QRP weekend

This weekend has been 2/3 good for radio.

Saturday I went out to Queen's Park to throw a water bottle over a tree branch, haul up a dipole, and see what I could drum up.

A couple of weeks ago I got a longer coax cable (50 feet, instead of 16 feet), so I was able to get the dipole up a little higher than usual. I'm not sure if that made the difference, or if was just bands opening up, but what a difference on 20m! The Reverse Beacon Network was showing me reaching clear across the continent:


One of those stations, W1NT, is in Massachusetts -- over 3900km away!

Not only that, I was able to leverage that and actually make a CW QSO. With only 15 watts, and me calling CQ, I had a nice chat with Gary, AB0BM, in Cherokee, Iowa. I got a report of 559 -- not bad at all!

Sunday I was at my inlaws for Thanksgiving. My father-in-law enjoys experimenting as much as I do, so he has put together a vertical made of stainless steel pipe he just happens to have lying around his garage. After laying out a bunch of radials on the ground, we gave it a try...and got nowhere on 20m: no spots, and we couldn't see our signal on any of the receivers we tried on sdr.hu. I couldn't figure out what was going on, since the length (18 feet) was about right for a 1/4 wave vertical. After we added another 7ft length, though, everything changed: the RBN showed me again reaching clear across the continent on 15W, and an SDR in New York State picked us up clearly -- 3856 km!

As for QSOs, this time it was a little closer to home: VE7UBC, the UBC Amateur Radio Society. Only 18 km away, but still good to get one in.

Today, I went back out to Queen's Park. Luck wasn't good: I forgot the coax (and ran back home to get it), got the water bottle halyard stuck in a tree and had to cut the rope, made a replacement with a bundle of sticks that didn't go nearly so well, and had nearly no luck on 20m at all...no spots or anything, until suddenly it opened up a bit: AC0C in Missouri and WB6BEE in Colorado spotted me. Couldn't turn it into a QSO though.

Fell back to 40m where it was noisy as anything -- not sure what was going on. Heard lots of folks showing up for the Novice Rig Night, but couldn't manage to convert any of them. Dang!

Tags: hamradio qrp

Open Source Cubesat Workshop 2018

Last week I was incredibly privileged to attend the Open Source Cubesat Workshop, held at the European Space Agency Space Astronomy Centre in Madrid. I was there as a volunteer for Phase 4 Ground, an open source amateur radio project, along with project leader Michelle Thompson and open-source figurehead (and, with Michelle, founder of the Open Research Institute) Bruce Perens.

The conference took place over two days. Doesn't seem like much time, does it? But there is a LOT to tell about the conference. To hit the highlights:

  • The conference organizers were incredibly warm and generous, and made it clear that there's room for everyone in the open source space community -- not just aerospace engineers. (There's hope for me yet!)

  • Presenters covered a wide range of work: everything from fully open source cubesat missions, to open source software libraries for flight dynamics, to proposals for new (and larger) modular satellite platforms. Attendees included everyone from university students and researchers, to members of national space agencies (often with open source projects to share), to open source volunteers, to librarians and archivists intent on preserving everyone's work.

  • Capacity building was a big theme. The Argentinian Club de Robotica was there to present a ground-based cubesat designed to teach design principles for real space missions, with the goal of creating the capacity and desire in Argentina for a cubesat mission of their own. Also on hand was Rakesh Prajapati from Nepal, speaking about the Poquetcube mission his foundation is creating in his country.

  • I participated in two workshops. The first focused on the role of Python in space; the second on how (or even whether) to improve the PC104 standard so often used in cubesats. Being a fly on the wall for these discussions was fascinating, and gave me a better idea of the strengths and limitations of the tools the community has. Did everything get settled? Of course not! But it was illuminating to see the difference in approach between hardware and software, where the costs and benefits of customization can vary so much.

  • And as with any great conference, the hallway track was a delight. Being able to discuss integration problems on cubesat missions from the researchers involved was amazing; so was talking with someone investigating whether AI can be integrated into cubesats; so was hearing people from different open source projects meet for the first time, and compare notes about generating community involvement.

All in all, it was energizing to be around so many people with similar interests. I'm hoping to be able to participate in some very interesting projects, as well as re-dedicate time to participation in others.

This has been sitting in my "Composing" queue long enough, so it's time to send this out the door; impressions of Madrid (it's beautiful!) will have to wait. My full notes (warning: infodump) can be found on the Phase 4 Ground Github repository.

