Screwed by the US health care system

In recent times, I have been unlucky enough to have lost more than one job. I have good reason to think that this is because of health care.

I’m not going to go into detail, but I’ll say this: the family members under my roof have a number of health conditions that are extremely expensive to treat. What this means is that any health insurance provider that has me and my dependents on their plan will be paying more every month than they earn in premiums.

I think that health insurance companies are informing my employers that this situation exists, and telling those employers that if I remain on the plan, that the premiums for ALL of their employees are going to rise significantly. The employer decides that they do not want that to happen, so they eliminate the problem — I lose my job.

HIPAA laws should make this practice illegal… But I think there’s a technicality to it. The insurance company doesn’t have to disclose any actual health information. They might not even need to provide financial numbers… It might be as simple as providing my name on a report.

The US needs to join the rest of the world and give health care to everyone.

I do have a potential solution for a new employer. They can pay me 90 percent of the subsidy they WOULD have given for health insurance. I will take that money and go to for my own plan that cannot affect them in any way.


Creating a discard/noreply email address with postfix and postfixadmin

On my mail server, I am using postfix/dovecot, with users in mysql managed by postfixadmin.

At one point I had something set up to create an email address where email would be accepted, but immediately discarded. This is sometimes called a “noreply” email address. This setup stopped working, most likely when I upgraded the system and put it in AWS.

So I went looking for a way to accomplish this. I came across a few different guides, none of which worked. Ultimately I worked out how to do it myself.

The first step is to create a transport mapping that maps a special email address to the discard transport. This involves putting a line in the file for postfix:

transport_maps = hash:/etc/postfix/transport

Then in the file referenced, add a line like the following, with a tab between the address and the “discard” keyword. discard:

For the transport email address, you’ll typically want to pick a hostname that is under your control, but not otherwise being used already for email service. Ideally it should be a hostname that’s defined in public DNS. The fully qualified hostname for the postfix server will probably work, and that is what I ended up using for my setup. If that doesn’t work, you could pick any unused hostname under in one of your domains. You could probably even make something up. The exact address that I used above with will even work, with some special database manipulation later on. The important thing is that the hostname part of the email address cannot be a domain that your mail server is set up to handle, and it should not be a domain that is valid on the Internet for real email addresses. The reason that the address I used in my example will work is that the domain is reserved by IANA.

After the transport file is changed, the “postmap” command must be run on that file to create the hashed version that postfix will actually consult. You’ll also need to restart postfix so the change to takes effect. A reload action might also work, but I have not tried it.

Once the transport map is created, hashed, and activated, you can go into postfixadmin and create aliases that point to the special email address. For instance, you could create a “noreply” alias on one of your domains, point it at or whatever address you used in the transport map, and then any email sent to that noreply address will be accepted and discarded.

Note:  If you pick a hostname for the transport
email address that's not in DNS, like the
example above, you can't create the alias in
the postfixadmin interface.  You'll need to
edit the alias table directly in the
database.  The postfixadmin interface will look
up any alias targets that are entered and will not
allow invalid ones.  One thing you could do is
enter a placeholder target in postfixadmin that's
valid in DNS and then edit the database directly.


Migrating a SolrCloud install from one location to another

This procedure has not been tested. I think it SHOULD work. Basic system administration skills are assumed.

One thing to note is whether your collections have multiple shards. If they do, then the collection on the target cluster will need to have exactly the same sharding configuration as the source. For the compositeId router, hash ranges must match. Strange things could happen if the sharding configuration is different.

You’ll want to ensure that the replica placement on the target cluster is correct for high availability, so that by starting Solr on only a subset of your servers, a single replica for all shards is available and the other replicas are on servers that are not running. This will ensure that you can start the cluster gradually and have data replicate properly. If you have questions about any of this, drop a message on the solr-user mailing list or join the #solr IRC channel on freenode so your setup can be reviewed.

If latency is low and bandwidth high between the locations, you could opt to use a different method — extend the ZooKeeper ensemble according to ZK documentation onto at least three servers in the new location, get that all working, add new Solr servers to the cloud, use ADDREPLICA to put copies of your index data onto the new Solr servers, then DELETEREPLICA to remove data from the old servers. Once everything’s migrated, remove the old ZK servers according to ZK documentation.

The rest of this will assume that you are going to set up an entirely separate SolrCloud cluster in the new location, not extend your existing cloud. For the duration of that kind of migration, you will want to turn off indexing, so that your indexes do not change while you are moving things.

