Christmas lights

Today it was around 60 degrees– wow. I figured it’s officially after Thanksgiving, so it’s acceptable to hang up Christmas lights, and the weather isn’t going to get any better.

I went through the usual ordeal of plugging in each strand of lights, only to discover that at least three of them had the old “half the strand doesn’t light” problem. I fiddled with bulbs for a while, but in the end it proved easier to just buy a couple more boxes of lights.

The door was easy, and the tree required some ingenuity with an old broomstick with a bent nail in the end so I could reach the higher parts. All in all, not too bad!


Ahh, Windows, how I love to hate thee

Kyra’s friend Hannah is in need of a computer. She’d like one at home so she can do homework, read email, and (let’s not kid ourselves) watch goofy videos on YouTube and read Pinterest. Since I have shelves upon shelves of spare computer parts in the basement, I figured I could cobble something together and give her a computer that, while not stellar, would at least work for these things.

I found various components and built the system. It ended up with a 2GHz processor, 1GB of memory, and 500GB of disk space, with a dual-monitor video card. Not too bad! I thought it would be nice to install Windows for her, so she’d at least have a desktop environment that’s familiar. She could also install various programs if needed. I dug up an old Windows 7 install DVD and started working on it. I think that was around 10am today. Now it’s after 4pm and the system still isn’t useable. I had to dig through internet forums to learn how to install the appropriate drivers for the video card (isn’t Windows supposed to auto-detect that?) so I could have a screen with better than 800×600 resolution. I applied all 107 Windows updates; the download alone took over an hour and the installation took over two. Even after that, everything ran like molasses because Windows 7 enables a bunch of ridiculous compositing effects. I switched to a “basic” theme that didn’t include Aero, and that seemed to help a bit. Google Chrome refuses to install, citing a “lack of appropriate hardware”. When I load a YouTube video I get a black box with nice audio but no image. Even web sites are slow to the point of making me want to cry.


One might argue that Windows 7 is a newer operating system and should therefore only be installed on newer hardware. But sheesh, this box isn’t that bad– a few years old, and certainly the equivalent of a reasonable laptop. Why, then, is this such a horrid experience?

After talking to Hannah a bit, it seems like she doesn’t really need Windows at all– she just needs a web browser. So it’s sayonara, Windows, and hello Linux. I’m going to set up a basic Linux system, configure auto-upgrades, and I suspect it’ll work out of the box.

This is why I just don’t even mess with Windows any more.

64 bits of success

After several months of procrastination and a few weeks of concerted but often frustrating effort, I finally managed to boot a custom-built 64-bit Linux system.

For over a decade I’ve been running my own version of the Linux operating system, which I cleverly call Jinux, and it’s served me well across over a hundred servers and a long series of desktops. It’s probably a sign that I’m either unbelievably stubborn or a true Linux geek that I insist on compiling all of my software from scratch, rather than using any of dozens of freely-available versions available. But hey, whatever the reason, it’s what I do.

For a while I’ve intended to convert from traditional 32-bit systems to a more modern 64-bit system. However, that’s much easier said than done– the architectures are substantially different under the hood, even though the stuff you see looks exactly the same. It turns out that many of the scripts and processes I’d used successfully for a decade no longer applied, and had to be re-thought and re-written.

In the past week I’ve been getting really close… little things kept popping up, and I’d solve the problems one at a time as I continued to advance. Finally I had a system that made an effort to boot but died in a kernel panic and a splash of debug code. More backtracking and debugging finally led me to the solution. I applied it, hit the button, and bam! the system booted and I was faced with the prompt that signaled my triumph:

jinux64 login:

There’s still some work to be done before the system can be deployed to my production servers, but it’s a pretty big step. Cue the success baby…


Truth and beauty

Back in the day, when particle physicists were creating the list of subatomic particles and putting together what’s known as the Standard Model, they named the six types (“flavors”) of quarks as follows:


I always thought those last two were particularly poetic, but unfortunately over time truth and beauty became known as top and bottom. A few years ago there was quite a bit of excitement when the top quark– the most massive one, and thus the most elusive to create in a particle accelerator– was “found”. It would have been fun to read about how “truth had been found” instead.

Anyway, I still like to refer to them as truth and beauty, just as I continue to refer to Pluto as a planet. This evening I was reading an article about the discovery of a couple of new elementary particles (Xi_b and Xi_b*) at the Large Hadron Collider. To my delight, the article I was reading mentioned that the particles are comprised of three quarks: strange, down, and beauty. Aha!

It’s good to know truth and beauty are alive and well.

College – yikes redux!

The adventure continues. This afternoon Alex, Laralee, and I drove down to Boulder for a tour of the University of Colorado Boulder (CU) campus. It was about 35 degrees and we were walking around for over an hour, but at least it wasn’t 10 degrees like it was a few days ago!

CU is a big school, with about 30,000 students, and covers a lot of ground. It was definitely a different experience than our recent tour of Colorado School of Mines. Unlike Mines, which is almost entirely focused on engineering disciplines, CU is a true “university” and engineering makes up around 25% of student enrollment. Still, they have impressive research work, and their physics department is world-renowned (they have three Nobel laureates on the physics staff!). Alex doesn’t plan to go into physics, but it’s nice to know that CU has strong science programs.

Laralee said she was pretty bored after the tour. Like our earlier trip to Golden, I found it really exciting to see the campus and picture Alex attending college. And, yes, it brought back memories of my college days as well.

For the past few weeks I’ve been hounding Alex to work on scholarship applications. There are tons of scholarships available, and there are even web sites that consolidate them pretty nicely so you can skim lists of hundreds of them and select ones that seem interesting or applicable. He’s been working on the applications, albeit slowly, and today I hope some of the harsh reality of the cost of a college education will be motivating to him.

I did some quick research and found these estimated annual prices for the four schools Alex is considering:

Colorado School of Mines – $31,023/year
University of Colorado Boulder – $26,933/year
Brigham Young University – Provo – $16,163/year
Brigham Young University – Idaho – $11,483/year

Holy smokes. Those first two will cost over a hundred grand for a full degree. I sure hope he finds some sweet scholarships…

Kyra’s CU performance

Monday night Kyra’s symphonic band performed with the University of Colorado band. The high school group had been invited to join the CU players, which was a pretty big honor.

Mom and Dad had commented in the past that if any of our kids had a special performance or event, they should invite Grandma and Grandpa to come visit. So Kyra did, and they were able to schedule the trip. It was really great.

When we arrived at the CU auditorium, Mom was concerned that we wouldn’t be able to see Kyra at all. There are a lot of players in the band, and only a few of them are visible– most are in the back or behind their music stands. Fortunately, Kyra is first chair flute which means she always sits on the right side of the conductor, on the end chair closest to the audience. Sure enough, when the students came out and took their seats, we could see her easily.


The band played well, and Kyra had several solos that were really good. She’s definitely a strong flautist– it’s hard to remember the early days when she sounded more like a squeaky wheel.

Nice job, Kyra!

Master of the iPad

Zack has an iPad Mini for school– all of the students get to “lease” one for the year, and the teachers use them as part of their curriculum. It’s a nice program, and I think it helps the students learn how to use technology every day. Of course the students look at it as an opportunity to install the latest Minecraft mod or Candy Crush game.

Zack has tinkered with it a bit, and now he can enable Siri and ask her:

“Who am I?”

To which she replies:

“Your name is Popo, but you asked me to call you the Chinchilla Master.”

Of course that’s in the semi-robotic voice of Siri, which probably makes it even funnier. I don’t know where the Chinchilla Master came from, but Zack chuckles every time he does it. I love it– his sense of humor is as goofy as mine.