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Timbo (4486)

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Journal of Timbo (4486)

Friday May 21, 2004
04:06 PM

Vacation highlights

Warning: no perl-related content.

I just returned from a cruise in the Caribbean, tanned (well, burned, really) and rested. Thought I'd give my impression of the trip.

We cruised on Royal Caribbean's Explorer of the Seas, a beautiful ship designed to bring in a younger demographic than RC's typical Ben-Gay crowd. It had things like a climbing wall, waterslide, ice rink, and mini-golf course on board. My four-year-old son really enjoyed the kid's play room and well-equipped arcade; my two-year-old daughter loved the waterslide, and all the attention from old people.

We cruised out of Miami to Belize (a newer tourist destination for eco-tourists), Costa Maya (a new dock in the middle of nowhere on the Yucatan... pretty nice), Cozumel (my personal favorite place in the Caribbean) and Grand Cayman (quite possibly the most expensive location on the planet).

Read further for deatils of each.

In Belize, I had wanted to go Cave Tubing, but since kids couldn't come we hailed a cab and asked the driver to take us to a nice local beach. He drove us (in his 1990 Toyota Corolla) about fifteen miles to a spot where a local entrepreneur had decided to hack some trees down, truck in sand, and start a bar. The very friendly (and hungry looking) dogs were my daughters favorite--unfortunate, as they had fleas. My son enjoyed looking at the unhappy Boa Constrictors that the owner kept in a 2' by 4' plastic bin, and playing a Belizean version of horseshoes. After watching the owner's demo of cocunut husking, and contributing a small amount of money to the bar for numerous drinks, we headed off to a restaurant (I don't remember the name) near the cruise ship dock. We had an excellent meal in the quiet open-air restaurant, shaded by large Ficus trees. Total spent in Belize: ~ $200.

On to Costa Maya, where we took an early hour-long bus ride to the Chaccoben Mayan ruin. This was a Royal-Caribbean guided trip, so cost $62 each. My daughter got quite sunburned even though we carefully covered her in sunscreen; that's what happens when you bring an Alaskan to someplace where the sun actually shines. Anyway, the ruin was fun to look around, but the tour guide was too talkative--we ended up only having about ten minutes at the end to walk around and take the ruin in. After the long bus ride back to the dock, we took a taxi to a small fishing village called Mahahual about ten minutes away. We relaxed on the beach and enjoyed our time there a great deal. Total spent in Costa Maya: ~$400.

The next morning we arrived in Cozumel, where we took a taxi south about 14 km to Paradise Beach. It's a beautiful beach, with free entry, that provides chairs, umbrellas, snorkel gear, floating chairs, and all kinds of other fun stuff. We only paid for drinks and food, which came to about $45 for the time we were there. After about three hours, we took a taxi back to the port, where we bought a huge amount and variety of local vanilla (if you're in Mexico and looking for Vanilla, get Azteca... it's the best we've found) and a local liquor called Xtabentum. Xtabentum is a mixture of local flowers, anise and honey, distilled into a potent potable. You should try it if you ever get there. Total spent in Cozumel: ~$250.

Our last stop on the cruise was Grand Cayman. Grand Cayman is famous for Stingray City, a sandbar several miles from shore that you can stand on and feed stingrays. As my wife and I had done it before, and as our kids are too small, we skipped that adventure (which I highly recommend) and just walked around town instead. It was a very relaxing day; we ate at a grocery store buffet (which seemed like ghastly food after the incredible dinners on the cruise), shopped, and generally puttered around. It was my wife's favorite day on the cruise. Total spent in Grand Cayman: ~ $60.

Finally, back to Miami, where we stayed an extra night. By this time, I think everyone was ready to get home, but we weren't really prepared for the 12 hour flight(s) back. We need a vacation to recover from our vacation.

Overall, it was fun. Next time, I might just fly to Cozumel and hang out there.

Monday April 26, 2004
08:57 PM

Do I have ADD?

Well, obviously my commitment to blogging waned significantly. Maybe I'll be able to muster some more energy now that the Long Dark of winter has passed.

Sometimes I wonder if I have ADD or if I am just easily bored... I can concentrate my full attention on a subject that interests me for roughly two months, after which the rest of the entropy in my life overwhelms the object of my obsession. Knowing this about myself, I should probably break each of my major life goals into two-month chunks, in hopes of actually finishing something before I have rigor mortis.

