Personal

Sometimes technology lets you down :-(

Send to Kindle

I forced myself to take my long walk today. As usual, I am extremely glad that I did, but for one thing. I walk with an iPod, with a Logitech Bluetooth headset. For the first leg of my walk, I was listening to Wicked (I know, huge surprise) 😉 but in the middle of “Wonderful”, it stopped playing.

It could have been any of the three devices running out of their battery charge (the iPod, the BT transmitter, and the headset/receiver). A quick check revealed that all were charged up.

Turns out the iPod was simply on the fritz. This happened once before, nearly a year ago, so it’s probably not something I need to worry about.

I forgot how do the reset. I could have called Lois, and had her Google it, but I didn’t care enough. I walked the rest of the way (another 80 minutes) in a more “walking meditation” state, which was fine too.

I don’t know why I didn’t remember the iPod reset dance:

  1. Slide the hold switch so that it’s on hold.
  2. Slide the hold switch so that it’s off.
  3. Press the Menu and Center buttons simultaneously for 10 seconds.
  4. Wait for the Apple logo.

If you see the logo, you’re done, it’s rebooting. If not, there are deeper tricks to try. Mine worked, and it’s charging back up now, since it continued to drain the battery the entire way home, even though it wouldn’t play a single song…

Martina McBride Rules!

Send to Kindle

This could easily get very long, so either settle in, or bail now, seriously! 🙂

Last night, Lois and I went to Radio City Music Hall to see Martina McBride perform. From past posts (or if you just happen to know us), you know that Lois is a country music fanatic. However, for all of the live music we’ve seen over the past few years, none of it has been country.

At least two have been bluegrass, which we both like (me probably more than Lois), but it has been a long time (over 15 years) since we saw one show at the Grande Ole Opry in Nashville, and neither of us could tell you who was in it (at least I can’t). 😉

I can remember when I first discovered that my stereotype of country music was wrong. It was 20 years ago (give or take a year), when my boss’ boss mentioned to us that his favorite artist was Juice Newton. Yup, I thought he was pulling my leg. I can’t remember whether he gave us a copy of her CD or we bought it, but either way, we ended up with a copy. It might also have been one of the first CD’s I ever owned, as I was a little late to the party of adding a CD player to my stereo at the time.

There are lots of excellent songs on the CD, but one of my favorites is “Angel of the Morning”. It’s not that I became an instant country fan after hearing that CD, but it is the case that my mind was opened to hearing more.

I honestly can’t recall whether Lois liked any country artists before that CD, but sometime close to hearing that CD, she went on a much deeper odyssey into the genre than me. For those who know us, you know both of us can be compulsive. Mine are usually gambling or gaming oriented, with an occasional tech project thrown in. Lois’ are generally more noble (or at least useful, and for certain less destructive).

Lois’ obsession with country music hasn’t faded one bit. It has simply grown and morphed. There are groups that we used to listen to repeatedly, that she has no interest in any longer. However, in all cases, they have just been replaced by someone she is now exploring, musically and lyrically, etc. It was not unusual in the past for us to listen to a specific song five times in a row. Now, it’s rarely more than twice, so some change has occurred. 😉

Anyway, for a very long time, Martina McBride has been at or near the top of Lois’ favorites. She has a voice that is truly incredible, and even though she doesn’t write most of the songs she records, she is active in selecting and producing the records, and her talent for recognizing and polishing other talent is evident.

Our goddaughter is graduating from William and Mary tomorrow. When I first heard that Martina was coming to NYC, and to Radio City Music Hall no less, I was 99% sure that we’d already be down in Virginia for the graduation and wouldn’t be able to make the show. Through a series of events (some of which were misunderstandings on our part), we decided that we could commit to being in NYC through Friday night (the night of the concert). I bought tickets.

We had seats toward the back of the orchestra, center stage. Even though we were pretty far back, the seats were reasonably good, with one exception. The sound board (which is pretty damn big) was four rows in front of us. In itself, it wasn’t that distracting, but it attracts lots of people (most of whom are working) and they are standing around it, which is very distracting. Oh well.