Here’s a high level overview of the steps:

  • Set up a 3-node minimum ZK in the new location.
  • Set up a 2-node minimum Solr in the new location.
  • Create collections in the new location.
  • Ensure new collections have the same shard configuration.
  • Stop all Solr instances in the new location.
  • Delete data directory contents on all new replicas.
  • Copy data from the old location to one replica in new location.
  • Start Solr instances with copied data.
  • Wait for stabilization.
  • Start another Solr server, wait for replication and stabilization. Repeat if necessary.

Now for detail on each of those steps:

Set up a 3-node minimum ZK in the new location: There’s not a lot of detail here. Consult the ZK documentation.

Set up a 2-node minimum Solr: If your cloud is not large, you could use the same machines already present for ZK.

Create collections in the new location: Another step without a lot of detail. If you know how to use SolrCloud already, you’re probably going to know how to do this.

Ensure new collections have the same shard configuration: This part could get really complex.

Stop all Solr instances in the new location: This one ought to be pretty self-explanatory.

Delete data directory contents on all new replicas: Find the core directories on all the Solr instances that you stopped. In each one should be a “data” directory that likely contains “index” and “tlog” directories. Delete everything under data in each core.

Copy data from the old location to one replica in new location: As just mentioned, in each core is a data directory, which contains “index” and “tlog”. Pick a replica for each shard in the source, and copy the “index” directory from that server to the target server’s data directory for that shard replica. Do not copy the tlog directory. The rsync tool is really good for this, because you can make an initial slow copy, and then a second pass to catch up will very likely be VERY fast.

The rest of the steps don’t need a lot of detail.


Autism/Asperger stuff

Autism and the related Asperger syndrome are much in the news and on people’s minds lately.

Here I will discuss my thoughts. Disclaimer: I have reason to think that I am personally in the Asperger camp. I have children and step-children who are officially diagnosed as Asperger.

There are two topics I’m going to talk about. One is the anti-vaccine furor. The other is the question of what to do for the people we’ve already got who are on the spectrum.

First, the second topic.

There’s a lot of discussion about a cure or treatment for autism spectrum disorders. That’s a load of bullshit as far as I’m concerned. You can’t fix autism or the less severe forms like Aspergers. It’s a fundamental part of who they are. It’s like saying you’re looking for a cure for green eyes. Germany was looking for similar “cures” for fundamental characteristics in the late 30s and early 40s.

Instead of trying to fix these people, we need to help them cope, and accept who they are.

The first topic also makes me angry. Even if there were some validity to the claim that vaccines cause autism, do they truly believe that a small number of profoundly autistic children is really a worse situation than the deaths of thousands of children from preventable diseases?

What I hear when an anti-vaxxer starts speaking is “I would rather have kids die from a horrible disease than deal with an autistic spectrum disorder in my own child. Death is preferable to autism, for your child or mine.”

Everything that I understand about the situation says that a child is going to have (or not have) an autistic spectrum disorder whether they are vaccinated or not.


Certificate Fun – StartCom

I have been using StartCom for certificates for quite some time, because they offer them for free and have always been reliable.  This was the case for both work and home.  This blog runs on my home server.

Thanks to some funny business by the company that purchased StartCom, they have been targeted for distrust by major browser vendors.  Mozilla opted to distrust all certificates issued by StartCom after a certain date.  Google initially did the same thing with Chrome, but later they got more aggressive.

At work, we actually paid StartCom for their service, because we wanted to create certificates that they don’t issue for free.  We only had one certificate that ran afoul of Mozilla’s changes, all the rest still work just fine in products like Firefox and Thunderbird.  At home, I had a number of certificates issued after Mozilla’s cutoff date.  I was definitely caught off guard.

At work, I obtained a new certificate from LetsEncrypt to replace the one certificate that we couldn’t use any more.  At home, I didn’t take any immediate action, even though most of my personal secure sites began failing in both Firefox and Chrome.

Then, as mentioned above, Google got even more aggressive in Chrome version 58, and suddenly most of the certificates at work were failing validation in Chrome.  A few that were really old and approaching expiration still worked.  Keep in mind that every single one of these certificates was still accepted without issue by Firefox.

We have mostly fixed the problems at work by obtaining an relatively inexpensive certificate from one of StartCom’s partners that contains wildcards to cover most of the certificates that we could no longer use.  For some of the rest, I have created LetsEncrypt certs.

At home, I have just completed a migration to LetsEncrypt for ALL of my active domains, including this blog.

All of the problems that StartCom has encountered were due to the actions of another company.  I think it was unfair of the browser companies to mark them guilty by association … but my opinion counts for little.

Distrusting New WoSign and StartCom Certificates

I have a solution, but it will require more effort to maintain, because LetsEncrypt certificates only last for 90 days.