I just had an incredibly frustrating conversation (can you call it that when you aren't allowed to finish a single sentence?) with a Microsoft Professional Services zombie. The gist of his position was that Open Source is destroying the national economy; interestingly, despite his claim of impending doom, he is confident Microsoft is not losing market share. Oh, and he thinks Madonna is still a virgin that is saving herself for him.

He made the following claims:

Munich is still using Microsoft tools almost exclusively

Nearly all viruses targeting Microsoft systems are written by Open Source proponents with an agenda

Indian coders aren't capable of putting together a high quality product

Redhat's corporate earnings are attributable only to investment income (Anyone?)

Netcraft is biased, and most of the sites it reports as running Apache are unmaintained

Windows has a much better security track record than Linux

Germany, France, and Finland are subsidizing Open Source to hurt the US

Lots more that I couldn't hear because of my loud internal laughter

I just pray that I sounded like the calm and reasonable one in that conversation; it was at the client site, and we were surrounded by management offices on nearly all sides. Hopefully some of the more intelligent managers thought he protested too much.

Monday October 20, 2003
06:13 PM

A dearth of ennui

Does anyone else long for time to read a non-technical book? Sleep late? Sit down and eat? My life has become almost nonsensically busy, and I'm beginning to wonder if my heart will explode when I'm 33.

To illustrate: Saturday. I woke up at 4:00 am to my pager going off. I solved the problem, but my one year old daughter woke up, so I had to try to get her back to sleep. As I was putting her to bed at 6:15, my three year old son started crying because he was having a bad dream. At 8:00 am, my wife went to the gym; I sat the kids in front of the TV so I could grab a quick shower, got them breakfast, and dressed them for our busy day.

I cleaned out the gutters on the house and answered another page by 11:00, at which time we put the kids down for an early nap. We cleaned house and I took the van in to get the winter tires put on while the kids slept. Beginning at 2:00 pm, we went to a succession of three children's birthday parties, finally finishing at 9:30 pm. We got home at 10:00, bathed the kids and got them to sleep by 11:00, then collapsed.

It wouldn't bother me, but this is nearly every day. I kind of miss cigarettes... then, at least I had an excuse to give myself a break once in a while.

Thursday September 11, 2003
06:26 PM

Fall is here in Alaska

I felt that familiar chill this morning--both a physical and mental shudder--that comes with the realization that winter will be here soon. Leaves are changing, geese are flying in V's, and most of my garden is dead. I love Alaska, but the winters have begun to wear on me. I'd guess it's probably related more to the dark than the cold... at our worst, we get about five hours of daylight, and I'm not looking forward to the long dark this year.

I wouldn't consider leaving Alaska permanently, but Autumn is making me consider an itinerant lifestyle. I'm sure among my readers (heh! I have some gall, making that plural!) that there is someone that moves from season to season... do you like doing so? What unexpected challenges are there? Do you have a family? Do you just work one job and telecommute, or multiple jobs?

I am just thinking out loud... no solid plans yet. But, like Dan Quayle, I am a victim of my last conversation... if you argue strongly enough, you'll probably convince me.

Thursday August 28, 2003
03:56 PM

Sacrificing my soul for some sleep

I have often been annoyed by this application; if you note the times of my journal entries, they are often late in the evening on Saturdays, because I have been awakened by a user support call. I have nearly decided to completely rewrite the reporting functionality of the app (the most brittle portion) in hopes of getting some sleep.

The current architecture is a scheduler that periodically opens Microsoft Access; Access has an "Autoexec" macro that runs reports against the Oracle database using ODBC, emails the results to certain users, and prints the results on other user's printers. Basically, I'll rewrite the scheduler and the Access portion as a perl service using Win32::Daemon.

I'm confident I'll be able to duplicate the Oracle connectivity and the scheduling, but I am a little unsure of how to make the reports look good (and consistent). I guess I could use HTML and tables, but sending that to a printer would print it as html text (it wouldn't be formatted, and tags would be visible.) If I do both in PostScript, they won't be readable by an email client.

<kidding>Maybe I'll do them in POD, use POD2Latex and dvi2ps for the printing side, and POD2HTML to email it.</kidding>

I think the real solution is to use (ack) OLE and HTML; email will work fine, and I'll just use OLE to open IE(eeee) and print.

Maybe getting no sleep isn't as bad as all that...

Sunday August 24, 2003
04:57 AM

Ode to a Keyboard

One of my most prized possessions is an old IBM PS/2 style keyboard. I know, they're a dime a dozen, and frankly if this particular keyboard was unavailable, I would move on quite nicely to another one. If I had to do without any IBM keyboard, though, there would be a significant hole in my life.