The acoustics, as usual in RCMH, were outstanding.

RCMH is owned by the same people who own Madison Square Garden and The Beacon Theater. I’ve written about the Beacon twice already (Dave Koz and The Allman Brothers). They run a very impressive technology marketing program. I usually get emails directly from them announcing artists that are coming to one of their venues, and am offered an opportunity to purchase tickets at least two days before they go on sale to the public.

However, what was impressive to me this time, was that I got an email a day before the show, letting me know the lineup for the evening. The opening act was going to be Rodney Atkins, coming on at 8pm. He was to be followed by Little Big Town. Then there would be a short intermission, followed by Martina at roughly 9:30pm, all subject to change, of course.

I can’t ever recall getting this kind of information before (without having to explicitly dig for it myself). It was very nice to know that Martina wouldn’t be on until 9:30, so that expectations are set appropriately.

OK, finally, on to the show. 😉

We are familiar with both Rodney Atkins and Little Big Town. We own Rodney’s most recent CD (he has three), and both of Little Big Town’s, so it was a bonus that they were both opening for Martina. Rodney came on almost exactly at 8pm (unusual, since most shows start at least 5-10 minutes late, and some much later). He was good, and didn’t disappoint, but he wasn’t amazing. In fact, he’s better on the CD (and the Radio, yes Jamie, including XM). 😉 I don’t mean to imply anything negative about him or his performance, it was all good, just not exceptional in any way.

He only played four songs, all good ones, including two of his big hits: “If You’re Going Through Hell” and “Watching You” (a.k.a “Buckaroo”).

After a short break, Little Big Town took the stage. They are incredible. Two guys, two women. All four can sing well enough to be solo stars. The guys both play guitar, reasonably well, but mostly rhythm. The band behind them are also incredible. Lead guitarist played a number of instruments (including Dobro), drummer, bassist, etc. Their harmonies are not to be believed. They played for nearly 50 minutes, and every second was delicious.

Then the expected “short intermission”, slightly longer than announced.

At around 9:40 Martina took the stage. Wow. Her voice is crystal clear, operatic range, strength, softness without breaking up, in short, she can produce any sound she wants, the way she wants to produce it. In addition, she has a stage presence that all of the greats do.

I realize that if I start describing individual songs, I’ll miss tomorrow’s graduation, so I’ll make some larger points, and then conclude with the encore. 😉

Martina also has an exceptional band behind her, which includes her brother Marty, who plays guitar and sings really well too. They did a duet where he sang the part that Keith Urban does on her CD. The lead guitarist is amazing, which brings me to my big point.

Many people who profess to hate country (or more likely make fun of country music), do so on the basis of their perception of the lyrics of the genre. That’s my personal opinion. In addition to thinking that the lyrics are predictable (and silly), and that the voices are twangy, I guess that most non-country lovers also think that the musicians are inferior to their favorites.

If I’m right about that, then they are wrong. The top acts all have extraordinary musicians, and the musical productions are first rate as well. Some songs are as good as the best rock bands, other as good as the best pop bands, etc. To me, the genre is most defined by the content of the lyrics, but otherwise, it’s a little harder to categorize the entire genre as different than the others.

I’ll finish that thought in describing the encore.

After a long standing ovation (one of many that Martina garnered throughout her set), she came back with the entire band for an encore. Before the band came out, just the lead guitarist came out, and he played a wild solo electric guitar riff that was definitely rock. When the band joined in, and Martina took the stage, she rocked out with Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot”. Of course, Martina nailed it. But, so did the guitarist. He did the solos as well as Pat Benatar’s group ever did, and that’s not to take anything away from Pat’s guitarist (get it?).

Martina has a woman in her band, Jennifer (I missed her last name). 🙁 She played the fiddle, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, and sings harmonies with Martina. She is so talented and has so much stage presence as well, that I will be surprised if I don’t hear about her going out on her own at some point in the future. As Martina said: “She sings like an angel”.

