Friday, April 29, 2011

Traveling With A Different Kind Of Laptop

Shira made me Birthday cake last night. We have a road trip to Rochester today. Could I imagine leaving the cake at home? No, no I couldn't.

I may not get WiFi on this device, but at least it won't run out of batteries and will be keep me well entertained.

Thanks Babe for such a delicious birthday!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

This Seems Approrpriate For Today

From Buzzfeed:

And sure enough, on this, my 35th birthday, I can clearly recall this scene:

D'oh - I'm old :-). How did that happen?

Seriously, though - I've got a super wife, loving family and friends, the most amazing 20 month old on the planet, a job that rocks, and a full head of hair. I really, truly, couldn't ask for anything more.

Yep, life at 35 is good.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Custis Trail - Another Arlington Gem

For years, I've noticed a path that appears to follow Rt 66 -- though, it was only a few days ago that Shira and I decided to venture out and explore it. The path is known as Custis Trail, and it's a real gem. It essentially connects the W&OD trail to Rossyln. And while it follows 66, we didn't find the road noise especially distracting.

Here's what we managed to get accomplished last Sunday (with a kid on my back, no less):

View Custis Trail in a larger map

What-I-Carry Wednesday: Urban Survival Kit

After seeing an Urban Survival Kit like this one (and this one, and this one and this one), I just couldn't resist making my own. Forget the Boy Scouts, this little project brought back memories of Cub Scouts, where we crammed a survival kit in a film canister. My, that was fun, though good luck to us if we ever needed one. Still, it planted the seed of preparedness.

So here goes - what I managed to cram in an Altoids Tin. It's worth mentioning that I decided: (a) to focus the kit on things that would actually be useful on a regular basis (b) I tried to limit what I stored in there so that it wasn't impossible to repack.


  • Two rubber bands
  • Blister treatment
  • A couple of standard band-aids
  • $20 in cash (a lot of money for a husband to be carrying around, thank you very much)
  • A large needle - figured if I'm carrying dental floss, might as well carry a way to use it for sewing repairs
  • A couple of waterproof matches and a striker. Sorry, as an Eagle Scout, I can't make anything with the world "Survival" in it that doesn't contain *some* way to start a fire.
  • Headphones / Hands-free for my cell phone. Probably the most useful item in the kit - turns my cell phone into a TV, radio and entertainment center in case I'm stuck unexpectedly some place
  • A roll of dental floss, which I fairly recently found has a million uses
  • A lightload towel - another million-use-item. From improved bandage, to signal device to emergency TP, it does it all
  • A P-51 can-opener - the take-anywhere (including through TSA checkpoints) multi-tool that just so happens to be super tiny and dirt cheap
  • 4 quarters - useful for feeding meters
  • A sheet of stickers - useful for keeping the little one happy. Also helpful for marking purposes
  • A small coil of wire - used to fill a void in the case and to keep stuff from jiggling around

So what's in your get-through-the-day kit?

Friday, April 22, 2011

Some Friday Inspiration: Soccer in a Floating Village

This 5 minute video follows the creation of the first soccer team of the Thai island of Koh Panyee. Whether you like soccer or not, it's a must watch.

Who said you needed a little thing like a grass field to play soccer?


Thursday, April 21, 2011

Potomac Overlook Part 2 -- The Sick Day Edition

Yesterday, our little one was diagnosed with a bacterial infection. That means no returning to Day Care for 24 hours while he's contagious (ignoring the fact that he's already given whatever he had to everyone there over the last few days - but, whatever - rules are rules). What a prefect opportunity, I figured, to ditch work and play for the day. So, that's what we did.

I wanted to get outside for a little hiking adventure, but I wanted to do it close to home. I thought I'd give Potomac Overlook Park a second visit, as I recalled seeing a 2 mile loop there that looked intriguing.

The hike, which starts off taking you through the park itself, is pleasant enough. You get the feeling of being in the woods, but with a family friendly trail. Then the trail hooks up with Donaldson Run, and things actually get kind of interesting. There's 3 or 4 stream crossings to make, as you go from one side of the run to the other. There's a mysterious abandoned structure to oggle, and finally the hike finishes in a steep a slightly nerve racking (well, with a 29lb toddler on your back, anyway), finish to the Potomac Heritage Trail.

You get all this excitement in a stretch that's about a mile or so long. It turned out to be the perfect little day trip out.

