So long 2015, year of changes! Hello 2016!

2015 was a weird year for me personally. It was a year that a lot of things changed, and a year that a lot of things didn’t change. Compared to the last several years where I kind of just rode the same groove, 2015 was pretty notable.

So what didn’t change is: I’m still living in the same place, still on the same lack-of-romantic-relationships setting, and still working at the same place. Commuting still sucks, but still doesn’t suck as much as living closer to where I work, and my schedule is still pretty heavily shifted from “normal” in part as a response to that, and in part because my sleep cycles have just always been wonky.

What did change is … well, kind of my whole lifestyle.

In April or so I took a bit of a staycation when the work pressure and burnout got to me a bit, and decided to start changing how I ate (by banning myself from “depressing” food). That started a tour of a bunch of other restaurants, and just trying to eat things that weren’t Wendy’s, Subway, Papa John’s and Domino’s all the time. I didn’t really eat less, I wasn’t any more active, and I didn’t do anything else about my situation, but I was enjoying food a lot more. It’s one of the great joys in life, and I was absolutely exploiting that.

Well, I guess that “undepressing” doesn’t equate to “healthy”. You can read more about that in the “undepressing food” post … I was just trying not to eat food that made me sad to eat it, and succeeded pretty well. I held roughly the same weight, but I think I was managing to get just as much sugar and salt as before. And that was well over the “way too much” line.

So in early July, after a delicious burger and extra-salty fries, I started experiencing some chest tightness. It didn’t feel too serious, but it was definitely uncomfortable, and it stuck around, so after a week or so of that it crossed the threshold from “hmm, that’s different” to “hmm, that’s alarming”. I remembered I had a BP cuff in a box somewhere, dug it out and checked, and got a blood pressure in the 180/120 range. So … that was a thing. Also right on the edge of the “you are having a hypertensive crisis, get to the ER” levels, so … I got to the ER. Spent an afternoon there, with nurses monitoring my BP and making sure I wasn’t having a heart attack or anything, and then deciding that “nope, no heart attack indicators, no organ failure indicators, you’re fine, but you need to get that in check and you need to follow up with non-ER doctors”. Got a referral to a cardiologist to do a stress test and other followup stuff.

Well, I’m not going to recount the details here, but after a few rounds of testing and checking stuff, we concluded “you’re across the line into diabetic, your liver numbers are a mess, basically you’ve gotta get this whole thing in check, for real”, I got prescribed a blood pressure medication and a “more Mediterranean-style diet”

So I did that: started taking a BP med every day, and overhauled my diet, explicitly focusing on removing sugar and processed carbs where possible, adding fiber and green plants, and replacing red meat with fish and poultry. And generally just not overeating so hard…

And the result is this:

3-day smoothed weight measurements for 2015

I’ve been stepping on the scale and recording the number pretty much every day since Jan 1, 2011, and I’d seen that number drift around in the window between 360 and 390. That’s too damned heavy. I’m starting this year at 313 instead, and I’m gunning for 220 — while I don’t have a deadline for it, that’s my current goal weight — because screw being so heavy it gets in the way of me having a life.

I started walking regularly too … first just like part of a mile a day at low-ish speeds (like 22-23 minute miles), but now I’m routinely pounding out 3-4 miles at 16-18 minute paces 4 or so days a week, and honestly it feels pretty great. It helps with the energy balance, it helps with the cardio capacity, and honestly I was listening to audiobooks and podcasts a ton anyway, so pairing those with walking instead of gaming is perfect.

So that’s been the big, dominant sweeping story arc of my 2015 … trying to get my lifestyle in order and generally get better. 2016 will be the year that I fall under 300 for the first time since high school. While 2015 saw me go from “severely obese” to just “obese”, 2016 will be the year I cross out of “obese” and into “overweight”.


I guess on the work front, I’ve got a noteworthy change too. With some other staff movement that happened,  I went from “the go-to-guy to help solve complicated problems” to “the technical team lead (go-to-guy to help solve complicated problems)” … basically it means I’ve got the same role I had before, except that it’s formally recognized as my job instead of just being that thing I did, and that mentoring and teaching is explicitly part of my role now. So that’s kind of awesome. Our team has grown, which also means I’ve got more people who are backing me up on some of the day-to-day technical work too, which is helping me manage my burnout levels better.