Running a redundant Solr without replication OR SolrCloud

I was asked to create a blog post about my Solr installation and discuss why I went with the design I did.  The two production copies of my index do not use either master-slave replication OR SolrCloud.  Instead, the two copies are independently updated by the indexing program.

When I first set up Solr, the year was 2010.  I started with version 1.4.0.  I set it up so there was a master distributed (sharded) index on one set of servers and a slave index on separate servers, with replication keeping the slave up to date.  I upgraded this install to 1.4.1 without incident a short time later.

When the next version of Solr came out, it was version 3.1.0.  The major jump occurred because the development teams and code repositories for Lucene and Solr were merged.  Lucene 3.0.0 came out before this merging was fully completed.  Solr took on the version numbering already present in Lucene, and when the work for 3.1.0 was complete, both Solr and Lucene were released together.

The usual upgrade path for Solr had always been to upgrade the slaves first, then upgrade the masters.  The 3.1.0 upgrade had a new version of the javabin protocol, which Solr instances use to communicate with each other and SolrJ (Java) clients uses to communicate with Solr.  The new version was not compatible with the old one.

This protocol change meant that a 3.x version of Solr was completely incapable of replicating data from a 1.x master server.  I was forced to set up the design I’m using now.  When I finished doing this, Solr was up to version 3.2.0, so that was what I went with for the backup servers.

After I had upgraded both the primary and backup servers, I was faced with a choice: Continue with the new design or go back to master-slave replication.

I have a very good reason for not going back to replication, and it’s the same reason that I have not upgraded to SolrCloud, available since version 4.0.  SolrCloud automates much of the hard work of setting up a redundant and sharded index cluster.

With the design that I’m using now, I can run a completely different configuration and/or schema on the backup servers.  This lets me try out configuration changes without affecting the primaries.  To test the changes, I can temporarily disable the primaries so the load balancer sends queries to the backups, then re-enable the primaries to switch back.

With replication, the *version* of Solr can be slightly different, but the schema must be identical, and it works best if the configuration is also the same.  The same is true of SolrCloud.

Originally, the two production copies of the index were maintained by completely separate copies of a Perl update script.  Now both copies are maintained by a single SolrJ program written in Java.


Choosing a Truck

I would like to engage the collective wisdom of the Internet towards choosing a truck.  The primary use for the truck is towing a large fifth-wheel trailer, something probably a little bit less than 40 feet long.  We expect a maximum tow weight of about 20000 pounds, with a hitch weight between 3000 and 5000 pounds.

This is a hypothetical purchase for a future date, we are not planning on jumping into this immediately.

Based on research done so far, I’ve come up with a list of elements that I believe are essential:

  • Diesel engine
  • Transmission with at least five forward gears
  • 1 ton suspension (3500 or 350)
  • Four doors
  • Four wheel drive
  • Dual rear wheels

While I believe that a 3/4 ton chassis and single rear wheels MIGHT be enough truck to just barely get the job done, I really think that a 1 ton would do the job better.  I suspect that a truck with dual rear wheels is more likely to have the towing-related improvements that I want, and may be able to handle a very large trailer better than single wheels, particularly if gear loaded in the trailer makes the hitch weight approach 5000 pounds.  I do not know how to determine whether a truck that I am investigating has desired towing-related improvements.

The *big* questions that I have are below.  Research indicates that all three of the US manufacturers have built trucks with the above attributes, and that 6 speeds are normal for the transmission, whether it’s manual or automatic.

  • Which of the big three manufacturers? (Dodge, Ford, or GM) If you have a strong opinion on this, I’d like to know your reasons, preferably backed by concrete facts.  Hopefully I can avoid a religious flamewar.
  • Dual rear wheels, or standard rear suspension?
  • If the price isn’t horrible, should I go larger than a 350/3500?
  • Are there any other viable options that I haven’t considered?
  • Are beds longer than 8 feet available?
  • Should I consider a flat-bed instead of a typical truck bed?
  • Should I entertain any outlandish ideas, like an 18-wheeler truck, or the kind of truck that gets sent to the scene of an accident to haul damaged vehicles away?

My original bias was to choose a Dodge 3500 with dual rear wheels and a manual transmission.  After the first round of feedback, I thought I’d do a Ford F-350 with dual rear wheels and an automatic transmission.

Then I got some feedback from somebody who made a living doing repair work on exactly the kind of vehicle that I’m looking at.  He didn’t even hesitate, said Dodge, and that he would take the manual transmission every time.  Apparently the straight-6 B-series Cummins diesel engine in the ’97 Dodge was a perfect storm, an ideal choice.  He said that his preference for manufacturers was Dodge, Ford, then GM.  Because he has spent a lot of years working on all these trucks, I trust this judgement.

