Monday, July 07, 2014

What Are The Odds Of Something Like That?

Pretty good weekend...

I had off Friday, and both Emmi and Ben were going to be up for the weekend, but Thursday Night I was so tired from work (and from still living through the aftermath of a chest cold) that I went straight upstairs and took a two hour nap. Thus refreshed, I was able to rally, and we joined Scott S and Lou M at the Brew Works, where Ben eventually caught up with us -- then some of his friends showed up, and we had quite a little gathering there for a while.

Friday was the Fourth of July, and the day started out pretty rainy so I didn't feel too guilty about blowing off Greg's traditional Independence Day ride (it was canceled, but I wasn't planning to go since my fitness is not ready for that kind of push). What we did instead was make breakfast for Ben, and Emmi and Kyle, and Ben's friends, brothers Sam and Will and Nathan, along with Will's new bride Anna and their baby girl, Calliope, and Anna's friend who seems to be dating Nathan.

We ate, and hung out and talked, and passed baby Calliope around, and generally had a really nice visit, then they all left and I was ready for bed again, but instead we went over to Greg & Judy's for their post-ride picnic. I was so run-down I was dreading this, but once we got there I was really glad we went: Joe & Cindy, Joe & Sue, Greg & Judy, Eric & Janna, all people I really like, and used to hang out with almost constantly, and now just don't see enough of them.

We left around 8:00, and were home asleep before the Bethlehem fireworks.

Saturday we got up and did it again, this time going to Anne's cousin's picnic in Jim Thorpe. Anne's brother Frank was there with his family, and both her sisters as well, with their families, and the older ones were there with their families, and there were more and less distant cousins that I'd never met, as well as beer, hot dogs and other food, and desserts -- but no fireworks: again, we got out of town before the show started, and got in another early bedtime.

Sunday we got up and rode Lehigh, a first for Anne. We were both kind of tired, and still coughing, and I was definitely out of shape, bt we had a really good time. Later in the day, we had some friends over. John & Donna, Scott, Doug & Lori, and John & Renee. We were going to try our new keg of homebrew, but the CO2 ran out with almost the first glasses, and we were barbecuing, but the propane ran out almost immediately after the keg died, so we had to improvise with whiskey, mead and indoor cooking. We finally got to play John's card game "Cards Against Humanity," and it was a hoot. Last night was not an early night...

Monday, June 30, 2014

I Guess I Don't Really Know Jack After All

I don't really do much with video with my computer, so it's not something I've looked into, but while we were in Durham we had some DVD's we wanted to watch (some episodes of Foyle's War, and also Moonrise Kingdom), and our room's DVD player wasn't cooperating so we watched them on on my laptop, which has the biggest screen of the ones we brought down.

The program I used is called LinDVD, which I think is the only remaining part of a defunct, early 2000's attempt to make a Windows-like consumer Linux; LinDVD is not what plays video files -- and in fact has no provision to just open a file and play it, you put in a DVD, and LinDVD plays it, and that's that -- and I normally use something called Totem to play an ordinary video file.

Anyway, we watched the movies, no problem, but then I went to use Totem and it crashed on startup. Uh oh -- did I break something by using LinDVD? No idea, so I tried some other video players (Gnome Mplayer, which is a GUI wrapper around the regular command-line Mplayer program, then Mplayer itself) and they also hung up pretty much at startup.

I started to think that there was something wrong with my codecs: they might have been corrupted by a recent automatic upgrade, so I removed and reinstalled them -- no change. Strangely enough, LinDVD still worked fine (it might have its own codecs), as did Kino, a video editor I have.

The next thing I do is try to put on some music -- and Rhythmbox, my music player, also hangs on startup. I try mplayer again and look at the error messages it writes to the console, and sure enough there's some problems with ALSA, the "advanced Linux sound architecture."

Linux has a very convoluted sound system, and this is another area I haven't really studied up on. Suffice to say that once upon a time, sound was controlled by something called OSS, which then got mostly supplanted by ALSA, which in turn got superseded by PulseAudio, but they all are still there, running and interoperating, not so much in layers like the network stack, but more like a mish-mash.

I'm not sure what LinDVD does, but I'm pretty sure that Kino uses OSS rather than ALSA, so I think I'm getting somewhere. What I try to do next is, remove and reinstall ALSA and PulseAudio. No results, and there seems to be nothing about this problem on The Google, unless you count messages like "your system is way out of date, you should upgrade."