After “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” was over, the band left the stage, and Martina stayed only with her lead guitarist. This time, he only had an acoustic guitar. After telling a story to introduce her final song, she sang “Over the Rainbow”.

Are you kidding me? For Lois and I, accurately accused Wizard of Oz (and more importantly) Wicked fanatics, this was the perfect culmination of the evening. It was an amazing rendition (interestingly, Dave Koz also did a beautiful “Over the Rainbow” at the Beacon). Also, the guitarist was wonderful on the acoustic guitar this time, minutes after rocking RCMH on an electric one.

We walked home on cloud nine, and Lois couldn’t stop talking about the concert all the way down to Fredericksburg in the car this morning.

To sum it all up, Wow!

Twitter

Send to Kindle

In early March, I discovered Twitter by reading this post on Jamie’s blog. I immediately signed up for an account. Even though Jamie’s blog claimed that he didn’t see an immediate application for it, I did.

Lois and I follow the lives of our godchildren via their away messages. 🙂 That’s useful, but not ideal. First, since both have laptops as their only computers, if they leave them on 24×7 in order to keep us old-folk up-to-date, they are abusing the computers. If they log off, we are blind…

Twitter solves that problem in a number of ways. Not only doesn’t their computer have to be on, they don’t even need to own a computer! You can update Twitter, and get updates, entirely through SMS on your phone. Now, you can also use a phone web browser with a stripped down web interface. For me, the fact that you can receive (and send) updates via IM was the nicest touch, especially that they supported Jabber, my preferred IM client/server. Also, you see the history of all the messages, which is nicer than “missing” an away message state change.

So, it’s already late May, what took me two months to write about Twitter? After a day or two of liking it, I hit a bunch of technical problems. Jamie thought that it was just wild growth on their part, with the inevitable hiccups that come with that. Perhaps, but they didn’t respond to support tickets either, and then closed them out without a response or a fix. Not nice.

Anyway, I still find it to be highly quirky in terms of availability or stability, but there’s something about it that I still like, so I’m likely to continue using it for a bit… I still haven’t introduced my godchildren to it, because I don’t want to waste their time if Twitter is going to implode on itself…

Welcome WordPress 2.2 :-)

Send to Kindle

Announcement went out 35 minutes ago, and I’ve already successfully upgraded. Haven’t touched anything that’s new, but here it is, waiting to be abused. 🙂

Eric Sink and Sourcegear Rock!

Send to Kindle

I’ve been a T-Shirt nut my whole life. I have hundreds of them, and prefer to wear one over any other form of shirt. So, when Eric Sink offered up an opportunity to earn a very cool Sourcegear T-Shirt, I couldn’t resist. 🙂

As promised, here are front and back shots of me wearing the shirt:

SGT-Front.jpgSGT-Back.jpg

Click on either photo to see a larger version 🙂

Thanks Eric!!!

New Machine

Send to Kindle

On April 23rd I announced the christening of my new server. At the time, I put the percentage of services that had been ported over at 95. It’s been at least 5 days since I’ve been at 100%, so the new machine is definitely “official”. Everything has been updated to point to the new machine, and all but one thing are running as expected.

The only problem I have is with one VoIP provider. I can’t get any audio to work between us, and the problem is definitely on my end, which is the main reason for not naming the provider. I can still connect reliably to them from my old server, from a different server that I control, and from a softphone as well, so something is broken on my new server in the config for them. That said, all other providers work, including identically configured ones, so it’s not a firewall problem, nor generically a broken Asterisk install. I’m not happy with this, because I can’t think of anything more to test. I’ve written twice to the Asterisk mailing lists, with no useful suggestions left to try. 🙁

I could probably write for hours on the experience of building the new machine. Very few people would maintain interest in that, I’m sure. I also don’t need it for a cathartic release, because I took very copious notes on the whole thing in a Google Notebook.