The ’97 Dodge has another advantage — I think that even with a MASSIVE repair bill weighing in at five thousand dollars, I could probably obtain this 20 year old truck for quite a bit less than it would cost me for a 10 year old model from any manufacturer.

If there are particularly good reasons to make another choice in my truck, please let me know what those reasons are.

I’ve thought of some little questions to ask somebody who has extensive experience with trucks like this.  Here’s a sample:

  • Is an Anderson hitch a good plan, or should I plan on a traditional fifth-wheel hitch?  I like the low weight and small size of the Anderson hitch, and my research so far paints them in a positive light.  I *have* decided that I don’t want to go with a full fifth-wheel to gooseneck conversion, but the Anderson hitch is quite attractive.
  • Can the hitch be installed towards the rear of the truck bed so I can secure something three feet deep, five feet wide, and five feet tall between the crew cab and the hitch? It would be really nice if I can tow without putting the wheelchair inside the trailer.  The trailer models I am contemplating would easily accommodate the wheelchair, but if it can go in the truck instead, I save myself some cargo space.

Some musings on the past and future of humanity

Just as I was laying down in bed, I had an interesting thought.

Imagine a future world (centuries or millenia from now) where the majority of people are what we currently classify as having Asperger syndrome. Based on what I see, I think this is a very possible outcome.

In this hypothetical reality, a person who is considered normal today would seem like a psychic, because they would be a lot better at reading emotions than everyone else.

Now think about rewinding the clock a similar amount of time in the other direction.

Could it be possible that what we currently imagine as “normal” today was viewed as a complete abnormality in that time, and that maybe people with what we consider paranormal ability was once the baseline?

The evolution of the races in Tolkien’s literary world seems to fit this idea.


the paris tragedy and the second amendment

One of the comments I read in the wake of the tragedy in Paris can be essentially boiled down to this: “France has strict gun control, and this STILL happened.  Gun control doesn’t work.”  Another is “If regular citizens had guns, they would have stopped these attacks.”

On the gun control topic:

There is one aspect of the viewpoint expressed above that I can agree with: Criminals and determined individuals will always find a way to obtain guns.  Making them illegal will not stop this from happening.

Tragedies like what happened in Paris today are extremely common in the US.  They are NOT common in France.  I do not have access to any statistics, but I would imagine that the time between incidents for them is usually years, while in this country, the time between incidents is measured in weeks, sometimes days.

I am not proposing that we repeal the second amendment.  I do not think that would be possible at the moment, and may not EVER be possible.  Guns are a significant part of American culture, and they probably always will be.

Although we will never prevent guns from being acquired illegally, I think that more should be done to ensure that only responsible and sane people are allowed to obtain them legally, and that legal acquisition should involve just enough red tape so that it’s not possible for otherwise law-abiding people to buy a gun on a whim and go on a shooting spree.  I do not know what these laws should look like, but I think we need them.

In some American locales, the laws which govern alcohol and tobacco are far more restrictive than those which govern firearms.  This seems backwards to me.

Let me restate something I already said above:  I know without a doubt that if somebody is willing to break the law, nothing will prevent them from getting a gun … but if obtaining one legally involves more than an hour-long visit to a Walmart, some of our mass shootings might not have happened.

On the topic of armed citizens stopping an armed attacker:

This is the promise that American gun enthusiasts make:  If I’m around when the fit hits the shan, I’m going to take down that bad guy and everyone will be safe.

I don’t know how many mass shooters (or potential mass shooters) have been stopped by an armed citizen, but I doubt it’s a significant percentage.

Some of our armed citizens have military or police expericence, but I would imagine that most of them have had no real training on how to deal with an armed attacker.  Do we really want to have an already volatile situation with a lot of innocent people to be complicated by *more* bullets?


Is DNA universal?

I had a question come to me this morning, and I’m not sure about the answer.

Is DNA universal?  If life evolves on a completely different planet, would it have DNA molecules just like ours, or would it evolve a completely different protein structure for its “code of life” than what evolved here?


Machines just got workins’ and they talk to me

The post title is a quote from Firefly, by the young female ship’s mechanic, Kaylee. It’s exactly how I feel about computers.

A car, particularly the engine, is a complex system, just like a computer and its software. They have both evolved quite a bit from their origins, but they follow the same basic principles established when they were first invented.

