Monday, April 14, 2014

DC in Bloom

Apparently every flowering plant and tree in the DC area has chosen this last week to explode with color. It's astounding. I can't walk anywhere without pulling out my cell phone to snap a few pictures. The biggest surprise was Theodore Roosevelt Island. Large swaths of the island are covered with a bright yellow wild flower; it's like out of a movie set or something. Truly gorgeous.

By the way, these are my first set of pictures from my new Galaxy S5. The camera does a number of new tricks which I've still got to learn. The image quality seems to be at least as good as the S3, if not noticeably better. Gone are the days when I'd take out my new cell phone, snap some pictures, and think "oh well, maybe my next cell phone camera will be usable." Nope, I've got to give credit to phone manufactures, they've really started packing their devices with very usable cameras.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Chicken soup

Some assembly still required.

Shira is cooking, I'm cleaning, and overall nobody is panicking. Passover is just about here.


Friday, April 11, 2014

Handy Outdoor Skill: Gadgetless and Almost Gadgetless Weather Prediction

Exploriment shared a handy infographic explaining how to predict the weather by observation alone. I've reprinted the graphic below. I heartily agree with him: whether it's the weather, navigation or anything else in nature, there's real value in being able to make sense of your surroundings rather than just depending on a device.

Plus, I think there's real power in knowing the names of what we encounter outdoors; be it plants, animals, rocks or clouds. When you can name it, you can understand it and appreciate it.

As long as we're on the topic of weather prediction, it's probably worth reading The Art of Manliness' take on the topic. They cover a number of same techniques the graphic below does, but also mentions the power of using a barometer for weather prediction.

And where on Earth are you going to find a barometer while hiking in the woods? Perhaps in your pocket. It turns out that the Samsung Galaxy S3 and S5 have a pressure sensor built in. Using an app like WeatherSignal you can access it. Here's a screen grab of our current barometric pressure:

I have no idea how accurate the sensor is, but it sure makes for some interesting possibilities.

Here's the graphic:

View Full Size

Via: Exploriment

Count With Me - Omer Learning 2014

Passover is fast approaching, which means that Counting the Omer isn't far behind. For the last few years, our shul has been running an online program to help make this Mitzvah both easier and more meaningful. Here's the blurb:

Counting of the Omer can’t get any better than this! 49 bits of Jewish Wisdom in 49 Tweets for the 49 days of Counting the Omer!

Join us in marking the coming of Shavuot with a daily dose of Jewish Wisdom straight to your cell phones and inboxes, and infuse a little bit of Jewish learning between Passover and Shavuot holidays.

Sign up by texting follow omerlearning to the phone number 40404. Prefer to get e-mail instead of messages to your phone? Click here. Or, follow us on Twitter at @omerlearning.

The topic for this year is Psalms, every day we'll be tweeting out a verse from the Psalm that corresponds to the count (day 34, Psalm 34).

Should be fun (and totally painless). And for those who are counting, it should be a helpful reminder.

Learn more here.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Down By The River

One of my favorite Arlington trail access points is 4 Mile Run Park. From here, you can jump on 4 Mile Run Trail, which in relatively short order connects you to either the WO&D trail or Mt. Vernon Trail. It's a relatively short walk/run from here to Shirlington, Crystal City, or Del Ray, if it's civilization you seek. You can combine the Four Mile Park trail and the Four Mile Run trail to form a 1.8 mile loop. This is especially useful for doing sprints (like we did yesterday), where covering lots of ground isn't key.

And for the Boy Scout / Photographer / 8 year old boy in me, there's even a small walkway down to the Four Mile Run stream (or river? or just 'run'?). Yesterday I had a few minutes to explore before and after our run.

Pop quiz: how far do you need to drive out of Arlington to go fly fishing? Answer: 0 miles:

Although, technically this section of Four Mile Run is in Alexandria. Still, this is the 4th fly fisherman I've seen fishing the area. I spoke to the guy, he didn't seem to be having any luck. But still, it looked like fun.

If I didn't know better, I'd say that I had found a piece of sea glass that had washed up on shore. It certainly felt like sea glass, it was smooth, yet seemed dense enough to not be a piece of plastic. With my luck, it was just a piece of trash left by a teenager. Check it out:

OK, I know this guy isn't natural. But he still made for a fun subject to photograph:

All around the park, Spring is springing! I know I keep taking the same picture of the same buds over and over again, but I don't care. They're just too beautiful to not notice and appreciate:

Now, where did I leave my allergy medicine?

Late Bloomer


Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Think Like a Unix Geek: Using rsync on Windows to Avoid Restoring From The Cloud

Shira picked up a new laptop a week or so ago. Transferring the files from her old computer to the new one was going to be trivial. She uses CrashPlan as a backup solution, so all she needed to do was install the free version of the app on her new laptop, click the restore tab, and Bam! she was off and running.

