July 5

Summer vacation 2016

Today is the first official day of my summer vacation for this year.  So far I’ve celebrated by buying & installing a new commercial grade soldering/re-work station in the “nerd room” originally designated as a dining area.

I do have a few projects to get finished in the next couple of weeks, but so far I’ve just been staying up all hours of the night and day playing video games.  I had forgotten how much I enjoyed playing the Tomb Raider series until I started playing Underworld just yesterday.  What a blast from the past.  I even bought the original Laura Croft : Tom Raider movie to watch while I was playing.

Two weeks of #NOPANTS and #NOWORK are just what the Dr. ordered!

Category: GeekStuff, Happy Things | Comments Off on Summer vacation 2016
May 24

Progress with projects.

Guilty cat hides his eyes in shame after destroying the Inductrix.
Bart hides his eyes in shame after destroying the Micro Inductrix.

My latest major build called “Project Rome” went live on Monday 5/23 and has been declared hugely successful.  I built a new engineering/compute environment in San Diego and migrated the workload from Sunnyvale into it this weekend.  Monday was day 1 on the new infrastructure and we had only minimal issues.  Months of planning, hard work, and stress.  The sense of relief feels very good.  Of course the work doesn’t stop here – I have to tear the old environment down and dispose of the equipment and a lot of other things, but at least I feel like I’m moving forward.

Hal finished up the engine in the 97 NA MX5 and it runs like a new car.  In fact it turns over on the first turn of the key now, just boom, instantly to life.  I think the last thing he needs to do is set the timing more precisely and then it should be good for another 150,000 miles.  We really have gone over nearly every inch of that car in the last few years and it’s a very fine example of a first generation MX5.  I think our next project should be restoring the 1974 Sun Beetle.  (However the racing team has voted that the next project be race-car suspension rebuild, and so that will probably be Project Next.)

Concrete wall rebuild is done and all of the gravel on the sides of the patio has been removed, graded, and replaced with compacted sand & clay.  Essentially it’s just desert hardpan earth which is very natural in this environment.  It feels like about 50% soil & 50% finely crushed gravel.  After it gets wet a few times, it’s nearly hard as stone.  We’re going to have the block walls painted to match the colors of the house.  I think the entire yard will be very pleasing to the eye with a matching color scheme.  Next autumn I plan to get some large 18-20″ pots to plant some desert flowers in.  I’ll place them strategically around the yard and add a bit of color.

Hal and I have been playing with quadcopters lately and have built quite a fleet.  We just picked up two Zeyrok quads and two of the Inductrix models.  One of the Inductrix is about 3″ across and generally for indoor use only.  It was a hoot until I flew too close to Bart and he smacked it out of the air with authority.

It slammed into the ground so hard that two of the motors were damaged.  C’est la vie, eh?  The wind has been a bit stiff the last few days so we haven’t gotten a lot of air time, but I did get enough video to upload a few here & there on the Youtube channel.

I’ve also been doing a bit of gardening lately.  I have had a number of succulents and cactus on my kitchen window sill since I bought the house, but since Sue passed away I’ve taken a bit more interest and gotten quite a few more little green friends.  Sue gave me one of the first plants I had in the house and just a few weeks before she departed, she had given me some clippings from her golden Pathos plant in her kitchen.  I really wanted to keep them healthy so I nursed them in water until they started growing roots and then moved them into a hanging planter near the sink.

Now there are about 20 different succulents in pots, various cactii being spawned, and the makings of two closed-jar moss & succulent terrariums with a collection of at least six mosses.  I have a couple of epiphytes about to spawn even.  Sue used to say that helping plants grow was good for the soul and I think she’s right.  It makes me feel better to do the little pruning and watering and even talking to them a little bit so they can absorb the carbon dioxide.

The weather is getting warm but we’ve been able to get by with using the swamp cooler, which essentially cools the air by adding humidity to it.  Average humidity in this area is 7-12% in the summer – quite dry.  By passing humidified air though the house, it brings the temperature of the air down and does the plants a world of good.  Of course before long (when Monsoon arrives), the air will be too humid for the swamp cooler to work so we’ll have to turn up the HVAC.  But we’re certainly going to enjoy it all we can.

I hope my next update comes sooner than this one did.  I’ve been stressing and working lots over this project, but now that it’s wrapping up I hope I’ll have more free time.

Until then.


Category: GeekStuff, Home, Work | Comments Off on Progress with projects.
December 23

Winding down

Working from home today because the office is virtually empty with nearly everyone out on holiday.  For some reason or other my employer issued Dell laptop doesn’t want to play nice with this external monitor via HDMI and, I really don’t like programming on a tiny screen so I’ve moved over to one of the Linux VMs in my home lab.  The “allscan.pl” program is coming along nicely but I do need to re-order some things because of my scatter-brained approach to program layout.  (Which is to say I haven’t done any program layout at all for this and just started from the hip with subroutine stubs.)