I also got to spend Thanksgiving in Albuquerque with my mom and stepdad. It’s magical out there. I can see why the stepdad wanted to move out there.  The rugged beauty of the parts of New Mexico that I saw were simply breathtaking.

The breathtaking Sandia Peak looms over Albuquerque. Not pictured: Albuquerque.
Greetings from the museum at Los Alamos, home of replicas of Fat Man and Little Boy. The originals couldn’t make it, for … umm, reasons.
The sheer vertical mesa wall looming over Jemez Springs is one of the most breathtaking scenes I’ve ever encountered. Photos do it no justice.

Other than the working and the big lifestyle changes, anything else I could say pretty much pales in comparison, so I’m going to just leave it there. So long, 2015, the year the ship turned. Hello 2016, the year the ship continues on its new, better course.

Thoughts on undepressing food.

One of the things in the last year or three that has kind of gotten me down is depressing food.

I don’t mean depressing in the new-agey “natural foods are medicine and processed foods are poison” bullshit sense (but, umm …. no judgement, new-agey hippie organophile types?). Rather, I’m talking about the easy, boring food. The stuff it’s easy to just sort of stuff into your face-hole and be full without really taking pleasure in.

So recently I took a week of what I guess you could call a “staycation”. I basically had 3 goals for every day:

  1. Have the usual regimen (wake up, shower, wear clothes)
  2. Leave the house for some reason — maybe something as mundane as “go get a haircut”, maybe “go drive a hundred and fifty mile loop starting at 9 pm on a weeknight while listening to XM Chill, because you actually really love driving as long as it’s not at 5 miles an hour in bumper-to-bumper beltway aggro-mode”, or maybe “go for a walk in the woods until you’re so tired you don’t know if you can find the energy to walk home, and then walk home instead of pussing out and taking a bus or something, because really two more miles isn’t that far”. Maybe even just to…
  3. Eat un-depressing food.

Right, so mission accomplished all around. The first two are part of almost every day anyway, but that last one was actually a fairly big change, and I’ve decided I’m going to try to keep it going.

So what do I mean by un-depressing food, exactly?

First of all, un-depressing food doesn’t come from a drive-thru window. I’ve eaten so much Wendy’s over the last few years that it just feels like failure every time I get it. So drive-thru is probably out. Don’t get me wrong though, I’m not saying it’s out forever, just that it’s out for now because I’ve had so much of it — to the extent that every time I pull up to a speaker and order some food, it makes me sad.

Then again, I’ve had one single Subway sandwich in the last maybe 6 months, and it was also depressing. So maybe once a place is well and truly burned, there’s no going back. Or maybe at some point I’ll get tired of variety and want something boring? It’s a good experiment anyway :p.

Second, whether it’s restaurant food or not, no more eating dinner in front of tech. That next random YouTube video can wait, I don’t really need to update twitter while I eat. The act of eating should be more of a deliberate, mindful, even ritualistic thing. Less face-hole stuffing, more tasting and savoring. This also helps with unplugging and with being more aware of what I’m eating.

Third, un-depressing food is something I haven’t eaten lately. I’m fine with my in-workplace barista recognizing that I always (always) want an iced coffee, and it’s OK that in any given week I’m probably going to order takeout from my delicious local Chinese restaurant, but it’s not OK if that takeout order is the same thing I got the last time.

I’m hoping my third requirement will drive more going to new and different places and trying a bigger variety of foods. Pretty much it’s an anti-rut measure.

Importantly, I’m not setting out to eat every meal at home — ain’t nobody got time for that! Well, maybe you do, but I don’t. Restaurants are great! Just … you know, not always the same one.

Fourth, un-depressing food is recognizably good. Like, when I was shopping for food recently, I looked at the grocery store sandwiches (thinking “hmm, quick easy so-so meal?”) and realized, I haven’t had a grocery store sandwich that failed to disappoint me in years. Really, it’s been since my local Giant discontinued their “Sweet Turkey Naan” sandwiches, honestly… when I’ve gotten sandwiches there, it’s always been because I wanted that sandwich again and was hoping they’d have re-introduced it, and then decided that the crap that’s there was passable. But no more!

