Friday, March 30, 2012

Watching a 7 Year Old Learn to Ride a Bike

When our little guy joined us a couple weeks ago, Shira made the executive decision: we're going to get this boy a bike and teach him to ride. It seemed like a smart move: bike riding is a fun outdoor activity, a good source of exercise, a confidence booster and a handy life long skill. So while I was still weighing the pros and cons, Shira just made it happen. We got the boy a bike (and from our bike shop down the street no less).

While all this sounded good in theory, we had the tiny detail of actually teaching a 7 year old how to ride a bike. Would this be hard? Would it be something that he got discouraged at and perhaps did more damage than good?

We did some research and decided we didn't want to go the training wheels route. Personally, I liked the REI method, where you take off the pedals and let the kid learn to coast, then go from there. Shira was going to have none of that.

Our first bike riding "lesson" was about 20 minutes of us pushing the little one on the bike, reminding him to pedal (we had our mantra: "ready, focus, peddle, peddle, peddle!!"). Apparently, the first lesson was needed to teach him that riding a bike is an active activity, if you don't peddle, you stop. Man, those training wheels looked good right about now!

Our second riding lesson showed some amazing progress. He got the peddling concept down, but we were still quite attached to him. By the third lesson, we'd gotten a tip from a neighbor: use the tennis or basketball courts as your training ground instead of a quiet street. Good call, as they are flat and car free. During the third lesson, I managed to capture a video of our little guy soloing for about 7 seconds.

By session four, he had mastered balance. He could now cruise down the courts at high speed with Shira running a few feet behind him (and I'm photographing this, of course) but didn't quite have stopping figured out.

And in yesterday's session, he got on, and with a small push from Shira, rode his bike down and carefully stopped. The rest of the session was spent with him cruising around, trying to get used to the idea of steering. See, here's a little proof:

To say Shira and I are impressed and proud is a massive understatement.

Which brings me to the title of this post. Notice I said "Watching ..." vs. "Teaching ... ." Shira and I didn't really "teach" him anything. In fact, our attempts to explain stopping ("You just peddle backwards. Huh?") were of little use. He just needed to get out there and do it. I had to have faith that his brain would figure it all out, and that he just needed the practice (and a safe environment to do it in).

This experience reminded me of when our last little guy was learning to walk. Thank heavens, I used to think, as a parent you're not actually expected to teach them how to do this. We'd totally muck it up. Better to let the brain figure it out for itself.

Who knows how long it will be before we're actually cruising along the WO&D trail. But for now, I consider this a huge accomplishment. It's just amazing what kids can do when we let then just do. (See, they've got no fear of failing.)

Apache Hack: Bypassing Basic Authentication on a File-by-File Basis

So I'm hacking away on a client's site which is protected by Basic Authentication via .htaccess file to keep bots and the general public from checking out this next generation of the site. This setup was working great, until I started planning out today's task: integrating Amazon's CloudFront CDN. The CDN is trivial to setup, but I could already see a gotcha developing: the CDN would contact the origin site, which would respond with an access denied error, which in turn would fail the request.

Option A would be to drop the basic authentication on the site altogether. Not a great option, as this would expose my client's site to eyes he didn't seeing it.

So I'd have to go with Option B: tweak the .htaccess file to require authentication on most, but not all requests. There's also Option C: find out what IPs CloudFront is requesting from, and let those in along with Basic Authentication, as outlined here. But, I wasn't sure how feasible it would be to find these IPs, and besides, I was curious if I could learn yet another bit of Apache configuration magic.

The solution to Option B turns out to be quite clever and is outlined here. Here's a snippet of code from that site:

# password protection allowing directory and file access
AuthType Basic
AuthName "Restricted Area"
AuthUserFile /home/path/.htpasswd
AuthGroupFile /dev/null 
Require valid-user

SetEnvIf Request_URI "(path/to/directory/)$" allow
SetEnvIf Request_URI "(path/to/file\.php)$"  allow

Order allow,deny
Allow from env=allow

Satisfy any

Apparently, you can flag a request with an environment variable (in this case named allow) and then use that variable later on to decide if a request should be authenticated. That's a remarkably flexible tool, especially considering you've got access to quite a number of variables.

And I always forget about that import Satisfy Any - which basically tells Apache to chill, and to trust the use if only a single Allow rule matches.

Once I had a way of allowing some requests but not others in, it was just a matter of putting the right regular expressions in place that represented my CDN content.

