Thursday, April 02, 2015

Get well, old friend

I just learned today that my old friend and occasional debating partner, The Whited Sepulchre has been diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor of some type, and is scheduled to undergo brain surgery on Friday. From what he and others have said on Facebook (I hate that Facebook is now a venue for this sort of thing) the prognosis isn't particularly rosy, but I refuse to reflect on what that could mean.

I saw him last Sunday after church from across the sanctuary; I hadn't seen him there in quite some time so I pushed through the exiting throng to say hello. It struck me at the time that he didn't seem quite himself...a little more subdued than usual. He mentioned a writing project he was thinking about starting then we agreed that we needed to get together and do some pickin' and grinnin' again in the near future and then parted.

Today I saw a friend post something about his upcoming surgery and I was struck dumb.

We didn't always agree (read: rarely)  but we always enjoyed talking  -- he considered me a potential convert. I would show up at the monthly Tarrant County Libertarian Party beer and cigar gatherings as the token Democrat and let his loyal blog followers meet the person they roundly condemned as a socialist/liberal/left-wing devil. It was great fun.

Before embracing Libertarian politics, The Whited Sepulchre was a seminary student - for a while, anyway - and he took that evangelic zeal to his new-found political cause.

Okay - I'm not about to turn this into an obituary or eulogy. 

Just do what you do that passes for prayer - whether "keeping in your thoughts," "sending good vibes," or, what the hell, saying a prayer for him. 

Sounds like he could use it.

Get well, old friend.

Friday, March 27, 2015

A minor epiphany, and a long overdue update

Well, it's been a while.

Life here at Sisyphean Corp has always been a grind, but in the past it always had a modicum of amusement value, as well as the opportunity to do slightly interesting things with the support of a string of pretty good supervisors. I worked hard and had fun. That changed about a year ago.

January 2, 2014, I had a new boss. It didn't take me long to figure out the good times were over.

My second or third one-on-one meeting she said, "I'm not sure I understand exactly what you do, but you seem to have a lot less on your plate than everyone else." It's gone downhill from from there.

It occurred to me the best way for her to find out what I did was to quit, but I need the money.

So last year was pretty depressing. I'll spare you the boring details but I've been in a bit of a funk, to the point where I've rarely felt like writing. Why depress you, too?

I did talk to a couple of recruiters, and even flew to Seattle for an interview with An Unnamed MegaCompany (figure it out yourself). Alas, nothing came of this, but Seattle is certainly a cool place.

And then I had my epiphany: I am growing weary of doing this. My second epiphany: I'm ready to go back to being an artist.

I did a painting workshop back in December given by a friend who's a very good painter and remembered how much I enjoyed making art. After going for several years without picking up a brush, I've made more art in the last 3 months than I had in the previous 5 years. 

It was fun but I felt like a fat former athlete - reeeally out of shape. I did quite a few things that could charitably described as okay but not wonderful. And I've had to re-remember a lot of things I'd forgotten. But I've finally started doing some things that I'm actually not embarrassed to show people.

A couple of weekends ago I dragged a bunch of old paintings out and was alternately charmed and horrified. Some good, some not so good. Sort of like now.

So, I'm not quitting my day job today. Or tomorrow, or next month. But I've decided it's time to start developing a transition plan. 

In the meantime, check my other blog - the one I actually put my name on - and check for postings of paintings. I'll probably be posting more on that one in the months to come. I'll save this site for anonymous musings and the occasional rant.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The tale of my iPhone 5 battery...

When it came time to  upgrade my old iPhone 3GS a couple of years ago, I wavered between the new iPhone 5 and some flavor of Android phone. For a variety of reasons, not all very well thought out, I ended up with the iPhone 5. I had an iPad, and a small investment in apps, so it seemed the way to go.

About 9 months ago, around the time of one of the iOS 7 updates, I found my phone would often (as in "constantly") turn itself off and show it needed to be charged when the meter showed about 30% charge remaining. A quick Google showed I was not alone in this annoying behavior. I'd plug the phone in to charge it and it would instantly show as having 35%+ charge remaining. Sometimes doing a hard reset by pressing and holding both the Sleep and Home button would temporarily remind my phone it did indeed have juice, but not always.

"Miscalibration," was the term I saw bandied about. I tried backing up my phone and restoring it.

No dice.

This got worse and worse. Apple was no help at all, especially since I hadn't opted for the overpriced  AppleCare. (Digression: the success of AppleCare demonstrates Apple's cynical attitude about product warranties. Their goddamn phone wouldn't need a freaking extended warranty if they'd built it properly in the first place.)