Anyway I needed some coffee and for whatever reason decided to update my blog on what’s been going on since April.  I don’t think anyone reads this thing so I just update a few times a year when the mood hits.  So here we go:

This year was the year of home improvements.  Hal & I had a new roof put on the house in May because of some leaks in the master bedroom had gotten worse.  He & I gave the old one a once-over and decided it wasn’t worth trying to patch it, so I got three estimates and went with the middle one.  So far we’ve seen no more leaks and it’s been a very wet autumn.

As mentioned in a post around April, we got the construction permit approved rapidly from the city of Mesa.  Finding a company to do the work was not a simple process, but we ended up getting the driveway approach ramp completed.  It could have been done better, but at least it’s done and functional.

Over the summer we had lots of concrete work done starting with widening the front walkway on each side so it’s now three times its original width.  This will make it much easier to get in and out of the front door, which has also incidentally been enclosed in a powder-coated steel entry gate.  We had concrete poured four inches thick at the north-west lot behind the block wall on El Dorado, and at the south-east lot we had several large sections filled in with concrete four inches thick in most places.  There is a special pad poured six inches thick and at 4000psi where I hope to have an auto lift installed sometime in 2016.

After the concrete was poured and before the front entry was enclosed, we had powder coated steel bars made and installed over every window.  The bedrooms all have emergency fire releases, and every door has been protected with high-security steel doors with double-deadbolt locks.  The house is much more secure than it was and we can now leave windows and doors wide open without fear of being burgled.  Not that I live in a crappy neighborhood or anything but thieves don’t target poor people and, nearly every time I’ve heard of someone being burgled the perpetrator entered the premises through an open door or window.  Not here.

In August my employer (~2300 employees worldwide), was acquired by a huge multinational conglomerate (~30,000 employees worldwide), and I’m back to being just “another cog in the wheel”.  Not that I’m complaining or anything because they backed a truckload of money up to my door and said, “We don’t want you to quit your job.”.  A few months later, they gave me even more money just because the original company had done very well.  Then a couple weeks after THAT, gave me a written promise of even more money which is to be paid out in chunks over the next 3 years as a “retention bonus”.  Couple that with the fact that I’m the only IT employee they have capable of doing this job within probably 350 miles, I have no direct supervision and only have to commute 3 miles to the office.  I, for one welcome our new overlords.  I’m not going anywhere unless they forcibly eject me.  :)

Early September the front block walkway was completed and work was begun to excavate the remaining uncovered section of the rear yard.  We’re going to have block paving stones laid in the rear between the approach ramp and the concrete pads so that the yard has a bit of style to it instead of being just an enormous impersonal concrete slab.  The stones are not all completed yet and at this point aren’t going to be done until early 2016, which suits me just fine because it’s been quite expensive to get all of this stuff done.

Another one of my favorite money pits, “HobbyTown USA” has closed up and Hal & I had to start looking for a new hobby store.  Lo and behold, there’s a great place called Action Hobby at Guadalupe & Rural who have been happy to take my money and provide much better prices, products, and advice.  :)  Hal and I upgraded the quad-copters with First Person View capability and have started getting into more professional level gear in general since meeting these fine folks.  We even have an AxialRacing 1/10th scale Yeti with a two-speed remote control transmission and have upgraded most of the receivers in every ground-based RC vehicle we own.

Several of my co-workers are also car nuts and we have made a pact to strip my 1996 MX5 to the bone and prep it to race in the 24 Hour of LeMons in Wilcox Arizona next March.  Stay tuned for updates from Trashpanda Racing. ;)

Category: GeekStuff, Happy Things, Home | Comments Off on Winding down
April 14

Where were you on Tuesday?

Not entirely sure I’m liking the Piwigo gallery software because I can’t easily figure out how to order the photos in the way I want them.  (I know there are a couple “inventive” ways to get it done, but note that I said *easily*.)  Piwigo has the benefit of being a lighter-weight application than Coppermine, but it’s not quite as smooth as Picasa.  I’ll have to keep experimenting to see which one suits my needs best in the end.

Ok, I’m a tard.  I did figure out how to sort the pictures the way I want them and it wasn’t difficult at all.  The most difficult part was RTFM’ing.  There’s actually an entire tab dedicated to this in the edit menu, I just didn’t realize I could drag & drop.  derp.

But anyway.