This may come as a shock to some of you, but I am a computer guy. I do enjoy a bit of car repair, and I find that most of the systems in a car are not all that hard to comprehend. I wonder how many experienced car mechanics have a similar love and skill with computers (beyond playing games and surfing the internet).

An interesting realization:  In both cars and computers, sometimes the reason for a particular design choice is “Because that’s the way we’ve done it for the past 40 years.”


my lakeside trout fishing rig

This post is all about my trout rig, which allows one to fish for rainbow trout with bait that floats up from the bottom of the lake.  When my wife and I started using this rig, we went from getting skunked frequently to being part of the 10% of fisherman that catch 90% of the fish. Often, after someone fishes next to us and has no luck, they’ll come over, say that powerbait isn’t working for them, and ask “what bait are you using to catch so many fish?” If they aren’t too proud to give it a try, they’ll wander away and start catching fish.  Even people that have decades of experience are sometimes really amazed by the difference it makes.

I’ve tried to be as clear as possible in this post, but nothing can beat first-hand experience. Just about anyone that I actually know is welcome to come fishing with us and get a first-hand demonstration.

Trout love cold water, so they will most often be near the bottom of the lake. Fishing from the top of the lake requires an entirely different rig, which might be better at night or when it is twilight. The twilight hours at dawn and dusk are when you will find trout at the surface, eating insects.

To make this, you’ll need the following items:

  • A fishing pole strung with 6 or 8 pound test line.
  • A slip float, ideally the exact type shown here. I believe mine is the Thill brand.
  • A hex nut that is just a little bit larger than the shank of the slip float.
  • A roll of plumber’s tape.
  • A barrel sinker, 1/4 to 1/2 ounce. The one in the picture is 1/2 oz, 3/8 is ideal.
  • A spool of 4 pound test fluorocarbon fishing line. You can even use 2 pound test, which is VERY hard for the fish to see, but you’ll have to fight them longer and use a very low drag setting.
  • A small snelled hook. Size 12 or 14 is ideal, but never go larger than about size 8. These are US sizes, no idea what other countries use.

Here’s a photo of the whole rig. This isn’t a realistic version – the leader on the real thing will be MUCH longer, far too long to capture in a photo:


You can see the end of the fishing pole at the far right side of the picture.  The pennies are there for scale purposes.  Apologies to any readers who are not familiar with US currency.  Wikipedia will tell you how big a penny is, which will hopefully also give you an idea of the hook size.

To put this together, start with the slip float.  Wrap plumber’s tape around the lower shank until you’ve got enough so that the hex nut threads will hold their position on the plumber’s tape.  Cover enough of the shank so that you can move the hex nut up or down about a centimeter without losing grip on the threads, then pull the plumber’s tape tight.  This hex nut does two things: 1) It keeps the float vertical in the water so you can see the color. 2) It adds some extra weight for long casts.  When you put the slip float on your fishing line, thread the line through the colored end first, not the white end.

After the slip float goes on, slide a barrel sinker onto the line.  You can use a bullet sinker too.  They don’t work quite as well, and you need to be sure that you put the pointy end on first.  After the sinker, tie the line to the ring end of a snap swivel.  You can use a standard swivel that has rings on both ends, but then you can’t swap out your leader easily.  Use a swivel with a ring that’s large enough so it cannot go through the barrel sinker.

It’s very important that both the sinker and the float can easily move on the line.  It won’t work right if they are fixed in one position. The knot that I use for both swivel and hook is something that I can’t seem to find on the Internet, but I have found a couple of good options:

Eye crosser knot
Improved Clinch knot

Once the swivel is attached to the line with one of the knots above, you’re nearly done, you just need the leader.  Use a length of 4 pound fluorocarbon fishing line for this.  The idea here is to use fishing line that is invisible to the fish, which requires that it be very very thin.  Trout see quite well and are spooked by fishing line.  Using one of the knots above, tie the leader to the hook.  Measure out between 3 and 8 feet of leader, depending on how far up from the bottom your want your bait to float. Use the following knot to create a loop on the end that will attach to the snap swivel:

Surgeon’s Loop

Attach the leader to the snap swivel, bait your hook, and you’re ready to go.  For bait, use rainbow glitter powerbait, and use just enough to cover the hook until it floats.  For a size 12 hook, this is a very small amount of bait:


For casting, I find that a sideways cast works a lot better than an overhand cast.  The goal here is to have your tackle drop to the bottom of the lake, but have your slip float remain at the top of the water.  After you cast, it is a good idea to put a small amount of tension on the advancing line right before the tackle hits the water, so that the line straightens out and the tackle doesn’t get tangled around the float.  You should see additional line go out after the tackle hits the water, showing that it is sinking to the bottom.  After the tackle hits the bottom, reel in a little bit to tighten up your line.  The bait will float up from the bottom several feet (the length of your leader) where the fish can find it. If all goes well, you can leave your tackle out indefinitely.  Unless you are dealing with unusual circumstances, it will stay put and there is no need to continually reel in and cast out.  When a fish strikes, they will be able to easily pull the line through the sinker and the slip float, so they often get themselves hooked before they ever feel any real resistance.

