Sunday, August 30, 2015

Us

Here we are celebrating at the Bar Mitzvah! What a pleasure it was getting to celebrate with family and eat myself silly!

Seeking Swamps in Florida

We're in Florida for a family Bar Mitzvah (Mazel Tov Ethan!) and while I had hoped to get in a serious hike, the weather had other plans for us. We watched a massive downpour from our table at a delicious Indian restaurant. When the storm finally let up, we had to do the responsible thing and skip the hike and head to the hotel.

All, however, was not lost. After running some errands we did have some free time. A quick look at Google Maps told me that the Loxahatchee Slough was close enough for us to hit. Here's a tip: Google's directions to the Slough take you to the perimeter without a parking lot or trail in sight. The only thing worse than missing a hike due to weather, is missing a hike because you've got bad directions.

A little further research told us that we wanted to hit Sandhill Crane Access Park to the Slough.

Sure enough, there's a parking lot and other facilities at the advertised address. So that was a good thing.

As for actually getting into the Loxahatchee Slough, that never actually happened. The best we were able to do was follow a trail that wraps around the perimeter of the preserve. We could peek in and see enticing swamp, but the trail to follow seemed to run around the perimeter. Didn't really matter, because we didn't have time to follow them anyway.

Still, Florida wildlife didn't disappoint. Along with interesting swamp scenes, we saw various lizards, a couple of Lubber Grasshoppers, some kind of heron, and other interesting birds. Not bad for wandering along a canal for 15 minutes.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Because It Was Invented Here, and Other Excuses to Drink Bourbon

I'm not much of a bourbon guy. Heck, I'm not much of an alcohol guy. But last night, I had to make an exception. We did dinner at Plan B in DC, and while I couldn't try their burger selection, I could try a bourbon sampler. Honestly, I could detect some differences between the samples, though how I'd qualify those tastes are beyond me. But it was a positive experiment, none the less.

If that weren't enough bourbon for the night, Keith and I had a little man time while Becky's parents took care of the kids. We retreated to the hotel bar, where Keith noticed a sign that the Rickey was invented in this very same location. How could I pass up an opportunity to drink a little history? Keith and I ordered a round of Rickeys, which you guessed it, were initially made with bourbon. A decade after it was created, folks started making them with gin, but we had to go authentic.

I can't say that I'm going to be making the Rickey my go-to drink, but I can say it was quite drinkable and between it, and the fancy leather chairs, made me feel awfully important.

And here's the answer to your next DC trivia night: the Rickey is named after Col. Joseph K. Rickey, who, if you believe Wikipedia has this said about him:

Some people are born to fame; others achieve it, while celebrity is thrust upon a few. Among the latter is Col. Joe Rickey, of Missouri. But instead of feeling proud of the fact that he has given his name to a popular tipple Col. Rickey feels very much aggrieved. "Only a few years ago," he said recently, "I was Col. Rickey, of Missouri, the friend of senators, judges and statesmen and something of an authority on political matters and political movements.... But am I ever spoken of for those reasons? I fear not. No, I am known to fame as the author of the 'rickey,' and I have to be satisfied with that. There is one consolation in the fact that there are fashions in drinks. The present popularity of the Scotch high ball may possibly lose me my reputation and restore me my former fame. 'Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished for.'"[8]

Alas, his drink never truly went out of style, and that's all we remember him for. Before you dismiss this fact, note that according to his 1903 obituary, he was "one of a quartet of Colonels who were known in nearly every city in the country."

More important trivia: the Rickey is DC's official cocktail, and July is Rickey Month.

Good times, and enough bourbon to last me the rest of 2015.

As a bonus, I even had some time to take some night shots of DC. This one of the Washington Monument didn't turn out half bad, considering all I had was my phone.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Lumia 640 Windows Phone Experience - The Bad and Reality

While I found quite a few nuances of the Lumia 640 running Windows Phone OS enjoyable, my little experiment has wound down. I'm back to using my Galaxy S5 and Android. I feel like I owe the hard working developers at Windows an explanation.

1. I heavily rely on the Google Platform, so having a Google Phone just makes sense. I'm all about Gmail, Google Docs, Google Keep, heck even YouTube. While the Windows Phone makes an attempt to fill some of these needs (adding a Google Gmail account, even one with 2 factor authentication, was easily enough), the tools just aren't as polished as they are on Android. The mail app has no quick way of archiving messages, or the ability to leverage the Priority inbox. I found a Google Docs app, but it doesn't allow editing of docs, which is essential for me. And the YouTube app is little more than a thin web wrapper around the mobile site. Sure, it's functional, but not polished.

2. The system lacks the geek factor that I require. My first impression was that the apps I needed were just not there on Windows, but after a few days of use, I realized that's an unfair generalization. Apps like Overdrive and Tapatalk were quite functional in the Windows Phone world, and ones like Run the Map and AudioCloud were quite good. No, it's the esoteric stuff that's not up to par yet.