Tags: cubesat space opensource phase4ground satnogs oscw

mpd crash? try removing files in /var/lib/mpd/

Memo to myself: If mpd keeps crashing, try removing the files in /var/lib/mpd.


A Visit to Kennedy Space Center

Today I had the chance to visit Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral. I was there with my family, plus Andy Seely (who guided us there with his awesome wayfinding superpowers) and his two sons. It was an amazing time, and I want to write this down while it's fresh in my mind.

Side note: I don't have much in the way of pictures. There are lots of pictures that are much better than anything I'll be able to take, and I didn't want to be distracted from being there and really seeing what was in front of me.

First up was looking at the Mercury, Gemini and Agena rockets. It was incredible to see how small they were -- not just the capsules, but the rockets themselves. The only rocket we'd seen previously was the first successfully landed first stage of a Falcon 9, and these things were (I think) well under its height. And the size of the Mercury and Gemini capsules -- wow. I knew they were small, but this was just incredible. (Unfortunately, I didn't think to pay much attention to the Agena rocket -- it would have been interesting to look at it and think about the various EVAs the Gemini astronauts did when around it.)

Next up was the Atlantis Space Shuttle. It wasn't direct -- instead, like a theme park ride, there was a lineup (though, since we were there on a Wednesday, it was incredibly short), then a film, and then the great unveiling. And man...I did not anticipate being awed by a Shuttle, but I was. No offense to the shuttle; it's the Apollo missions that really awe me, and going to see Atlantis was more in the "Eh, we're here, why not?" category. But seeing it...WOW. It was amazingly big, and the way they've got it displayed -- horizontal, wings angled like it's banking in flight, cargo bay open -- really shows that off. I was awestruck.

One cool thing: Andy and I talked to the docent, who was a retired NASA employee. It turned out he had not only worked on certain Shuttle subsystems (hydrogen tanks, IIRC) but had also been involved in the canceled Resource Prospector mission, a rover that would have gone to the moon to pave the way for ISRU. Once he figured out we were space nerds that he could geek out in front of, he talked in depth about the work he was doing, the pain of seeing the mission cancelled, and some frank talk about SLS and commercial options. It was fascinating. KSC has a "Lunch with an Astronaut" program...which should thrill me to death, but for some reason does not. I'd totally go for a "Take a Docent to Lunch" program though. (Still don't understand this part of my brain; I think both could talk in equally technical depth about their work, and I think both would be fascinating.)

After that we went through the Shuttle Launch Experience; it was fun for me, but my youngest son found it pretty scary, so that wasn't good. (I think he's pretty much put off on the idea of ever going to space now.) After that, lunch...and then...

...the Kennedy Space Center Bus Tour, which took us by the Vehicle Assembly Building, Historic Launch Pad 39A, and some other launch pads as well (39B, maybe? my memory is already gone.) This was interesting, but seeing everything from such a distance made it hard to get a sense of scale. I was disappointed that the SpaceX Falcon 9 for Merah Putih was not out...but now that I check the launch calendar, I see that it has been delayed again 'til August 7th. Boo.

The KSC bus tour drops you off at the Apollo/Saturn V center; again, you have to go through a film (interesting), then sit in the Firing Room (launch control for the Apollo missions) to watch another film (mildly interesting) before you get to the meat of the center: the Saturn V mounted on its side, where you can walk underneath it and see just how freaking HUGE this thing is. It was jaw-dropping. This was the awe I expected, and it in no way disappointed. Walking out under the F1 engines was incredible...and only beat by walking the length of the rocket to see the incredibly tiny (by comparison) command module up at the very top.

And the only thing that beat that was a lunar module hanging from the ceiling. It had been built for Apollo 15, but was replaced by a newer module. It was amazing to see it, to see how simultaneously big and tiny it was.

After that, we caught the bus back to the main visitor center. We bought souvenirs, and drove off to return to Tampa. (Another side note: Orlando traffic is truly shitty.)

So. What to say about all this?

  • Seeing these things is like going to church. I'm staunchly atheist, but I'm pretty sure that the sense of awe and wonder and grandeur and tearing up and wanting to cry is a decent approximation of what a devout person feels approaching the holy.

  • At the same time, it's hard for me to not notice all the Wondrous! Space! Music! that's playing everywhere. It is stirring! and uplifting! and like eating an inspiration sundae every 15 minutes! By which I mean it's cloying after a while!