The float is not truly necessary, but it does a couple of things for you aside from adding weight for casting:  You can see your position in the water easily, and when a fish strikes, you’ll very often see your float move across the water or dip below the water.  I tend to watch my fishing line more than the float, though.  If you find that you are getting a lot of tangles when casting that prevent your tackle from going to the bottom, you may need to adjust the vertical position of the nut by turning it a few times.  This affects the overall balance of the tackle and can prevent problems.  After a while, you will need to change out your rig because fishing line does eventually wear out.

This rig requires a relatively low drag setting.  You have at most a four pound pull limit because of the leader, but also remember that even the best fishing knot can only handle about 90 percent of the fishing line’s rating, so figure you only get about 3 pounds of pull before your line breaks and the fish gets away. You can catch very large trout on this rig, but they’ll be able to pull your line out easily, so you’ll have to fight them for a while.


The Walking Dead

Having never seen it, and with so many friends talking about it, we are catching up on The Walking Dead.  Last night we watched episodes 11 and 12 from season 2.  Here are some current thoughts, having not seen the last episode of season 2 or any of season 3. Please don’t give any spoilers. I’ve already had a major spoiler get dropped by Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory, don’t need any more. Still wondering when that bomb will go off.

There will be at least one spoiler below, so don’t read on if you aren’t ready.


Hostile Mode and automatic seat adjusters

First, imagine something that is already a reality … car seats (and other settings) that can automatically adjust themselves to multiple driver preferences. The driver pushes a button, and the seat adjusts itself to a position that is perfect for them. It may also adjust the radio station and presets, environmental settings, etc.

Now imagine that the car has detectors … weight, height, and maybe facial recognition that let it do this automatically, without the button push. As long as the car does not transmit that info to anywhere, I would be okay with that.

For the last part, imagine that if an unknown driver gets behind the wheel, the car enters Hostile Mode. This would not be on by default, and if the person knows a shutoff code set by the car owner, it could be turned off. Hostile Mode would randomly change the seat configuration slightly, change the environmental settings, mirror positions, change the radio station, volume, etc. If the driver does not know the shutoff code, they would not be able to stop this.

I don’t know whether all the bugs could be worked out so it would not backfire on legitimate owners, or whether people would like it, but the idea came to me while riding the train this morning.


mmo character rename

A couple of years ago, I bought Guild Wars.  It’s an MMO, but they don’t charge a monthly fee.

I’ve had an online identity of “elyograg” for about twenty years now.  Naturally I wanted to use this name when I created my first Guild Wars character.  Something I didn’t know until faced with it: GW actually requires at least two words in your character name.  I was suddenly on the spot to extend my online identity.  Chomping at bit to get started playing, I typed in the first thing that came to mind for that second word: prime.  I’ve never been happy with it.

I would now like to get that changed to something that I can really identify with and that fits in with with the Guild Wars universe.  I haven’t decided whether I’ll build a new character or pay ArenaNet a fee to change the name of my existing character.

Anyone out there on the intarwebz have any suggestions for me on a new suffix for my character name?  I’m OK with going beyond two words, but I don’t want the entire thing to be super-long.


tool wish list

I am lusting after a bunch of tools for car repair.  Below is what I want at the moment.  If you would like to donate anything on this list, feel free! Originally I was looking at Craftsman for everything, but it turns out that their “guaranteed forever” tool warranty only apply to basic hand tools.

  • A nicely outfitted set of hand tools with a lifetime warranty.  This looks like an awesome bang for the buck, and it comes with a toolbox!
  • Two torque wrenches, so that I can do torque in both inch-pounds and foot-pounds.  I’m thinking of this and this.
  • A set of socket adapters, so the torque wrenches will work with any size socket.
  • A hydraulic floor jack, two ton minimum.  This one has a nice price, hopefully “cheap” doesn’t also apply to how well it will lift and hold.  There’s this one too.
  • Ramps for oil changing.  I like these.

the inevitable slow decay

Last week, I forget which day, I woke up to a little problem.  I’d wet the bed.  The volume of liquid wasn’t huge, but that hadn’t happened since I was a kid.  Our 9 year old son currently struggles with this problem, but he’s got a VERY good reason.  He was diagnosed as a type I diabetic when he was not quite 13 months old.  It’s only when his blood sugar gets out of control that the problem surfaces.