One additional gotcha I ran into relates to RewriteRules. Suppose you've got the following rules in place:

  RewriteRule ^(static/*)  ./files/$1 [L]

And your request looks like:


You need to make sure you have SetEnvIf clauses for both /static/logo.gif and /files/logo.gif. With only static/logo.gif in place, the request which has been re-written to files/logo.gif, no longer matches a SetEnvIf clause and so it requires authentication. You'd need both of these lines:

SetEnvIf Request_URI "^/static/.*" allow
SetEnvIf Request_URI "^/files/.*" allow

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Programmers and Sexism

Buzzfeed has this wonderfully thoughtful article on the topic of sexism among programmers, which I think is a must read for anyone who works on teams in a corporate environment.

Let me tell you, I love coding. Been doing it since before I hit puberty. I did it when I barely had the money to keep a server up. I do it on the weekends and evenings, and I'm teaching my kids how to do it. I've spent thousands of dollars to go to conferences so I can learn more about it. Why would I ever leave the profession where I got paid real money to do what I love?

In short, I got tired of being told to 'lighten up.'

This industry is one of subtle sexism. I almost prefer outright sexism, because at least that you can point out. The subtle barbs are usually dismissed as something I need to not care about. It was a joke! Sheesh. Why are you so sensitive?! All I did was make a joke about you needing to be in the kitchen!

Thinking back over the jobs where I've been on or managed a team, I can't actually recall working with any many female programmers. For the last two jobs I was at, I had a brilliant, talented, reliable and all around awesome QA/Source Code Manager who was a woman. I'm sorry to say, but I bet she had to endure some of this same subtle sexism (1. hopefully not from me, 2. and probably not so subtle, too!). It didn't help that she was probably the most responsible person on the team, so taking a "motherly role" may been too easy a trap to fall into. I've worked with brilliant designers who are women, too. But, as far as I can remember, not only one female coder. That's actually pretty sad when you think about it*

So go, read the article. Check yourself and your environment. We need brilliant programmers in our field, regardless of gender.

Update: D'oh! I totally forgot about Kelly! How could I forget about Kelly?! She was smart, hard working, and even though she was relatively new to programming, she definitely was a coder. OK, so I've worked with one female programmer. Still, that's pretty amazing/sad.

*I wonder how long before I remember working with a female coder? I should probably apologize for forgetting her in advance...

Lawnchair: SQLite for the NoSQL World

Yesterday, I tripped over the Lawnchair project, which I immediately took a liking to. Here's the description:

A Lawnchair is sorta like a couch except smaller and outside. Perfect for HTML5 mobile apps that need a lightweight, adaptive, simple and elegant persistence solution.

Just like SQLite kinda sorta lets you run SQL, but is in fact an embedded database, Lanwchair lets you play with a NoSQL database while being in a simple embedded environment.

Not sure what project I'll use it for, but I'm eager to play with it.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Failure vs. Fear of Failure

When you remove the fear of failure, impossible things suddenly become possible.
-Regina Dugan

Here's an excellent Ted Talk on the topic of innovation, and more specifically, what happens when you don't accept that the impossible, is in fact, in possible. It's also ad for DARPA, a government program that actually works (proof: you're reading this on the Internet, they pioneered).

Give it a watch. Be inspired. And go do something impossible.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Next Door Nature - Theodore Roosevelt Island

This afternoon I took our little one to Theodore Roosevelt Island and as always, I was blown away by what a gem it is. In about 10 minutes, we went from our neighborhood to The Great Outdoors.

We oggled the giant statue of Theodore, and practiced our reading skills on the massive quotes (man, those are some tricky words!). We also practiced skipping stones, and I taught him how to recognize trail blazes. The highlight, though, was poking around a "beach" area where we found extra large snails in the mud. For a 45 minute outdoor adventure, it's hard to beat.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Idea: Photo + Biking Biathlon

A regular biathlon works as a sport because of the natural extremes each activity requires. The cross-country skiing part is all about speed and drives your heart rate up, while the rifle part is all about precision and a need for a steady hand.

On my last bike ride, where I found myself jumping off every once in a while to snap photos, I noticed some of that same tension. The biking side of me wanted to cover the max amount of mileage, while the photography side of me kept seeing new angles and demanded I take my time.

So here's my suggestion: we setup a course that folks are expected to ride for time. Along the way, each rider could snap as many or few photos as they want. At the end of the race, each rider would pick 3 photos to display and be judged. You earn points for both time and the photo quality.

A person with a mediocre time and great photos may win, or it may go the other way, and a super fast rider with OK photos wins the day.

There'd be plenty of room for riders to develop their own unique strategy: do you bring lots of gear, hope for great shots and live with a slower time? Or, do you go with a Go Cam strapped to your helmet and shoot for maximum speed?