A word about Ubuntu: they make new versions of their distribution about once every six months, which basically become obsolete (that is, unmaintained) within a year or so. They also put a version every two years or so, designated LTS (long term support), which is maintained for about 3 to 5 years. I've used the version 10.04 LTS distribution for years, and it's now near end-of-maintenance; I've resisted upgrading because the next LTS version changes the desktop in ways I don't like, so I'm not exactly bleeding edge in my Linux technology.

I'm basically out of options, and am now resolved to upgrade -- which means backing up my data and configurations, and making a list of all the software I installed outside of the Ubuntu system, just in case... Somewhere in this mess I also made the mistake of removing LinDVD with the intention of reinstalling it, only to find that it's not part of the Ubuntu package universe, and in fact it's not available unless you're say Dell, and planning on shipping it with your computers. D'oh!

There are ways to deal with LinDVD issue as well as the upgrade mess, I just have to jump through the hoops, and I'm working my way up to it, when an upgrade of ALSA pops up in the Update Manager. It basically took 45 minutes to run and upgraded the entire sound system.

I look at the Ubuntu website, and they say that this would basically be the last update for 10.04LTS -- and was meant to be a fix for problems in a previous update (I read that between the lines) which I took to be the planned last update for 10.04. I noticed that it also installed something called jack (yet another component of the sound architecture), this was probably what they were trying to introduce in the broken update. Basically, all my uninstall/reinstall moves just kept reinstalling the broken system; it was not corrupted in my machine per se, but in the software repositories...

So now I have my video and music back, though not DVD's at least not the ones with encryption/DRM, since I guess the only program that had that was LinDVD, and distributing the decrypting package is a legally fraught proposition in the open software world. I'm working on it, and meanwhile I now have a third volume control app (for jack, which I know even less about than the other sound components on my system). I'll skip upgrading for now...

UPDATE: After writing this, I got to thinking about watching DVD's again, so I went online to one of the video player program's websites, and they had some decoding files which are apparently less encumbered. I downloaded and installed what I needed, and sure enough, it worked! Better yet, I can use my ordinary video players, and no longer have to worry about re-installing LinDVD. I just finished watching The Matrix, the only DVD I own and an ironic choice to watch on a computer...

It's kind of funny how 15 years can really date something: The Matrix is still a cool movie (as long as you refuse to acknowledge the existence of the sequels), but 9/11 kind of made watching buildings explode a little less fun, and recent mass shootings put a different spin on the gun fetish scenes. I just finished reading a series of cultural essays, jeremiads really, in a book from the nineties called Commodify Your Dissent (I got it in a Durham bookstore), and the whole book was an indictment of The Matrix's themes and imagery before it ever got filmed...

Friday, June 20, 2014

My Crew Called It "Which Brew"

I don't know how it came up, but a few weeks ago when I was picking up my drycleaning, the owner and I got to totaling about how we meet our spouses: I told her about meeting Anne at Which Brew and she exclaimed "That was where we went on our first date!"

We talked for a while about old times, Which Brew, and how good it was there, but I noticed she kept referring to it as "THE Which Brew," which was not the correct name but at least wasn't "Witch's Brew."

Wednesday, June 11, 2014


I am currently sitting alone in a James Joyce-themed bar (called, duh, James Joyce) in Durham, North Carolina. I am expecting the arrival of Anne and Emmi momentarily from their thrift store shopping foray, and have been so for about a half hour: I just ordered lunch...

We drove down last Saturday to visit Emmi, staying for the week, seeing the sights and getting in some mountain biking as well as some remedial running -- we've both been out of the loop for a while, injured reserve -- and a lot of great BBQ.

The Biking: We rode at a place called Lake Crabtree Park on Monday. Pretty nice, the trails reminded me of a cross between Nockamixon (or maybe Allegrippis) and Huber/Hartshorne in NJ: pine trees, twisty smooth hardpack on the verge of being sandy, with occasional pine roots. The park is tucked into a corporate-campus area near the Research triangle, nestled close to freeways (you can usually see them and always hear them while riding) and abutting a polluted lake with signs not to eat the fish because of PCB's. Like the rest of this area, it kind of reminded me of Oryx & Crake.

Yesterday we did some riding down near Chapel Hill, in an area that was more woodsy-subdivision than corporate, but again the woods were huge without managing to seem very back-country at all... The trails here were more technical, with a few rocky areas that looked like home, but the general terrain was still mostly pine forest, lots of fun, but a bit more tiring than the day before, and the heat here has starting to climb.

