I unraveled my argyle sock tonight. I’m going to try again with an easier pattern.

Va wasn’t home when I got home today. The school was being audited today by the Union accreditation committee, so she was there for that. One of their recommendations is that the school “consider” putting Windows on the student PC’s. If the school does that, they will have to find someone else to manage them though. Part of the reason I left my last job was because I didn’t want to use Windows. I’m certainly not going to admin a Windows system for free if I wasn’t willing to do it for pay.

Besides, I think it’s a horrible recommendation. I’d go into it here, but it would be a very long list of reasons that no one who reads this would care about. Suffice it to say that I am passionate about this issue.

Lots of photos to post today, so let’s get started!

A pair of mallards

A pair of mallards

Yesterday on the way to work/school, I saw a whole bunch of ducks in a bottom. I wouldn’t say it was exactly flooded, but it was less than 100 yards from the Merrimack River. I think the bottom filled with water from the rain, not from the river, so I’m not sure I can call it flood water. Anyhow, we were running late, so there was no time to stop and take photos. We were not exactly running early today either, but I decided we’d stop anyhow. I got this shot of a pair of mallards. Again, I had the zoom maxed out, and the graininess pretty much proves that.

When I got home, I went out to the big rock to play with the CHDK motion detection software I had loaded onto my camera. As I was standing there fooling with it, screwing the tripod into the camera, a chickadee landed not five feet from where I was standing. I looked at it while I finished screwing in the tripod. Then I slowly raised the camera and got off three shots. This one came out the best, and I am pretty well pleased with it.

Brave Little Chickadee

Brave Little Chickadee

I can’t expect them to always do that, and I’d like to get pictures of other species as well, so I went ahead and set up the camera in the motion-detect mode. This is still a work in progress. The birds do not always land right in the center of the picture, but one chickadee did land right on top of the camera once. Luckily (or maybe it wasn’t luck), the camera was sitting pretty solidly on the rock and didn’t tumble over. Also… chickadees are pretty light.

Speaking of light… it was headed toward evening and the sun was out, but not strong. Also, it had gone behind the trees so the rock studio was in the shade. So I wasn’t able to use the settings I wanted on the camera, and several of the shots were motion-blurred.

The nuthatch eventually made its way out, but (s)he never did land with her whole body in the area framed by the camera. It was always off to the side. A little cropping, and it’s not half bad.

White-breasted nuthatch

White-breasted nuthatch

But there’s still room for improvement here.

I couldn’t stay out for very long though, because Beth’s school was presenting “A Parade of Presidents.” Each kid had selected a president and researched his biography. They had set it up like a museum, complete with faux buttons that said “PUSH”. When we pressed one, the kid behind it delivered a schpeel about the president. They had also each painted a portrait of their selected pres. I thought Beth’s portrait was the best (not that I am biased):

Barack Obama

Barack Obama

OK, it’s pretty obvious here who she selected now. I know some of my relatives will be delighted about this, and others will be abhorred. But I guess art is supposed to solicit emotion, and by that measure, this is bound to be a success!

She did a great job presenting his biography too:

Beth, the museum worker

Beth, the museum worker

They had also each put together a PowerPoint (well… OpenOffice Impress) presentation. Those all looked great, but with ten copies of Impress running on my Linux server all at the same time, it was struggling to keep up. Not sure what the issue was. I “cheated” and opened up a terminal window to do some diagnostics. I’ll spare you the details, but I’m not exactly sure what I need to do about this. But at least I know how to bring the server to its knees now, and with that recipe, I should be able to recreate the problem and address it… not during a school presentation.

This evening after work Jonathan and I swung by the school. Our mission was to install Klavaro on the LTSP server. Klavaro is a typing tutor program for Linux.

It was quite a job getting it on there too, although I must say that once I finished chasing false starts, it went in pretty easy. I could go into all sorts of painful detail, but since this isn’t really a technology blog, I’ll spare you most of the details. The condensed version is that I went here, downloaded the package, and installed it.

Then it was a matter of running it, selecting English (it defaulted to Esperanto of all things!), and then propagating that preference to all the other user accounts (students and staff).