And then things got ridiculous. I (stupidly) upgraded to iOS 8.

With only moderate use, my phone would go from a full 100% charge to dead in 4 hours. One day, on my 50 minute morning commute, it went from 100% to 50% just because I used BlueTooth to play music to my car stereo. The final straw: using *nothing* it went from a full charge to almost dead in the space of an hour and half.

All of my family got tired of hearing me bitch.

Then one day, my brother sent me a link to a story on CNet that said Apple had quietly started a battery replacement program for the iPhone 5.  Go to a buried page on the Apple support site, enter your phone's serial number and see if your phone is one of the stricken.

Guess what: I qualified. No surprise there.

Here's the link:

After confirming I was affected, I set up an appointment with the "Genius Bar" (am I the only one who sees any irony in this?) at the Apple store nearest me. Before going, I did a full backup to iTunes, per the instructions.

The scene at my local Apple Store was hopping, since the iPhone 6 had just been released. I made my presence known, and they took my phone away. About 30 minutes I got it back.

I did a full reset AND restore (not just a restore) when I got home, then ran the new battery all the way down. Since doing that, I'm back to getting a full day or more from a single charge. No more goofiness with my battery calibration.

If you are finding you are having the calibration issue, I'd recommend the full reset / restore. Wipe the phone, then apply your (recently made) full backup. I'd do this whether Apple replaces your battery or not.

So am I happy? More so. Am I still planning on getting an Android phone when my mobile contract is up for renewal? Oh hell yes.

Monday, September 22, 2014

I was going to write something political...

...But then I saw this on my Google+ feed and thought about my old friend, The Whited Sepulchre, who loves weiner dogs. After watching it, I decided the world would be a better place if we all talked less about politics and did this instead.

Enjoy...there's time enough for arguing later...

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Dear Amazon: All is Forgiven (mostly)

Okay - I'll admit it: it doesn't take much to buy me off.

I've bitched about buying and downloading mp3's to Linux machines and Amazon's non-support for a while - in fact those posts are some of the most visited on my site. But still I stick with Amazon. It's like some trailer park relationship.

But now I'm willing to kiss and make up because now Amazon Prime memberships get FREE MUSIC STREAMING! (I'm doing the happy dance).

I signed up for Prime around Christmas because (I told myself) I needed a package in a hurry. While normally I might have just popped for the extra shipping, the fact that Prime accounts get free 2 day shipping AND video streaming was enough to get me to fork over the cost of a Prime membership. You can do a free one month trial, so why not?  I don't watch a lot of stuff, but I watch some, and it's a nice deal. I even bought myself a Roku device (from Amazon!) for Father's Day this year to make it easier.

But free music streaming? Holy shit!

I love music. It's one of the things (along with martinis) that keep me sane in this world. I listen at work, I listen in bed at night, I listen to my gawdawful commute. And I have a fairly extensive collection of tunes - some purchased, some ripped, some...well, never mind.

So the Amazon deal is huge.

Now, downloading purchased tracks on Linux is still the painful, ugly process that it has been, BUT, with streaming, I essentially eliminate the middle man (my Linux box) and go straight to the playback device: either my iPhone or Android tablet. There is a new Amazon Music app for both devices. If you listen on a computer at home, there's also a desktop app for Windows and Mac (but not Linux - grumble), and for playback, the web app works and is adequate for any platform - including Linux.

The iPhone and Android apps even allow you to download for off-line listening - perfect for the commute home. I download on the company wifi connection and avoid AT&T's cell phone data crap. And given the Content Industry's attitude about ownership and licensing, how different is a track downloaded that you can only play on the device you downloaded it to from the rights they grudgingly parcel out when you "buy" a track?

Now there is some griping that the Amazon catalog is not as vast as that of, say, Spotify, and that there's very little in the way of new tracks. That may be true, but since I've entered my old-fartage, I don't really care that much about newer music. This falls under the "bug or feature" debate in my mind. Give me some Oscar Peterson and Stan Getz and I'm happy.

So thank you, Amazon. Your Linux support when it comes to buying music is still a bit of a fail, but I may not need to buy any more ever again.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Cloud on the Cheap

These days, The Cloud is all the rage in the computer world.

Cloud storage is probably as far as most folks want (or need) to go - think, Dropbox, OneDrive, Google Drive/Docs...the list goes on. You can collect quite a bit of free off-site storage if you're of a mind to.  These are all examples of  SaaS - Software as a Service.

PaaS - Platform as a Service - gives you a specific pre-configured platform to build applications or services.

Finally there is Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), which is virtualized hardware: CPUs, hard drives, networking, firewalls and the like.