Alas, it wasn't so simple. First, the restore dragged and dragged. It took 7 days to download about 400 gigs of data. When she had a mere 10 gigs of data left to restore, the process crashed. When she went to re-execute the restore, it started from scratch. Ugh.

Surely there had to be a better way to get files from Laptop A to Laptop B. The download from cloud method is technically effective, but as I learn every time I restore using Carbonite, it's both fragile and painful.

I noodled over the problem and ended up thinking: if this was a Linux box I'd just kick off rsync and the problem would practically solve itself. Wait a second, I thought, why don't I do just that?

I was inspired by the instructions here. First off, I downloaded rsync through Cygwin on both machines.

On the source (old) laptop, I setup the following /etc/rsyncd.secrets file:


Also on the source (old) laptop, I setup the following /etc/rsyncd.conf file:

hosts allow =
auth users = agent
secrets file = /etc/rsyncd.secrets
read only = true
use chroot = no
transfer logging = true
log file = /var/log/rsyncd.log

path = /cygdrive/c/Users/ShirasUserDirectory

Note: you'll want to tweak the IP's above so they correspond to your network. And you'll want to update the path under the [agent] block. The username 'agent' is fine to use, it doesn't need to exist as a local account or anything.

With those files in place, I was able to run:

 rsync --daemon

 tail -f /var/log/rsyncd.log

and to my shock and amazement, it worked!

From the destination (new) laptop I executed these commands:

  $ cd foo
  $ /usr/local/bin/rsync.exe -av  --ignore-existing   agent@'agent/foo/'  

This assumes, of course, that the source laptop is hanging out at The above command asked me for a password, I entered somepass and contents of foo were successfully copied over to my new laptop. The --ignore-existing insures that files that are already on the new laptop don't get re-transferred.

I thought I was home free at this point. I tapped out the following command, hit enter and waited:

  $ /usr/local/bin/rsync.exe -av  --ignore-existing   agent@'agent/'  

This however, transferred a few files and then appeared to hang. I came back a few hours later and it had made some progress. But still, it appeared to be stuck.

My first thought was that I ran into the rsync hangs on cygwin problem. There's a number of solutions to this, which I tried.

The thing is, I don't actually think rsync was hanging. I think instead it was just slowing moving data around. When I finally added enough 'v's to the command (-avvvv is more verbose than -avv) I confirmed that data was being transferred.

The next step was to try to narrow down what was being copied. I had some initial success with this command (inspired by this post):

/usr/local/bin/rsync.exe -av --timeout=10 \
  --ignore-existing --exclude='AppData/*' --include='*/'  \
  --include='*.jpg' --exclude='*' agent@'agent/' .

This says to exclude the AppData directory (which is filled with temp stuff), include all other folders, include JPEG's and most importantly exclude everything else. This caused rsync to start transferring actually useful jpeg's over to the new computer (versus temp stuff). Finally, some progress. Unfortunately, it was still ridiculously slow.

I looked at what I could optimize next: how about getting rid of the Wireless connection? I dragged both computers downstairs to the physical router and pugged them in. I kicked off the above rsync command. Whooooo! The files whizzed by. I checked the Windows Network Performance, I had gone from 2mb/s to 50mb/s! Now we're talking.

After further experimentation, I kicked off my original command to copy all the files. Finally, the system had enough bandwidth, and it zipped along. At one point, there was a throughput of 300mb/s. Behold, the power of wires!

In the end, I learned some valuable lessons from this experience: (1) never underestimate the power of physical cables, (2) it pays to think like a Unix geek and (3) rsync rocks.

Next restore I'm skipping the download from the cloud and going right to this rsync solution. However, clumsy it is, it's way better than crossing my fingers for a week straight and hoping the massive restore works.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

What's In The Bag, or Ben's Jr. Go Bag

LifeHacker has a continuing series where where they feature someone's Go Bag. Most recently they featured a Lean Engineer's bag (I didn't even know such a title existed). To me, this makes for fun browsing. I keep meaning to contribute my own bag tour to their flickr group, but have yet to get around to it. After reading Devin over at GoRuck's bag breakdown (which includes such essentials as a flask of Whiskey and a collection of George Orwell's writings), I decided it was time for me to take some action.

OK, let's get into this. First off, here's the overview:

Notice what's missing? How about the bag. That's actually by design. See, unlike my Lean Engineer Friend or Devin over at GoRuck, the bag itself changes. If I'm taking a walk through the neighborhood, I'm probably using the Port and Company Sling bag. If I'm traveling, like I was a few weeks ago, I'm probably using the day pack attached the the REI Stratocruiser (a solid piece of travel luggage, by the way). If I'm going into DC and bringing heaps of camera gear, I'm probably using a larger knapsack that can accommodate it all. In other words, it's not about the bag.