The body treats high blood glucose like many other toxins, by trying to cleanse the blood with the kidneys.  This creates large quantities of urine, and your bladder may fill up before your brain can reach consciousness and get you out of bed to deal with it.

On that morning, I used the handy tools available in the house and immediately checked my blood glucose.  The meter read 130.  Just to be sure, I washed my hands thoroughly and did it again, in case the high reading was due to contaminants on the finger that I poked.  This time it came up at 121.  Taking the meter’s margin for error into account, it meant that the first number was not anomalous.

The night before the literal wake-up call, we’d ordered pizza at midnight and stayed up late watching TV.  A couple of days later, when I had gotten to bed at a more reasonable time but had a fairly carb-loaded dinner, the number on the meter in the morning was 105.

Due to the large amount of fat and protein it contains, pizza is a food with an unpredictable glycemic index.  The glycemic index is a measure of how quickly the carbohydrates are released into the body as glucose.  We can never seem to time our son’s insulin right when he eats pizza, so he either ends up with a glucose level that’s too high or too low.  The other evil food with a similar problem is macaroni and cheese.

In a normal person, a fasting glucose is between 80 and 100, with 90 being pretty much perfect.  For my son, who is completely dependent on external insulin, we shoot for a value between 100 and 120, with anything under 140 being acceptable.  If we tried to keep him at 90, he’d consistently drop below that, which is far more dangerous than being a little bit too high.

I have a doctor appointment this afternoon to confirm what I already know – I am a type II diabetic.  I’m not terribly surprised that this has happened.  I eat too much and I get pretty much zero exercise.  I don’t know whether the doctor will actually write me a prescription for Metformin on the spot.  He probably won’t, waiting until a bunch of labs are done.  Doctors do not like patients to self-diagnose.  It seems to offend their egos.


having my head examined

Today I went to the eye center and ordered new glasses.  Here is what my prescription was in September 2007:

OD: -4.50 x -1.00 x 174
OS: -3.50 x -1.00 x 178

Now it is somewhat worse:

OD: -5.50 x -0.75 x 176
OS: -4.25 x -1.00 x 166

I was worried that I would need bifocals, since I am over 40.  This turned out to not be the case.  There is a slight degradation in my near vision, but not bad enough to need correction yet.  I might need bifocals in the next few years, though.


what are we saving? maybe it’s the children!

In 2005, lawmakers passed a law called the Energy Policy Act.  Among its many provisions was a change to Daylight Savings Time (DST) that went into effect in 2007.  Instead of starting on the first Sunday of April and ending on the last Sunday in October, it now starts on the second Sunday in March and ends on the first Sunday in November.  This is approximately 4 weeks of additional DST per year.  Unless you have been living in Arizona, Hawaii, or off the grid in some way, this is not likely to be new information to you.

DST has a long and controversial history.  As any aficionado of Jerry Bruckheimer films can tell you, the person first credited with the idea is Benjamin Franklin.  For almost everyone in the modern world, I think the energy savings and increased summer leisure time make it a good idea.  It shifts the daylight hours so that more of our waking activities happen when there is daylight.  The idea is that fewer people will need artificial light, and those that do need it will not need it as long, therefore less fuel is consumed providing that light.  In the evening, there is more time with daylight available, to the point that 4th of July fireworks typically cannot start until after 10:00 PM in Utah.  Countless studies have shown both benefits and harm from observing it.

For the past three years, I have some variant of this post going through my head twice a year, but especially in the fall.  I am less than thrilled about the changes our politicians made.  I don’t know whether they didn’t research the impact it would have on infrastructure, or if they decided that since people in professions other than theirs would have to deal with it, they didn’t care.

There are millions (perhaps billions) of devices in the US that automatically adjust themselves to deal with DST.  Only some of those devices can be reprogrammed to the new timeframe.  Sometime in the middle of the first decade of this century, I bought a nice dual alarm clock that automatically sets itself and adjusts for daylight savings.  In 2007, that clock became unreliable for 4+ weeks out of the year.  I have not been able to find a comparable replacement for a reasonable price, so now I rely on other means for waking up.  Other devices are also not field upgradable, like thermostats.  Their owners have either had to shell out a big chunk of money to replace them, or glare at them with frustration for the hassle of manually doing what the device was supposed to do automatically.  My thermostat has a button for daylight savings time, so it’s always been manual for me.