I think the results would be interesting to say the least.

The Family that Sunbathes Together...

...stays together. Right?

The above photo was snapped while biking along the Capital Crescent Trail in DC and Maryland. Here's a few more photos from the day - man the weather was perfect!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Friday Fun - Outdoor Gear Edition

A few somewhat related outdoor links I've come across the last 10 days or so...

Sure, lightweight backpacking is cool. And my gear list usually makes for a 11 or 12lb backpack. But that's down right heavy compared to, get this, Super Ultra Light Backpacking gear list. Yes, apparently such a thing exists. The goal is to get your base pack weight down to 5lbs or so. It's both silly and totally intriguing. It's an obsession I don't need, but will probably look for ways to dabble in regardless.

And why would you need a 5lb backpack (besides, of course, bragging rights?). To fastpack, of course. Fastpacking is essentially trail running, but for a full day or overnight. I don't trail run, and I tend to want to take my time on trails (how else can you snap hundreds of pictures per day?). But still, I'm sure there are lessons to learned from fastpacking, and I'm ready give it a try if I can find the excuse.

With the trend to tinier and tinier amounts of gear, I was going to jokingly suggest that my goal was to shoot for Backpackless Backpacking. Sort of a no bag challenge for the great outdoors. Of course, I've already been beaten to the punch on this. Here's a 1-4 day gear list that includes no backpack in the mix. It includes a slick bat-belt, and a multi-purpose wool blanket. I'm totally loving it. I've realized I'm going to have to step up my goal. It's now Pocket Backpacking. The goal is to spend at least one night in the woods with nothing but what's in the pockets of "regular" set of clothes. Who's with me?

Finally, I was initially unimpressed with Pathfinder shelter kit. It didn't strike me as particularly compact or sexy. But, after watching a video demonstration, I've got to say, I've been won over. The individual items have a lot of utility, and the quick shelter construction idea really seems like it would work. In a lot of respects, this kit contains the real essentials you'd need in a survival kit, and combined with a few items in your pockets would probably beat out most itty bitty survival kits. The size is still too large for me to carry on a regular 'ol hike, but I'll definitely keep the kit in mind.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Canon SD 630 as a Kid Friendly Cam

I resurrected my old Canon SD 630 to let our little guy snap some photos.

It's amazing how well it serves this purpose. The camera is tiny, so I can throw it into his activity bag and not worry about it taking up space. The screen is huge, so it's easy for him to see. The controls are drop dead simple - turn it on and start taking photos. No mode dials to get out of whack. The only tricky part is that he has to learn to press the shutter button down all the way. The camera focuses when you press half way down, and he has mistaken that before as having taken a photo.

It really is impressive how slick a device this now ancient camera is. The lens is a little scuffed up, but the result is a sort of artsy soft look that still works.

If I wanted to get really fancy, I could pick up an eye-fi card to auto publish his photos.

Here are some samples of his work. Admittedly, I did some post processing on some of them. I couldn't resist.

Next up, teach the little one to blog.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Of Programmers and Architects

I'm not exactly sure why, but programmers love architects. Sure, we lifted the design pattern concept from their work, but it goes beyond that. If you tell me you're job is that of software architect, or you're an architect of a project, I'll read that as you being at the top of the pyramid. You're the one who's in charge of the big picture, not cranking out lines of code day in and day out.

As I'm making my way through one architect's story, I've had a bit of a realization. Say an architect draws up the plans for a deck. When that drawing is complete, he doesn't have a high level vision for the deck. No, he effectively has the deck. Sure, there's the small implementation detail of needing a team to build out the deck per his specifications, but that's somewhat besides the point.

In my case, a computer executes my code, and in his case, a building crew. But at the end of the day, we're both creating something that essentially exists (at least as a complete specification) before it exists.

Perhaps programmers shouldn't be ascribing to being architects—architects should be ascribing to be programmers.

Thus ends my deep thought of the day.

VA Sonogram Law - Sharing Stories

As it stands now, I'm against the VA Ultrasound Law. The law implies that the current rules for gaining informed consent for an abortion aren't effective, and for this one procedure, a special rule needs to be crafted. Is there any evidence that this is true? How can you read this law as anything other than the government's last ditch gilt trip to get a woman to change her mind?

But would such a gilt trip really be so bad?

After reading this article, I see it hard not to answer any other way than Yes. In fact, it's worse than "bad," it's down right evil. This story took place in Texas, not Virginia, which seems to have an even stronger law. But result seems the same: having the government put up barriers to medical procedures is wrong.