Finally, un-depressing food doesn’t try to be diet-anything or really actively count calories or sodium or fat. My reasoning is that food is amazing, but food that sets out to be low-cal, low-carb, low-fat, and low-sodium will pretty much always be depressing, and depressing food means I’m going to just go and impulse-buy and eat something terrible for me afterwards that’ll way overshadow whatever benefits that depressing so-called “healthy” food conveys.

Also, because a meal being un-depressing involves more deliberate, mindful eating, it’s more likely that I’m going to stop when I’m full instead of just shoving the rest of that sad chunk of nutrients down my throat so I don’t have to think about it later.

Anyway, that’s the un-depressing food theory. I feel like … food is too big a part of our lives, and has too big a role in our health for me to keep neglecting it. It’s easy to fall into ruts, and I’ve been in one for too long now — it’s time to break out and find a newer path. So that’s the deal with the #undepressingfood instagram topic and its so-so pictures of delicious food.

The obligatory “I’m back, bitches” life update.

It’s been a long time since I got around to writing a blog post about anything. I’ve been doing the Twitter thing a bit (pretty randomly), and a lot of worky writing (mainly in our internal sysadmin wiki), but haven’t really felt like writing in public much, especially on the personal or hobby fronts.

So I guess the personal update is … things haven’t changed much for me in the last few years, at least not in the big fast-moving milestones that other people my age seem to have.

On the health and fitness front, I’m still overweight and quite out of shape. Big shocker, right? Sleep schedule, still completely de-synched with the real world. Like, I’m writing this in the wee hours, because I don’t really feel like sleeping yet, even though it’s like 3 am local time.

Relationship-wise, I’m still single and sortof-but-not-really-looking too. That’s probably going to start to feel more urgent at some point, I guess? I dunno.

My job is pretty okay. I’m still at the same place (coming up on 7 years now). They like me (at least, they keep giving me very nice pay raises and unusually-frequent awards and such), and I’ve got a lot of autonomy and a lot of input into the more collective direction stuff. So that’s neat.

I guess the downside at work is that I’m feeling a bit like a victim of my own success. I have done a lot of really neat stuff over the last 7 years, but unfortunately a lot of it is landing in the sort of space where it’s really hard to hand off to other people — not because I want to hold onto it, but because everyone’s busy and nobody has the time or cognitive resources to grok a lot of things they didn’t build. Anyway, suffice it to say, a lot of work is great, and the part that isn’t is in the categories “understaffing” “tech debt” and “no real project management”.

Beyond that, when you’re one-deep in almost everything you do and have a lot of people who’ve grown to rely on your unique services, it can be easy to let time slip by and not take vacations. That’s pretty much my own fault, but I recently was feeling pretty burned out in general and surly about work stuff in particular. One of my coworkers (who I really liked working with) left a few weeks ago, and that kind of tipped the cart the rest of the way over… another coworker and good friend pointed out that there wasn’t really anything important going on and I should really take a vacation. It’s really amazing how much of an effect just unplugging from the grind for a while can have… I took a week off (mostly, only got dragged in on an issue once), and pretty much just hung out, played Minecraft and slept. Today (well… yesterday now) was my first day back, and usual post-vacation backlog aside, I’m actually feeling pretty good. Good enough to muster a blog post after a long and amazingly productive work day anyway :p. Last time I took any meaningful time off for something other than being sick was like, around Thanksgiving of 2012, and I spent a lot of that driving (which was awesome, iirc it was audiobooks of Moby Dick and Salem’s Lot).

I’m still living in the same house that I moved into in 2007. One of my roommates switched jobs and moved out to avoid having a 2 hour commute every day (which was a good move all around). The other got into a bit of a long-term relationship and functionally moved out (still pays rent and has stuff in the house, but usually stops by like twice a month and almost never sleeps here). So kind of a quiet place, but cluttered with stuff that isn’t mine and that gets in the way of me doing a lot to even clean it up much.

I’ve been looking at moving closer to work (partly just for a change, partly for a space I can more make my own, and partly because seriously, fuck the American Legion Bridge and I495 as a whole). But I’m in the endless “rent versus buy” debate cycle, and even splitting the rent on this house two ways is a shitload cheaper than any non-terrible option closer to work. So I’m sort of in a “building a big pile of money for maybe a down payment” holding pattern, but starting to feel the effects of that stasis.