In case you’d forgotten, I’ll be working all weekend coming up and I’m none too thrilled about it.  There doesn’t appear to be any proper planning being done so that our various activities don’t walk all over one another, and that seems to be “how we roll” at my new employer.  I try to bring structure, but they thrive on chaos.  Here it is Tuesday and we’re still ironing out bugs with our upgrade/install processes, and to date very little testing has actually been done.  As bad as I think Saturday & Sunday are going to be, my Spidey sense is telling me that Monday will be worse.  We’ll get through it of course, in the most British way possible.  Stiff upper lip and all that.

I just hope my “I Dig Dinosaur Neil” t-shirt gets here before the festivities.  Maybe wearing it on Saturday will bring me good geek-luck.  :)


Category: Drips of consciousness, GeekStuff | Comments Off on Where were you on Tuesday?
April 13

Substitutions Not Permitted

The good new is in, and it’s not cancer.  Now just heal up already and stop making me grimace in pain.

And while we’re on the topic of grimacing,

I’m starting to think I should implement some sort of bookmark sync mechanism to augment my memory.  Having to remember some of the URLs that I use frequently, sometimes makes my brain hurt.  The main problem with centralized bookmarking is that I’ll end up with a mix of work-related and non-work-related bookmarks in the same place and I’m not entirely sure if there’s an easy way to switch forth & back with multiple accounts.

Another grimace inducing situation is that it seems as if Microsoft One Note (which I can’t say enough good things about), won’t sync with a home-grown file-sharing solution so I’m stuck with uploading everything to OneDrive.  This is probably because the NSA wants to be able to paw through everyone’s notebooks & they aren’t supposed to break into my personal systems without a court order.  It would be terribly inconvenient for them, you see.  So of course, that functionality is not available.

This reminds me of course that I never rebuilt the network after Hal went through all the trouble of RMA’ing the Asus.  I’m not entirely sure why, but it has something to do with the fact that I’m too lazy to set up DHCP/DNS again.

Salad & trout for dinner.  Mmm.  healthy.

Category: Drips of consciousness, GeekStuff | Comments Off on Substitutions Not Permitted
March 2

Something perl

You know what I’m really sick of?  Books which purport to teach the reader something quickly about Perl which is useful, but doesn’t actually teach you how to do something useful at any sort of rapid pace.

This post attempts to break that cycle.

This example has no practical purpose, but does show how to run a system command and capture the output, then use that output as input to another command.  Because one of the handiest things I’ve used Perl for and one of the most common functions of any sysadmin, is to run a system command and store the output into an array so I can do something useful with that output.

Let’s set aside the fact that it’s probably not a good idea to bundle shell awk commands inside of Perl, let’s just go ahead and show you how to do something useful.

#!/usr/bin/perl -w

# Run a system command and build an array out the result.
# Do something with every item in that array and store the
# result in another arry.

# Get all my process ID numbers and put them into an array called @pids.
my @pids = `ps -ef|grep kate|awk ‘{print \$2}’`;  # I had to escape the $ in the awk command or Perl will
# try to interpret it. (\$2)
# For every item in that array
for $pid (@pids) {
# Take off the trailing newline character (\n)
chomp ($pid);
# Use each item as a component of another command
# and store the output from that command into another array.
@pidlist = `ps -ef|grep $pid|egrep -v grep|wc -l`;
# For every item in that array, run another command
# and store the output into yet another array.
for $linecount (@pidlist) {
chomp ($linecount);
# Then show us some information
print “My process $pid has $linecount line(s).\n”;

What the above code does, is:

run: ps -ef|grep kate

Which produces output similar to:

[kate@concord scripts]$ ps -ef|grep kate
kate      2691     1  0 Feb22 ?        00:00:00 /usr/bin/gnome-keyring-daemon –daemonize –login
kate      2701  2684  0 Feb22 ?        00:00:00 gnome-session

(output truncated)

The process ID associated with my gnome-session is 2701.  So I want to filter the ps command so I get just that number.  I do that by piping the output of my grep command into awk so I can get just the PID associated with my tasks.  The PID is the 2nd column in the output so I’ve asked awk to display only the 2nd field. ($2)

When this command executes, it will take every PID associated with my ID and stack them up into an array called @pids.

The next step takes each PID back out of the array and runs another command with it as a component.  This part of the command runs another process search but now instead of searching for ‘kate’, it’s searching for each of the process ID’s stored in the array @pids.

ps -ef|grep $pid

(The rest of the command, |egrep -v grep eliminates the grep command itself from the search, and wc -l counts the number of lines of output returned.)

The output from this command is stored in another array called @pidlist.

Finally, we take the items back out of @pidlist and use them to display some information to the screen.

You’re welcome.

Category: GeekStuff | Comments Off on Something perl
August 4

DayZ – Standalone

A couple of months ago I found myself discussing MMORPG’s with co-workers and lamenting the fact that most of the very popular games of this genre lack a complexity level capable of maintaining my interest for more than just a few weeks.  One of my co-workers (Romano), suggested I look into a new game under development by Bohemia Interactive called, “DayZ (Standalone)”.