So, I’ll try to boil the essence down here, with the hope of not losing your interest too quickly. 🙂

The purpose of the change was to upgrade the OS from Red Hat 9 to CentOS 5.0. That worked well. I actually installed CentOS 5.0 Beta first, and then did an upgrade through yum, which worked fine!

My first real disappointment was attempting to build OpenPKG on the new box. The concept sounded really cool to me. The biggest reason for moving from RH9 to CentOS5 was that newer RPMs were harder and harder to find for RH9. OpenPKG held out the promise that one wouldn’t have to worry about this in the future, with the added benefit that you would never accidentally step on the operating system’s packages.

Unfortunately, I ended up wasting a ton of time on it, and it eventually failed to install itself, claiming that gcc couldn’t create executables on the system. Of course it could, as I built quite a number of packages from source… So, great concept, just not right for me at this time…

Had a minor glitch with SELinux (first time I’ve been on a system that was running it). Had to temporarily disable some of the checks to get a package installed and running, but was able to turn it back on afterwards, and haven’t had a problem since.

I have been a very happy user of Courier-IMAP for years, and felt guilty about even considering an alternative (just a loyalty thing). But, I’d read a number of nice things about Dovecot, and it just went official 1.0 a few days before, so I decided to try it. I’m really happy with it. It worked correctly the first time, and configuration was as straightforward as I was led to believe. On the other hand, it wasn’t a quick config, because there are so many things that you can (and sometimes should) set. The single config file (which I like!) is huge, because it’s so well documented, that the choices are relatively simple. You just have to read all those darn docs… 😉

Also installed the latest Postfix 2.4.0. I’ve been really happy with Postfix for years, and had little intention of switching that.

One minor nit about Linux in general. It’s a little annoying that dependencies can get out of whack quite easily. Some system thing depends on openssl-0.9.7 (for example), and you know that 0.9.8e fixes some bugs, and perhaps some new software you’re installing wants that. So, now it needs to go in it’s own directory (’cause you can’t mess with the system one), and then every package has to be told where to find the new one, etc. It all works, but it’s still a PITA.

Installed the latest WordPress (which of course meant MySQL and PHP, etc.). This time, the email config problem that I had on the old machine just disappeared (hooray!). I didn’t config it any differently, so who knows what was wrong before…

Installed the latest Zope (2.10.3, not Zope 3), and had remarkably few problems slurping up my old Data.fs file from a Zope 2.6.x installation. Very cool.

Switched from one webmail client to another, even though I had been happy with the former for years. The latter does more, of which I’m sure I won’t partake of the additional functionality anyway. It works, so that’s all I care about. I rarely use webmail, but when it’s necessary, it’s also ultra convenient (and, as stated, necessary). 😉

One of the bigger odysseys was the installation of a Jabber server. This should probably be its own post, but if it was, I would never condense it, so I’ll do my best not to go on too much here. On the old machine, I was running jabberd-1.4.3 for years. Jabberd2 was just out at the time that I first installed 1.4.3 (they are not the same project). I was able to get jabberd2 to work at the time, but I could not get the AIM and ICQ transports to work, so I reverted to 1.4.3.

The jabberd14 project is still alive and kicking, and I could have saved a lot of headaches if I had stuck with it. But, for a while, I wanted to try ejabberd. It is the official server of jabber.org since February 2007, which seemed impressive to me. 😉

Ejabberd is written in Erlang, and is supposed to scale like crazy (not that I have the slightest need for scale). The concept intrigued me. I’ll spare you all of the insane problems I had getting it to work right. Suffice it to say that it was not my fault, which is rare in these situations. 😉

When I finally got it to work stably, I installed the Python-based AIM and ICQ transports (PyICQ-t and PyAIM-t). The AIM transport worked correctly, and the ICQ one was flaky (solution later on).