Entertainments include: lots of audiobooks still. Podcasts (just 4 regulars: Hello Internet, Security Now, Arrested Devops, and The Ship Show. Spending a lot of time following youtube content … it’s amazing how much nerd-content is out there. Between conference presentations, tech talks, random topics, open course stuff, there’s …. a damned lot of things to watch. Lots of gaming still in my life, and occasionally I’ll pick up like a season of a tv show and watch it.

I suspect I need to pick up less sedentary and less techie hobbies at some point if I’m going to avoid the encroaching burnout, but … I guess I just kind of love what I do?

Maybe too much of my identity is tied up in what has become my profession, but honestly… looking at me-in-the-past, that seems kind of like it was inevitable :p.

The AWS Import Saga, or “Why does this computer shit have to be so hard?”

I’ve got a very large data set that we’re trying to move into AWS, and we did the math to realize that at the speeds we’re getting from our network connection it’ll take at least 4-5 months of transfer time to get the whole data set over to S3.

Amazon has a nice feature called Import/Export, that lets you take advantage of the old adage “never underestimate the bandwidth of a station wagon full of backup tapes”, but updated to modern times. Basically you ship them hard drives, and they suck the data off of them directly into S3.

So we’ve got a couple 3TB disks lying around, and figure every 3TB we transfer is about 4 weeks of data transfer time we save. Sounds great, right?

Well, not so fast. First thing to know is that those 3TB USB drives, unlike most other large drives, have a 4K sector size instead of the usual 512. That’s to make them compatible with older systems that don’t understand how to count past 4 billion sectors.

Of course, there’s an implicit “windows” there… using 4K sectors works with older versions of windows apparently, but not with older versions of Linux. Specifically RHEL5, which is where a bunch of the data lives.

Well, not a problem, just build a new parted and use the partprobe utility that ships with it… it’s a userspace tools problem on rhel5, not a kernel problem. At least for up-to-date rhel5… all bets are off for 5.5 and below.

But wait, the data’s considered sensitive, and we’d really like to encrypt it in transit. Fortunately import/export has the solution, and that solution is Truecrypt. Of course, Truecrypt has been dead since the end of May, but it’s still the only solution that Import/Export supports.

Sigh. Ok. Download truecrypt 7.1 for windows, start formatting up the disk ntfs (because my ntfs driver should work with Linux too). Realize that the process is going to take 2 solid days in un-interruptible mode. Try again by making an ntfs volume then telling to convert. 3 days, but can be paused.

I don’t even know if the ntfs3g driver will play nicely on Linux with Truecrypt, so … open a support case with AWS asking for guidance. They say that even though it’s not listed, truecrypt+ext4 is supported. Ok. Native Linux it is. Plug the USB drive into my RHEL6 box and let’s go.

Install Truecrypt 7.1 on my RHEL6 workstation? Check. Point it at /dev/sdb1? Check. Tell it to go? DENIED. Apparently on kernels less than 2.6.33 and devices over 2TB, you have to disable the “kernel cryptographic services” integration. RHEL6, of course, runs 2.6.32…

OK. Go through the truecrypt setup options, disable kernel cryptographic services integration. Yes, I know it might slow me down, but I’m on a USB2 port anyway, how much slower are we talking?

I never got to find out, because apparently for 4K sector sizes, you must use kernel cryptographic services. But for 2TB drives, you can’t use rhel6 kernel cryptographic services.

Ok. So I’m going to try something else. Install Fedora 20 on a kvm guest, pass through the whole USB device to that guest, and run truecrypt there. Fetch the iso, install qemu-kvm, libvirtd, virt-manager, get the iso to local machine, set up, install fedora …. le sigh… it’s the gnome3 spin. Intolerable, and unusable in my virt-manager-over-vnc-over-vpn environment. OK. Install updates, mate and lxde.

