Sunday, May 13, 2012

My Two Moms

Today many of us are taking the time to thank our mother's and reflect upon the incredible impact they have had on our lives. I have been fortunate to be able to call two incredible women ‘mom'.

The first is obvious- my biological mother Cookie- a singularly unique woman. Mom has lived a life worthy of Bilbo Baggins- from meeting Barry Goldwater, and being featured in the newspaper for her trained rabbit to being the only girl at a Boy Scout summer camp; her life has never been ordinary. My mother graduated 3rd in her class from high school in and went to UC Berkley as a pre-med student. She left school to move to Tahoe-Donner and worked with her best friend as a maid to be able to afford to spend all her free time at the nude beaches, or tooling around Lake Tahoe in her 1966 Mustang. Eventually mom moved down to Reno where she began dealing cards and met my father. She travelled and backpacked in the mountains with only her dog. She did these things alone, and without fear. She rode motorcycles, camped and four-wheeled- my mother has always lived her life with enthusiasm. She discovered Burning Man, and jumped in feet first. She raised two daughters who both graduated from high school and went out into the world independent and assured of their ability to do whatever they put their minds to. And she steered us through the loss of my father, refusing to let us pull apart or give up on one another.

My ‘other mother’ lacks the button eyes or malevolence of the Beldan- she isn’t my mother at all, but my ex-husband and sister-in-law have been kind enough to share her with me since 2000. Karen Hardie was raised in Illinois, in the Chicago area, by her paternal grandparents- first generation Swedish immigrants. She and her sister grew up caught between two generations, apart from her mother and father who were too young to give them the life that was best for them. She lived an urban life, but had great stories of the trips to the family farm outside the city. When she took her driver’s test, the examiner passed her only if she promised to never drive. She married and divorced her first husband, and then drive she did- all the way to Reno. When you first met her, she could seem cautious, pragmatic, and slightly out of time- she had a wild streak to her- she was fierce and bold. She met her second husband and married him within 3 months. She worked nights, days, all hours to help support her family. She raised two children who both graduated from high school with honors, and completed college degrees. She made every holiday, and every occasion magical. She sewed and crocheted, and always cooked rich, hearty meals enough to feed armies. Every year she baked some 50 varieties of Christmas cookies and generously passed out to family, friends, and acquaintances- when she met me, she began labeling the cookies with cinnamon in them with little skulls and crossbones so I would know to avoid them. When my husband and I announced our separation, she called me and told me I would always be her daughter. She helped me make my father’s burial arrangements, plan my father’s funeral, and told dirty limericks at his wake. While she didn’t ‘raise’ me, there is no other person who has had an impact on me like her.

We lost Karen to an unexpected infection in July of 2010, and my mother had a heart attack that required hospitalization and surgery this March; I almost had to celebrate this Mothers’ Day without either mother. I never needed Karen more than when I sat by my mother’s hospital bed. I may not be able to call her anymore, but she is there in my head, guiding me, and I remember her today, for the incredible woman she was, and the incredible woman she saw in me. And while my mother and I may drive each other crazy- me nagging her to eat right and to call me, her complaining I’m always bossing her around- I wouldn’t know how to be me without her. Today I will raise a glass, in memory of one mother, and with a grateful heart to still have another. Here is to the future that mother’s weave for their children, and the promises with which they build the world.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Shock and Awful.

You always think you have a handle on your own mortality, until one day you realize that you have been totally bullshitting yourself.

My dad had a SURPRISE! heart attack the night of February 25th, 2010. Thankfully he had my mom take him to the ER, where they immediately rushed him in for an angiogram. My mom called me in the wee hours of the morning and I met her at the hospital, wanting to cry, but defaulting to my ‘fear mode’, which is mostly take over, boss everyone around, and feed everyone.

Dad’s heart attack was a surprise because he was always healthy. He worked out, he swam, he didn’t smoke, he didn’t eat particularly fatty or unhealthy foods, and he’d always had good blood pressure. Dad’s angio wasn’t good, and the talented Cardiology team laid it out for us all plainly; despite shockingly healthy outward appearance, he was very sick. Might-need-the-left-ventricle-of-his-heart-replaced-with-a-gizmo sick. Maybe even die-on-the-table-unless-he-gets-an-artificial-heart, and needs-a-heart-transplant sick.