First, there's the fact that all of the keycaps are moved around to the DVORAK scheme; not because I type in DVORAK, but because I once wanted to. I type well enough that I never have to look at my keyboard anyway, so it doesn't bother me at all. It keeps casual "can I borrow your workstation for a minute" trespassers away, though. Sort of a keyboard encryption scheme.

Secondly, it is built to withstand nuclear war. My gift for hyperbole notwithstanding, this keyboard is indestructible. I have poured large cups of coffee on it, and done significantly more damage to myself than the keyboard. On one occasion, a maintenance man used it to stand on in order to change out flourescent lights. From it's general appearance, it was used during the Battle of the Bulge to help give armored vehicles additional traction.

It may not be translucent, or have the latest web keys, but at least it doesn't have a windows key.

Finally, it weighs a metric ton. I can place it firmly on my lap (with only two assistants spotting me) and it won't move for the rest of the day. Yes, my legs are numb within an hour, but I can type in that most comfortable of positions... reclined.

What's your favorite keyboard, and why?

Friday August 22, 2003
06:26 PM

Sneaking up on a solution

Remember this? Probably not, as I wasn't exactly overwhelmed with responses. Anyway, turns out you can create a perl (or anything else, for that matter) script to just loop infinitely and respawn lpd -P printer < fifo. It blocks while waiting for input on the pipe, so no processor utilization or resources are used. At least that works under Linux... I still haven't gotten printing to a pipe from a Windows Parasite(TM) to work. I think now it's related to Windows vs. Linux EOF character semantics.

I love difficult problems, but wish I had more time to devote to this one.

10:31 AM

Sleep deprivation

Generally, I need about seven hours of sleep to be a fully functioning human. Over the last week, I've probably gotten an average of four, as my one year old daughter has somehow gotten her sleep schedule reversed.

Yesterday, I chaperoned a field trip to a "You Pick It" farm for my three year old's daycare. My fatigue made it somewhat difficult to be patient and kind on a school bus full of screaming toddlers. I did quite well, but it was a bit of a struggle. Anyway, we rode on a bus for an hour and a half, walked all over fields picking odd vegetables (Diakon? Kohlrabi? Who thinks up these names?), had a large lunch, and piled back on to the (now quite toasty) schoolbus.

Suffice it to say that I'm glad that schoolbuses have plastic seats; otherwise my drool might have stained.

Wednesday August 20, 2003
11:08 AM

Tough Linux question

I am running two Win2K VMWare virtual machines under Linux. When I VPN into my corporate or client network with the virtual machines, I am unable to print to network printers, because the VPN client stops all network traffic except that through the tunnel.

VMWare allows you to redirect the virtual machine's LPT port output to a file on the host (Linux) machine. If the lpt redirect file is a fifo, and I run lpr -P queue < fifo, I can successfully send one job from the Windows machine whether it's VPN'd in or not. It looks to me like lpr stops reading from the pipe when it gets an EOF.

Since this is the smartest group of people I know (flattery never hurts, eh?), does anyone have any ideas on how to make this persistent? I suck at Unix IPC.

Tuesday August 19, 2003
01:51 AM

Saving a buck at all costs

Or, the unfolding story of my limitless cheapness.

I am without that part of my brain that tells me I am not capable of doing something. For the most part, it serves me in good stead; rather than, say, paying someone to change my oil or fix my computer, I have traditionally just tackled it myself. Today, I might just have learned that some things are better left to professionals.

In my journal, I have mentioned on more than one occasion that I'm building the MOAD (Mother of All Decks). I have installed the MOAHT (Mother of All Hot Tubs) in a prime location in that deck. Having had an anuerism shortly after birth, I thought I should be able to wire in the 50 amp, 240 volt branch circuit rather than shelling out the $250 for an electrician to do it properly. This would have been the largest mistake in the history of the universe if this guy not taken that dubious award earlier this week.

Anyway, everything was going well with the spa for about a day; tonight, I came home to find "dcp" flashing on the display, and no heat in the spa. It seems that I hadn't properly covered a second 120V feeder circuit (for deck lights, etc.), and for some reason known only to the Gods of entropy, had flipped on the breaker. With the significant amount of rain we've had lately, it eventually tripped the switch and highly annoyed the spa. It doesn't seem to have let the smoke out, and once everything was reset it seems to be working properly, but I'm now pretty sure it would be a good idea for someone who knows what the hell they are doing to check it out. After all, my kids are going to be climbing into 400 gallons of water near that 50 Amps... I really don't want them to be filaments that light up the neighborhood for a few seconds.

Either that, or I could just take a look at it myself...