584 updates. And now we play the waiting game …

I feel like a hornet trapped inside a window. I’m strong, I’m formidable, I’m a bit angry, and I just can’t quite seem to figure out that the thing I’m bouncing off is a pane of glass and that I’ll just need to find a different way out. Maybe the fact that I keep bouncing, keep trying new approaches is that whole tenacity thing. Or maybe I’m just a dumb bug for not seeing that a foot to the left the window is open and I’m just completely missing it.

Ok, so 584 updates and 200ish other package installs later (or, an hour and change), reboot into a desktop that has buttons I can actually click in a guest. Run truecrypt installer. Attach USB host device of the disk I’m trying to work with. Truecrypt, format the partition, quick format (because I did a zero-pass earlier and don’t care about disclosing how much data is on the disk). Format ext4. Password. Check. Formatting….. hanging…. hanging ….. success!

Mount the volume. now let’s see how bad it is. DD out a 4 gig file from /dev/zero onto the mounted volume, wrap in ‘time’, pump through ‘pv’ for a status. And …. pv isn’t showing up. Hanging. Hanging. Hanging. Waiting. Oh, output! 480 megs? Ok. Hanging….. another 400 megs? Ok…. hanging…. another 300?

Yeah, so after those hoops, the “run it in a vm with usb passthrough” approach works. But gods is it awful….

OK. So when I just dump data onto a LUKS-encrypted device natively on my linux workstation, I get about 30MB/sec. Which is close to line speed of usb2, if less than half the expected write speed of the disk (it’s usb3 and if I had a port that fast this disk would be glad to suck down data at 60+). Adding KVM overhead for usb passthrough, truecrypt, and whatever else fedora might be bringing to the mix, I’m seeing … between 1 and 2 MB/sec. At this rate, it’d be as fast to just pump the data straight to S3 over the network.

Why’s this shit gotta be so hard?

Oppenheimer comment on science and the scientist

Via , in turn via reddit /r/physics.

(edit: youtube link rot has set in, see transcript here)

“It isn’t the layman that’s ignorant. It’s everybody that’s ignorant. The scientist may know a little patch of something, and if he’s a humane and intelligent and curious guy, he’ll know a few spots from other people’s work. He may even be able to read a book. But his condition is the condition of everyone, which is that almost everything that’s known to man he doesn’t know anything about at all, or knows it only in a very sketchy way. And that’s because it’s gotten a bit complicated.

The problem of a coherent civilization is the problem of living with ignorance and not being frustrated by it, so that you find occasionally a man knows two things, and that intersection may be of a great event in the history of ideas. Occasionally a man may think that something is relevant or exciting which no one before thought concerned him professionally; that may change the history of the world.

And these are the connections, these virtual connections, these casual and occasional connections, which make the only kind of coherence we have. That and affection. That and respect. That and, I suppose, a kind of humanity. ”

The ever-delayed 2012 in review

It’s been a whole year since I last posted a blog update. It’s probably gone into semi-private mode now, what with people not reading it ever. I don’t blame you, dear non-reader… I never come here either :p.

Ok, so no self-flogging over not posting lots of my inner workings on a blog. Instead, I’ll just share what 2012 was like, looking back.

I pretty much focused on my work through all of 2012. I did almost nothing with my personal life.

On the financial front, I crossed a couple big milestones. Got a nice pay raise to start the year out, easily sprinted through the “paying off car” goal (and thus am completely debt-free) and really started working hard toward the “saving for a house” goal. End of the year I got a so-so raise, better than average for my center but maybe not quite in line with my output. But I’m equanimous: I’ve had a couple good years for that, going so-so for a year only really makes room to spread it around to some other folks that haven’t had it as good. I’ve made good progress — I’m up to about a 10% down payment on the type of houses I’m looking at. Not enough to warrant moving yet, but it’s great progress from the nothing+debt a year ago, and my living situation is still pretty acceptable. It’s nice to watch the options open up though…

Based on the pay raises and whatnot, my charity goals were a little ambitious. Despite giving more than ever before, it still landed right around the 2.1% mark.

On the health front, I managed to keep the brakes firmly engaged and didn’t roll further down the hill, but didn’t really get very far back up it either. Stable and slightly improved is better than sliding out of control though. The medical front is largely unchanged. I did manage to screw my back up standing on the mall back in March, and I’ve been nursing that back a bit, but no other news to report there.