It was a ‘holy shit’ moment, to say the least. The shock didn’t wear off; instead I diverted my attention with my other favorite coping mechanism- LEARN ALL THE THINGS. While my parents were airlifted to San Francisco to the nearest transplant center, I began my mission to learn everything I would need to help my father when he got home. I never entertained that he would die, and he didn’t. His recovery was unprecedented! He was discharged from the hospital on March 9th after a quintuple bypass. It was like we’d all been given the greatest gift ever- now that he was home we could exhale and admit we really were afraid he was going to die. We were safe!

And then he died. I don’t mean his heart disease eventually killed him, I mean I left his house after 11pm on March 10th and my mom discovered him dead on the couch around 8 in the morning of March 11th. Everything was a waste- we’d come through it all and it hadn’t mattered. None of my heart healthy recipes, or even the plans he’d excitedly told me about while I finished the dishes up on that fateful Wednesday were ever going to happen.

The shock and pain from the ordeal has never left me. In my personal timeline it is the point where my life split into divergent paths. Everything in 2010, and much of 2011 was a struggle, and in the back of my head, a little nagging voice kept pointing out that he was only 58, and I was nearing the ‘half-way’ point of his life. It could happen to you, the little voice said. But it was so small. It was easily drowned out by all the activities of my daily life and the challenges that seemed to pop up left and right.

Finally, after 2 years, I started 2012 awash in change. I had moved into a new place in the heart of downtown Reno, shaken up my living arrangements, found a new job- hell I’d even changed cell phone plans!
But we all know about the best laid plans of mice and men…

(to be contd) 

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Linux class, THE END IS NIGH.

1 Why would you use HTTP or FTP instead of BitTorrent for downloading large files?
Well, generally, FTP and HTTP can be quicker, and more secure as they do not rely on crowd sourcing or seeders. If set up correctly, the entire file is located in one place and can be continuously drawn down without risk of interruption.

2) Which command would you give to perform a complete upgrade?
up2date -u or yum update

3) Why would you build a package from the its source code when a (binary) deb file is available?
The difference between building your own package from the source code and using a deb file is the difference between making pancakes and using bisquick; while the pre-built binary file may serve, you have greater options and control when you build the package from 'scratch'. You are able to customize it to work best on your system, fix bugs, and use the most recent version available.

4) Suggest two advantages that deb files have over source distributions.
Again, deb files are like biscuick, or box cake mix... they allow for quicker installation and deployment, as well as allowing for automatic dependency resolutions between files and libraries.

5) When you compile a package yourself, rather from a deb fil, which directory hierarchy should you put it in?

6) Which steps should you take before performing an upgrade on a mission-critical server?
The best bet would be to clone your server exactly on a second system and then run the upgrade on the clone while observing closely for fails and errors and for what sort of configuration information needs to be tweeked by hand so that you can insure the safety/functionality of the full upgrade on the real server.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Open Source Prostetics for All

R&D for healthcare is costly, but has less easily pursued financial gains- when lives and well-being are on the line, nobody likes to hear somebody whining about money. With prostheses, the closed system can be a hindrance to advancement as people count pennies and figure out it's just not worth it to spend tens of thousands to increase balance or grip strength, on a design that's worked for years.

The Open Prosthetics Project says, "Prostetics shouldn't cost an arm and a leg", and they are putting their money where there motto is. They have changed the approach to meeting the needs of disabled people by turning to open source and reverse engineering on their projects. Reverse engineering has long been a bad word to the corporate world. As soon as your technology is on the market, somebody is going to take it apart and figure out how to make it themselves, thus becoming competition. Or worse, they may find major flaws that could embarrass the company and cost millions. Companies spend a lot of money on research and development, and they don't like to have all that effort go to waste. But for prostheses, reverse engineering means the difference between vast improvements, and reinventing the wheel for every varied situation. Now they can take a design that already works, and find ways to fit it to different needs and lifestyles, or improve on general problems.