I found the game in the Steam Store in early release Alpha stage, and even though it was $30 for an Alpha I decided to give it a try based only on his recommendation and a few YouTube videos.

For newcomers with zero experience in this game the learning curve is steep, partly due to the fact that it’s almost ridiculously easy for your avatar to perish.

Some highlights of game play include:

You are spawned into a map nearly the size of an entire State.  A Russian State.
With nothing more than a useless flashlight and battery.
All signs and words are in Russian.
Your character is very near starving and dehydrated immediately upon spawning.
There are no maps on your person unless you find one in a building.
Even if you find a map, there is no easy way to find out where you ARE on the map.
The only weapons/means of self defense are the ones you find by looting buildings and cars.
All of the AI (zombies), and most of the other players are hostile and dangerous.

The only object of the game at this point is to survive as long as possible, however, when you die, you die.  There is zero carry-over from a previous incarnation into the next.  Regardless of *why* you died, your next spawn in will be as “fresh meat” with nothing but your flashlight.  I’ve died in excess of 20 times.

You might think a game like this would be so frustrating and complicated that you’d have no interest in playing, but for me, this game represents a challenge unlike any other RP game on the market.  I’ve even learned the ropes of Standalone well enough to not die unless by sheer stupidity, or a hostile encounter with another player.  And, don’t shoot zombies in front of fuel pumps.  Fuel pumps can explode.  Spectacularly. :)

Indeed I have logged more than 500 hours in this game since I started playing and have since learned quite a lot about the game and it’s “parent” games, Arma, Arma II, Arma III, and many of the fan-base mods available for those titles.  I’ll write another post about them a bit later today or tomorrow.

Suffice it to say, if you’re looking for a very hardcore survivalist/apocalyptic themed MMORPG, you owe it to yourself to check out DayZ Standalone.  Look for Frankie’s videos on YouTube.

Category: GeekStuff | Comments Off on DayZ – Standalone
August 1


The boss asked me to document some server automation processes related to lockdown/hardening for a response to a recent audit inquiry.  He was very pleasantly surprised when I told him, “Already done.  In fact, more than 2 years ago….but it’s twenty-five pages long.”   :)

A quick OneNote search turned up the document and all 25 pages were printed in under 10 minutes.

Of course, since the data in the document is 2 years old I’ll have to brush it up a bit and include some of the changes we’ve made recently, but I’m very happy with my ability to anticipate audit requirements so far in advance of their request.  :)

Category: GeekStuff, Happy Things, Work | Comments Off on Anticipation
August 1

What’s your function?

The last few months I’ve been wanting to expand my data and skill set by learning something new.  I’ve long been a fan of content creators and have frankly been somewhat in awe of their abilities.  Content creators take an idea, be it their own idea or a concept from someone else, and turn it into something interactive and make it seem almost tangible.  To me the act of creating or producing something from your own mind is a very powerful skill.

Programming or coding as it is commonly called, is a skill which I’ve never had a really good handle on.  Sure I can do ksh/csh/bash scripting on the UNIX/Linux platform but shell scripting is very limited in scope and abilities, used primarily for automating administrative tasks on a specific server or set of servers.  I want to go beyond that and be able to build something almost universally accessible and appropriately interactive.

I asked my present employer if they might subsidize my training in this new skill but was turned down with the logic of “we aren’t programmers.”, regardless of how valuable that skill would be to my team.

Never one to take “no” for an answer, I started looking into other alternatives and found Code Academy.

For the last two weeks I’ve been going through training at Code Academy in HTML/CSS and JavaScript completely free and entirely at my own pace.  I have found the lessons to be challenging at times but very well laid out, very logical, and very well written.  I’ve already started working on building an interactive webpage at the office for my team to use as a starting point for accessing our frequently used applications.

functionThe latest lesson that I struggled with for a couple of hours was Javascript functions.  This particular code to the left confused me for a while, but I did eventually get it to work.  I’m so proud of my little accomplishment that it deserves this long-winded post.  :)

In the code at line 3, I declare a variable called sleepCheck which is a function expecting 1 parameter called numHours.  At line 4 I write the value of the parameter to the console so I can verify it’s the right number.  Line 5 starts an if/then comparison which checks the parameter to see if it is greater than or equal to 8.  If the comparison is true, line 6 returns the statement.  If the comparison is false, line 7 returns the other statement.  Finally on line 11, I call the function sleepCheck and give it a parameter of 10.  When the script runs, it will return the statement at line 6.

This has made me very happy today.  :)  I really do love to learn new things, and I want to say “Thank you!” so very much to the folks at Code Academy for making this available, easy, and free.



Category: GeekStuff, Happy Things | Comments Off on What’s your function?