A little background:  at my day job at Sisyphean Corp, I manage hosting for a couple dozen big websites (I lose count sometimes).When I first took this on, we were on physical hardware. Trouble with this is once you make your decisions about the hardware, you're sort of stuck with it for a while. If you've predicted your needs poorly, or they change, well...

I migrated one of our divisions onto virtualized servers using Amazon's EC2 service as a pilot project. With cloud / virtualized servers, you can create, scale up or down, or blow away environments easily as your needs change. Unfortunately we finished the migration right before Amazon had a fairly major public failure, which lasted way too long. We recovered, and over the ensuing months, I learned quite a bit about dealing with Amazon Web Services. I still use them for very specific things.

Last year, I lead a project to migrate our 2 dozen websites off physical hardware, and onto Savvis (now CenturyLink) VPDC cloud services. Though not as inexpensive as AWS, I have to say, I like it a lot.

So -- as though I don't get enough of this geekish shit all day long, I started looking around to play with some of this on my off time. Since it is going to be on my nickel instead of Sisyphean Corp, here's the best (or at least my favorite) cheap stuff I've found.


Amazon is the 800 pound gorilla of  cloud computing and offers a full range of services. If you are (ahem) looking to get in on the cheap, they offer, for new users, a year of free service using what they refer to as their Free Tier, which is a single micro instance, with storage and DB services.

All in all it's a great deal, BUT it's only for a single year. And you still need to give them your credit card. Still, if you are curious, it's certainly worth checking out.


Microsoft, never to miss an opportunity to get on board after everyone else, has a cloud service called Azure. And with only a little effort you can find free trials. At first they were offering 90 days (which I signed up for and promptly pissed away) which they have scaled back to a meager 30 days / $200 worth of services.

Azure is not bad. I liked their management tools better than Amazon's, and Azure's pricing seems to be a little better (although Amazon has a habit of dropping their prices periodically). Much to my surprise, they had Linux environments (along with Windows). Still, I'm not all that interested in trial offers which go away. I *will* be using it for some of my corporate solutions (where Sisyphean picks up the tab).


I had previously run across Google's PaaS offering, called Google App Engine, but Google has recently expanded this to Google Cloud Platform. They are clearly setting their sites on Amazon Web Services. They have a mix of free (for minimal use) services and some paid. Free services (if you are below the paid quota) include the App Engine and Cloud Datastore. Non-free services include Cloud Compute (virtual servers), Cloud SQL (database), Cloud DNS, Cloud Storage, and Big Query.


OpenShift, which is run by RedHat Linux,  is another PaaS service which I have been playing with of  late. The good news: there is a free level of service - no credit card required - which gives you  3 "gears," (the label they give their basic application units). With only a moderate amount of effort, I spun up an instance of an analytics tool called Piwik, which I'm using as part of a project.

They have a number of pre-configured software stacks, including Java and PHP, and applications, including Drupal, WordPress, and MySQL.

The down side with OpenShift is that it can be more than a little complex to set up and use, depending on what you are trying to do. Still, if your not afraid to roll your sleeves up, it could be fun (or useful).

Digital Ocean

Finally, there's Digital Ocean. What to say -- I love these guys. Their service is simple to use, pricing is straightforward (without a lot of add-ons), and it's cheaper than all the other services I've found. They call their instances "droplets" (ocean - droplet? cute). The smallest instance is $5 a month, if you run it 24x7. That's for a 512mb/1CPU instance with 20GB of solid state storage, and 1TB of tranfers. I pay more than that for my shared webhosting provider, and I don't have root access!

They have a number of different Linux images (Ubuntu, RedHat, CentOS, Arch, Debian) to choose from and other, larger sizes. A 1GB/1CPU instance with 30 GB of storage is $10 a month. And those prices are just the maximum you pay. They actually charge you by the hour, with a monthly cap on the cost. So, if you were to spin up the small instance for, say 10 hours of testing one month, it would actually only cost you around $.07 - yeah, you read it right: 7 cents.

There are almost always promo codes (such as ALLSSD10 ) you can add when you sign up that will give you an immediate $10 credit, so essentially you can get 2 months free if you use their smallest instance. There are also iOS and Android apps that will let you manage your instances and/or account. If the above code has expired, find a newer one.

So keep your head in the clouds and have fun!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

How to view a remote desktop for free

There are basically two reasons for viewing a remote desktop: attending online meetings and running applications on (and/or administering) a remote machine. There's a little crossover since some meeting-type software will allow remote control of the presenting machine.