  • I dropped a stupid amount of money at the souvenir shop, knowing full well what I was doing and doing it anyway.

  • I tried hard not to be a full nerd, but it was hard not to cringe every time something mentioned SLS launching in 2018, JWST launching in 2019, the Asteroid Redirect Mission or the Journey to Mars. (If you're not a space nerd: those are either optimistic schedules that have been overtaken by events, or NASA goals that were given to them by one administration and removed by another. And for the record, I would LOVE it if all those things were to happen on time.)

  • There was a woman wearing a ULA hat and a Parker Space Probe hat. I complimented her on both, and it turns out she's on the integration team for the PSP, and was there with her family on a tourist outing in the middle of her work. I shook her hand and wished her the best of luck with the launch.

  • There is a lot of "Thank you for your service" aimed at military service people in the US. This can extend to things like "...and here's 10% off your next mattress purchase." This strikes me as a bit over the top...but I still wanted to thank the NASA docent for their service to, I guess, humanity.

  • I could totally see myself coming back and spending a few days visiting this place alone. I felt the same way when I visited the Grand Canyon.

  • I am extremely grateful to family and friends for coming along with me. These things are neat, but like anything else they are not everyone's cup of tea.

  • The bus tour is fun...but the videos they play on the bus are a way of passing the time during what is a very long drive between interesting things.

  • I'd love to see the VAB from the inside to get a better sense of scale.

  • The souvenir shop had prints of Apollo 11 pictures signed by Buzz Aldrin for $1800 each. I was tempted.

  • A few weeks back, it looked like there was a good chance that 2 rockets would be lifting off around this time. That has not happened. In a way, I'm grateful...this was already a long day, and I think adding a launch to it would only have made it longer (or pushed other stuff to a future visit.)

Tags: space nasa geekdad

More radio

My parents are visiting for a while. I've had a few days off work, so I've been heading over to Queen's Park in the morning with my dad to do some radio. The weather hasn't been great, so I've been trying some spots near picnic benches so we at least have a place to sit. And I got some QSOs!

First up on 40m was Alan, K7FD in Seal Rock, Oregon via CW on Thursday the 28th. This was only my 2nd CW QSO, and I'm still having a hard time copying it. Fortunately, I was able to record it and go back later to transcribe; unfortunately, I referred to him by the wrong call sign twice in the exchange. headdesk Fortunately he seemed to have a good sense of humour about it. My dad took this picture:

CW in Queen's Park

Second on 20m was Steve, N7MZP in Sand Point, Idaho via SSB (!) today. Eli accompanied me and Dad to the park, and was happy I'd managed a contact:

SSB in Queen's Park

I answered his CQ, and was quite surprised to hear him come back to me -- I have not had great luck with SSB so far (which isn't surprising, given that I'm only running 15W). The report I got was 52 up to 54, with some fading that we both noticed.

For all these contacts, I've been using a dipole or inverted vee, rather than the end-fed random wire with EARCHI matcher. Last weekend I found the Coquitlam club's Field Day setup, and one of the folks I talked to convince me to give dipoles a try. I think I'm noticing a lot less noise, but haven't yet done a side-by-side comparison.

Tags: hamradio qrp

Hello, world!

Let's see if this still works....yep, apparently, it does.


  • Got my ham license in March -- my callsign is VA7UNX. I got Basic with Honours, which in Canada means you get to use the HF bands. I've picked up a used Elecraft K2, and have been mainly working QRP out of parks and trying to figure out antenas. I've made a handful of contacts on SSB to Oregon and Washington during the 7QP contest, and just last week made my first CW QSO to N6RNP in Chico, California (1050km!).

  • I went to Hamvention in Dayton^WXenia, OH and met folks from the SatNOGS and Phase 4 Ground projects. That was excellent.

  • At Hamvention I picked up an Arrow II antenna from the AMSAT folks, plus a spare Baofeng (at $25, why the heck not?) and have been trying to work satellites. No luck yet, but efforts continue.

  • I'm going to be attending the Open Source Cubesat Workshop in Madrid this September, kinda-sorta as part of the Phase 4 Ground project. This blows my mind.

  • I've put in an order for most of the parts for a SatNOGS rotator. They're slowly trickling in, and hopefully I can get something working by the fall.

  • There will be a trip to Tampa this summer to visit my good friend Andy Seely.