For example, the phone pairs with my Bluetooth keyboard, but without a program like EHK, there's no way to remap keys or make shortcuts work. Sure, there's an ssh program, but not one that I could get bash style keybindings working with. And while the phone had things like quiet hours that were intuitive to use, there's no sign of a Tasker type app that let's customize the phone in unusual ways. Or better yet, allow me to prototype apps with ease. I was excited to find a Scheme implementation on Windows, but it's toy when compared to the one on Android.

Of course, for most Windows Phone users, these features are esoteric and unnecessary. And further more, over time, Windows will probably get there. But for now, I can turn my Android phone into a little dev laptop and I can't say that about my Windows phone. Also, if I was a Microsoft Office guy, I wonder if using the Windows Phone would have felt like coming home? But having an aversion to Word and Excel, I couldn't even bring myself to experiment with these on the phone.

Oh, and the camera quality was blah on the phone. Though, being a relatively low cost phone, that's no big surprise.

So back to the Android universe I go.

But if I'm a core Android developer, I'm not patting myself on the back quite yet. Microsoft has a habit of getting things right on their Nth try, and the Windows Phone I played with was actually quite usable. Ignore it at your own risk.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Ahoy Matey! The Trickiest Frozen Yogurt You'll Order All Week

Shira and Keith got 10% off because they could name 3 countries that started with one vowel and ended with another. I got 10% off because my middle name is Alan (and therefor connected to the name of the day: Allen Davis). The girls got 10% off for ordering like a pirate.

After a delicious meal at Pizza Paradiso, we made our way to the nearest frozen yogurt location, which happened to be Mr. Yagoto. What Mr. Yagoto lacks in yogurt choices (I think there were three), it makes up for in entertainment. As you walk in, you quickly notice a series of challenges, that if completed, will get you anywhere from +5% added to your bill, to a free frozen yogurt (alas, standing on one tippy-toe for 30 seconds with my eyes closed was beyond me). It must have taken us 45 minutes to order, but everyone had a good time.

What a joy it was catching up with our friends Becky, Keith and their angel-like children. The kids, I should add, demonstrated lightning quick reflexes while playing 2 Play Reactor as waited out a massive downpour.

Fun times!

Lincoln and Walter - Fort McNair's Remarkable History

Here we are outside the National War College, located on Fort McNair in DC. Apparently it's the 3rd oldest base currently in use and has history stretching back to 1791.

(For the record, we were on our way to a Nationals game; hence the red shirts. We tend to dress alike, but that's a bit much even for me.)

On the same grounds we were posing for photos, Lincoln saw the first test of a machine gun, the conspirators involved with the Lincoln assassination where hung and Walter Reed did battle with DC's malaria challenges. You can take the walking tour without getting up from your desk; it's definitely worth it!

As usual, the amount of history DC has tucked away is just amazing.

Thanks Grant for getting us on base!.

Getting back to booting: Adventures in Fedora 22 Grub Hell

Yesterday, I picked up my Linux laptop from a local repair shop. They were helping me debug a touchpad issue that keeps coming up. They were kind enough to pop out the Linux drive and drop in a Windows one to do some testing; thereby seeing if the issue is hardware or software related. The results are still inconclusive. However, when they returned the laptop to me, the system would no longer boot into Linux.

A quick Google search turned up results like like this one, that implied recovery was going to be a no-brainer. If that wasn't easy enough, there was always SuperGrubDisk, which promised an even easier fix.

Alas, it was not meant to be. After hours of mucking around, I finally gave up. The links I kept finding were either too dated, or just didn't apply to my system. So I did what any smart programmer does when they hit a wall: I went to bed.

This morning, I figured out a recipe for getting back to booting. Here goes:

  1. Download the Fedora Server ISO (yes, it's 2.1GB, get over it)
  2. Install the ISO on a thumbdrive using LiveUSB Creator
  3. Select the Troubleshooting option, and rescue option, thereby booting into rescue mode
  4. Congratulate yourself that you go to a command prompt!
  5. Follow most of the instructions here:
    1. mount /dev/sda1 /mnt/sysimage/boot
    2. mount --bind /dev /mnt/sysimage/dev
    3. mount --bind /proc /mnt/sysimage/proc
    4. mount --bind /sys /mnt/sysimage/sys
    5. chroot /mnt/sysimage
  6. Try running the grub2-install command: grub2-install /dev/sda, but don't panic when it fails with the message missing /usr/lib/grub/x86_64-efi
  7. Turn on system networking: /etc/rc.d/init.d/network start
  8. Troubleshoot system networking. For me, this included adding my nameserver to /etc/resolv.conf
  9. Run: yum install grub2-efi-modules
  10. Try running the grub2-install command: grub2-install /dev/sda, but don't panic when it fails with the message about a missing /boot/efi directory
  11. Run: grub2-install --target=x86_64-efi --efi-directory=/boot/EFI /dev/sda
  12. Rejoice that the install appeared to work!
  13. Yank the thumb drive; reboot; blog about it

I'm sure there's a number of very cool things Grub2 will let me do, and I'm sure I don't care about any of them. I'm just glad to have my system back to booting.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Never, ever say anything negative about an elephant or a gorilla, and other important writing advice

Digital Nomad makes reference to How to Write about Africa, a satirical essay, when he quips: “In your text, treat Africa as if it were one country.”