Got to love those sick day policies after all!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Path to a Pleasantly Prepared Passover

Preparing for Passover this year has been surprisingly, well, not stressful (I can't go as far as calling it relaxing). The secret, I think was that I managed to spread the tasks out over multiple weeks. For example, I usually do a fridge cleaning marathon - but by spreading it out over multiple sessions, it was a lot easier.

Here, for my use next year, is basically the schedule I followed.

(NOTE: there's mention of 1 shopping trip here. Shira and David have probably made half-a-dozen. I'm on the cleaning team, not the shopping team, so their timeline and tactics don't concern me)

  • 4 weeks out: panic!
  • 3 weeks out: buy batch of Passover items (some Matzah and other essentials)
  • 2 weeks out: first pass of cleaning out the pantry, arrange the cleaning lady to make a visit, sell chumetz to the Rabbi's agent, donate some chumetz to the shul's food collection
  • 1 week out: first pass of cleaning out the fridge and freezer
  • 4 days out: clean out my car, have the cleaning lady come (whoo!)
  • 3 days out: do the final cleaning of the fridge, freezer and pantry, clean the oven and dishwasher
  • 2 days out: start bringing up dishes - running them through the dishwasher on rinse as we go, do a final house check for chometz stashed in backpack and other random places
  • 1 day out: finalize the cleaning of the kitchen, start cooking, search for chametz, get a hair cut for the Omer, go out for brunch and pizza
  • 0 days out: go to shul for the seeium, buy a new toothbrush, prepare for the evening's seder

Here's to a Happy, Health and Kosher Passover - Chag Semeach and L'chiam

Saturday, April 16, 2011

7 Dozen for 8 Days

Hard to believe, but the 7 dozen eggs shown here will most likely all be consumed during the 8 days of Passover.

Got to love this Holiday!

Note to self: avoid a cholestrol test over the next couple weeks.

Friday, April 15, 2011

A Crummy Job, But Someone Has To Do It

It's crunch time in the world of Passover Preperationville. Today's goal: clean out the car. Good Gosh, having a toddler makes this experience unique: as I peeled back every surface I could find in the car and car seat, I found another batch of crackers. I must have cleaned up an entire box of Ritz during this process.

I did, however, stumble on a useful car seat fact: rather than jam the top of the car seat into the headrest, it's trivial to just remove the headrest altogether. Now the headrest won't get damaged from the car seat, and my field of view is improved back there.

With the cars cleaned up, I've only got about 742 things left to do before Passover starts Monday night. Gulp.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Gotcha of the Day: Uploading .htaccess files over Webdav

I've found that webdav can be a really handy way to publish file to a server. With a modern version of Apache I usually find that webdav is just waiting for me to turn it on. That means I can enable publishing just by tweaking my Apache config, and not having to bother with setting up an FTP server (with the firewall rule and unix accounts backing it up).

It all Just Works. That is, with one itty bitty exception: by default attempts to upload a .htaccess file fail with a 403 error code. Inside the Apache log, I find:

[Thu Apr 14 06:06:00 2011] [error] [client xx.xx.xx.xx] client denied by server configuration: /var/www/vhosts/yyyyyyy/.htaccess

This is actually quite explainable, as there's the following standard configuration in /etc/httpd/conf/httpd.conf:

# The following lines prevent .htaccess and .htpasswd files from being 
# viewed by Web clients. 
<Files ~ "^\.ht">
    Order allow,deny
    Deny from all

I knew I didn't want to simply yank out these lines, as that would leave a gaping security whole. Instead, after much poking and prodding I came up with the following recipe:

<VirtualHost xxxx>
  ServerName xxxxxxxxxxxx
  DocumentRoot /var/www/vhosts/yyyyyyyy


  <Location />
      DAV on
      AuthType Basic
      AuthName "Private"
      AuthUserFile zzzzzzzzzz
      <LimitExcept POST GET>
          Require valid-user

  <Files ~ "^\.ht">
    Require valid-user
    Satisfy any


For the most part, the above is the standard virtual host setup for using webdav. For GET and POST requests you allow any user to access the URL, and for other types of requests (which include webdav requests), you require a user.

The funky part happens within the Files block. The Require statement is fairly obvious - it insists that any user who wishes to access a .htaccess file must be logged in (which is a requirement for using webdav). The Satisfy directive took a little longer to figure out. Without it, the original rule in httpd.conf was still taking effect, which always denied access. With that Satisfy directive, I'm saying that you can *either* be a logged in user, or be denied.