Now back to cleaning up the house in preparation for my parent's visit.

Tags: space hamradio qrp cubesat

Chapel Hill, NC

This week, $WORK has sent me to North Carolina for a week's worth of training. The campus is on the edge (though not within) Research Triangle Park, and as such it's right in the middle of Durham, Raleigh and Chapel Hill. It's interesting around here.

When I first looked at the map, I figured I might walk from my hotel to the campus; sure, it'd be an hour, but it's all beautiful forest. Nope: it's forest, but it's highway here; there are no sidewalks to speak of, no walking paths; everyone I've told this fantasy to has kind of cocked their heads at me a little, like I've just earnestly explained how I was really looking forward to seeing the talking penguins of North Carolina. "Everyone drives here," said one woman. "I mean, I like hiking, but I drive 40 minutes to get to the park."

Oh well, there's still lots to see. Like the signs that say you're not allowed to carry a concealed weapon:

Or the beautiful lake, just 30 seconds walk away from the cafeteria:

The campus is weird this way; it's a strange mix of Office Space and a beautiful setting that reminds me of UBC. There's a company souvenir store right next to a sand park where you can play volleyball right next to a big parking lot right next to some beautiful landscaping right next to squirrels. I get the bends just turning my head.

Because there's nowhere to walk, the last couple of nights I've taken a cab out to Chapel Hill, a university town (they're all university towns) just down the road. I've had a chance to walk around a bit, grab supper and a beer, and get a sense of what it's like. And it's nice. There are trees everywhere; you can see the stars even from downtown (try that in Los Angeles); there are lots of bars and restaurants, but not so many that it doesn't feel like you could take your kids there; the architecture is beautiful, and the beer is good (even if it is from those jerks at Duke).



Let's see if I finish this.

The movie "Memento" sometimes feels far too close to home. If you haven't seen it, the protagonist has amnesia; he has notes tattooed all over his body as reminders of things he's learned, then forgotten and relearned, and finally had to have written onto his skin to keep in his head.

Memo to myself: do the dumb things I gotta do.

There are times when this feels like a frighteningly accurate description of how my head works. I have blind spots: things I know the answer to, but I forget until someone points them out to me...whereupon I shake my head, remind myself to remember them, and promptly forget them. They're facts that, remembered in time, let me pull out of some steep dive into anger and frustration. More often, they're things someone has to repeat to me, like being told "You've had a stroke" as you stare up into the sunlight wondering how you got down the sidewalk like this. And they're not new, at this point in my young life.

It is a fine thing to be old enough to recognize your own shortcomings. (Let's leave aside the question of whether that's wisdom or just settling.) It is disheartening to realize you've been through all this before, that the revelation came already and went, and there is every reason to believe the footsteps you are following, arcing ever so slightly to the side as they approach the horizon, are your own.



Today I was out with the kids, and we came across a place selling fresh-baked pretzels. "Mmm, those smell GOOD," said Eli. "Want to try making some when we get home?" I asked. "Sure!" he said, sounding surprised that such a thing was even possible. One quick check of "More Food that Really Schmecks" later, and we were off to the races.








Tags: geekdad

LISA 2016 - Day 0/1/2

LISA again! This is the fifth? (Washington, Baltimore, San Diego, San Jose, Seattle, and now Boston) sixth! that I've been to. Saturday's flight in was fairly uneventful, except a) it didn't bother my sciatica too much, so yey and b) I forgot my coat on the plane, and it doesn't look like Air Canada has a working system to take "Hey, did you see a coat?" calls.

Fortunately I can count on the kindness of Andy Seely, who brought an extra coat and loaned it to me. For his kindness I have given him a "Taggart Transcontinental" t-shirt, and let him buy me supper. I'm nothing if not generous.

Sunday I spent the entire day at the Google SRE tutorial, which was very, very cool; a big part of it was an exercise to architect a system that would read and join logfiles. It took a long time to wrap my head around how everyone was thinking about this, but writing down the moving parts made it all a lot clearer. In the end, my team's proposal approximated the final example config presented by Google, so that was good. Final sol'n, BTW, used 101 machines. The math all worked out, but it still made my jaw drop. When I asked the presenters about this, they grinned. "We've forgotten how to count small," one of them said.

Today was spent in "Everything you ever wanted to know about operating systems but were afraid to ask", aka "Caskey's Brain Dump". It was a pretty awesome talk, covering everything from silicon through filesystems. Well worth it; I'd love a recording of it, since the slides simply don't do it justice.