One such project is the Body Powered Hook project. As the simplest and most common upper body prosthesis, it's something we're all familiar with. Grasping hooks at the end of an armcup that the user operates by secondary, unrelated movements of their body. They've been around for decades, and come with a myriad of challenges for users. The OPP came to life when founder Jonathan Kuniholm returned from Iraq without his arm, but with three different prostheses, one being a BPH. Immediately, Jonathan and his partners at Tackle Design saw ways they could make improvements on the design, and thus improve the lives of millions of disabled people. Rather than a grasping hook which is limited by the strength of springs or user, the prototype uses a 'vector prehensor'. It's a pin and slot set up reminiscent of adjustable plier and vise-type wrenches found in a garage which relies on the movement of the pin to change the fulcrum of the hinge, thus increasing or decreasing the pressure with with the graspers close.

Another project is called the pediatric trainer. Imagining children with amputations is a sad thing, but imagine being a parent trying to facilitate your child learning to operate their new prosthetic when they're still having trouble with natural motor skills like walking or operating their remaining hand! Children and parents must attend physical and occupation therapy sessions with specialized trainers who help the child learn to use and understand their prosthetic by asking the child to complete a task such as gripping an item, and providing positive feedback when the child completes the motion required to accomplish this task. It is a time consuming and stressful process for the child and parent. OPP seeks to create an automated training system that can measure the movements and force of the child's effort, and play appropriate feedback information. This way, children will have constant reinforcement of their work, rather than only getting the precise training in physical therapy sessions.

By developing projects and opening them up to the public, not only do they allow people to take their ideas and create them in more cost effective ways, but they also increase the number of people looking at a problem, and increase the number of creative solutions. Just like with software, new flaws can be found more quickly, and innovative changes flow more freely.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The New Info Wars

To some, the Internet is a vast and danger-ridden expanse. You hear it all the time; "there's no delete on the Internet", "once it's on the web, you can never take it back", "you have no way to know who you're talking to", etc. In some ways, the Internet can provide true anonymity in an increasingly connected world. The Internet contains everything, for anyone, without discrimination; from the exalted to the abhorrent. There is no obscene, everything is obscene. Places like 4-chan pop up where 'anonymous' takes on a new life, a persona of its own. Nothing is taboo. Shock sites, file sharing, and pornography exist in the same 'space' as churches, schools, and libraries.

Right now, the scariest part of all, anyone with a computer can search and view anything, at any time, from the comfort of their home, office, public library, mobile phone, or internet coffee shop. So your grandma can keep up with her grandchildren, find her favorite recipes, and research brands and products while your brother can peruse (yes I mean peruse, as in intently look, not "browse" meaning to skim over) videos of people hit by buses and midget porn, while trolling the Sesame Street forums. It also means that if somebody decides to link to a shock site in grandma's kitten video comment section, she and countless other unsuspecting people with know EXACTLY what 2 girls, 1 cup is.

But when you really break it down, the Internet is about commerce. Best Buy, Walmart, Amazon, Overstock, New Egg, Barnes and Noble, and homemade wholesaler Etsy are all vying for your retail dollars. If you search for a product using Google, Bing, or Yahoo, you will get results from a litany of sources- large and small- and have the freedom to evaluate the options yourself. You might find, a small store in New Haven Ct., sells that Canon 50D for MUCH cheaper than Best Buy, and even shipping it to Nevada, you get a bargain. Or you might find that your text books are way cheaper from Amazon than your college bookstore, if you're willing to wait for them. If you want to research a product you can find reviews from dedicated sites and from angry customers, they you are able to figure out for yourself if that much hyped holiday-must-have is a good purchase.

It's a double edged sword. But you have to take the good with the bad. Or at least that was the FCC's stance. For years, the Federal Communications Commission enforced standards on web service providers like Comcast, Charter, AT&T, etc. These providers must, no matter the content of the site, provide equal and open access to information. Amazon couldn't pay to be the first/only website to come up when you search for books, the New York Times can't pay to push the New York Post to the back page. The FCC required companies to be neutral, fair, and disallowed them to use their power in providing access to alter or limit that access. They aren't allowed to play gate-keeper. Or they weren't, until an appeals court decision in 2010. Comcast challenged the FCC power to regulate broadband internet services, and the court agreed. So in December 2010, the FCC had to agree to a compromise, granting more power over the content of wireless Internet providers to the providers themselves. Service providers and investors hail these changes as positive, but opponents from all over note the potential for abuse of power.