Yesterday the electric piano we had ordered for Beth came in. She’s been taking lessons since sometime last fall, and she’s still very much into it. Up until yesterday, she had been practicing on a toy piano. Problem with that is that the keys are smaller than the ones on a real piano, it only had 3 octaves, and the volume of each note was the same no matter how hard you pressed the key. Also, it did not have a sustain pedal.

Since she has been sticking with it, and she has been making some really good progress, we decided it was time to spring for something that will hopefully suit her needs for years to come. I could have had an acoustic piano for free if I had been willing to talk a friend or two into helping me move one. Free pianos come up on craigslist all the time. The caveat is that you always have to move it yourself. But even then, we just don’t have a place in our house to put an acoustic piano. Acoustic pianos are big!

The one we got is very nice, IMO. It sounds like a piano. Plus it has 482 voices to entertain a geeky dad like me, including helicopters, machine guns, footsteps, barking dogs, galloping horses, gurgling brooks, laser guns, starships, etc.

I was playing around with it last night after everyone went to bed. Penny was in the same room, but she was pretty much just ignoring me until I selected the “scream” voice. “EEEEEEK!” sang the piano, and Penny about leapt out of her skin. She quickly came over and sniffed at the piano. I played a few more screams. She cocked her head. Then she pawed at the keyboard and played one herself.

Now that’s entertainment!

In other news…
This morning Beth told me that they had been having a bit of trouble with the computers at school, and Mrs Brace wanted me to look into it. So I did. One of the kids did something to her account so that the keyboard no longer worked. I knew the keyboard itself was working, because we were able to log in to her account. And her account was the only doing that – at first. Mrs Brace logged her into a different kid’s account so she could get her work done (most sysadmins would freak about that. I don’t like it either, but I do understand the necessity). In short order, she managed to magically disable the keyboard in that account too. That’s how I found it when I got there.

I poked around, but I really didn’t see anything obvious. Not being of much use, I decided to head on to the office and kick off a few Internet searches while I did my work. Also, I wanted to consult with another Linux geek (Dennis). Dennis was as puzzled as I was. But then I hit paydirt on the Innerwebs. Here’s what was going on.

There is a feature built into the desktop environment (KDE in our case) that was designed for handicapped people. This feature is called “Slow Keys”, and when enabled, the keys don’t “take” until they’re held in for half a second or so. This feature is for amputees (et al) who may accidentally, and momentarily strike several keys with a stub before settling on the one they really want. It’s also useful for quadreplegics how type with a stick held in the mouth. Or at least I think that’s what this feature is good for. Anyhow, this feature is activated when the shift key is held in for 8 seconds. A screen popped up, and she just clicked “Continue” either without reading it, or without understanding it. Thus, it appeared that the keyboard was disabled, when really it was in an “accessibility” mode.

I went back to the school after work and fixed her right up. Sure enough, that’s what it was. Mrs., Brace also complained that the Internet had really slowed down this week (which coincides with all the work I did switching us to a new firewall and bringing the new ltsp online). I verified that indeed, the speeds were horrible, but also found that it was only the DNS lookups that were taking forever (where forever equals one minute). THAT will certainly slow things down! I haven’t figured out why it’s doing that yet, but knowing what it’s doing is more than half the battle.

I got up before dawn this morning. I sure didn’t want to, but I kinda had to anyhow. I got dressed and woke Beth. She got dressed and I made her some breakfast. I let Penny outside so she could transact her usual morning business. In short order, Beth and I were ready to roll, so I crated Penny, and we headed off to get Ken’s truck. It was seven below zero.

Ken had the truck waiting for us, so we climbed in and headed to Keene. I always get confused on how long it takes to drive to Keene. I guess it’s 90 minutes from my house, and 60 from Ken’s, but I have it in my head that it takes two hours from Ken’s place. So we got there at about 9:00am, while the citrus truck wasn’t due until 10:00. And it was still really cold outside, so I didn’t want to wait in the truck.

Instead, we went to a little diner across the highway from the school in Keene where we pick up our order. Beth had some chocolate milk (we were out at home), but didn’t want any breakfast (she had already eaten). But by then I was ready for some food, so I had the buffet, which was pretty good. After that I bought some gas for Ken’s truck. He had left his credit card on the seat and had given me instructions to fill the tank. And I did fill the tank, but only put half of that on his card. We’ll see if he says anything.

