Archive for the 'nerd' Category

The 100 most beautiful words in the English language…

June 17, 2009

...according to the folks at alphaDictionary (via kottke). I am pleased to see tintinnabulation, pyrrhic and dulcet included.


Gardening update. Moby Dick. A tiny update on the children. New bike.

May 19, 2009

Welp. Our tomato crop is blighted or something. Maybe they got too much rain, or the aphids did more damage than I thought. In any event, half of them are now composting. The others look like they’re hanging on for now, but we put together 3 new tomato plants in deck containers as a hedge (ha, ha) against a total in-the-ground loss. Of the two peppers, one looks pretty good. The other looks a little anemic. The yellow squash is already blooming and setting little 2″ baby squashes. The zukes have seriously bushed out, but no blooms as yet.

To our herb plantation, I added lavender and mint. The mint is in a container, that it might not take over the yard, which it will if given half a chance. The kids got used to having a patch of it near the deck of our old house, and I’d been looking for it off-and-on for a few weeks. Lowes finally had some, so I brought it home. We’re drying a few of these in the kitchen to see how that goes: thyme, rosemary and oregano. They smell pretty good at any rate.

The compost heap seems to be slowing down a litte, which is good. I think the brown and green ratio is getting a little more manageable. The whole thing has certainly shrunk down considerably, which is a good sign. It doesn’t reek (as much) either, which is another good sign.

Over last weekend, we stopped by a local nursery and went all moon-eyed over some of their stock. Rather than just plant stuff pell-mell thoughout the yard, we’ve asked one of their guys to come over and give us a little help with some planning. There are things that we’d love to have (gardenias, for one), and I’ve read some mixed reviews on them for our zone. Ditto for azaleas. Pachysandra, my favorite evergreen groundcover needs more shade than I think we can offer it,  E. wants a garden entirely of the color blue, and so on, and so on, in my best Yul Brynner voice: et CETera, et CETera, et CETera.

What I hope to get out of this little visit is: plant this, not that. That will die here. The fee is pretty modest, and it’s easily worth it so that we don’t torment any more hibiscus bushes.

I’ve put Moby Dick aside for a bit to re-read King Lear. Someone on a message board I frequent dropped a reference to Lear the other day and I was reminded of how much I’d forgotten about it.

The constant asides from Melville on the minutiae of the whaling industry were interesting at first, but OK, yeah, I get it, please get back to the action already. I really don’t want another detailed exploration of The Natural History Of  Cetaceans From Pliny To The Present Day.

Am I missing some sort of point? Probably. I’m about halfway through and loathe to shelf it after this long.We wound up our scouting year, our oldest girl swept her gymnastics meet, two of the children are still off on adventure and the the babies abide. Work continues apace.

I’m being fitted for a new road bike – a Specialized Allez –  tomorrow after work and can hardly wait. I took it on a test spin over the weekend and was gobstruck by it’s relative lightness compared to the hybrid. The change in posture will take some getting used to, as will the shifters. But tomorrow can’t come soon enough!

Day One

May 1, 2008

Well. Today I start my new gig, which is going to be generally based here at home. I have an office, but no gear yet. I’m told it will show up some time today. I’m already booked on a there-and-back-again trip to Atlanta tomorrow, and my account executive has the next week pretty well planned out. It feels a little strange to be sitting here doing…well, nothing, but things will be picking up shortly and my downtime should be fairly minimal.

Unpacking all of my office paraphernalia at home had a curious collision-of-worlds vibe. On the one hand, I was at home. On the other hand, here were all the things that I’ve trucked from desk to desk over the years, some things for over 15 years. The lava lamp has been on every desk I’ve used since college. Some of the books date back to my first admin jobs. I’m probably not going to be managing any sendmail or usenet servers any more, but I’m loathe to get rid of the O’Reilly books covering same. Ditto for my copy of Concise Guide to MS-DOS Batch File Programming. You just never know. I’d rather have it and not need it than vice versa.

No, I have not shaved. Let the scuzzification begin.

2 adults + 6 children * (stimulus package) = 1 iMac

April 26, 2008

Our venerable ol’ x86 machine croaked last weekend so we bought an iMac. I’ve been playing around with it all week and, frankly, it’s every bit as good as I remember from my time in college when I first fell in love with Apples. All of the writing labs in the J-school were full of Macs – in fact, if I remember correctly, you had to search high and low for the PC room, and the only folks who used those were B-school pukes and other assorted oddities.