Then Rob Page asked me to take a look at Openfire (previously called Wildfire). It sounded cool, and since I was having a problem with the ICQ transport, I figured I’d give it a shot. Man, it installed so easily from RPM, didn’t touch a single file on the system, could be uninstalled trivially, etc. In summary, I liked it instantly. I wasn’t crazy about running a JVM on the system full time, but the load would be negligible, so I decided to switch to it. Of course, while it worked well, and the administration was wonderful, the ICQ plugin was experimental (the AIM one is production), and it behaved like an experimental plugin, which put me where the other one did. There were a few other small annoyances in Openfire as well.

That made me decide to go back and beat my head on the ejabberd server and transports. Long story short, after investigating my setup on the old machine (prompted by Z_God in the Python Transports conference room), I noticed that I didn’t understand how transports speak to the main server. I had them both speaking on the same port (which the sample config file showed!), but on the working server, each transport spoke to the server on its own port! I switched ICQ and AIM to speak to ejabberd on separate ports, and voila, it has been rock solid ever since. I have retired Openfire, and am a very happy ejabberd and python-transports customer! 🙂

That’s pretty much it (at least at a high level). I’m happy with the machine. As usual, more twists and turns than one hopes for, but also more learning experiences than I expected, and interesting ones at that, mostly ending in success. Now if I can only figure out that one SIP provider audio problem, I could get back to some serious poker playing. 😉

April Poker Update

Send to Kindle

Since I’m not likely to be playing tonight, I can post my April Poker results now.

I invested (risked) a total of $352 during the month. I played in 24 tournaments. 16 were 1-table Hold’Em tourneys for $11 each, and 8 were multi-table Omaha Hi/Lo tourneys for $22 each. Without attempting to, I ended up spending exactly the same amount on 1-table Hold’Em as I did on multi-table Omaha.

Bottom line was ugly: -$94.80 for the month. Clearly, this month, I am glad I wasn’t doing this for a living. 😉

That said, I actually played well this month, and better than I’ve been in a while. I’ve learned that no one wants to hear about “bad beats” and “bad luck”, and honestly, it doesn’t bug me when it happens to me anywhere near what it used to, so I don’t even have the need to “get it off my chest” like I used to. Suffice it to say that there were a few key plays that made the difference between a plus month and a minus one…

Here is a highlight of the month: The multi-table Omaha games average around 80 players with the top 10 getting prize money. Out of the 8 that I played, I only made the money once. I came 7th, and received $110 for my $22 in that one. That said, I also finished 13th once, and 12th once, so I am getting close frequently enough that it’s not a waste to be playing in these tourneys.

Anyway, once I get started on poker I can write forever, I’ll leave it at that. Last statistic is that I played those 24 tourneys over 11 days, so that’s still 19 days this month where I didn’t play a single second of poker. Gotta retire soon, so I can get my playing time up. 😉

Harry Connick Jr.

Send to Kindle

After going on and on about all of the live music we’ve taken in lately, friends of ours surprised us with tickets to see Harry Connick Jr. this past Saturday night at Radio City Music Hall.

Neither Lois and I were particularly familiar with him. We both knew he had an exceptional voice, and we’ve seen him act as well (mostly in Will and Grace on TV). I thought of him as a “crooner”, a modern-day Frank Sinatra.

We were definitely looking forward to the experience, but neither of us was excited from a musical perspective. We were extremely excited about spending the time with our friends, and weren’t disappointed in that regard.

The evening started at the Peking Duck House. ‘Nuff said about that. 🙂

The concert was wonderful. Radio City Music Hall is a fantastic place. We were in nose-bleed territory, but still enjoyed everything. There was an 11-piece “big band” playing with him, and they were amazing. For roughly half the show, two other Jazz stars played with them, Leroy Jones and Lucien Barbarin.

Now for the star. Harry Connick Jr. was great. His voice was as good as expected, but neither of us realized he was such a talented pianist. Moreover, his charm is infectious, and when he talked to the crowd, he was mesmerizing. There were lots of other wonderful touches on the night (including a proposal from one of his trombone players to his girlfriend, now fiancee) 😉 and his daughters dancing on the stage with him during the finale.