As I was filling the tank, I noticed the citrus truck pulling up to the road where the school is located. So we high-tailed it over there as soon as the tank was full.

Their fruit coordinator was there, but none of her crew had arrived yet. I helped her set up the rollers (like a conveyor belt, but with dozens of two-inch wheels instead of a belt). And just as we were ready to start, a couple of guys from her crew arrived. So we started unloading. We had both orders (our and theirs) unloaded in about twenty minutes.

Now I was a bit worried that my fruit was going to freeze, so we loaded as much of it into the cab of Ken’s truck as we could. Which was all but 12 boxes. I covered those with a tarp and hoped for the best. Then I hit the road.

When we got back to Concord, the church that rents our church building on Sundays was still there. They appeared to be having a business meeting. I pulled the truck around to the side of the building and began shuffling crates of citrus into my Sabbath School room (it has an outside door). So I don’t think I disturbed them at all. Then Beth and I got back in the truck and returned it to Ken. Beth was so well behaved, both yesterday and today, that I decided we could get her a new coloring book. We swung by Walmart and got her a couple. Before we went in though, I had Beth promise that we would try to go in, buy the coloring books, and get back to the car in only five minutes. We made it in six.

Then we hustled back home, arriving at 1:30, and released the hound. Man… I was sure tired then. We made up a sumptuous meal consisting of… EZ Mac. I spent the rest of the afternoon exercising the dog and sitting around (more sitting than exercising though).

Va and the boys got home at around 4:00, but Jonathan and I had to leave again at 4:30. We loaded the school’s new server into the car, plus the new fans I bought for it as well as a few tools. The plan was to get that up and running while people came in and picked up their fruit.

But the battery in my drill was dead. I think I need a new battery, because I had fully charged it on Thursday, and had not used it yet. Bummer. Also, we didn’t have any patch cables to hook the new server into the network. We did swap out the fans though, and we talked about the network topology. I really need a second switch to do this right. I’m keeping my eyes peeled for a cheap/free one.

Not having much networking we could do, we instead put names on all the fruit to make it easier for people to get their orders.

At about 10 minutes to 8, the phone rang – one of our fruit customers wanted to know if we were still there. I assured him we were, and we’d wait for him to show up. While we were waiting, we loaded my fruit into the car, and then I decided to leave Jonathan there to mind the store while I went to Taco Bell to get us some dinner. While I was gone the last customer showed up. Yay!

We ate our dinner and then came on home. And I am about ready to collapse.

Beth had another bout of emesis last night at about 3:30. I got up and changed her sheets. First I went to the basement to get her previous sheets out of the dryer. I spread them out on the bed, but then noticed that it had gotten wadded up in the dryer, so there was still a damp spot on them. I fetched another set out of the linen closet (that’s where we keep… the linens!) She had gotten most of her blankets this time too, so I swapped them for fresh ones one at a time. In short order, she had a clean bed. I tucked her in, and went to bed myself.

Today, being MLK day, she had no school. So I slept in a little. We had gotten two or three more inches of snow since I had last cleared the driveay, but I figured I could drive through that, and decided to put of clearing it until I got home. I made it to work by 9:00.

Today was much less stressful than the past several days at work have been. As far as I know, we shipped the card we were stressing over. I received a big “Thank you” from the management team. Hooray for me!

At lunch time I decided to fetch the school’s new server from the trunk of my car. I hauled it up to the office, hooked up the DVD drive to it, and tried to see if I could get it to boot from that. I did! I did a “practice” install. If I had had the Linux disc I wanted to put on there, I would not have practiced any at all. It took about two hours of churning and chugging, but I finally had a full OS on there, and everything seemed to be working.

But man… those fans are LOUD. There are nine of them in there. One of them appears to not work, but it is one in a row of five, and I think I can live without it. Two more are in the power supply, and another two are used for cooling the second CPU. Those two were the screamers. I disconnected them and the noise level dropped by a significant margin. So tonight, I ordered two “ultra quiet” fans to replace them. Hopefully they really will be “ultra quiet”. I do know that the ones I’m taking out are “ultra loud” though, so it will be hard to lose on that swap.

