, but seriously, you never need that many calories in one setting. I’d say that’s like a once every six months meal, not once a week (or day). If you have to eat out, go to Subway and order a six-inch veggie delight on whole wheat. Seriously, try it, they are really good!
Next, stop right now and go look in your refrigerator and your pantry. OK, how much pre-prepared food did you see? Boxed, one-pan, no cooking skills necessary stuff, you know what I mean. If you are eating ingredients that you cannot pronounce, there is a problem. For example, I cannot think of the last time a recipe called for L-Cystein Hydrochloride. Use raw ingredients as much as possible. Even if the resulting recipe is high in fat and calories, at least you know what’s in it. That leads me to my next point.
Fill up half your plate with veggies. Make a salad that only contains vegetables. Lettuce, carrots, cabbage, broccoli, olives, onions, etc… Fill up a quarter of your plate with a slice of bread or something similar. This is your side dish. That doesn’t mean that it gets its own plate, its there to take up room on your plate, and therefor in your stomach. Now you should have only a quarter of your plate left to fill, that’s for the main course. Also, get a pint glass of ice cold water to go with your meal. Drink the water before drinking anything else.
Speaking of drinking, here’s another hard lesson to learn. Alcohol makes you fat. Alcohol add nothing of value to your diet. As in all things, moderation is OK, but drinking a six pack a night is a sure path to failure. Also, drinking a bottle of wine in one sitting is also very bad for your health. Remember the glass of water at dinner time? Drink that first, and you won’t be as tempted to drink so much beer or wine or whatever you like with your meal.
So, that covers eating and drinking, now for the fun part: exercise! If the sun is shining, turn off the TV, shutdown the computer, and go outside. It’s actually very difficult not to exercise when you are outside, because there is always something to do. At the very least, take a walk. Do some gardening, shovel snow, make a snowman, go out and do something. You can pick up a sport. I’m learning how to swim laps in a pool. It’s not as easy as it sounds, but learning something new is enthralling. I get bored weight lifting and running on the treadmill, but you may really enjoy it.
There are literally thousands of sports, and if you keep looking, you are bound to find one that’s just challenging enough without being too overbearing. However, you must be brave, because here is the final hard lesson to learn. When you try something new, you are going to look like a fool. This is universal, and unavoidable. No matter what it is, no one is good at something the first time they try it. No matter what your chosen exercise is, until you get good at it, you are going to look silly. Be brave, this will pass. Here’s the great thing, the more you do it, the better you get at it, and the less ridiculous you will look doing it. Right now I rather resemble an obese housecat thrown into the pool while I’m learning how to swim. That’s OK, it will pass, the more I swim, the better I get at it.
Nothing worth doing is easy.
I slept. The world changed all around me, and I slept.
Change and Blessing
On Monday, the 23rd, at 9:17 AM, we were blessed with our fourth child, Jacob. Jacob and his Mom are home now, after a few days stay in the hospital at the University of Iowa. Jacob is strong and healthy, waking every few hours to eat and burp and have his diaper changed.