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Where I Was When Obama Was Declared President

2008-11-06 1 comment

Everyone says this is a seminal moment in history and that people will remember where they were and what they were doing when Obama was declared president-elect of the USA, as the first ever black president, just like they remember where they were when Neil Armstrong took his small step, or when Challenger blew up or on 9/11.

Since my memory is like a steel seive, I’m making a note here to my future self: I was watching election coverage on TV, and McCain had a very early lead with only a tiny fraction of districts reporting. We went to the OSC fall general meeting, and I got home at 21:00 or so expecting to have to wait hours like the last election in the US to hear anything. I turned on the TV and was surprised to see them declare Obama the winner.

I was amazed it was over so fast, and pleased that hope and rationality had achieved such a resounding victory against fear mongering, ignorance, old-boy politics and the old guard.

It wasn’t until the next morning that I heard that Proposition 8 in California had passed. I’m not gay and in fact know very few gay people. Gayness makes me slightly uncomfortable, but mostly only in the way that you feel uncomfortable from anything you’re not around alot. What the hell, I’m from a redneck city. However, I think that California banning gay marriage was a gross injustice that amounts to legalized discrimination and nothing more, and I was very shocked to hear that somewhere that I consider fairly progressive (at least for Americans) would be so intolerant. Also disappointing but less surprising were ballots in Florida and Arizona banning gay marriage and one in Arkansas banning gay couples from adopting children. This stuff shows there is still a long way to go.

I was pleased to see though that Proposition 2 in Michigan to allow stem cell research was passed. Banning stem cell research was one of the more boneheaded moves instigated by religious right nuts in the US. Another positive result was the failure of Proposition 48 in Colorado defining human life as existing from conception. Washington even passed a ballot to allow doctor-assisted suicide for terminally ill patients. It’s about time society matured a bit down there and stopped listening to religious nuts trying to impose first century superstitions on people by law.

I guess if I was American you’d call me a libertarian.

Categories: Editorial

Caravan Serpentine Belt

2008-09-06 Leave a comment

I have a 1999 Dodge Grand Caravan with the 3.8 L engine. They apparently tend to either eat or throw off serpentine belts. Today when I was going with my son to pick up our dog from the vet after getting his knee reconstructed, the van ate the serpentine belt. Since this is not the first time that has happened, I decided to learn how to change it myself. It is not too hard, but there is a trick to getting the belt installed by yourself.

There is a routing diagram inside the hood by the hood release. It’s almost as if the manufacturer expected me to have to do this or something. It is also important to note that the fan can turn on and off at random if the key is in the on position, so leave the key out of the ignition.

Serpentine Belt

Anyways, there are five pulleys, one idler and one tensioner pulley. I found that what worked the best was to run the belt over all the pulleys except the idler at the front first. I fiddled a lot to get it all on. I started by threading the whole belt under the idler pulley and then through to the back of the engine, to hook it first over the alternator pulley, which is high up at the back. Next I hooked it around the air conditioner pulley at the front, over the water pump wheel (which is at the bottom at the front), then down under the drive pulley at the bottom, and around the pulley at the bottom rear.

Then while leaving the belt off of the idler pulley to keep enough slack, I went under the van and pushed a loop of the belt up behind the drive pulley so I could reach it by hand below the tensioner. I hooked it over the tensioner, so that the only pulley that the belt wasn’t running over was the idler, marked in the picture with an X. Once everything but the idler was hooked up, I used a 15 mm wrench with my right hand to rotate the tensioner pulley forward and down to loosen the tension. It is spring-loaded and takes a serious amount of force. Then, while holding the tensioner in the rotated position with my right hand, I used my left hand to push the belt down and over the idler pulley. You don’t have to get the belt perfectly aligned on the idler the first try. Once it is hooked over the idler pulley, it is easy to release the tensioner, get a new grip, loosen the tension again and tweak the alignment of the belt over the idler pulley.

Once the belt is on all the pulleys, you have to make sure it is lined up properly before you start the engine. Some of the pulleys are grooved and they match up to grooves on the belt. I just ran my hand over each grooved pulley to make sure the belt was centered on each one. Depending on the length and beefiness of your arms you may have to do some of this checking from underneath. If any aren’t quite lined up, you could use your wrench on the tensioner to loosen it off and straighten out the belt.