So, tell me, where's the evidence that this is a good idea? At the very least, where's a story that moves me to say this bill is a good thing? That would at least be a start.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

But is it Jaywalking?

Yesterday, Shira and I were jogging through Pentagon City, and were crossing a large intersection. We had the light, but hadn't hit the walk button so Don't Walk was lit up in red. As we ran across the street, a motor cycle cop stopped and waited for us. I thought that was nice that he yielded to us. As we ran by, I expected a friendly "good afternoon!" but instead he said something like: "the sign says Don't Walk." At first my brain didn't register what he was saying, and then parsed it: he was suggesting we shouldn't be crossing the intersection because the pedestrian light said we couldn't.

This got me wondering, was what we were doing technically illegal? Was crossing with the light, but without a Walk Sign, jaywalking?

Like most things law related, it's hard to say. But I did find Code of Virginia: § 46.2-925. Pedestrian control signals. . Which says:

Whenever pedestrian control signals exhibiting the words, numbers, or symbols meaning "Walk" or "Don't Walk" are in place such signals shall indicate and apply to pedestrians as follows:

Walk. - Pedestrians facing such signal may proceed across the highway in the direction of the signal and shall be given the right-of-way by the drivers of all vehicles.

Don't Walk. - No pedestrian shall start to cross the highway in the direction of such signal, but any pedestrian who has partially completed his crossing on the Walk signal shall proceed to a sidewalk or safety island and remain there while the Don't Walk signal is showing.

In other words, the Don't Walk sign isn't there just for a convenience - it does appears as though ignoring it is breaking the law. If there's no walk signs around, it does appear that cars have to yield to pedestrians in almost all cases.

So there you have it, your law lesson for the day. Stay safe and don't forget to hit the walk button.

Parenting 101: Know the plotline *before* renting the Pixar Film

As far as I can tell, one of the first things you do after receiving a foster care placement is to run out to Target to buy supplies. We had plenty of stuff around the house to entertain and clothe a baby, but not much for an older child. So, we all headed off to Target to get essentials. While there, we naturally stopped in the book section to pick up some fun things to read. Our little guy saw the Kung Fu Panda 2 book, and was psyched. And, having seen the first Kung Fu Panda, I couldn't blame him - the story was a positive and fun one. So we bought it.

Later that night, before bed, we had him read it to us.

SPOILER ALERT - Stop reading now if you haven't seen Kung Fu Panda 2

So, yeah, apparently doing a little checking up ahead of time would have been helpful. Even though the book is only a dozen or so pages long, it covered how Po (the main character) finds out he's adopted, has a crisis of faith when he believes his parents abandoned him, and finally comes to terms with the truth that his parents loved him very much, even if they had to let him go. Finally he appreciates that his adoptive father is as much a parent as his birth parents. Definitely heavy stuff - way more heavy than I intended to tackle just 24 hours after we started this adventure.

But, in the end, the story was a positive one and the book format may even be a good way to approach it. It allowed for easy pausing and discussion that the DVD version wouldn't allow.

A quick Google search shows that I'm not the only one who saw Kung Fu Panda 2 and thought it was a useful learning tool.

Thinking back through kids movies, I suppose loss of a parent and/or adoption is actually quite common. Still, doing a bit of research ahead of time probably would have been warranted.

Update: I should add, after we read the book version of Kung Fu Panda 2, we picked up the DVD. Reading the book ahead of time definitely made the movie easier to watch. Our little guy knew that there was a happy ending around the corner, even if there were some tense family related scenes. This strategy is probably one I'd consider using in the future. Read and discuss the book, sit back and enjoy the movie.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Hacking Homelessness

There's something I find hopeful and appealing about these mostly outrageous homeless shelter ideas. For example, consider the WheelLY Recycled Homeless Shelter:

Portable and temporary, this unusual-looking design by Italian firm Zo-Loft provides a safe storage space for one’s belongings during the day, and expands into a tent at night. The ‘WheelLY’ is made of a rolling aluminum frame fitted with two polyester tents made of recyclable or recycled materials. The rolling design enables it to hold up to 250 pounds of personal items, and the push-handle also functions as a brake.

The ideas seem far from practical, but I so like the exercise in novel thinking. I also appreciate spending time on a population that is so often invisible.

Check out all the concepts here.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

It's a Boy! He's Seven!

Yesterday evening we received a call from the county: could we be foster parents for a 7 year old? Sure, count us in! And 30 or so minutes later, we found ourselves responsible for the health and well being of the most wonderful 7 year old ever.