Not only could companies pay to be put ahead of their competition, businesses could pay to eliminate sites they find questionable. Take file-sharing sites like The Pirate Bay or Utorrent. The MPAA and RIAA have been at war to stop their content from being traded over the internet using these sites for years. Congressional hearings, injunctions, raids, lawsuits against children and grandmothers, and subpoenas have flown left and right. But under the new rules, not only would Sony-MCA be able to pay for prioritization over RCA, but the RIAA could pay Comcast to filter and disable any searches or links to torrent sites. The law bans ISPs from blocking access to 'legal' content, but file sharing of copyrighted material is illegal, so that's ok, right? No- because file sharing sites and torrents are not only used for illegal file sharing. Many smaller artists and companies make their files, and their products available for fair-use, and wide dissemination using torrents. Even 'major' musical acts like Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails have released their albums over the Internet in this manner.

Additionally, rules were added to allow ISPs to create tiered access systems. Like with data plans currently, you pay more for more speed, more bandwidth, and a growing number of providers are charging more for how much data you actually use. But current plans are in works to allow them to charge you more for "premium" web pages. So for $35 a month, you can have access to, government services, and YouTube, but if you want Facebook and the Wall Street Journal, you'll have to purchase the $50 plan. FOX News videos will load at 16Mbs speeds, but CNN videos will be throttled to 5Mbs- you'll be waiting longer for content to load from sites that don't pay up. That is, if you can access it at all.

Then the worst possibility of all comes up. Who, if not the FCC, gets to decide what is illegal content? The Internet does not obey political boundaries- there are no state or country boarders between sites. But laws do vary, not just from country to country, but from state to state. With power shifted into the hands of the people who stand to benefit MOST from this arrangement, there is little incentive to play fair. Many countries like China, Iran, and North Korea have strict bans on illegal content. So you can't access Facebook, Twitter, CNN, or Google. What if ISPs like CommCast or companies like Microsoft, who find themselves frequently in competition with sites like Google, decide those sites shouldn't be available to their customers? Or what if a site is illegal in China, and a ISP is owned by a Chinese company- so they block access to that site by their American clients? What if companies pay to 'throttle' access to articles and information that might be negative to their business, or demonstrate criminal action?

This compromise, and the loss of power by the FCC is no compromise at all. It is a direct effort by powerful companies to limit the flow of information. Where the Internet used to be an equalizing factor, a bit of the American dream where anyone can find or be anything, it is at risk of being turned into a class system. Knowledge is power, and somebody wants to decide who gets to be plugged in.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Linux is the fastest growing career field.

So... I have a bachelor's degree already. I did what they tell you- It was suppose to be Step 1: Go to college, Step 2: Get Job, Step 3: Work Hard, Step 4: Profit! Step three turned out to be more of a variable and for me step four has become "unemployment!" So, I have am BACK in school to try this again with a focus on computers.

Having a background in Linux opens up the world. You can work in ANY sector- public or private. You can work in any industry, like aerospace, education, hospitality, politics, sales, transportation, shipping, information technology, research, marketing, engineering, quality assurance, gaming (casinos), software, healthcare... the list is endless because of the prevalence that technology and computers have in today's society. Virtually EVERY company has a website and uses computers in their day-to-day operations and those computers and websites need systems administrators, network engineers, programmers, IT troubleshooting, and designers to design, run and repair their computer operations.