This server does have one bizarre component in it that I can’t figure out. It’s a card mounted in a drive bay and connected to the motherboard via a serial port plus a 50-pin ribbon cable. It has a battery. The major chip on it is made by Qlogic, and they make Storage Area Networking stuff. It has a flash chip on it, and the sticker on the flash has a MAC address with the same OUI as the on-board Ethernets. Here a photo:

What IS this?

What IS this?

None of my co-workers were able to come up with convincing theories either. I unplugged it, and everything booted just fine. If I can’t figure out what it is, I will probably remove it. No need to waste electricity on something I’m not going to use.

Tomorrow I will dash into the church when I drop the girls off at school, and I will pick up the K12LTSP Linux disc. That’s the “real” OS I plan to put on there. I’ll kick off the install sometime during the day, and hopefully, everything will be ready when I’m ready to come home.

Since I got to work a bit late, I decided to leave early to make up for it. (heh heh). Actually, I went home at my regular time because I had put in some extra on my darling wife’s birthday. That should count for SOMETHING. When I got home, I cranked up the snowblower and clear the drive in record time. Two or three inches of powdery snow just doesn’t take that long to dispatch. Then I drove the Pizza Hut and picked up our supper.

After eating, I got to work on another robe costume for Camp In. When we selected the cloth for this one, we found that the store didn’t quite have enough for the full robe. So… I’m putting short sleeves on it, and I’m going to run the bias on the sleeves in the opposite direction. This is, after all, a costume, not some clothing anyone will be expected to wear for a full day.

It looks like Beth is asleep now, so I’m going to slip back downstairs and finish that robe now.

This morning I got a call from the person who ordered (and paid for) 20 cases of fruit. She didn’t show up yesterday to pick it up and wanted to get it today. I work about 10 minutes away from the church, so I told her I’d meet her there. She predicted she would arrive at noon, and said she’d call when she got close. Hearing nothing, I headed that way at noon.

Mrs Brace had the kids out at recess, so I chatted with her first (no sign of the customer yet). The Internet wasn’t working. I told her I’d look into it, and I did. The server upstairs had been shut off. Dunno how, but fixing it was easy enough. After that, everything else checked out.

I asked her if the server was meeting her needs, and she said that it was. So I’m going to propose that the school spend $200 to get their own server which I can lock in a closet and no one will bother (such as… by turning it off). I think they’ll go for it.

Then I started moving fruit from the closet to the foyer near the carport. The customer arrived, and I helped load it into her van (she brought her teenage son too, and he helped also).

Va arrived at the school before I left, and she needed a strong flashlight. I rooted around in the Pathfinder trailer and found that all our flashlights were quite dead. Also, the tub that they are stored in was very damp. So I’m airing that out now. I need to go through the rest of the tubs, because the rope tub was in the same shape last month.

Va decided to put off the science experiment until tomorrow, but then I remembered we had a spot light in the furnace room. I grabbed that and brought it to her, and it was perfect for what they were doing. Science experiment done.

Then I went back to work and had a productive afternoon.

Things are pretty normal at our house, and they were pretty normal at work too. I was regaled with several outage stories. Lots of people brought their families to the office so they could get showers. Beats stinking!

Tonight the software group went out for dinner on the company’s dime. We walked about a block south of the office to a place with a couple of pool tables in the basement and played five games, had some dinner, and just chummed around. The one thing that was most obvious was that I pegged the suck meter at pool. I have never been any good at it, even though I have a good grasp of the physics involved. Maybe that’s the difference between strategy and tactics. I knew what to do, but I sucked at actually doing it.

Party animals that we are, we kept at it until almost 8:00pm. Woohoo! Party on! I did have a good time though, and frankly, I much prefer an evening like that to loud music, dancing, and drunkeness. We could have cranked the party up a couple of notches if we had brought a Scrabble board. I might have held my own then.

Last night I signed up on an email list about the K12LTSP project (i.e., the software I’m running at the school). I had followed this list five years ago when I had another installation going, and with my quandry of which server to buy, I thought it would be a good place to seek advice. And I got some pretty good advice. I will go with the no-name brand rack server with the low-cost upgrade path. When it’s time.