Today we went for a morning run, and ended up being followed home by a lost dog. She had a tag with contact info, but Anne called the owner twice (no answer), so the hotel manager got "Missy" a bowl of water and called Animal Control.

Anyway, we'll be here for a few more days, will probably do some museums or movies, since the weather is about to get stormy.

Monday, May 26, 2014

The News From Hiatus

Just dropping in, feeling guilty, thought I'd do a quick update...

The cello continues apace; I'm learning some songs and scales, etc. The half-marathon didn't happen: I tried to keep up with my original training plan after snow time off, bit off more than I could chew, and got shin splints -- I just ran for the first time, a half mile along the towpath, two weekends ago.

I got in a visit to Kevin and his family in early March, and was there for Olivia's 10th birthday, which was nice. Then, immediately after I got home, my online class ("Intro to Computer Technology" or some such at the community college) started. That was fairly easy, but was compressed enough to keep me jumping to stay on top of the work the whole time. Got an A, of course...

The bike is coming along, I wasn't doing much riding before but the past month or so I've been getting out on the towpath at least, building up my stamina and aerobic capacity. Anne and I rode American Standard yesterday, and I am going on a towpath ride in a few minutes.

I haven't done much with the computer (except schoolwork) lately, but I got back into that header calculation program this weekend. I added code to have the program read stress values etc from a database, revised the input data accordingly and finished making the database with the materials and stress values. (It seems so much simpler and more straightforward when written here, but it was a big deal for me at least, and I was impressed with how well the coding went.) Works great.

Work continues to get busier and busier, and more and more stressful. We got bought, and bought another company, and so on and so forth. Several heart attacks, panic attacks, stress-induced resignations; layoffs may be coming and I personally wouldn't cry too hard, even after all those years at the same place, if I was one of the ones let go.

Anyway, that's all I have to say for now, maybe I'll say more, about these things or something else, soon or eventually -- until then, sayonara.

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Three Front Followup

Happy Candlemas-mas! Judging by the weather forecast, Puxnatawney Phil may have some bad news for us tomorrow...

Anyway, some updates:

My running continues semi-apace; I managed to follow my program exactly for exactly one week, then I took the next week entirely off (snowstorms and bitter cold made good excuses). This past week I got back in the game, but I'm not quite back to my program yet. I'm doing a half-marathon in late April, and it's going to be here sooner than I'd like. Meantime, I got my Turner back, with new Hope disk brakes, though I have not gone on a ride yet -- maybe early tomorrow morning, before the chili contest? We also we got in a few XC ski sessions in the past few weeks, and we signed back up at the gym. The pieces are there, I just have to put them in place.

Next up, the jukebox project came together like clockwork, but then we had some Internet problems and the router got rebooted, and when things came back on the NAS and the Raspberry Pi couldn't talk to each other: I had them configured to refer to each other by their IP addresses, which got reassigned when the router restarted. Easy enough to fix as long as I'm around to do it, but not the ideal solution, so (after going through a few hoops, like installing avahi on the Pi), I can now refer to the NAS and the Pi by name. Shut things down, started them up, and it all worked no problem. I've really enjoyed playing with networks and  multiple machines, something I know almost nothing about, and now I think Ill come up with some more Pi projects like a local web server, a print server, and maybe even a weather station (something I've been thinking of doing for years).

And finally, on the cello front, I took my first lesson this past Tuesday. Pretty awesome, I'm on my way -- I can already (almost) play "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star!"

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Another New Gizmo

In the ongoing saga of our music-delivery system, I was forced to conclude that I would not be installing SqueezeServer on my new Seagate Central anytime soon -- word was that the Central was a bit underpowered for what I wanted, and more talk on the Internet made it sound like a pretty daunting task anyway -- so I went with Plan B: I ordered a Raspberry Pi.

This is a small, DIY- and education-oriented device, basically a minimal computer motherboard with nothing else -- memory is through an SD card that you supply, and input/output is through USB (keyboard & mouse), video/HDMI, and Ethernet jacks -- but it's a fully functional computer for all that, and it runs several flavors of Linux. Best of all, it cost about $40 when I got it from Amazon.