Tags: lisa


For the last couple of months, I've been having? encountered? enjoyed? sciatica. It has been oh so very fun, by which I mean not very fun at all. The pain is ungood, of course, but the toll it has sometimes taken on my mood has been worse. I'm generally pretty easy-going, but it has been hard to stay happy when random pains come shooting out of nowhere. (I'm seeing a physiotherapist and it's getting better, but it is taking time.)

One side effect has been a generalized lack of patience. So, in short order I have switched ISPs after a persistent billing error; stopped hosting my website and mail at home; stopped trying to automate the creation from scratch of my web and mail server ("fuckit, just rsync"); and bought a new laptop when my old once began, once more, to freeze whenever I closed the lid.

Next week I fly to Boston to go to LISA. It'll be good to see folks again, but I'm kind of dreading the flight. I booked everything long before this came up. It's getting better, but I'm still going to see if I can upgrade to premium super econoplus with extra morphine.

In other news, I have finally started reading "A Game of Thrones", and I find myself close to enthralled. It's well-written and enjoyable, and if it doesn't strike as close to my heart as James S.A. Corey, it's still getting me to pick it up and read it every day.


That's it.

Docker refuses to start. My IPv6 tunnel has started working again after it refused to do so. I have had it with home system administration. I have better things to do with my time.


Out of the pen of Glenn Beck

Holy crap, Glenn Beck is a reasonable man:

If you voted for Hillary Clinton this week, you likely feel despondent, confused and unable to reconcile how the country elected Donald J. Trump. “Don’t people see how dangerous this man is?” Clinton supporters asked. “Our entire way of life is at stake.”

I get it. I opposed Mr. Trump, too. But this is how nearly half the country felt eight years ago. It does not matter if we do not understand one another’s feelings. What matters is that we at least hear them.

How do we stop the cycle?

Tuesday night, as it became apparent that Mr. Trump would win, I saw myself as others may see me. Pundits were beside themselves talking about sexism, “whitelash” and bigotry. I read three articles comparing him to Hitler. I understand what they meant. But just as President Obama was not a Manchurian candidate, Mr. Trump is not Hitler. The seeds of 1933 may have been planted, but they can grow only through our hate and divisiveness.

I don’t question your right and reasons to feel fear. But don’t fear Donald Trump the way I feared Barack Obama. I read a perfect election summation: The people who were against Mr. Trump took him literally but not seriously. His supporters took him seriously but not literally. It is the same pattern of 2000 and 2008. We heard President Obama was coming for our church and our guns. We were mocked. We thought those who laughed were lying or stupid. Yet, I still go to church, sometimes with a gun.

Tags: politics

Moving on

Well, that happened. Tuesday night I went to bed hoping for better news. I woke up at 2.30am, unable to sleep; after a while I gave up and came down. Still no good news. President Trump it is, help us all.

But. This morning there was an ISS flyover, and a rare semi-clear sky to see it. So I fired up the ISS HDD viewer on my laptop, went outside, and watched the sun rise from the ISS while I watched it fly overhead, a wonder heading for the dawn.

Tags: politics space


Today's title from the subject line of some spam I just got. ("a spam"? "a spammy email"? just "spam"?)

  • Mystery flu-like illness continues, or at least its fallout; I've had lower back pain for the last ~ 4 weeks. Doctor says removing spine is "not an option" but I've done some Googling and

  • $WORK continues apace. After taking a week of Python training, we're using Go for a new tool we're building. Haven't got a good sense for what it's like just yet, but so far I don't seem to be making a mess of things.

  • Tried out drone.io at $WORK yesterday and holy god, is it good. Auth with our internal Github, then activate repos, and boom! it runs tests on every new commit on any branch, watches for PRs, the whole nine yards. When I think of the amount of work we had to do to get Jenkins to do this, it's insane. Plus the whole run-as-a-Docker-container, fire-up-sibling-docker-containers-for-tests thing is very, very impressive.

  • Sportsball has started up again with a vengeance: practices on Monday and Wednesday, games on Fridays and Saturdays. Somebody stop this merry-go-round!