So just what are you looking at above?

  1. PhotoJojo lenses - these tiny lenses let me grab fish eye and macro shots with cell phone. They help turn my cell phone camera into a device that compliments with DSLR.
  2. Anker Astro 3E battery - the battery on my S3 is pretty much shot these days. After a few hours of intensive use, it's usually at 50% or below. This battery saves the day every time. It's especially useful during travel, when the phone gets even more use. This is probably my most used item.
  3. MiniSuit Bluetooth Keyboard - this little keyboard helps extend my S3 to be a more useful device. I can use it to gain relatively painless shell and ssh access. When a server needs to be diagnosed and I'm out and about, this little guy definitely helps simplify the process.
  4. An Altoid Tin filled with goodies (see below)
  5. A small red bag filled with goodies (see below)
  6. A Buff. In the winter, this served as a balaclava for especially colds days. While traveling, I used this recently as an eye mask and a beanie (who knew it was going to be chilly in San Diego?!).
  7. Another Bag. this one is a Flip & Tumble, though I sometimes swap in Sea to Summit foldable backpack instead. Yes, I appreciate the irony of using a bag to carry around a bag. But, I find this guy gets a heck of a lot of use. After the battery above, it's probably my second most used item. Anytime we take a walk in the neighborhood, I find that we end up at the grocery store, pharmacy or library and I've got to haul stuff home. The bag works.

It's probably worth noting that what I'm describing above is much more in line with LifeHacker's Go Bag universe than what's traditionally called a Go Bag. A Go Bag is supposed to be what you grab when need to leave Right Now. Whereas LifeHacker tends to be more "what do you carry with you on a regular basis" (or EDC for those who know the lingo). The above items are designed mainly for life's first-world problems: being stuck on the tarmac and hoping my battery will stay alive long enough to finish my audio book, or using the macro lens to grab a photo of some curious looking insect. On the other hand, with some creativity, the items in the bag should be able to help me weather 24 hours pretty much in any location; from a Red Cross shelter to a night in the woods. So, comparing this to a fully stocked Go Bag, I'd call it a Go Bag Lite.

OK, enough chatter, onto the rest of the contents. Here's the Atloid's Tin:

I'll spare you listing out each item, this post essentially breaks it down. It looks like I've added a couple of small fish hooks, a plain old rubber band and a piece of Style Tape. My most frequently used item in the bunch is still the headphones.

And here's what's in the small red bag:

  • A tube of peanut butter. Yum! This guy is essential.
  • A Lara Bar. Very dense and indestructible. And pretty tasty, too.
  • A few mints. What can I say, snacks are important.
  • Bic Mini Lighter - as a Boy Scout, I've got to be ready to start a fire at moment's notice. And who knows, maybe I can rig up a torch to fight off zombies. Actual last usage: lighting birthday candles.
  • Athletic Tape - a veritable single-item first aid kit.
  • packet of medicines: Pepto Bismol, Immodium, Advil, Benedryl, that sort of thing. When you need an Immodium, you *need* an Immodium. Small, but powerful stuff.
  • Space Blanket - Lots of uses for this guy.

So there you have it. It may not contain the 3 cutting implements that Devin's go bag has, the guns, ammmo and cash Salt has in her bag, but all of the items above are TSA compliant and can be dropped into any bag I'm carrying. And I'm ready for anything. Like an extra long wait in the dentist's office or a surprise trip to the farmer's market.

So, nu? What's in your bag? Do share a link to your bag's tour.

Why You Shouldn't Hire Me to Direct Your Commercial

I'd probably be the worst creative director for a commercial you could hire. Consider this spot:

It's relatively funny, right? Of course, that's not what I see. What I see is a missed opportunity.

I see AT&T playing off the stereotypes of geeks vs. rockers. And rather than answering the question: "Do you know how to optimize a 9 beam multi beam antenna system?" with a simple "Nope," I would have rewritten the script so that the rocker responds something more along the lines of "Hell Yeah! I helped build that protocol when I was in high school!"

And I can already see the client rolling their eyes, "Geeze Simon, does everything we say and do need to be filled with rainbows and butterflies? Can't we make one rocker dude look a little dumb; people love simple humor and what's simpler than a rocker being dumber than nerds?"

What can I say, I'm all about seizing opportunities. Even if they are in a silly 30 second ad spot.

Thanks to my Brother David for passing me this video and knowing that this little innocuous bit of humor would get under my skin.


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