Of course, that price is predicated in your not needing anything else, such as keyboard or mouse or video monitor, or SD card, things could get expensive really fast otherwise. I thought I had everything I needed, then took an inventory of the basement, and found that my spare keyboard had a PS2 connection rather than USB, and the spare monitor has neither video nor HDMI input. Uh-oh... I could run the pi monitor through the TV, so I didn't need that, and since I was going to use a new SD card anyway I grabbed an extra Ethernet cable while we were at Staples, and tried to find PS2-to-USB adapters. Unfortunately the ones they had cost around $20 -- sorry, but I'd seen them online for two bucks, and a whole new USB keyboard could be had for less than $20. Not gonna happen. I ordered a new keyboard, $10 on Amazon.

OK, I had to wait for the keyboard, but I could at least get on with the task of setting up the memory. This turned out to be time-consuming but pretty simple: download the "image" file and burn it onto the new card. So at that point (Friday afternoon) I had everything I needed except that damn keyboard.

My real purpose for the pi required talking to it via ssh over our local network. All I really needed, once things were up and running, were the Ethernet cable and the memory, but for some reason I believed that I needed to start the pi up and configure it to allow ssh. A closer reading -- or to be honest, an initial reading -- of the instructions revealed that ssh was on by default, so I plugged the pi into the power and the Ethernet port, and sure enough I could log in from my laptop. I immediately canceled the keyboard order...

Installing the SqueezeServer was pretty straightforward as well, and took me only a few minutes more. Now we can control the music from our laptops or smart-phones, but we don't need the laptops on anymore to have the music play.

There are a lot of fun/educational projects for the Raspberry Pi on the Net, but most of them look pretty lame, and my pi (not the most powerful of computers in the first place -- but what do you expect for $40?)  has a real job to do, so I don't expect to be playing too much with it after this. Just set it and forget it.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Keep Those Caissons Rolling, Oh Yeah

Morning weigh-in (Thursday): 191.5#, 16% BF
Morning weigh-in (Friday): 191.5#, 16% BF

First week of running down: four runs for a total of nine miles, with just better than a 12- minute average overall. Fifteen weeks to go...

Next up is the bike: my new brakes came in, so I dropped off the Turner at Cutters yesterday to get them installed. (My refurbished brake is not ready yet, so it'll go directly onto the singlespeed when the time comes.) We did a towpath ride this afternoon, Anne on her mountain bike and me on the 29'er (with flat pedals), first ride in a while. I need to get the road bike up to snuff too, but that's not as urgent, and doesn't involve much more than clean/lube/adjust.

I also dropped off my XC skis at the nearby ski store for repairs; I expect I'll be getting new bindings, and they should be ready before the end of next week.

On the computer front, it doesn't look like I'll be able to add Squeeze Server to my new NAS, so I ordered a Raspberry Pi which I'll set up for music server duties, plus whatever other things I may come up with.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

What Did I Use To Write About?

Morning weigh-in: 192.5#, 15% BF

Posting something two days in a row, and I have run out of things to say... Got up this morning and did an abbreviated dumbbell workout, went to work, came home and ran two miles. Tomorrow is yoga in the morning, then another 2 mile run in the evening.

The biking should be going strong again soon: I just ordered new Hope brakes for my mountain bike, and before then I should have my old brakes back and refurbished -- maybe I'll put them directly on the singlespeed (currently sans front brakes, after I cannibalized them for the Turner and then wore them out), and start the season with a few weeks of high-cadence towpath spinning.

The rest of my life? Work is crazy busy, but the new mattress makes for easy sleeping -- in fact, I think it's bedtime. Good night!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Setting Up The Dominoes

Morning weigh-in: 192.5#, 26.0% BF

Got up this morning and did a few minutes of yoga (mainly just a bunch of sun salutes) before my shower, while the coffee brewed. After work I went out and ran just under 2 miles, in a less-than-impressive 25 minutes. The reason? I'll be racing another half marathon, with Anne's niece Adele in late April -- the time has come to get back into a training regimen.

Unfortunately, I'd gone out two XC skiing weekends ago; I had a great time skiing with my friends Scott and Jay, and even got a few impromptu pointers -- Jay's a pretty good skier, and usually works at a resort in winter -- but I also got a "hot spot" on the back of each heel, and when I finally went back to work, my work shoes dug right into the bad spots. I took it as  fitting metaphor for the end of my vacation...

It's still there on one heel. It's not sore unless somethings pressed against it, like say shoes or sneakers. The yoga felt fine this morning, even the down-dog calf stretching, but the run tonight was annoying. Stay tuned for more bitching, since I'll be running probably 4X a week for the next several.