I’ve largely neglected the relics of my past, in particular the old forum community. I’ve tried to make it clear that I don’t really want to spend any more time on that at all, but I don’t see anyone to hand the keys over to either. Without a clear technical successor, I don’t feel like I can just walk away from it, but having a lot of trouble finding motivation to do even basic stuff like software upgrades.

I partly moved away from wine in 2012. Had some more good bottles, but the lack of drinking buddies to split bottles with is burdensome — if I drink the whole bottle I feel awful the day after, if I don’t I feel like I’m wasting wine (and money!). In its place, I’ve moved toward whiskeys, trying out a couple good Irish and Scotch whiskeys and making friends with a few varieties of Bourbon. The nice thing about that is that a bottle of bourbon lasts for-frigging-ever, so I don’t have to push it to enjoy a dram now and then. I still have yet to break the “scotch old enough to order scotch” barrier, but I’ve had whiskey old enough to drive. So far I’m gravitating toward Knob Creek, Redbreast and Highland Park.

My job has been intense, though. I’ve continued to learn a lot, we hired a few new people (and lost a few). I’m getting pushed into the role “cloud advocate” and doing more interesting architecture-type stuff. Lots of work with our security folks, some work on a cloud research project that’s been pretty fascinating, and big core changes afoot in our server room.

On the reading front, probably the biggest chunk of reading material consumed was again Audible audiobooks. Highlights included two more Stephen King globs (The Stand and Salem’s Lot), Moby Dick, some newer Steven Pinker, and a documentary about James Garfield. As usual, spent some time wrapped up in ;login: and SciAm, and also got around to joining ACM and ripping through some of Communications of the ACM. Dense stuff. Ripped through some stuff on ITIL, Puppet, config management, project management.

I’ve been entertaining the thought of grad school, maybe chasing an MS in Information Assurance. Have to see whether I get started on that road in 2013…

I didn’t take the same sort of big flashy vacation I did in 2011, but instead went back to the midwest for a week or so to visit with various collections of family and friends. It’s been a long time, and lots of stuff has changed, but lots hasn’t. It was a whirlwind trip, and I ended up catching up with less than half the people I wanted to, but totally worth it. Also gave me a reason to be in the car listening to audiobooks for like 28 hours, which is a bonus — driving home from southern Indiana to about half of Moby Dick was a pretty amazing experience. Especially the part that involved driving through Hoosier National Forest in the late morning hours with virtually no traffic.

Goals for 2013: stay the course, roll over the old goals.

2011 wrapup, 2012 goals (terse version)

It’s sad that my once-a-year blog post has degenerated to what could show up as 5 tweets. I’m throwing more of my day-to-day brain-sauce at twitter lately. But mirroring last year’s one blog post, here’s my annual post for 2012.

Charity: 2011: 2.1%.  2012: 2.3% is a small but reasonable step up.
Weight:2011: started 370, ended ~380. Not the right direction.  2012: Keeping last year’s 340 goal, which would be on average a bit less than a pound a week. Possible.
Exercise:2011: nothing significant until December’s treadmill acquisition.  2012: goal of 5 hours a week of some kind of decent exercise. Treadmill is definitely helping toward that goal.
Medical: 2011: Dentist, eye doctor taken care of. Still no doctor.  2012: find a doctor, get rid of some cysts.
Romance: 2011: nibbles, no hook-setting.  2012: not really any goals still.
Job: 2011: crazy busy, but good work, good pay raises. 2012: more of the same.
Vacation: 2011: STS-135, Bitches! Also other Florida attractions. 2012: thinking about a few days in NYC or a road trip back home. We’ll see.
Finance: 2011: was a “grind” year, no real milestones. 2012: will pay off car completely, should be about 25-30% of the way to a down payment on a house.
Forums: 2011: upgraded to vb4, no cms. 2012: maybe do the cms thing, or find something else to put on the front page.
Reading : 2011: few issues of sciam/login, lots of audiobooks. 2012: more sciam/login, some ITIL stuff on deck, lots more audiobooks.
Property: 2011: monitor upgrade, treadmill. 2012: nothing planned.
Wine: 2011: good for synthetic corks, couple good reds, couple good whites. 2012: more red, more white, more exploring, more unnatural corks!