Slowly but surely, I'm understanding Apache's configuration rules enough that I can actually use them to my benefit. And I suppose that's another bonus you get for using webdav - you have one powerful set of configuration rules to control access for both web viewers as well as publishers, versus needing two different systems (say, Apache for web viewing and an FTP server for publishing).

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

11 Concepts The Emacs Newbie Should Master

A friend of mine asked me for some links/suggestions for learning Emacs. While, I was naturally excited that another soul was interested in the emacs religion, I do appreciate the awfully high learning curve involved. It's been years since I sat in a University at Buffalo CS113 class getting schooled on how emacs worked.

To help him get started, though, I've compiled the following 10 links into - a site that consistently shows up first when I search for all things emacs. I've tried to focus this list on some core concepts that I absolutely rely on. Many of these aren't sexy topics, but emacs has never been about flashiness - it's about editing text quickly and never having to take your hands off the keyboard.*

  1. Killing & Yanking - emacs doesn't do copy and paste. Emacs does killing and yanking. While there may not appear to be much difference when you start learning emacs at first, you soon appreciate the value of the kill-ring - which allows you to get back to previously copied text. Once you get hooked on it, you're hooked for life.
  2. Buffer switching - First rule of emacs: don't quit. Or, more specifically, don't shut it down. That is, you should have hundreds of files open (each in their own buffer) and using the various buffer switching techniques should be able to get to any of them within a few keystrokes.
  3. Dynamic Abbreviations - Emacs is all about saving keystrokes with various forms of completion. Dynamic abbreviations are one especially cool technique because they allow you to auto complete on any text you've written in the past and have currently open. It makes writing variables, function names and other repeated text a breeze.
  4. Parenthese Modes - Emacs is programmable via lisp, and lisp is all about parenthesis. So, it's no surprise emacs has a number of packages for dealing with them. Pick one, use it, and never get confused about which (, { or [ you're matching up against.
  5. Spell Checking - one of the features I miss most when I'm not using emacs is spell checking capability. Besides making your comments more understandable to the world, spell checking means that your variables will actually match up to the word you intended.
  6. Undo - like the Killing and Yanking above, the undo capability of emacs is like other editors, but on steroids. Take the time to learn it, and you'll be make and unmaking changes at light speed.
  7. Narrowing - emacs allows you to hide part of a buffer (one form of this known as narrowing) with ease. I find this facility to be essential when I'm trying to wrap my head around new (and very ugly) code.
  8. Incremental Search - once you get used to the speed and convenience of isearch you'll never want to search any other way again. Emacs actually has quite a long list of search and replace tools.
  9. Keyboard Macros - emacs has a built in macro recorder that I find I use all the time to solve thorny problems in a few seconds. For example, need to convert a line of text into an SQL statement? Just record the action on a single line and then run the macro as many times as you'd like. While I could write the lisp code to do this, I find that recording the macro is much faster.
  10. Dired Mode - Manage files and directories from within emacs? Well, of course. Your goal should be to do everything from within emacs. Turns out, dired really is a fast and efficient way to manage files.
  11. Version Control - one of first killer features for me was the way emacs handled version control commands. It made dealing with RCS totally painless. And the same commands I used so many years ago still work quite well with CVS and subversion. There's also a specific mode for subversion that I use daily to stay efficient.

Once you've mastered the basics, it's time to ponder the emacs lisp list - which provides plenty of add on functionality for emacs.

So, if you were learning emacs today - what topics would you focus on?

*Yes, I know your whiz bang IDE can do all this functionality. Congrats. This list isn't meant to be a: "emacs is better than X list" -- I'll leave that to others to duke out.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011 - An Awesome Norther Virginia Hiking Resource has an impressive catalog of Northern Virginia hikes. Like LocalHikes, the list is quite extensive. But, they go beyond simple descriptions and reviews.

The handy overview map and easy to use get directions to this hike cool. But, by far, the coolest feature are annotated photos. Such as,

  • Photos of the where the trail starts or what an intersection looks like.

    There's nothing more frustrating than trying to take a hike in some far off location, only to be stumped as to where the trail actually begins.

    Definitely a useful site.

  • Monday, April 11, 2011

    Review: Positive Discipline: The First Three Years

    Pop Quiz: your 0-3 year old wants to play with the digital camera you left lying within reach. You should:

    • (a) Slap the child's hand, so they learn this isn't for them to touch
    • (b) Yell at the child, so they get the idea that some stuff is mommy and daddy's and off limits
    • (c) Let him play with the camera, you really don't want to deal with another melt down today
    • (d) None of the above

    Positive Discipline: The First Three Years, which I just finished reading, is essentially dedicated to teaching you about option (d) - None of the above.