Last night we stayed in (Anne has a bad cold) and we watched The Razor's Edge, the original with Tyrone Power. That was supposed to be the Golden Age of Hollywood, but I thought the more modern version (with Bill Murray, maybe late 80's) was much better.

Anyway, tomorrow is light weights in the morning, then another two miles after work. Baby steps.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Got A New Toy

The Setup: My laptop runs Ubuntu Linux, which has an automatic update feature, part of what's known as the "package manager" for installing/updating/removing software. It's usually very handy, but the other day it was running and couldn't finish what it was doing: most of the updated packages did just fine, but one was listed as "broken," and there were bunch of error messages, which didn't resolve when I followed the instructions for fixing it, and didn't resolve by just leaving the thing alone, letting the next automatic maybe fix it for me (I initially suspected that the updated package itself, as it was sent to me, was what was corrupt).

So the next update didn't help, and I took a harder look at the error message. Basically it said that there was a problem with a perl script (technically, a perl "module") needed in some way or other. I don't know much about perl, and I didn't know that the package manager system even used perl, but some googling of what looked like  important parts of the error message (mainly a problem with something called a "bareword") led me to forums where others were asking about similar messages in various contexts; these discussions led me to believe that the perl script in question had been corrupted.

So, the next step was to find the script on my laptop and open it -- gedit couldn't open the file, which might indicate a problem, but emacs handled it fine, though it showed a bunch of non-printing characters here and there -- and then search the internet for the same file. I compared the two: the non-printing characters weren't supposed to be in there, so I fixed my file to look like what I found online. I ran the package manager again, and the offending package installed just fine...

But how and why did that perl script get corrupted? I hadn't messed with it, and couldn't figure why something would poop gibberish into the middle of the file unless the disk itself was starting to go bad. Uh, oh.

To make matters worse, the package in question was an iupdate of the kernel, the little program that makes the rest of the computer work. What if my fix didn't solve the problem but only masked it; if the update failed without saying so and the kernel somehow became corrupt, rebooting could break my system. I couldn't let my computer shut down until I figured out what to do if things went wrong.

An Interlude: Anne's back has been slowly getting better since she pulled a muscle a few weeks ago, but she currently prefers to sit on an exercise ball because it less uncomfortable than regular chairs. I was home yesterday by myself, playing around with the weights, when I saw the exercise ball over by the dining room table and decided that I should add it to my routine... I started doing crunches on the ball and I heard a sudden  crunch-pop sound -- I'd pushed the ball up against some knitting needles and put a hole in it! Great, I just broke Anne's only chair.

Out I went to the local sporting goods store, where I got a replacement ball. No big deal, but the stores next door were a Best Buy and a Staples, and I thought well, while I'm here...

The New Toy: I went into Staples, determined to get some form of backup system for my laptop's drive. Big external drive, tape drive, whatever. I did some looking around, and some discreet Internet research while in the Mass Storage Aisle, and decided to get a Seagate Central NAS. Three terabytes of storage, wifi connection and provision for multiple users, and it was said to be fine with Linux; my only remaining question was how it would work with the Squeezebox. I go up to the help desk with the empty box ("display container only, ask for assistance") where they couldn't answer my question but assured me that returning it would be OK if things didn't work out. Then they go to get me one, and -- they don't have any in. Oops!

Oh well, I go next door into Best Buy (where I bumped into a co-worker, who was having trouble returning a broken phone -- let's hope it's not foreshadowing) and purchase the 2-terabyte model sitting on the shelf.

Epilogue: There's not much to tell -- installation basically meant turning the device on and plugging it into the router, configuration was done using a web browser interface and it was beyond simple; and backing up my laptop was really easy using luckyBackup and an ssh connection, though it seemed to take forever. (I'm not sure how fast things are supposed to be, but 125 gigabytes took about 14 hours.)
The only downside so far other than the speed -- if that's even a problem -- is the poor integration with the Squeezebox Touch. I think I can live with that for now, and may solve it by installing squeezeserver on the NAS, if its brain can handle the extra load.

I also made myself a rescue disk, and when all my pieces were in place, system backed up and disk where I could reach it, I crossed my fingers and rebooted. That was about an hour ago, and it was a total anticlimax: everything was fine.

Doug and I were talking a week or so ago about smartphones and tablets, and the thrill -- for a little while -- of getting a new app to play with, how it's almost like a sugar buzz. The last two days were like that for me; it was as exciting as my first thumb drive.