Anyway, we’re now officially fans of his, and can’t thank our friends enough!

Christening a new server

Send to Kindle

I’ve been quiet lately, not because I had nothing to say, or no time to say it, but I’ve been busy building a new server. I didn’t want to post to the old one, once I got the blogging software running on the new one, with the database correctly migrated over. Since that was an early accomplishment, blogging just had to wait.

Anyway, 95% of my services are now on the new server. That’s the subject of either a very long post, or a number of long posts 😉 but I’ll save that for some other time.

This is just the christening of the server in a public forum, with this short post. 🙂

Networking mystery solved!

Send to Kindle

I run my own server for a variety of things, and I’m the SA (SysAdmin). I get a kick out of it, so I don’t find it to be a grind.

One of the things that I run is a Jabber server. On my laptop, I use GAIM to connect to it. I’ve been running it for a long time, and for the most part, I really like GAIM as a client, and Jabber as a service. Unfortunately, if I’m on for my typical 12 hour day, GAIM will lose it’s connection to my server at least 10 times. It reconnects within a few seconds, but every one on my buddy list sees me “flapping” (logging off and then back on).

It has been really annoying, but I never spent even one minute trying to track it down. I assumed that either GAIM was flakey, or the Jabber server I was running was flakey, etc.

For many reasons (most of them more paranoid than sound), I have strongly resisted running IMAP as my main email protocol. As a result, I use POP to retrieve my emails, and back up my files on to external USB disks. For those of you who have read my past posts, you’ll know that I spent an absurd amount of time playing with SPAM filtering over the past 1-2 months.

As a result, I ended up with a rhythm that I like. All suspicious mail gets auto-filtered into IMAP folders (yes, IMAP, because it’s not intended to stay on the server), and all good mail continues to be polled and pulled continuously via POP. Whenever I want to check on my spam, I open up the IMAP folders, scan them quickly, and either dispose of the spam permanently, or drag a good email into my inbox, etc.

When I first started, it worked fine. Then I started doing it for Lois as well (with equally good results). After a week or two, IMAP started hanging relatively frequently. It always worked, but it was way more annoying than the GAIM disconnect/reconnect dance. In the case of IMAP, I was actively clicking on something because I was ready to process it, and the hangs (even if they were only 30 seconds in length) were killing me!

So, I googled a bit, and discovered a likely culprit. Courier-imap (which I have been very happy with forever) has a configuration variable that by default, only permits 4 simultaneous connections from a single IP. Of course, since I was NAT’ed, all of my connections were coming from the same IP. I was proud of myself for finding this, and I upped the variable and restarted Courier-imap. It seemed to work. However, after a few days (and perhaps more folders and clicks), it started to reliably hang again.

I upgraded to the latest Courier-imap with no change. This was too maddening. So, I started watching the /var/log/messages file. When I was hanging, I was seeing a number of IPTABLES log messages being spewed. It turns out that packets from my laptop were being dropped (rejected!). Huh? My firewall is supposed to let me in, not keep me out!

So, the specific packets were dropped for being in the state “NewNotSyn” (you can google it yourself if you care) 😉

After some serious googling, it turns out that this is a known problem in two frequent configurations:

  1. Two firewalls in between the client and application (this is true for me)
  2. Microsoft Networking being the client, with Linux being the server (oops, that’s me too).

So, after changing my firewall config a bit, IMAP never hangs any longer (yeah, that’s right, never). As a bonus, in three days since I’ve made the change, GAIM has only flapped once (perhaps twice). GAIM still seems overly sensitive to any network hiccup, but it’s clear that the dropped packets were killing GAIM, whereas Thunderbird’s IMAP implementation kept trying relentlessly, and eventually always reconnected…

Whew. If I hadn’t started mucking with spam filters, then I wouldn’t have started using IMAP, then I wouldn’t have started hanging on IMAP, then I wouldn’t have discovered the dropped packets, and I wouldn’t have solved my long-standing, long-suffering GAIM problem.

Another happy ending. 🙂