    As I've mentioned, the book tries to focus on interacting with children using methods other than punishment (options a. and b.) and permissiveness (option c.).

    At stake is far more than simply a "well behaved child" (an absurd notion at 0-3 years old). The idea is that the techniques behind positive discipline help set the foundation for a confident and capable child. I really like this notion - for example, that the struggles our 19 month old is having with tantrums is really an opportunity for growth, more than anything else.

    This isn't the best book I've read on parenting - right now, these books hold that title. But, it definitely felt like key information that I should know, and that I wasn't going to figure out on my own. Basically, if you're wondering should you be spanking your kid, or what the heck you can do about your child's misbehavior - this book is a must read.

    Friday, April 08, 2011

    Friday Funny: Child struggles with age discrimination

    You've got to feel for this kid: being told your too young the job you've always wanted is a frustrating experience. I'd probably cry if I was in his shoes. Just watch it, it's hilarious.

    How'd He Do That?

    I left our little one, who's 19 months old, in front of my work laptop for about 20 seconds while I ran upstairs to get my car keys. What's the worst that could happen, was he going to delete all my e-mail or something?

    I came back, and found this:

    He managed to flip the orientation of the screen from landscape to portrait. The only way I know how to do this is by going through a series of menus and hitting the confirm button a dialog box. Yet he managed to find some mechanism to do this in the 20 seconds I left him alone.

    Amazing. Makes me wonder what kind of skills they're teaching him at day care. I'm going to have to have a talk with them - in this household we learn Emacs shortcuts first, *then* Windows shortcuts. It's just our way.

    Thursday, April 07, 2011

    Technology and Little Ones - Finding the upside

    I'm making my way through Positive Discipline: The First Three Years - a day care recommended book on the topic of discipline. For the most part, I'm really enjoying it and finding it quite useful. I'll do a full review when I'm finished with the book, but reading through the chapter on technology got me thinking enough that a blog post was called for.

    A very quick and dirty summary of the book might go like this: Your 0-3 year old needs to learn about the foundations of discipline*. To do this, you need to find the midpoint between punishment and permissiveness. In other words, spanking your child is out, and so is letting them do whatever they want. Instead, you want to help your child achieve the age appropriate level of independence.

    Got all that? The book then goes through the classic range of topics, from tantrums to toilet training, and explains how this philosophy applies. It's a sensible approach and one I think they do a good job with. That is, until they hit the chapter on technology.

    As you can imagine, the chapter on technology (TV, computers, and other screen time activities) leaned heavily towards the danger of these mediums. Everything from the "it's not healthy for their brains" to the "they'll see poor role models" is covered. Essentially, it's easy to swing to the permissive side of things when technology is involved. And the points are all valid.

    What got me buzzing though, was that there was no suggestions for how technology could be used as a positive force in a child's life. You're telling me that with infinite content of YouTube, the highly interactive nature of cell phones and power of the desktop computer, there's no way to harness this good? When our little one listens to CDs of nursery rhymes, it's a good thing - he learns all sorts of language constructs. Yet, when you add a visual component, it suddenly becomes TV and is evil?

    I'm not suggesting the book shouldn't have had plenty of stern warnings about technology being a trap for kids. I just wish that they would have considered the technology what it is: tools. And giving parents suggestions for how these tools could be used in a positive way would be far more valuable than just writing them off as a necessary evil.

    *That's discipline as in "man, that Olympic athlete is disciplined!" not discipline as a euphemism for punishment or spanking

    Wednesday, April 06, 2011

    Tool of the Day: mysqlreport and its guide

    I've always struggled with wrapping my head around the various configuration parameters of MySQL. Whenever I try to read the docs or look around for informative articles I either find obvious stuff I know (such as using explain to check for index usage) or the content goes way over my head in a hurry.

    I saw the recommendation to give mysqlreport a try and because I'm always on the lookout for new tools I jumped at the chance.

    The install couldn't have been more hacker friendly, with one option being:

     wget from your terminal 

    With no crazy dependencies to fulfill, I was able to generate a report from one of my servers in just a few seconds.

    As I glanced over the report my eyes definitely started to glaze over - so many numbers, and buffers and more numbers. And then I started reading the myqlreport guide. What a truly wonderful document. The author of mysqlreport not only takes you through the output of his software, but explains how the information presented interpreted.

    It's the best read on MySQL performance I've ever found. It's fairly dense stuff, and you can't rush through it - but it's worth the read. Definitely a find.