Of course, we know nothing about 7 year olds (or 6 years olds, or 5 year olds...). When do they go to sleep? What time do they wake up? What do they eat? Can they read? Write? Is that showering age, or bath age? Do you cut up their food for them, or do they do it themselves?

A little over 24 hours later, I do believe I know the answer to most of those questions (at least for our little man).

He really is a gem. So polite and well mannered. He coughed into his sleeve, which instantly won Shira's heart. He played Legos with me, which won mine.

Today, we put together two puzzles, had coloring time, reading time, went to the park and played soccer - and it was only 10:30am! Man, I'm seriously out of practice with this parenting thing.

Anyway, as with foster care in general, we don't know if we'll have this little guy for days, weeks, months or longer. But, we know that we're in all in for a fun adventure! Starting with day #2 tomorrow...

Wish us luck, and expect more parenting items on the blog coming soon.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Day 1: Running with Minimalist Running Shoes

If I had to summarize my gear philosophy (you've got one of those, right?), it would probably be: prepared minimalist. That is, the Eagle Scout in me wants to be ready for anything, but the faster-lighter-lesser in me wants to push the limits of how little I need to meet this challenge. With this in mind, it was impossible for me to ignore the barefoot/minimalist shoe debate. Someone getting by with less on their feet? I had to at least do some research.

Well, yesterday evening, I traded the research stage of this project to the action stage. I did a 4 mile run with Shira using non-traditional running shoes. But alas, I'm getting ahead of myself.

Years ago, I saw a review on Cool Tools for Feiyue shoes, where the author suggested they were an option for barefoot style running. As the barefoot craze has increased, I kept that review in mind. And it's not just Cool Tools that likes the shoes, so does Amazon - 169 reviews with an average score of 4.5 stars. Not too shabby. Oh, and here's the kicker: they cost $19.49.

For $20, I figured I could give this running craze a try.

For the last few runs, I had been trying to concentrate on forefoot landing, versus the usual heal-strike that I've probably always run with. The result has been sore calves, but not much else. With the technique somewhat down, I figured I'd give the Feiyue shoes a try.

So, how did these non-running shoes perform? In a word: Feh. One one level, it's amazing: I did a 4 mile run using $20, flat soled shoes, and lived to tell about it. On the other hand, the shoe didn't really feel like anything different than my usual running shoes. They have visually less padding, but they weren't paper-thin like one may expect. I didn't really feel the road. They were, at the end of the day, just normal shoes.

I did see warnings that the Feiyue really aren't true barefoot style shoes. If I went with Vibram Five Finger shoes, I'm sure I'd note a much more dramatic experience.

At this point, I consider this a fun little experiment. I'm interested if after a few more runs with the Feiyue's, whether a switch back to my running shoes will be dramatic. Or maybe, this is all just hype and placebo effect. For now, I don't care. It's just fun to get out and run.

Update: A few more tidbits about the Feiyue's: I purchased a size 46 because my Asics were marked size 12, 46.5. Despite the fact that my Asics are quite a bit bigger than the Feiyues, I found the Feiyues to be large. So large, in fact, that I considered getting a size 45. We'll see. Here's a side by side comparison:

Perfect Ice Skating Weather

So yeah, it was 80° yesterday and folks were still on the ice skating rink...of course, it's only open until this Sunday.

Seriously, Shira and I had most pleasant sitting in the warm evening air, eating frozen yogurt and watching folks skate. Surreal.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Advice to an Up-and-Coming Programmer

I've got a buddy who's on his way to becoming a professional programmer. He asked about the path I suggested he takes to get there. My answer was thus:

I've got good news for you: you need to just do two things to become an excellent programmer: (1) write a whole lot of code, and (2) read a whole lot of code. Do that, and you're all set.

To expand on that: look for opportunities to write code, any code. Develop your own personal projects. Work on ProgrammingPraxis puzzles. Take small gigs from Craigslist where you sharpen your skills and charge a reduced rate. Try every and any programming paradigm you can, from Visual Basic to Haskell.

But, it's not enough to write code. You need to learn good style, and expand your horizons. That's where reading code comes in. There are lots of places to do this: pick up quality books (like, SICP), follow programming blogs, read the answers to puzzel sites, take on work from Craigslist that requires you understand a code base before you operate on it or download open source projects like WordPress and crack them open to see how they tick.

Oh, and reading code isn't a passive activity. It means getting in and adding debugging statements, breaking stuff, enhancing stuff. Get your hands dirty. You'll only truly understand code by changing it.

So there you have it: read code. write code. Oh, and maybe watch this video, over and over. This process takes a long time. There's just now way to rush. Your skills will get there.