We used them, obviously, for completing our writing assignments, but also for layout and internet access. “Internet access” at this time meant e-mail and usenet, and at that it was all command-line. I do remember someone downloading Mosaic and showing it off, but we didn’t think it looked any better than gopher, archie or veronica. Am I dating myself? But I digress.

To me, Macs were computers and that was about it. Apple would show up every so often at the student center with their display tables and student discounts and the hardware was still light years beyond what I could afford. So we parted ways, and I entered into a fifteen-year relationship with Windows, Intel and eventually Unix in its myriad forms: Linux, *BSD, Irix, HP-UX, and all the others. Lately I’d settled for Ubuntu Linux because, as Linuxes go, it basically just worked. 

All of them are dead to me now. Leopard is as beautiful a desktop environment as Ubuntu could ever hope to be. What’s more, the internals of OSX are…BSD. All of my little friends are still around, just hidden under the beautiful trappings: python, apache, perl, and so on. I didn’t have to shoehorn them in, make allowances for shell weirdness or run them in a VM. They’re just in there, ready to go.

We love it. Everything just works. Installing and removing software is a snap, we’ve migrated all of our pictures, documents and music over and everyone has their own profile. The kids actually share a single, locked-down account. We’ll probably never buy a Windows machine again, which is fine by just about everyone. Not that I have anything in particular against it, but why bother? None of us are hardcore gamers, but not even that is much of a problem. If it were, I’d be exploring BootCamp. 

Anyway, it’s been a hoot and half. I was geared up to spend considerable time learning the ins and outs of this thing but it’s really so simple, that most of us are up to speed after only a few days. I’m sure there’s more to learn, but for now, we’re at least productive with the thing.


Weekend recap.

March 31, 2008

Saturday was gloomy and rainy, so many of us spent the day watching Disney’s The Sword in the Stone, napping or playing around with the BackTrack security/penetration testing livecd. Lots of interesting tools on the livecd, by the way. I’m by no means a security professional, but…I play one at home, and maintain an interest in these sorts of things. It’s good to stay aware and (if I may say so) in practice.

We wrapped up Firefly, and are now waiting for Serenity to show up. Sad. After this, I think, Battlestar Galactica is in queue. We also watched The Burmese Harp, a very quiet film about a Japanese soldier who is transformed by the desolation he sees around him during the final days of WWII. I’m not sure how we picked this one up; E. thinks she saw it referenced on the Mere Comments blog. It seems to have been remade at least once, but we saw the original version, now available as a Criterion release.

“Flawless victory.”

March 5, 2008

Nerd alert.

I am, professionally, a Unix systems administrator in recovery. By which I mean that I’ve gotten away from day-to-day operational support and have moved (upwards, I hope) into various management roles which are nevertheless still firmly rooted in the technical world. This was a conscious decision, made after the last holiday had been ruined by a series of weekend and overnight support issues. It has proven to be The Right Thing to do. For nearly a year, I’ve been pager-free and have managed to regain all of my leisure and weekend time worry-free. I have, however, also given up the day-to-day control of nuts and bolts. This has been a mixed blessing. On the one hand, well, see above regarding my spare time. On the other hand, the control freak within has had a hard time with the need to futz around with things.

As a sort of compromise, I still try to keep my technical feet wet. Lately, I’ve been taking another look at python. I have a friend (and former co-worker) who is completely gonzo for it, and had been after me for some time to make the switch from perl, which I’d occasionally used for writing quick tools in the course of my work.

He was right. In just a very short while, I’ve come to see that this:

import httplib, urllib, sys
httplib.HTTPConnection.debuglevel = 1
print (urllib.urlopen(sys.argv[1]).read())

is a whole hell of a lot easier than:

use LWP::UserAgent;

my $ua = LWP::UserAgent->new;
my $req = HTTP::Request->new(GET => $ARGV[0]);
my $res = $ua->request($req);

if ($res->is_success) {
print $res->as_string;

else {
print "Failed: ", $res->status_line, "\n";

Yes, I realize that the perl people will remind me that TMTOWTDI, and here’s a one-liner that accomplishes the same, etc, etc. The one-liner will look like modem noise. I am not a developer, but turned straight to to the network/http section of Dive Into Python and wrote that little three-liner above after studying the examples and looking at the standard documentation. It’s all built right in. Would you like to print out the first 25 Fibonacci numbers?

a,b = 0,1
print a
for n in range(25):
print b
a,b = b, a+b

WordPress is squashing my leading whitespace; the stuff under the for should be indented. Here’s the same code (more or less) in perl. For morans like me, python wins.

Extra-cool kitchen tip!

