Alaric’s Fundraising Progress

Just wanted to drop a quick note to you all to keep you updated on Alaric’s progress in raising funds for his 2013 Summer of Awesome. I’ve created a static page that you can go to and will keep it updated until our goal of $5,000 is met. That’s not to say that I won’t be reminding you all about it here and on Twitter and Facebook on a regular basis, but I wanted to condense all the major details down to one place.

Update: We’re around $1,365 or so, give or take some pending funds from current fundraising efforts and some pledges we’ve not yet receiving but are expecting. Thank you to everyone who has helped us out so far!

And @marypcbuk Nails IT

Amid all the bustle of MEC, I’ve not taken a bunch of time to read my normal email, blogs, etc. However, this article from ZDNet caught my eye:

Windows 8: Why IT admins don’t know best by Mary Branscombe

The gist of it is that IT departments spend a lot of time and effort trying to stop users from doing things with technology when they would often be better served enabling users. Users these days are not shy about embracing new technology, and Mary argues that users find creative ways around IT admins who are impediments:

The reality is that users are pushing technology in the workplace — and out of it. The Olympics has done more to advance flexible and remote working than a decade of IT pilot projects.

What got her going is the tale of an IT admin who found a way to disable, via Group Policy, the short tutorial that users are given on navigating Windows 8 the first time they log on.

I see this behavior all the time from admins and users – admins say “No” and users say “Bet me.” Users usually win this fight, too, because they are finding ways to get their work done. A good admin doesn’t say “No” – they say, “Let me help you find the best way to get that done.”

Mary finishes with this timely reminder:

See something new in Windows 8? If your first impulse is to look for a way to turn it off, be aware that you’re training your users to work around you.

What a refreshing dose of common sense.

Getaway

We’ve lived in Monroe for over 13 years. In that time, we’ve not taken advantage of many of the opportunities available in this area to get out and see the amazing beauty of the Puget Sound region. Late last summer, we finally started correcting that with hikes and drives to various attractions. Stephanie and I are also closing in on our 15th anniversary, and it’s been a while since we’ve had a getaway for just the two of us that didn’t also serve some other purpose (such as her heading to Las Vegas with me for Exchange Connections); it was time to correct this. This weekend, I combined those two imperatives and planned a Friday night overnight to Whidbey Island, as a slightly-belated celebration of Steph’s birthday.

Whidbey Island

The first thing I did was do a little research to locate a candidate list of reasonable bed and breakfasts for us to stay at. Steph had never before been to one and, frankly, hotels are boring. Ideally, I wanted one that was based out of a Victorian house, since Steph loves them. Potential bed & breakfasts of course would have to be able to handle the no-dairy/no-gluten restrictions. I really wanted to find one on Whidbey Island, which is close off-shore in the Sound, separated from Fidalgo Island by Deception Pass.

Why did I want to go to Whidbey Island for our overnight?

  • Islands are picturesque as hell. On the right island, you’re always close to the water, which I love.
  • We’d only been there once previously, during a quick drive-around last September when we got our new car.
  • Whidbey is one of the bigger islands in the Sound. It hosts several towns and has a high enough population to still offer some great experiences even during the depths of the off-season.
  • You can drive to it (by the bridge to Fidalgo Island, then by the bridge over Deception Pass to the north end of the island) or take the Mukilteo-Clinton ferry at the south end of the island. Transportation flexibility in winter months is a good thing.
  • Our most direct route to Whidbey Island is the ferry route, which runs every half-hour and is a short 20 minute ride. This helps achieve Steph’s goal of riding every ferry route in the Sound at least once. It also indulges my love of being out on the water.

Once I had a couple of candidates and knew what their check-in times were, I could work backwards for travel times and ferry crossings and determine the window of time in which we’d need to leave. This gave me the all-important time: my cut-off for the work day. Armed with this time, I set up an out-of-office calendar appointment and clearly communicated with my co-workers and clients that I had a hard stop at 3pm. As I set up each part of the weekend reservations, I sent Steph appropriate meeting requests in our shared Outlook/Exchange calendar. This let her know what my plans were and gave her the links and information she’d need to poke around and do her own reading. It seemed to work, because I quickly got acceptance notices and by Wednesday, Steph was practically bouncing off the walls in anticipation!

Whidbey-Island-Map

Whidbey Island (from the Whidbey Island Visitors Guide website)

Once Friday came, Steph was obviously eager to be off on our adventure. I think she was packed to go by 10am. At any rate, I was promptly done with work by 3pm, took a few minutes to pack, and we were out the door by 3:45pm as I’d planned. We took a quick detour to run a necessary errand, then headed for the Mukilteo ferry terminal. We arrived in time to queue up and watch (but not participate in) the loading of the 5pm ferry crossing as the sun set; it would be our turn in 30 minutes. The ride across the Sound was quick and cold in the gloaming, and we made our way north up the island until arriving at Coupeville.