Although many companies are satisfied with background and experience over formal certifications it is likely that in the future these certifications will be more common place. LPCI1 is an 'entry level' certification. You must pass two exams and are expected to demonstrate an ability to work a command line, execute specific tasks, run routine maintenance and assist users, and you are also expected to be able to set up and network virtual workstations, or individual computers. LPCI2 steps it up a bit- you must have received your LPCI1, and another two exams demonstrating you are able to perform more detailed maintenance on a larger site, run automation, manage assistants, and administer to a mixed systems including Microsoft, Linux, Internet, etc. The highest certification you can receive in Linux is LPCI3- this consists of a 'core' certification earned with a single exam, and multiple other specializations in areas like security, or mixed environments. People who take the level three exams generally have already been working in the field doing sys, admin. for number of years. They are able to run large networks with many computers, can work seamlessly with a variety of operating systems and different technologies, they must know at least one programming language (like Perl, C, or Java), and be skilled/trained in all levels of Linux like security, installation, management, troubleshooting, and maintenance. No small task!

More and more companies and even countries like Brazil are switching to Linux or Linux based software making experience and certification with Linux vital for their IT employees. Benefits, depending on experience and additional computer knowledge range from $40-$50 an hour, to $200k/annually. You'll also find things like contract work for single projects, or some people find success working 'freelance' for multiple smaller companies and groups on contract for their IT work from their own homes.

One of the best benefits people find with these jobs is the variety of locals- in the tech fields you can work from home, or move to any part of the world. This doesn't mean you are guaranteed a fancy job and lots of money for learning Linux- the hours of work are long, experience is highly valued, and you have to have diversity in your skills to make sure you are a valuable asset. Often you're on-call, and people will take out frustrations with technology on you. IT also carries a workplace stigma, which is great for television and humor, but can be isolating. For me, with a background in Political Science and soon to be a Masters in Criminal Justice, I see computer science knowledge as a way to keep up with crimes and they evolve, but also as a way to elevate the perception of my existing skill-set in the workplace. After all, experience counts, but it isn't everything.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Brazil transitions to Open Source software

Software licensing is expensive. I don't think that casual PC users, or casual MAC users realize the 'true' cost of the convenience of their preferred operating system. Most people go in they're favorite cookie-cutter store every few years and listen to pimpled, perfumed adolescent sales people ramble off rote technical details, and buy whatever computer's description features the most recognizable buzz-words. Since there is no itemization or cost break-down of components for the system beyond the monitor, printer, and nondescript box, very few users understand the true costs of their investment. Computers used to all come with backup disks, and each manual CLEARLY stated how important it was to not discard those disks- nobody reads the manual and eventually it comes back to haunt them. The 'sticker shock' is huge when they suddenly find themselves faced with purchasing a whole new software license or even the newest upgrade. The next thing you know their perfectly good computer is 'broken' and they're off to a different big-box-store filled with righteous indignation to purchase a 'better' system since the last one was a lemon in their eyes.

For anyone who's worked in a business, the 'true cost' of software is less of a surprise, but all the more painful. Business and Commercial software licenses are astronomical. The cost is justified by the assumption that the license will be used by a larger number of people, or used to make money, but it doesn't always make it any easier to shell out thousands of dollars for software. For a small business license, popular computer site sells Microsoft Small Business Server 2008 for $3500. That's just for the permission to use the software, not the software itself. You can't even get pricing for use in larger businesses or government offices without setting up an account with a Microsoft Rep.

The extreme costs can be hard for commercial interests to accept, but they can be crippling for non-profit and public enterprises. The public sector is under tight scrutiny and even tighter monetary stress- the costs of software licensing can eat away at funds that are needed elsewhere. It becomes even more of a hardship when you take into account that you're not looking just at the cost of an opperating system, but that every program you use requires an additional license. Music software, word processing software, media and image software, spreadsheet and database software, even email and messaging software. The true cost of running a Microsoft or Apple office can skyrocket.

Open source suddenly becomes a much more palatable option, especially now that many open products are being developed with shells that so closely resemble the commercial OS's people are familiar with. Not only that, Open Source products can be custom tailored to the needs of each business without violating the license. Companies and Organizations often employ their own IT staff, and open source software allows an opportunity for IT departments to have more control and involvement in their software. It seems that proper utilization of Open Source software can not only have monetary benefits, but also quality benefits for many public and private organization. Since this is an older story, I'd love to see how, 7 years later, this transition has gone and what sort of effect they are seeing.