technology


Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum)

Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum)


Tonight I will give you a month-old photo of some Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) that grows in my backyard.

While we were eating dinner tonight the power went out. It was raining, so I presume that might have had something to do with it. I had downloaded a couple of blog pages and some email to read, so I went ahead and read that. Then I took Penny outside in the rain and threw sticks for a bit. Then I came in and realized it was the perfect time to do something I had been meaning to do for some time – untangle all the power cords in the “IT” corner. It was a mess!

That kind of work does require light though, so I fished out my camping lantern. This is a solar/crank charged LED lantern, so there are no carbon monoxide fumes to worry about. When it gets dim I just crank it for another minute and we’re good to go for a while.

I found five cords that were plugged in only on one end. I don’t know what they used to power, but I’m guessing two of them were for the old desktop, two were for charging hand-held gaming systems, and one must have powered the old wireless router that we no longer use. I freed an entire surge protector and put the unused cables in a box of old computer parts down in the basement. I also disconnected our old very reliable HP LaserJet 5. That printer was a workhorse, and it still works perfectly. I think we got it in 1995. Unfortunately, we no longer run a computer with a parallel port, so it just sits there gathering dust. I ought to buy a USB-to-parallel converter. That thing is a tank.

About the time it got dark, we all loaded into my car and went to DQ for dessert. While we were out we noticed that the outage is pretty limited. They have power over on the next road.

When we got home, I rounded up a 60 watt inverter and an extension cord. I plugged them into Va’s car and routed the cord through the kitchen into the family room. We now have enough juice to run the essentials. And by “essentials” I mean the cable modem and wireless router. Forget the fridge and well pump! We must have Internet!

Actually, 60 watts doesn’t come close to running either the fridge or the well pump, but it does run the Internet OK. So we do what we can.

Ah! Power’s back!

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Spring has been busting out all over the place here. A bit early I suppose, and I sure hope we don’t have a hard frost any time soon. I don’t think a lot of the plants would survive such an ordeal.

A lot of the blooms are not your typical “flowers” – you have to look up to see them.

Red Maples (Acer rubrum)

Red Maples (Acer rubrum)


But some of them are pretty close to the ground:
Trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens)

Trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens)


In fact, the Latin name “Epigaea” for trailing arbutus means something like “pretty close the the ground.”

This will just be a quick post this evening. I am going on an Internet fast for 24 hours starting at sunset. This was something I had intended to do about a month ago, but forgot I was doing it and slipped up. Then I saw this challenge which reminded me that I had wanted to do this.

I think it’s good to unplug every now and then. I don’t intend to avoid all things electronic – just the Internet. Also, I find it amusing that in order to “take the pledge” on the organizer’s website, you have to have a Facebook account. No thanks Zuck! My goal is to be less plugged in, not more!

So if you comment on my blog and I don’t answer right away, now you know why.

Even though I started this blog to document “Adventures of an Ordinary Man,” over the past three years it has evolved into more of a nature photography blog than anything else. However, my adventures to stray into technology on occasion, and they have been doing that this week. My apologies to those readers who expect nature when they come here. I’ll get back to that soon, really!

This week I have started working on a new tech project to help me (and hopefully others) manage my Pathfinder Club. The Pathfinder curricula is structured such that when a member meets list of specific requirements, he (or she) achieves a level of recognition which is invariably recognized with the award of insignia. Pathfinder honors are like this, and they can be thought of as equivalent to Boy Scout merit badges. While an honor can take anywhere from a couple of hours to a couple of months to earn, the Investiture Achievement (IA) curricula takes all year. I structure my club’s activities around IA. Some IA requirements are to earn particular honors. Actually some honor requirements are to earn particular honors too.

The problem is in keeping track of who has met what requirements to earn what insignia, and how many people have earned what insignia, and have I ordered that insignia yet, and have I given it to the person who earned it. With 20 people, that can be a daunting task!

And that’s the problem I am attempting to address with my new project. Over the past couple of years, I have been tracking this data in a tremendously huge spreadsheet. What I have learned from that is that a spreadsheet is not very good at being a database. So I’ve spent the past couple of days laying out a database schema which I think will cover all the bases.