Instant Steganography

RedTeams has a wonderful post talking about how to do some quick steganography from the command line:

Step 1

Create a file with the data you want. You can use Jason’s trick to create an encrypted file.

Step 2

Compress it using RAR. Copy the RAR archive into the same directory as the jpg image.

Step 3

Open a terminal and type:

cat image.jpg archive.rar > newimage.jpg

The result is another jpg image. If you open newimage.jpg it will display the image, however if you try to unrar newimage.jpg RAR will extract the contents of the RAR archive you just appended to the image.

Not exactly secure - but definitely clever and fun. And just like Rot13 "encryption" has its place, so does a simple technique like this.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Ignore the Dead End and Expect Lots of Hills - An Excellent DC / Arlington Bike Route

Shira let me overdo it tonight by allowing me to drag her on a 16+ mile bike ride this evening. We made it over to the Key Bridge, along the C&O Canal, over Chain Bridge and finally back through Arlington to our home. Here's the route we covered:

View Bike Across Chain Bridge in a larger map

A few useful tidbits we learned along the way:

  • Once in DC and along the C&O Canal look for an entry way onto the Capital Crescent Trail (CCT), as that will provide for a much smoother ride than the canal tow path.
  • It's not obvious when you need to leave the CCT to merge up with the canal path, which in turn, took us over Chain Bridge. At the entrance way to a large'ish bridge over the road, we made our way down a series of rough steps to the canal. It worked. It wasn't pretty.
  • Once you cross Chain Bridge, keep going straight. Sure, there's a dead end sign. Ignore it. It's a dead end for cars, but there's a place for bikes to pass. Turn left and head toward Arlington.
  • We were biking in an unfamiliar part of Arlington, and were surprised at how good the signage was to get us back to the main trails. When in doubt, follow the bike lane, and you'll hit civilization.
  • Don't be like me and leave the Bike Arlington map at home. Google Maps on my Android does show us bike paths, but a large paper map would have been a winner.
  • You won't realize how hilly Arlington is until you bike it. Yikes. I'm not sure which was trickier - the hauls up the hills, or the partially terrifying sensation of flying down them.

All in all - the route totally worked. Made for an amazing after work adventure.

Monday, March 12, 2012

EOS t3i Manual Mode Tip (or, why reading the manual is a good thing)

Yesterday, I attempted to shoot the day's photos all on Manual mode. The EOS t3i makes this easy enough to do. And with automatic ISO selection, the camera will actually compensate for screw settings. The only problem I've noticed was that I'd get into the following loop:

  • Select the shutter speed using the clicky dial thingy
  • Hit the 'Q' button and switch to aperture
  • Dial in the aperture I wanted
  • Bring the camera to my eye and press the shutter button half way down
  • Note the light meter and try to adjust the aperture, but it would be switched back to shutter speed. So...
  • Repeat

There just had to be a more efficient way to set the aperture. Of course there is. And even though I read the manual, I had either missed it or forgotten it. Right on page 99 it says:

To set the aperture, hold down the <AV+/-> button and turn the clicky dial thingy

(OK, the manual doesn't say "clicky dial thingy", but you get the point.)

This still takes practice to be natural - but all in all, I was much, much more satisfied with shooting using this strategy.

I don't know how long I want to play this manual-mode game, but so far, it's pretty fun. It certainly forcing me to think twice about what settings I want to use, which is of course, my goal.

A Great Hike Through Great Falls

Yesterday, we were looking for a kid friendly hike in the area and decided we'd give Great Falls a try. It turned out to be the perfect destination. We started off with a view of the falls, which was truly outstanding. I hadn't been back to great falls in years and years - heck I may have never been to this section. It was truly magnificent. It's not exactly Niagra Falls, but definitely worth taking visitors to see.

We then did a 1 mile walk along the river trail, followed by a 1 mile walk along the towpath back to our car. It was level and the terrain was smooth. But, you had the river next to you to add to the scenery.

Here's a few of the hundreds of photos I snapped yesterday. The falls were so picturesque, yet I felt like I didn't capture them well. I'm going to have to grab my photo buddy Greg and spend some real time trying to capture the falls.

(By the way, the last two photos, and the one with me carrying the backpack, were all taken by Shira. She's quite the photographer herself!)

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Caption Me, Kids Edition

Caption me, please.

College Park Aviation Museum - A Kid Friendly Hit

Don't get me wrong, I love both Air and Space Smithsonians. The Dulles one is a wonder, what with all the planes on display there. And the one on the Mall is packed with amazing displays and artifacts. But, as destinations for young kids, they don't exactly work. The Dulles one doesn't really have anything hands on, and the Mall one is usually packed and contains many non-kid friendly exhibits.