    What-I-Carry-Wednesday: The Perfect Portable Snack Food

    My I get hungry, I get cranky. This is a bad thing. So, taking a lesson from my Mom and Grandma, I try to always have a snack at the ready when I'm out and about. From my perspective, the LĂ„RABAR is about an ideal EDC food as you can get:

    • They are compact, yet calorically dense so a single bar will fill you up
    • They are made of fruit, nuts and spices - guilt free stuff you'll be glad you ate, rather than the typical junk food
    • They won't melt in the heat, or become inedible when squished
    • There's lots of flavors, so you don't have to get tired of eating the same one over and over again
    • They are Kosher, Vegan, Gluten Free and Dairy free
    • They taste good!

    In the winter, I kept one in my jacket pocket and found it to be ever so useful. Come summer time, I'm not sure where I'll stash one on me.

    What's your favorite portable snack?

    Best. Bumper Sticker. Ever.

    OK, maybe Best should be replaced with Geekiest. I guess if I was really clever I could have left a note mentioning closures, lambda or continuations.

    Gooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo Lisp!

    Tuesday, April 05, 2011

    A Tiny Taste of Summer

    Yesterday was an absolute perfect day - 80'ish degrees and sunny. I had chance to take an excellent walk outside with our little guy, and most importantly - for the first time ever - eat on our deck:

    That humble little setup may not be much, but my gosh it was nice sitting outside in the warm breeze.

    Today, we've gotten torrential rains and it's currently cold and cloudy outside. And soon enough it'll be too hot and muggy to sit outside - but in DC, when you get a perfect day, you've got to enjoy it to the max.

    Monday, April 04, 2011

    Not Celebrating Easter, But If I Did, I'd Try This Hack

    Relayed through Parent Hacks:

    This may be brilliant or evil, but being sick of the endless holiday candy train with my kids, I'm going to just get a small set of Legos and fill their eggs with them.

    Again, not knowing anything about Easter, I think I can still call this a clever and useful hack. In fact, I wonder if the same maneuver could be applied to Halloween? Probably not, as the whole cool factor of accumulating lots of eggs and then resulting in lots of Lego pieces is unlikely. But still, it's a thought. Or maybe there's a way to mix in hidden legos during the whole search for the Afikoman?

    Last week I actually picked up a sleeve full of plastic Easter Eggs at the store for $1.75 or so with the intention of giving our little one something fun to play with. So far, he's had great fun mashing them together and practicing opening and closing them. I definitely got my $2.00 out of them.

    If I Could Sing Like This

    If I could sing like these guys I would make it my goal in life to sit around with 3 of my buddies and spend the day signing. My gosh, they are beautiful.

    This video has embedding disabled, so you'll have to click over to YouTube to watch it. Luckily, this one I can embed:

    Magnificent stuff, no?

    Sunday, April 03, 2011

    A Night at the Improv

    Last Thursday night (yes, on a school night!) my brother and I had the chance to see Judah Friedlander at the DC Improv. Here was my take on the evening:

    • Laura Prangley was up first. You've got to give a whole bunch of credit to the first comic who takes the stage with an otherwise cold audience. Her routine was pretty much classic stand-up - she got into raunchy material right away, which I suppose is to be expected, but didn't exactly get me laughing. She did, however, manage to work in a series of binary related jokes - including one sex one, which was down right impressive. She automatically got big points for this.
    • Jared Stern took the stage next, and again, provided classic stand-up. Twice during his routine I found myself laughing absolutely uncontrollably, which is an especially good sign. Though, even a few minutes after I was done laughing, I couldn't remember what the joke was. His delivery was definitely on that night.
    • Judah Friedlander was the headline of the night and the reason Dave and I were there. He's always been funny on both 30 Rock as well as the appearances he's made on the Daily Show, so my hopes were fairly high. Besides, he's on TV and real honest-to-goodness celebrity. His act basically consisted of getting on stage as his persona (The World Champion) and just being himself. It started off funny enough, both his prepared jokes worked as well as the tension that developed as he talked it up with audience members. Unfortunately, by the end of his set, his shtick had basically been reduced to telling recycled Chuck Norris jokes and requesting the audience Ask Me Questions so he could display his wit. Yeah, it got old.

    All in all, it was a wonderful evening and I did get in plenty of laughs. The true high point, however, may have been the food. The Mexican salad I ordered was both fresh and gigantic (and how can you overdue it on salad?) and the chocolate mousse cake was off the charts good.