Once they are all straight, you should be ready to start the engine and go. If you are replacing the belt because it broke or got thrown off while you were driving, and your van overheated before you got it off the road, it would be a good idea to let it cool off and to check your coolant before proceeding.

Categories: Editorial Tags:

What TV Should Be

2008-07-21 1 comment

Thanks Joss Whedon and crew for showing us what TV should be. I always maintain to my friends and acquaintances that the complaints that the RIAA and the MPAA etc. make that piracy is harming their businesses are at least wrong, and at most lies concocted to protect their obsolete business models.

I maintain that some of the reasons for dropping sales of music CDs and DVD movies (besides the studios being creatively bankrupt) are due to the content producers not understanding what customers want in terms of distribution. I really think people (especially younger internet-savvy people) want instant gratification with respect to media. People want to be able to get and watch whatever they want, whenever they want it, and pay a-la-carte for that content. Not all people want to steal media, and many people who habitually download music and video from torrent sites are not motivated so much by wanting to steal things as they are by wanting to control when and where they consume their media. That’s why DVRs are so popular, and why the iTunes store is so successful. When it is easier to get pirated media that suits your media consumption desires than it is to get the legit stuff, people pirate it.

Unfortunately, the braindead idiots in charge of these big media companies try to change the pirate-versus-pay equation only by making legal attacks on people using pirated media. Decreasing piracy is not necessarily a bad goal, but their methods are so hostile that they only succeed in alienating their potential customers. Instead of just focusing on making piracy more difficult, they should be making it easier and cheaper to get legitimate media in the ways that customers want (downloadable in unrestricted formats from the Internet at any time with easy payment options).

Joss Whedon and his crew of creative geniuses have recently released something that if financially successful, makes my point for me. There are no big media companies involved in the production of the content (which often is a sure fire way to screw it up anyhow). They gave themselves permission to simply come up with a fun idea, and make it a reality. They didn’t have to pre-sell it to get it bankrolled, and didn’t have to put up with studio jiggery-pokery in the creative process.

The first line of distribution for Doctor Horrible was for free on the Internet. The producers used modern social networking tools to attract a fan base and create a buzz before the first show aired. They catered to the fan community instead of being hostile to them (an approach that Joss used previously to greenlight a big-screen movie from a failed TV show). They gave us a treat by letting us see the show for free (!!) for a limited time. They are offering it for a very low price on the iTunes music store (the de-facto internet media distribution mechanism available to the largest number of people). While the iTunes store does use DRM for video, which has been repeatedly been proven ineffectual to the point where Apple is shying away from it, the rest of my talking points are met by that distribution mechanism, and realistically, iTunes is pretty much the only game with a large scale customer-friendly digital media store.

Joss and his family/collaborator team speculated that they could make something entertaining outside of the big media establishment, and ventured their own money in a gamble that they could make it pay. The production of Doctor Horrible smashes so many of the problems of broken old-school media creation and distribution that I would be a hypocrite not to support it with my dollars. I’ve paid for it on iTunes, and I will buy the DVD and probably the soundtrack, especially if it will be downloadable on the iTunes store in non-DRM format. I would do so just to make a point, but luckily for me, it’s well worth the price, and is over-the-top entertaining.

Keep it up Joss. Media moguls: Pay attention to what these guys are doing. They are smarter than you.

Categories: Editorial, Neat Geek Stuff

Little Brother

2008-05-14 3 comments

I just finished reading Little Brother, by Cory Doctorow. I read a lot, in the order of a couple of hundred books per year. Many books are promptly forgotten, but this is one I’m going to add to my re-reading pile. I’m also going to buy a few copies and give them to a few people. For those who are into reading e-books, the electronic versions of many of Cory Doctorow’s works are freely available from the author’s website, published under a creative commons license, like my blog. That right there earns my respect, and I’m presently perusing the rest of Cory Doctorow’s catalog.