As part of my daily grind, I frequently either host or attend online meetings, and assist end users. My employer, Sisyphean Corp, uses Webex for external meetings (with vendors, consultants or other folks not on our network, and - of late - Microsoft Lynx for internal meetings. There's always Windows Remote Desktop, but it's not well-suited to connecting to machines behind firewalls across the internet, and while it's fine at controlling, it's not designed for presentations.

So, what do you do if you are not part of a huge, monolithic corporation? I was curious and found the following free alternatives in no particular order (you can thank me later). 

  • Webex - I was slightly surprised to discover Webex actually has a free plan as long as you only need to meet with 2 other people. Any more than 3 and things get start getting a little pricey. Still, Webex is sort of the leader of the pack, and as such has things like IOS and Android clients.
  • Screenleap - this looks dead easy: java-based, so it will run on Windows and Linux with no install. Free account has a 2 hour daily limit, with up to 8 meeting attendees, paid for accounts get more options, including more attendees, SSL encryption. There are also APIs to enable sharing on your website. I've not tried this but it looks interesting.
  • Vyew - more than just a screen-sharing service, Vyew is a fairly full-blown collaboration space. Meetings are set up as always on "rooms" which allow for document sharing, and other team-based activities.  Ad-supported (ugh) but up to 10 real-time participants (20 person limit per room). I've used this - it's a little clunky but not a bad tool.
  • Teamviewer - control Macs and PC over the internet or do online meetings. Mobile versions of the client available for IOS, Android and Windows Phone. "Free for private use" - whatever the hell that means; don't blame me if it suddenly stops working. It says it's free for all non-commercial users. Once I give it a shot I'll let you know.
Some interesting, but more limited alternatives, more focused on remote admin/control:
  • Remobo - intended for remote control across a firewall using a VPN, but not presentations. I've not used, but I think I may look into it. Clients for Windows, Mac and Linux.
  • Gbridge - built on top of Google's GTalk service; lets you control, sync, share desktops and chat between computers. Both have to have the software installed! Interesting but limited to Windows machines
  • Crossloop - Free screensharing and unlimited remote access for Windows and Mac for one computer. Requires a download and install. If you are just looking to control your home PC while away, this could be an okay option. Paid access gets you access to more computers and remote access via Android app. If you were formerly using Logmein (which did away with their free account without warning) this might be an option.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Why bother with iTunes or Amazon MP3 store?

Call me an old curmudgeon, but I find a lot of what passes for new music boring in the extreme: manufactured pop, pseudo-country, and studio produced crap. There are a few things interesting that I've chanced upon - most of it stuff my offspring have turned me on to - but not a lot.

Lately I've been supplementing my (ahem) legally purchased music from Amazon (yes - as awful as they are, I still patronize them) with a new source -, in case you've never been there, bills itself rather cumbersomely as "Digital Library of Free Books, Movies, Music and Wayback Machine." While accurate, it's a bit of a mouthful. I could write several posts on this amazing site and barely scratch the surface. If you've never visited it, just do it. Just. Do. It. You won't be sorry.

Some basics about me: I love music - especially old music. The funkier the better. Growing up, my dad had numerous Spike Jones 78's, which we listened to endlessly.  I love jazz. I love old radio. I love oddball stuff. I love *some* old rock music.

I recently have started listening to a lot of Oscar Peterson. The man's a God. After dropping some coin at Amazon and the Half-Price Books flagship store in Dallas, I did a little searching at Archive.Org and found Oscar's Boogie:

Other things I found at random include:

I'm also a big Stan Getz fan - here are Oscar and Stan together:

Some other treats I found were this huge collection of Art Tatum recordings (Tatum was a source of inspiration to Peterson) and this Fats Waller collection. Going to a search result will give you the option to stream or download the file - usually a zip file either a collection of  audio files, a single cut, or a long file with multiple selections. The files are usually available as either MP3's or (for the Free Software crowd) Ogg files. There's a handy embeddable player (which is what I'm using). A lot of these are transcriptions of old recordings - even off 78's (in fact there's a whole sections of the site devoted to transcriptions off 78's!).

There are sprinkling of recordings by Joe Pass, one of the greatest jazz guitarists you never heard of here and there.

Some other large jazz collections that you may find interesting (in no particular order):
Of course, old jazz isn't the only thing out there. If your taste runs to more recent tunes, check out the Live Music Archive: recordings of performers who have a "tape-friendly" attitude. While most of these are regional bands (you may have never heard of them but they rock nonetheless), you'll also find such treasures as almost 9,000 live performances of the Grateful Dead.

The hardest thing about finding stuff is...finding stuff. It helps to be very patient and just go exploring. Collections often point you to related collections.

I leave you with Les Paul playing the classic "Sleep Walk."