Turns out, the essay, is packed full of hilarious anti-wisdom. Here's a few recommendations about food:

Make sure you show how Africans have music and rhythm deep in their souls, and eat things no other humans eat. Do not mention rice and beef and wheat; monkey-brain is an African’s cuisine of choice, along with goat, snake, worms and grubs and all manner of game meat. Make sure you show that you are able to eat such food without flinching, and describe how you learn to enjoy it—because you care.

Definitely worth a read, and a powerful reminder that satirical content isn't limited to politics.

Read the essay

Friday, August 21, 2015

A Bug's Eye View

And what the heck, here's a piece of a rainbow. Who doesn't need a piece of a rainbow?

Thursday, August 20, 2015

And My Top 3 Personal Values Are ...

You might think that successful leaders had a whole range of values that were important to them. Turns out, you're wrong. At least according to researchers Kouzes & Posner. There's exactly 4.

Of course I'm overstating the point here a bit. I recently came across this ranked list of personal values, and digging deeper I found both the source of the list as well as a worksheet that goes with it.

I was telling Shira about this, and the Sociology major in her kicked in, suggesting we both rank and compare our results. So that's what we did. First, here's the full list of values:

  • Achievement
  • Autonomy
  • Beauty
  • Caring
  • Caution
  • Challenge
  • Communication
  • Competence
  • Competition
  • Cooperation
  • Courage
  • Creativity
  • Curiosity
  • Customer focus
  • Decisiveness
  • Dependability
  • Determination
  • Discipline
  • Diversity
  • Effectiveness
  • Empathy
  • Equality
  • Fairness
  • Family
  • Family time
  • Flexibility
  • Freedom
  • Friendship
  • Fun
  • Growth
  • Happiness
  • Harmony
  • Health
  • Honesty and Integrity
  • Hope
  • Human relationships
  • Humor
  • Independence
  • Individualism
  • Innovation
  • Intelligence
  • Involvement
  • Learning
  • Love and affection
  • Loyalty
  • Open-mindedness
  • Organization
  • Patience
  • Power
  • Productivity
  • Profitability
  • Prosperity and Wealth
  • Quality
  • Quantity
  • Recognition
  • Respect
  • Responsibility
  • Risk-taking
  • Security
  • Service to others
  • Simplicity
  • Speed
  • Spirituality and faith
  • Strength
  • Task focus
  • Teamwork
  • Trust
  • Truth
  • Uniqueness
  • Variety
  • Winning
  • Wisdom

First we picked our 10 top values, then narrowed these 10 to 5 and then narrowed these 5 to 3. My results were as follows:

Top 10: Competence, Courage, Curiosity, Discipline, Flexibility, Freedom, Happiness, Health, Innovation, Open-mindedness

Top 5: Curiosity, Discipline, Flexibility, Happiness, Health

Top 3: Curiosity, Discipline, Flexibility,

How'd I do? First off, other than competence, I share no ranked characteristics with the "admired leaders" found on the original list. Oh well, there's go my lifelong dream of being an admired leader.

Next, Shira's too smart to post her values here, but I can tell you we had exactly one in common: competence. There it is again; I wonder what that means? Being the optimist, I told her that not sharing values is a good thing: it means we have our bases covered. While I'm busy worrying about being flexible, she can worry about her values. Not sure she bought this line of thinking. It's also worth noting that while Shira and I didn't share values, both of us could guess what each other had selected. That's what 17 years of marriage gets you (not in agreement, but self aware enough to know it).

Finally, what kind of monster am I? How could I not have ranked Health and Happiness in my top 3? After mulling over this list for the last couple of days, I think it's because: (a) I was trying to be clever, and (b) Health and Happiness are things you create through more fundamental behaviors. Want health? Be disciplined in taking care of yourself. Want happiness? Be flexible enough to enjoy what life is throwing at you. That sort of thing.

All I know is, what started as a cheesy exercise has actually been thought provoking. Take a few minutes, print out the worksheet and try it for yourself. Oh, and do share the results in the comments.

One last point of clarification: I'm intentionally publishing my top 10/5/3 values for posterity because I'm curious what my take on this exercise will be 5, 10 and more years down the road.* Do my values change? The Internet never forgets. I fully intend to cringe / laugh at myself when I take this same test in 10 years. See you then.


*Only after proof reading this post a couple times did I realize that I finished it explicitly talking about curiosity, one of my top 3 values. Apparently, I really do care about this value.

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