I’m always having these discussions with my wife about this discomfort I have with the idea of surveillance societies and the loss of privacy (ironically, considering how much information about myself that I voluntarily publish). The book Little Brother is a fictional story about what gives me the willies about the attitude “I have nothing to hide, so why should I care if they video me everywhere, read my email and wiretap my phones?” I think that attitude is based on a logical fallacy, that privacy only has value to people who are hiding something. That’s called a false dichotomy. Privacy is valued by people who are not criminals and do not have a guilty conscience too. Otherwise, why do we have curtains? If you have the “I have nothing to hide” attitude, I suggest you read this paper on the fallacy of that idea, written by George Washington Law School Professor Daniel J. Solove. Click the link and scroll down to find several links to the actual PDF of the paper.

Surveillance societies give up essential freedoms in the name of safety. Unfortunately, the sacrifice of freedoms is generally in vain, because the increased surveillance of citizens does essentially nothing to prevent crime or terrorism. Search with Google. There are many many articles and reports indicating western societies are no safer from terrorism than before September 11. In fact, many think we’re worse off, and now we have the added fear of misuse of all the surveillance information by the authorities.

If, like me, you are Canadian, you might think that there’s not much surveillance going on in our country. If that’s the case, do a little experiment. When you’re out and about, think about every instance during your day when your location or activity is recorded by somebody or some automated system. Do you go into a store? You’re on video. Do you buy something with credit or debit? Somebody knows what you bought. Use cash? If so, what about your Safeway Club card or Save On More card? They still know what you bought. Buying online? Same thing. What about traffic cameras looking at your license plate as you travel around town? Somebody could know everywhere you’ve been, and when. Now read Little Brother, and think about the picture of your life that all those little points of surveillance that could be constructed if a single authority were able to combine all that?

Really, I’m only a little paranoid, and I freely share a lot of info about myself. However, as is famously and often stated, just because you are paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.

Sleep well.

Running FreeBSD 7.0 on ESX Server

2008-01-17 14 comments

I’m building new DNS servers for our corporate DNS due to our recent hardware problems with one of our old servers. We have had good success with publicly exposed BSD servers on the Internet, including OpenBSD and FreeBSD. My experience with FreeBSD is much more recent than with OpenBSD so for the new servers I am going with FreeBSD 7.0. We also have been building almost everything new as virtual machines on ESX server for the last year or so, so the DNS servers will be no exception.

FreeBSD is not officially supported by VMware on ESX server, but it runs on ESX 3.x without problems. My ESX server is configured with ESX 3.02. My first step was to build a template FreeBSD virtual machine. I’m going to use that as the basis for a master DNS server that we hide away and use to make changes on, and some slaves that are public-facing.

The first thing I didwas to get the FreeBSD iso files and put them somewhere where the ESX server can see them. I have an ISO library on my Sun x4500 that can be nfs mounted by my ESX servers, so that’s where I put the FreeBSD iso files (there are 3 iso files for FreeBSD 7.0 RC1).

Next, I set up a new virtual machine with 512 MB of RAM (probably overkill for a dedicated authoritative DNS server in charge of a few zones) and an LSI scsi adapter. For the guest OS, I chose Other/Other (not 64-bit). I pointed the VM’s CD-ROM drive at the FreeBSD disk1 iso file, and booted it. I’m not going to go over the partitioning and installation details of FreeBSD here. The install of FreeBSD is fairly straightforward if you have some UNIX/Linux experience. I chose to install the “Developer” package set, and to install the ports collection. I also added emacs and bash via the packages at the end of the installation because that’s how I roll. During the install it’s a good idea to add another user besides root, and to make them a member of the wheel group, so that they can run su to become root. In FreeBSD you have to be a member of the wheel group in order to be allowed to run su.