  • I've registered for LISA 16, woot! This will be my fifth -- wait, sixth? -- LISA, ten years after my first time attending. Not sure who's gonna be the theme band this year -- I've done New Pornographers, Josh Rouse, Soul Coughing and Sloan. And since he's co-chair this year, it seems like a good time to pull out that picture of Matt Simmons (@standaloneSA) as a PHP dev:

Matt as drugged-out PHP developer

Tags: spam geekdad lisa python golang drone

I'm done

I have spent this weekend debugging shit on my home server: I've managed to break my IPv6 tunnel and Docker networking, and for some reason /etc/resolv.conf was emptied I don't even know why. Last weekend I spent far too much time debugging problems with DKIM and SPF and breaking my wife's email, and that was with only one domain; I've still got another to go through. I am thoroughly sick and tired of it.

I have always thought it important to run your own server (buy me a beer some time to get the reasons), but I am done. Done, I say. I am ready, at this point, to throw money at someone or something to just make this go away. I still want my own SSH server at home -- that's too much to give up -- and I still like checking my mail with Mutt. But web hosting, docker networking, metrics, monitoring, DNS, backups, calendaring -- gahhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

Probably, I am just going to put all this away for now, leave the unpaid sysadmin work for another time.

Tags: wellnotreally

Today's bit of weirdness

The recent Lawfare Podcast episode "Disrupting ISIS Recruitment Online" makes fascinating listening. It's a recording of a panel discussion consisting of two Google-affiliated companies that do targeted advertising aimed at, well, disrupting ISIS online recruitment, and the US Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.

It is, at first listen, profoundly weird to hear the jargon of online advertising applied to propaganda. (It's propaganda I agree with, but propaganda nonetheless.) But then I realized where I'd come across the idea before: Robert A. Heinlein's "If This Goes On --". Here's a quote:

'I'm in the Psych & Propaganda Bureau,' he told me, 'under Colonel Novak. Just now I'm writing a series of oh-so-respectful articles about the private life of the Prophet and his acolytes and attending priests, how many servants they have, how much it costs to run the Palace, all about the fancy ceremonies and rituals, and such junk. All of it perfectly true, of course, and told with unctuous approval. But I lay it on a shade too thick. The emphasis is on the jewels and the solid gold trappings and how much it all costs, and keep telling the yokels what a privilege it is for them to be permitted to pay for such frippery and how flattered they should feel that God's representative on earth lets them take care of him.'

'I guess I don't get it,' I said, frowning. 'People like that circusy stuff. Look at the way the tourists to New Jerusalem scramble for tickets to a Temple ceremony.'

'Sure, sure-but we don't peddle this stuff to people on a holiday to New Jerusalem; we syndicate it to little local papers in poor farming communities in the Mississippi Valley, and in the Deep South, and in the back country of New England. That is to say, we spread it among some of the poorest and most puritanical elements of the population, people who are emotionally convinced that poverty and virtue are the same thing. It grates on their nerves; in time it should soften them up and make doubters of them.'

'Do you seriously expect to start a rebellion with picayune stuff like that?'

'It's not picayune stuff, because it acts directly on their emotions, below the logical level. You can sway a thousand men by appealing to their prejudices quicker than you can convince one man by logic.. You can sway a thousand men by appealing to their prejudices quicker than you can convince one man by logic. It doesn't have to be a prejudice about an important matter either. Johnnie, you savvy how to use connotation indices, don't you?'

'Well, yes and no. I know what they are; they are supposed to measure the emotional effects of words.'

'That's true, as far as it goes. But the index of a word isn't fixed like the twelve inches in a foot; it is a complex variable function depending on context, age and sex and occupation of the listener, the locale and a dozen other things. An index is a particular solution of the variable that tells you whether a particular word is used in a particular fashion to a particular reader or type of reader will affect that person favorably, unfavorably, or simply leave him cold. Given proper measurements of the group addressed it can be as mathematically exact as any branch of engineering. We never have all the data we need so it remains an art-but a very precise art, especially as we employ "feedback" through field sampling. Each article I do is a little more annoying than the last-and the reader never knows why.'

I'll leave my ambivalence about Lawfare for another day. For now: the podcast makes fascinating listening, and if you haven't read "If This Goes On--", I highly recommend it.