I was hoping that the smaller College Park Aviation Museum would be a more kid friendly option. And today, thanks to a baby sitting gig we scored from our friend and play date, we got to put my hypothesis to the test.

Doesn't happen often, but this time, I was absolutely right. The College Park museum is smaller, but has a very large kid friendly area. There were flight simulators to play with, a dress up area, a small plane to climb into and "fly" and even crayons and stamps for kids to draw with. Heck, there was a big o'l bucket of Legos that we played with, which provided lots of entertainment. The 2, 3 and 4 year old all found something to enjoy there.

From an adult perspective, it's also pretty impressive. Who knew that College Park Airport was where Wilbur Wright trained the first military pilots ever? Or that the first helicopter was flown there.

The day was a bit too chilly to go outside and play on the playground - but they've got that covered too.

Keep in mind that only early flight stuff is on display here, so if you've got a kid into fighter jet's, they probably won't be impressed.

Still, it's a fun and easy option for kids.

Here's some photos of the kids enjoying the museum:

Friday, March 09, 2012

The Washington Post Siteseeing Guide

There's so much to do in DC, yet it can be surprisingly difficult to suggest things to do when guests arrive (beyond, say, (1) Walk around the Mall and (2) See the Smithsonians!).

Apparently the Washington Post wants to help. They've published Sightseeing Guide designed to help us DC'ers guide visitors to the best attractions. And yesterday they posted a second installment to the guide.

Definitely a handy find!

Thanks to Brother Dave for sending the guide my way.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Stat of the Day: 1 in 5 women in the U.S. has visited a Planned Parenthood health center at least once in her life

Originally heard on the Daily Show and also available on

One in five women in the U.S. has visited a Planned Parenthood health center at least once in her life.

I'm not entirely sure what that statistic means to me, but still, it must mean something.

Here's the full interview that ran on the Daily Show:

Photos from a DC Bike Ride

Yesterday was truly a perfect day to sneak in an afternoon bike ride (OK, it was a tad bit windy, but still worth it). Of course, I schlepped my camera and telephoto lens along for the ride. I also noticed a small sign for the Green Way, a "a developing trail system, spanning nearly 3,000 miles as it winds its way between Canada and Key West." Just when I think I'm running out of adventures to add to my TODO list, I discover this guy.

Here's a few snapshots that kind of work.

What you just looked at: (1) Man staring off into great abyss in East Potomac Park; (2) Marines waiting to lower the colors outside of Henderson Hall; (3) Sunset next to Arlington Cemetery; (4) the Air Force Memorial; (5) Water overtaking land at East Potomac Park.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

A Shameless Plug: Help Libre Clothing Get On The Shelves of Walmart

Full disclosure: Libre Clothing is one of my customers, so I'm hardly a unbiased source. Still, I absolutely love what they do and will gladly speak up for them whenever I can.

Libre Clothing makes clothing for individuals undergoing dialysis or chemotherapy treatments. The idea is wonderfully simple: they sell clothes that are nice and comfy, and also happen to include zipper access to specific treatment sites. Here, I'll let them explain:

Libre provides comfortable, warm clothing solutions for patients undergoing chemotherapy, dialysis, or other types of infusions. Our styles feature discreet openings in the arms, chest, or legs to safely access treatment sites while keeping the patient warm. Traditionally, patients would have to cut holes in old sweaters or remove articles of clothing to safely receive treatment. Now, patients can simply unzip for treatment then zip up and go about their day.

The cool news is that they've got an entry on, which apparently is program offered by Walmart to allow the public to vote certain products into their stores. I know I was more than glad to vote for them (all it took was texting 5143 to 383838), and personally, I think you should too.

So, head over to this page and cast your vote today. And put something on the shelves of Walmart which will genuinely be a good thing.

What the heck, here's a video too.

Google Authenticator as a Backup for ssh Keys

I've really been loving Google Authenticator as a method for securing htaccess sites. I was curious if I could put it work in yet another tricky context. Usually, I set sshd on my servers to disallow password entry and rely solely on ssh keys. The problem is, occasionally I'll want to log in from a location where I don't have easy access to my keys. I started wondering how tricky it would be to use Google Authenticator as a backup. That is, if I have a key, use it, otherwise go through the dance of both a password and a one time use Google Authenticator password.