Once the install was completed, I rebooted, and logged in as root. To make the FreeBSD system a good virtual citizen on your ESX server, it’s a good idea to install the vmware tools. Unfortunately there is no vmware tools installer for FreeBSD on ESX 3.x. Luckily, the vmware tools for FreeBSD from VMware Server work in ESX Server. To install them on my virtual machine, I downloaded the tgz package for VMware Server 1.04, extracted it, and copied the file vmware-server-distrib/lib/isoimages/freebsd.iso to my ISO library. Then I connected that iso file as the CD-ROM of the virtual machine. Then from inside the VM, I used the ports collection to install the vmware tools. To do that, I logged as root (or become root with su) and then ran the following commands:

cd /usr/ports/emulators/vmware-tools6
make install clean distclean

Once the install completed, I rebooted to startup the vmware tools guest daemon. I logged in after the reboot and ran ps ax | grep vmware to verify that the vmware guest daemon was running, and I saw output like this:

570 ?? Ss 0:03.52 /usr/local/sbin/vmware-guestd --background /var/run/vmware_guestd.pid --h

The final thing to get the FreeBSD VM ready to go is to replace the default ethernet device, which is a lance virtual nic. There are many anecdotes about the lance ethernet driver in FreeBSD dropping packets under load. It’s a good idea to change to either the vmxnet device or the e1000 device instead of lance. The FreeBSD GENERIC kernel (the default kernel) in FreeBSD 7.0 does not have a driver for the vmxnet device, but it does have one for the e1000 device. Either can be used, but if you choose the vmxnet device, you have to build a new kernel (waaay beond the scope of this post).

To replace the default lance virtual nic with the e1000 one, I first shut down and powered off the vm. Then, I accessed my ESX server as root with a shell (via ssh or on the console) and used vi to edit the .vmx file of the FreeBSD virtual machine. I found a bunch of lines beginning with ethernet0 and inserted a line at the top of those lines like this:

ethernet0.virtualDev="e1000"

Then, I saved the file and started up the virtual machine. When it came up, there was no IP address bound to the ethernet interface in the VM, and I had to login to it using the VMware ESX server Virtual Infrastructure Client console or Virtual Center. I logged in as root to the VM, and edited the /etc/rc.conf file. I found the line that said ipconfig_le0=... and changed it to ipconfig_em0=... and then rebooted. The new virtual nic was then started up with the same settings as the old one had before I replaced it.

That’s it. If you follow this procedure, you will have a VM that is ready to be configured for whatever workload you want to put on it.

Categories: Editorial, Virtualization

Swimming in Alberta and LTAD

2007-07-06 2 comments

There are two types of competitive swimming programs in Canada, summer swimming and year-round swimming. Before I start expounding my opinions, let me just say that I am a product of both programs, but primarily of the year-round program, and I swam competitively from age 7 until I graduated from university at age 24. I also have two kids who are swimmers (among other sports) so I have perspective on these issues from both directions. I’m also about to make some sweeping generalizations, so don’t be offended if your organization has a different philosophy from what is discussed below.

Year-round swimming is a unified program nationally in terms of having an over-arching organization (Swimming / Natation Canada), and a common set of rules. The season starts in September and carries on until the following summer. Nationals and high-level international competitions take place over summer, so for elite swimmers, the season pretty much lasts all year. Swimmers in all parts of Canada participate in meets together including twice-yearly Provincials, age-group Club Nationals and open-age National Championships. National team members also come from the year-round program. Training for many swimmers is every day, with Sunday off, and some do workouts morning and night, before and after school. It can be a major commitment, but that’s how the programs produce internationally successful swimmers.

Summer swimming varies by province. There is no national organization. In Alberta, summer swimming is managed by the Alberta Summer Swimming Association, supported by the Swim Alberta. The season goes from May to August. Kids participate in meets between clubs in the various regions in Alberta, and then each region hosts a regionals. Top swimmers from each regionals go to Summer Swimming Provincials in August. Swimmers generally train about five times per week through the season. It’s a lot more focussed on fun and enjoyment of swimming rather than the performance-oriented focus of year-round swimming. It is also a great sport for developing athletes, because it allows the participation in multiple sports throughout the year.

In Alberta, year-round swimming hosts an age-group Provincials competition. This is the only competition where summer swimmers have the opportunity to race against their age-counterparts in year-round swimming. If summer swimmers achieve year-round-swimming “A” time standards, they qualify for the Alberta Summer Swimming All-stars, which is a multi-club team that goes to Alberta year-round swimming summer Provincials. It’s a fun experience for the summer swimmers, firstly because the summer swimmers get some new kids to race against, and secondly because it’s the only time in summer swimming that kids get to race in a 50m pool. The rest of the summer swimming season is done in 25m pools.