Some honors have overlapping requirements. For instance, “Camping Skills I” and “Fire Building and Camp Cookery” both require the Pathfinder to bake bread on a stick. Once you’ve baked bread on a stick once, you’ve met a requirement in both of these honors. Other requirements are for the Pathfinder to do two out of five options.

My schema will handle this. I created an account over on SourceForge and committed some files. I have tentatively named this project “Achievement Manager,” and I apologize in advance for such a terrible name. Hopefully, SourceForge will let me rename it later if we find that necessary.

We? Well, I’m not doing all the work myself. I have a collaborator whom I met at Pathfindersonline.org, and we are working on this together. It’s still very much in the planning phase right now, but I think it’s moving along nicely.

When it’s finished, it should be usable by the Boy Scouts as well. They would just need to populate the database with their own requirements.

Now that the schema is laid out (or nearly so), the next task will be to build a data-entry interface so we can start populating the database with requirements.

Next post: Nature related. I hope!

School started for Beth a week ago last Monday. I had intended to make it into the school and do some major overhauling on the computers and network, but that did not happen over the summer. It had to wait until after school started.

As such, it has been rough-going. We scored a donated server last December, and I was finally able to bring it to bear this week. It’s a serious chunk of “big iron” as they used to call them.

I also upgraded a network switch, and that has unlocked the power of the gigabit Ethernet port on the big-iron. It is nice now, but as I said, it has been rough getting there.

Jonathan and I have spent several evenings at the school over the past couple of weeks getting it to this point. We upgraded to the latest release of K12linux – which is very nice compared to the previous version. With this setup, all the software runs on the server, and the student workstations do nothing more than paint the screen, play any audio, and forward mouse and keyboard data back to the server. Running all the software on the server is very nice from a maintenance perspective, because I don’t have to go around installing packages on all the student workstations – install it once in one place, and everyone can use it immediately. This architecture also allows the students to have the same computing environment no matter which workstation they use.

The old server used the same architecture, but it could not handle sound, and it was a slower machine.

I have gone back and forth between the old server and the new one several times during the upgrade because the new server was missing some important function, or performing one of its critical tasks poorly. But I think we’ve got it now. We’ll see what happens when our teacher unleashes a herd of kids on the network tomorrow.

This weekend, Norio Ohga died. He was the chairman of Sony who oversaw the development of the audio CD. Ohga insisted on two things: that the CD be 12 cm in diameter, and that it hold 75 minutes of audio (in stereo), so that it would have sufficient capacity to hold Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony in its entirety. This is a fact that I have long known, because I used to do a lot of signal processing work revolving around digital audio. A CD stores music using a sample rate of 44.1KHz, and that is a strange number, especially since it is so close to 48KHz, which would have been the more logical case. Except for Beethoven. In order to meet Ohga’s demand, the engineers set the sample rate to 44.1KHz. Had they used 48KHz instead, the Ninth would not have fit.

As the work week began, I started hearing stories about Ohga on the radio, and sometimes they would play the Ninth in the background. If you are not familiar with that particular symphony, you really need to check it out. I used to own a copy on cassette, but I haven’t seen it in a long time. And even if I found it, then I’d need to scare up a cassette deck. So with Ohga’s passing to remind me of what I have been missing, I decided that it was high time I replace that cassette.

I signed onto iTunes and did a search. It turned up, but as the four individual movements. Movement number IV is the choral piece upon which the hymn “Ode to Joy” is based. But that movement is 24 minutes long, and iTunes won’t sell you a song that long as a single track. Instead, you have to buy a whole album. I didn’t object to that, because I wanted to buy all four movements anyhow. The whole album (by the London Symphony Orchestra) was in the neighborhood of $4.00, which I thought was pretty good, so I bought it. As it began to download, I realized that I was getting all nine of Ludwig’s symphonies. Bonus!