At work, I am in the IT department, where I handle desktop computers, server computers, and network hardware.  Computers rely on synchronized time.  Some things won’t work at all if there is a difference between systems that’s more than a few seconds.  A large part of my job is troubleshooting problems.  Tracking these down requires comparing log files on different systems.  If the times on all systems are not the same to within a few milliseconds, it can be impossible to figure out what happened.  The company heavily relies on the calendar feature in Outlook for recurring meetings.  This feature in Outlook was impacted in a huge way by the DST changes.  Microsoft had to write a special program just for handling daylight savings changes in existing calendars.

My cow-orkers and I had to invest huge amounts of time in making sure that every single computer and network device was either upgraded or replaced.  This is difficult to do when you have mission-critical systems.  The changes required for timezone updates are usually at a kernel level, which means that you must reboot them for it to work.

Unlike Y2K, which was pretty much a non-event despite the hype, there were real problems with the Daylight Savings fiasco of 2007.  We didn’t find all the software that needed upgrading before it became critical.  In March, and again in November, problems cropped up that were difficult to track down, and ultimately were found to be applications, or middleware like Java, that had not been updated with the new time changes.  Even now, three years later, we still find software that does not deal with DST correctly.  Some things, like the management board in our building-level UPS, could not be upgraded.  The only way to fix it would be to replace the entire UPS.  That is prohibitively expensive.  Thankfully that one has not become an issue.  It’s more important that the network management station have the right time than the device.

There has been a nontechnical casualty to these changes as well: Halloween.  This holiday was always right after the time change.  Except on those years that it fell on Sunday (prompting churchgoers to move festivities to Saturday), trick or treating would happen after the change back to normal time, so it would get dark early and kids could count on a long and fun Halloween in the dark, even with an early bedtime.

Since 2007, parents with small kids will get them out early on Halloween and have them home before dark.  In some ways, this is a huge win for safety, but I think that it is marginally less safe for older kids and adults.  The older crowd doesn’t want to be out before dark, which means that in order to blow off the same amount of steam and get that large candy haul, they’ve got to be out later.  As the night deepens, predators become more bold and the general level of craziness due to sleep deprivation goes up.

For nearly 100 years, most of the country has had to deal with the springtime shock to the body clock, waking up an hour earlier than the week before.  The shock wears off within a week or so as you adjust to the difference.  The payoff for this injustice comes in late fall, when the opposite time change means you get a little extra sleep.

What are YOUR thoughts?


insane vacation

We had a large 3-night group camp planned for Thursday July 22nd at Payson Lakes. The day before, we learned that there was an aggressive bear on the loose and they had closed the campground until it was caught.

Not wanting to lose our chance to go to Payson this summer, we looked into later dates and found an available window in the same campground in August. We called and discussed the change with people and reached the decision to postpone. There was only one family we couldn’t reach, Kathy’s brother Bill.

Early Thursday morning, we discovered that the bear had been killed and we were clear to go up. But after losing 24 hours of preparation time and since we had already told most people about August, we decided it would be better to stick with the plan to postpone.

Unfortunately we were still unable to reach Kathy’s brother. Late on Thursday morning, we went by Bill’s house. His motorhome and van were both gone. This trip was a long-planned memorial and ash-spreading for their father. Their brother also died last month and was added to the ceremony already planned. It was very important that Bill be there. Due to the time of day, our best guess was that he was already on his way to the campground.

We didn’t want him to be the only person to show up and wonder what was going on so we quickly called the other parties to figure out what we should do. We decided we would do something crazy — go to both this camp-out and the one in August. Nothing was ready, because until that moment we had assumed we weren’t going. We madly packed up and got to the campground late Thursday evening. But, to our surprise, Bill wasn’t there.

A little further craziness… the group sites at Payson Lakes were renumbered a couple of years ago. When Kathy’s mom went to reserve them, she had known the site that she wanted as Group Site A, but in the meantime, it had become Group Site C. She reserved site A, and that’s where we spent the first night. The people who did reserve site C had canceled because of the bear, so on Friday morning, the campground host let us move. The second pack/unpack was much easier, because we could make multiple trips. It was a very good move. Site A sucks for trailers, site C is wonderful and was what Kathy’s mom really wanted.

Bill finally showed up late Friday evening. He had spent a couple of nights at Bear Lake with his in-laws and got home Friday afternoon. This was all according to his plan, but the rest of us didn’t know anything about it. I imagine the sequence of voice mails they listened to were amusing.

The trip was a lot of fun, especially for the kids.  We were dead when we got back, though.  Kathy and I both got sunburned, despite spending most of our time in the shade.  Aspen trees do not cast very dense shadows.