March 4, 2008

Did you know that many, if not most, blenders can be used with a standard mason jar, or wide-mouthed mason jar?

Tip: Blender and Mason Jar at Simply Recipes, via lifehacker

Even a simple fountain pen…

February 25, 2008

The thing that makes me most happy doing this work is being able to help people with their worries and unhappiness, thanks to fountain pens. Nearly all of my repair jobs come to me with a letter attached. I once made a pen nib for a junior high school girl. She was a quiet, unhappy girl. But when I made her a new nib, I suppose she must have practiced writing really hard. She won a calligraphy award. And thanks to that she brightened right up. Or, I get a lot of repair jobs from people who have a pen that belonged to their father. Those times, I tell them just what I think. “Your father must have been a great father. In those days it was no joke to get hold of a pen as good as this one. This is your father’s medal as a man.” Even a simple fountain pen can be seeped in deep family relationships, you see.

The God of Fountain Pens, via Make

On camping, and the removal of filth from an aquarium.

February 25, 2008

A landmark weekend at the Maison du Hobnottle: we’ve begun acquiring our camping stuff. Annual bonuses finally landed at work, and gearing up for family camping trips has been near the top of the to-do list for a little while now. So far we’ve acquired two (2) 6-8 man tents, dual-fuel stove and lantern, sleeping bags for those who didn’t already have them, a small folding table for the stove and a few other odds and ends. The next phase will be cooking supplies and tools (hatchet, shovel, etc). There’s a Cub-and-family camping weekend in April at the local scouting reservation, and we aim to be there with bells on. Directly after that in May, we’re going to do a family trip to one of the local parks because my parents want to set up in the adjoining site, pop open beer and watch the proceedings.

We went camping frequently when I was a kid, and I can still remember trips to Yellowstone NP, Devil’s Tower, the Cascades, the Olympic Peninsula and all the trips into north Georgia (Cooper’s Creek chief among them, and only because we got rained out there twice). They were all Extremely Good Times. It’s been entirely too long.

I was sort of wishy-washy on making trips while the least of the Hobnottle children are still so small, but others in our little homeschooling circle are doing it, so what the hell. After the initial investment in gear, you’re pretty much set for long weekend trips whenever the weather permits for the cost of fresh food and the usage fees. It’s a bargain however you look at it, and our area has no shortage of state and national parks within a half-day’s drive. Throw in the built-in flexibility of homeschooling (which will let us get a good spot on Wednesday nights, before all the weekend suckers start rolling in), and it’s win for everyone involved.

Furthermore, having the stuff means that the fetching Mrs. Hobnottle and I can hit the road, drop off the kids with Gramma and head for the hills. That’s a blog for another time, probably after Buttercup is weaned and/or going through the night without a feeding.

For the record, we bought all of it at the local Bass Pro Shop Outdoor World-A-Rama. We looked at prices online, and even without shipping, their prices were lower. Plus I didn’t want to have to futz around with shipping back a busted stove or something. The local Dick’s has a pretty limited selection of gear, and the closest REI is in Atlanta.There’s a Coleman factory outlet store in Commerce, Georgia as well. Maybe next time we’re visiting, we can hit a few places. I have to return to ATL on business sometime in the next few weeks, so the planets might be aligning nicely. We also happen to be low on Two Buck Chuck. Isn’t it nice when things work out?

Otherwise, this weekend has only had two other items of note. First, we’ve suddenly become tragically addicted to Firefly, just having finished the first few episodes on DVD.  If you’re familiar with the show and its fate, you’ll understand why I qualified it so. We eagerly await the rest of the shows and the additional movie. Yes, I realize I’m a little behind on this. We’re only just now getting around to Battlestar Galactica, too. This is what happens when you ditch cable.

Second, I hacked up a quick gravel vacuum for some impromptu aquarium maintenance and figured I’d share it.

Take one plastic water bottle, drink the water, then cut a hole in the cap just large enough to snugly fit a length of 3/8″ ID plastic tubing. Cut out the bottom of the bottle, and presto, you have an el cheapo tool for sucking huge clouds of fish poop from out of your gravel substrate. I had the tubing laying around already – I use it to siphon out the tank when I’m doing water changes. I wasn’t about to go buy a dedicated vacuum, so I took the Dremel to the bottle cap and was happily cleaning things out just a short time later. Enjoy!

Picture by UpNorth Memories.


January 28, 2008

I just learned that our two-year old isn’t intentionally trying to drive us crazy. He’s actually a finely-tuned root-cause analyst. I should probably start actually answering him, rather than freestyling with made-up/nonsensical retorts.