Tags: politics

Updates, Sep 2016

  • This week I've been taking Python3 training at work: 4 days of staying at home and concentrating on Python. The result? 4 days to work on Python, sharpening my skills, and that's a good thing. The lecture was not that hot, but what was useful was having the exercises in front of me, waiting to be done and no distractions to keep me from them. And after all that, the biggest difference I notice between Python 2.7 and Python 3 is print "foo" vs print("foo"). (Which shows you how much Python I know. But still.) I finished the exercises a few hours early, so I spent the time trying to solve the coding challenge we give new people at OpenDNS. (I didn't get that one; instead, I got the "this machine is borked in 12 different ways, please solve it" challenge.) This has been a wonderful way to stretch my brain, and work on something very very different from what I do every day. I wish work had the same sort of course for Ruby and Go.

  • Have I mentioned that I've come to love Bandcamp? Lots of excellent music, and I keep finding lots of excellent music. I mean, really really excellent music.

  • Like Hairy Hands.

  • Or Mars, Etc.

  • Or Snail Mail.

  • Also on the music front, one really excellent station I've found is Popadelica.

  • But back to Python: despite the click bait title, O'Reilly's "20 Python Libraries You Aren't Using But Should" is wonderfully informative for this Python n00b.

  • I loved showing this video to my kids, demonstrating how bacteria evolve.

  • Set up a Tor node last week for the cause.

Tags: randomupdates music programming geekdad

The obligatory mortality piece

There are three people I know that are, or have been, close to death in the last year. One had a double mastectomy last fall when she discovered she had breast cancer. Another fell down confused one day earlier this year and discovered she had stage 4 brain cancer. And the third got taken to hospital a few weeks ago because, it turns out, she's alcoholic and has pretty much destroyed her liver.

One is getting better; her hair is growing out after chemo and radiation, she's playing music again (she's incredibly talented), and seems to be nearly endlessly positive (at least around me). Another is taking things day by day, travelling when she can, trying to eat (her sense of taste has been destroyed by the radiation treatment), hanging out with her grandchildren. And the third has been in detox for a few weeks now, and has a long road in front of her if she's lucky.

One was a close friend, then we lost touch, and now we make a point of seeing each other regularly; it's not as often as I'd like because we each have our own commitments, but it's wonderful to talk to her again after so long because she's funny and talented and just a righteous pleasure to be around. Another lives far away, and for a long time has been someone I knew about rather than knew; she's a good person, but our lives are separate, joined only by the people we have in common. And the third was always a wonderful, funny person to talk to at the social occasions we ended up at together, and I loved her writing when she kept a blog, but I could in no way say I knew her.

One my wife and I have been able to help, at least in a material way. Another, my wife and I have helped someone else be able to travel to see her. And the third...well, the whole problem has only just emerged, and we have no idea what to do, or what will help, or the prospects of her being around long enough to help.

I've come to learn the way I react to things like this: shock and numbness for an hour or two, then being surprised when I burst into tears, then long weeks of worrying. I've begun to be wary of hearing about someone I haven't thought of in a while, because this is when things and people fall apart and some days it feels like the news is never good. And I've started to think about why we go to funerals, and the way grief and mourning and remembering are built somehow into our DNA, our shared heritage with all the other animals that cherish and love and mourn and, in their turn, die.

Tags: wellfuck

Observing Report -- August 5, 2016

Tonight I went out to the local park with the scope. I had a bit better list than last time and stuck to it, and ad the end of the night I was able to shut down & be home in 10 minutes. Not bad at all.

So: Quick look at Saturn to start with, before it set beneath the trees. Very nice.

Managed to split Double-Double in Lyra, but I had to use the 6mm Radian to do it. South pair easier to split than the north pair.

Followed ISS with the scope (17mm, 71x) and man, that was neat.

Omicron Draco: double star, yellow and green/blue. Not my thing, double stars, but I do like the ones that resemble Earth & the sun (blue + yellow). Colours on this one were more subtle, though.

M56: Faint. No sign of resolution.

NGC 6939: OC in Cepheus. Took a while to track this down, as it was a lot fainter than I expected. Got a sketch.

NGC 6543, the Cats-Eye Nebula: Saw this straight off, an obviously non-stellar object. Faint blue. Neat.

M92: Aw! Looks like photo of a spiral galaxy. Liked it better than M13, which I looked at next.

NGC 6229: GC in Hercules. Faint like a Q-Tip, and no resulution at all.

NGC 6709: OC in Lyra. Nice! Big, sparse, and kind of reminds m of a fish shape. Mentioned in "Annals of the Deep Sky", which I'm enjoying.

Packed it in at 12.15am. Overall, a lot better than last time.

Tags: astronomy