Turns out, it's not particularly tricky at all. Here's what you need to do:

  1. Install the Google Authenticator package, includes a the appropriate pam module. For me, this was as easy as running: sudo yum install google-authenticator.
  2. Setup up your .google_authentactor file and cell phone, as described here.
  3. Edit /etc/pam.d/sshd and set the first two lines to be:
    auth       required
  4. Edit /etc/ssh/sshd_config and make sure the following are setup:
    ChallengeResponseAuthentication yes
    UsePAM yes
    PasswordAuthentication yes
  5. Restart sshd

Now, when I ssh with keys (or an agent), I get in as usual. But, if I don't have keys, it kindly prompts me for the one Google Authenticator code and my regular regular password.

Amazingly slick, if I do say so myself.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Hamentaschen in One Picture

Here you go, Hamantaschen creation, in one picture:

Hamantaschen in one Picture

Two secrets to making Hamantaschen:

  • Get a Baking Mat. For years, we'd wrestle with wax paper to roll the doll out on. Of course, the way paper never stayed in one place and made the whole experience a battle. The silicone baking mat takes away all that fuss. Sure, at the time it's seemed ridiculously priced for what it is, but I'm now more than sold on it and think it was a brilliant purchase.
  • Listen to Pandora. My primary job in the hamantaschen making process is to keep the tunes coming. The thing about hamantaschen is that you take a chunk of dough, roll it out, cut out the appropriate circles and then separate the trimmings, putting them back in the bowl to be rolled into the next batch. Thing is, this process seems to deny the laws of physics, where the trimmings always seem greater than the dough actually used. The result, the process seems to take forever. With the right music blasting, you'll never notice.

Of course, the results are totally worth the effort - yum!

Kudos to - the site had no problem taking 60+ images to create the GIF above. All I had to do was select the whole directory of files, and I was good to go.

The Question Not Asked: Contraception Edition

Here's another Question Not Asked Post, this time on the whole contraception debate. I wasn't actually going to blog about this, but this topic seems to keep coming up, so I've got to take some more time to vent.

A while back, Darrell Issa held a hearing on the contraception topic. Between the Democrat's outrage about the framing of the topic, and the Republican's interest in pleadingly only the positive aspects of their case, there wasn't a whole lot of substance actually covered in the hearing. (Which you can watch: here and here.

Had I been there, I'd have asked the following questions:

  1. What are the limits, if any, of the conscious clause in this context? For example, what if a Church refuses to pay taxes on the grounds that they can't support war? Or, what if a Church demands that they be able to practical corporal punishment that the county considers child abuse?
  2. Consider the example raised by Sandra Fluke: a woman needs contraception to prevent a medical condition, her doctor is more than willing to prescribe the medication, yet her "employer" (in this case, she was a student) refuses to cover it. Due to the cost of the treatment, the woman can not afford to pay out of pocket for the prescription, and therefore her health suffers. Is it fair to describe this as a scenario where health care choices are being made by the doctor, patient and employer? Is this an acceptable standard to allow?
  3. I was surprised to note in the testimony that all members of the clergy were in agreement: funding contraception through taxes was acceptable and a non-issue. Being that this is the case, why is indirectly funding contraception through taxes acceptable, while indirectly funding it through an insurance company is considered an assult on first amendment rights?

What I wouldn't give to hear an actual discussion of this issue, rather than war of talking points.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

A visit with Georgia

While we were in Boston, we spent a delightful Saturaday night with our littlest buddy Georgia. She's just so perfectly cute. She also was kind enough to let me sing to her without kvetching, like most people would.

Her parents sure do make this parenting thing look easy!

The Twins turn 3 and Tzipora is super cute

I'm typing this at 35,000 feet, as we zoom back to DC from Boston. We spent a quick, but, wonderful weekend with the Twins and Tzipora (oh yeah, we saw their parents, too).

Everyone is doing absolutely brilliantly!

On Friday, the whole family (parents included), visited the Boston Children's Museum. The kids naturally had a blast. This morning, they were still raving about how much fun they had "driving the bus" (that is, playing in the school bus exhibit and sitting in the driver's seat). The twins definitely loved the water play the museum offers, and Tzipora soaked up some serious daddy-daughter play time in one of the baby rooms.

Personally, one of the highlights of the weekend was that Twins are now old enough to have project time! One project involved carefully decorating a paper plate with stickers, and another sculpting with play-doh. They definitely showed off their attention span skills to pull this off. Being able to tackle projects opens up a whole new world for Uncle Ben!

Tzipora is a crawing and cruising maven, and so beyond adorable.

What a fun and exciting visit - we were so sad we had to go. But, hopefully, we'll see them again soon!