I think that the other great benefit of the All Stars is that it shows the value of the summer swimming program in comparison to the year-round programs (not the value of summer swimming above year-round swimming, just in comparison to it). Summer swimmers who come and compete at year-round swimmers see that their programs are not inferior, and that they can compete directly with kids who train in swimming all year. Year-round swimming proponents (some of whom stupidly look down on summer swimming as a joke) get incontrovertible proof that summer swimming produces competitive athletes, especially at the younger ages, without unnecessary early specialization in swimming. Unfortunately, the All-Stars team also engenders the equally stupid fear held by many summer swimming organizations that year-round swimming is out to steal athletes from summer swimming, and that having athletes move to year-round swimming somehow harms summer swimming. The pathological dismissal of summer swimming programs by year-round swimming organizations, and the paranoia held about year-round swimming organizations held by summer clubs is a problem that benefits nobody.

Presently, Sport Canada is pushing to adopt a new philosophy, called the Long Term Athlete Development model (LTAD). The LTAD model is a non-sport-specific model for athlete development from early childhood, through youth, to nationally and internationally competitive athletes, to post-competitive active adults. The LTAD considers a lot of scientifically supported information regarding child and adolescent development, as well as athlete development, and long-term health and wellness.

The point of this article is that in terms of Sport Canada’s push to adopt the Long Term Athlete Development model, the existing summer swimming program in Alberta is more appropriate and compatible with the LTAD than the existing year-round swimming program, for the LTAD’s first three stages. Those are: FUNdamentals, Learning to Train and Training to Train. The first three stages encompass young athletes up to ages of about 15 for girls and 16 for boys. The LTAD recommends no sport specialization for the FUNdamentals stage, focusing on at least three sports in the Learning to Train stage, and on two primary sports in the Training to Train stage. Year-round swimming, with it’s intensive training programs and long season, discourages generalization during the Learning to Train stage, and essentially requires one-sport specialization in the Training to Train stage. The LTAD recognizes early specialization as a contributing factor to a lack of basic motor skills, over-training injuries, early burnout and early departure from competitive sport. A requirement for early specialization may also eliminate potential future star swimmers from swimming entirely, because many young athletes are interested in participating in multiple sports, and if participating in one sport precludes other sports, the exclusive sport might be dropped in favour of the others.

The summer swimming program in Alberta, in contrast, fits nicely into the LTAD model for the first three stages. The season is brief, allowing ample time throughout the year for kids to participate in multiple organized sport programs. The attitude of summer swimming is very fun-oriented and light, and most clubs in Alberta even encourage and facilitate participation in other summer sports, like soccer. The program obviously works for the young ages, judging by a direct comparison of 12-and under swimmers at year-round swimming provincials. Athletes who have successful summer swimming careers, and then move onto year-round swimming towards the end of the LTAD Training to Train stage, often have tremendous success and tremendous career longevity in year-round swimming. The Swimming/Natation Canada national team bios contain several stories of national team members who didn’t specialize in year-round swimming until the middle teen years.

As a former participant and beneficiary of both programs, and now as a parent of a couple of budding (no Flowers pun intended) young aquatic talents, I would like the summer swimming program to get rid of its paranoia and start encouraging kids who have outgrown the summer swimming program to consider moving on to year-round swimming. I would also like year-round swimming programs to start recognizing summer swimming programs as valuable sources of developing athletes, and as appropriate programs for multi-sport athletes, and being more supportive and inclusive of summer swimming. Changing attitudes on both sides will benefit both, and more importantly, will benefit the athletes most of all.

Categories: Editorial, Personal, Swimming

TV Sucks

2007-05-11 Leave a comment

Well, this is bad news (Dark Horizons). Battlestar Galactica, the best show on TV, will be going off the air after the fourth season. Instead, we’ll be treated to more crap like this, and other hour-long commercials for Home Depot thinly disguised as entertainment.

Categories: Editorial
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