I listened to Number Nine at least nine times today, but mostly just the fourth movement. Man. There is no other song like that. Parts of it are so beautiful that I am literally moved to tears when listening. If you have a copy, there is a passage about 15:20 seconds into the fourth movement where the sopranos come in singing “Diesen kuss der ganzen welt”, taking four notes (and about four seconds) to sing the word “Diesen” and that gets me every time. Translated from the German, that passage means “with a kiss for all the world” and is speaking of the Creator’s love for us. That just makes it even more beautiful to me. Beethoven didn’t write the words – it was an extant poem written by Friedrich Schiller in 1785. Tchaikovski had also written a symphony set to Schiller’s poem, but when he was urged to publish it, he refused. He did not want his work to be eternally compared to the Ninth, because he knew there really was no comparison. Can’t say I blame him!

Va and I selected Ode to Joy as one of the hymns sung at our wedding (almost 25 years ago). We also listened to the National Symphony Orchestra perform it at Wolf Trap back in 1987 or so (pre-kids, but I don’t remember exactly when). What a performance.

This song is all the more spectacular when you know that Beethoven was completely deaf when he composed it. He never heard it, but there’s no way he didn’t know what it sounded like. When it was first performed in 1824, Ludwig got on stage a couple of times to indicate the tempo, but since he could not hear, he couldn’t really do more than that. But it was sure more than enough in my book.

Before I left work today, I burned the Ninth onto a CD (it fits quite nicely, Mr Ohga!) so I could bring it home and listen to it in the car. I think I’ll pop it into the CD player in a few minutes and listen another nine times.

Last Sunday the screen on my laptop went out on me. That’s usually either the voltage inverter or the tiny flourescent light tube situated along the bottom edge of a sheet of glass in the screen. I have replaced both those elements in other laptops in the past, reviving the computer. But this one belongs to my employer, and it’s still under warranty. So I called Bill, our IT guy. We removed my hard drive and installed it in another computer he had on hand that is just like mine. So using that laptop felt “just like home.”

Then we sent my laptop back to Dell. But just before we did, the screen came back to life. That probably means a broken wire connected (or not) to the flourescent tube. But hey – we sent it anyhow.

It came back today, along with a report of what they did. Nothing about the screen. They replaced the cracked wrist pad, and that was all. Neither Bill nor I were very happy about that. I turned it on, and it was working, so… what can you do?

When I got home, I fired up the laptop again, and within 10 minutes, the screen went blank again. This did not come as a surprise. The screen came back again, went out again, and then came back again. I’m sure it will eventually not come back at all. Maybe Bill will send it back again tomorrow.

Today I bought a domain name for myself, along with setting up a new personal email address: jomegat at jomegat dot com.

Some changes were made at work that will soon make it somewhat inconvenient for me to check my email unless I’m in the office. To avoid this inconvenience, I laid out $17 for a domain name and an email hosting service. I am now in the process of changing my subscriptions to point to the new email address. That’s pretty inconvenient too, but I find it more palatable than the alternative.

So now I’m even more J-omega-T than I was before. I am jomegat-er, so to speak. 😉

There were several free options from which to choose as well, but I prefer to spend $17 to do it this way. I could have switched over to my gmail account, but I really am not comfortable with Google mining my email so they know what ads to serve me. I could have switched over to my Yahoo account, but I trust them even less. I also didn’t want a free email service that would attach ads to all my outgoing messages, or display them when I read my own mail.

I do not like web-based email clients either, as I have never found one I like better than good old Thunderbird. I could also have activated one of the email addresses my home ISP offers, but I didn’t want to be tied to them with yet another cord. If I ever want to switch ISP’s, I don’t want keeping my email address to be a consideration. (But of course, Va’s account is already tied to them, so it is already a consideration).

So now things will pretty much work for me the way they have for the past decade plus, except that I won’t get work emails during the evenings, weekends, vacations, and holidays, and I’m out a couple of bucks per month. Also, I have an email address that should follow me around for the rest of my life.

I will still receive email at my old address, but I will only check it during business hours. So if I’m in your address book, you might want to update it.
And if I’m not, I don’t mind if you add it.

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