The Blue Goose Inn

After doing some homework and reading reviews, it became clear that my #1 choice was going to be The Blue Goose Inn in Coupeville, overlooking Penn Cove in central Whidbey Island. Proprietors Sue and Marty McDaniel offer a fantastic getaway experience out of two lovely restored Victorian historical homes, and during a good portion of the year also operate a pub on-premises (sadly, it was closed during our visit). When I called to inquire, Sue assured me that the dietary restrictions would be no problem. A few minutes later, I had chosen the Captain’s Suite because of the king-size bed, the soaking tub, and the view of Penn Cove; we had our reservation!

steph_and_the_blue_goose

Stephanie in front of The Blue Goose Inn in Coupeville, WA

Even though we arrived after sunset, Stephanie could see enough details that she was delighted by the choice. As we walked in the front door and were greeted by Sue and Marty, we immediately felt welcome. As I’d taken care of payment over the phone when I made the reservations, there was no paperwork to take care of; we chatted for a few minutes, they approved of my choice of venue for dinner, gave us our room key to the Captain’s Suite in the Coupe House, explained the accommodations that were available besides our room, and sent us on our way. We were not disappointed; the room was lovely and tastefully appointed with beautiful and functional furniture. In many older homes, drafts can be a problem, especially on a cold, windy night; this was not a problem here! The room was comfortable without being stuffy or unpleasant. We quickly unpacked, rested for a bit, and prepared for dinner.

Once we’d returned from a fabulous dinner, we again relaxed and settled in for the evening. Other than our Windows phones, we didn’t crack open any computers, so I don’t know how the complimentary Wi-Fi access was. We can both report, however, that the soaking tub was every bit as luxurious as it was claimed. The king bed (which towered off the ground) was one of the most comfortable beds I’ve ever slept in away from home.

Viva Whidbey Island

Looking NNW over Penn Cove from the Captain’s Suite

In the morning, we woke up, brewed tea (for her) and coffee (for me, which is not my normal morning habit), got ready, and packed. As promised, the view of Penn Cove was beautiful and not marred at all by the brief but vigorous attack of hail and rain we enjoyed. Just before 9am, we placed our bags in our car and headed back into the main house for breakfast, where Marty greeted us by name and showed us to our place in the dining room with the rest of the guests. What a treat!

  • Tea and coffee were on offer and Marty was quick to refill any cups that looked like they were thinking about becoming empty.
  • The first course was a green mango fool. Now, I’m not a mango person…or at least, I didn’t think I was. I had a tiny bite of this and it was quite simply divine. I would have promptly devoured my whole serving, but I wasn’t quite awake yet and the morning’s cup of coffee kept me from being hungry yet. Stephanie also got to enjoy this, minus the cream.
  • Our next course was buttermilk scones with currants. Again, these were very tasty, and again, my stomach wasn’t quite open for business yet. Sue made sure that Steph was supplied with gluten/dairy-free banana muffins, which Steph devoured.
  • The final course was a three-cheese omelet and a serving of oven-roasted seasoned Yukon Gold potatoes; Steph got scrambled eggs. Now, Steph’s not a scrambled egg person, but you’d never have known that — just as you’d never have known that I never eat breakfast potatoes unless they’re hash browns. The eggs came in separate porcelain oval bowls that kept them hot and tasty.

We lingered over our breakfast until the other guests left. At that point, we chatted a few minutes more with Marty (and said goodbye to Sue when she stuck her head out of the kitchen). After purchasing a Blue Goose Inn mug for me, we promised we’d be back during pub season, then hit the road back to the ferry terminal and points east. We had to head home, unpack, relax, and get the family ready for the afternoon’s plans: a visit to the Seattle Art Museum.

Christopher’s at Whidbey

Since Friday evening dinner wasn’t provided by The Blue Goose, this was the other major logistical challenge I faced in my planning. Dining is now much more exciting than it was back when I was the pickiest eater in the family, and it can be a significant source of stress for Steph. This was supposed to be a relaxing night away and I didn’t want her to have to worry about anything. Was I up to the task? As I said before, one of the reasons I chose Whidbey Island is that there are several towns on the island. Even if I couldn’t find anything near our lodgings, I was confident I’d be able to find a nice place for an intimate evening meal that could offer Steph not just one dinner option, but a choice of meals. They would also need to have food I’d eat — I still don’t like too much food with my food, if you know what I mean.

Coupeville turned out to be perfect because it’s also home to Christopher’s on Whidbey, a small and unassuming restaurant that boasts exquisite food and wine at amazingly affordable prices. During my planning, I’d called them up, explained our requirements, and in a few moments had an 8pm dinner reservation set up. They assured me that not only would Stephanie’s needs be taken care of, but that she would have a number of items to choose from. They asked me all the right questions to give me confidence that they actually did understand how to properly cook her meals without overlooking anything or putting her in danger of cross-contamination.

It was just a short drive from the Blue Goose to Christopher’s; if the weather had been better and we had still had light, we’d have walked the few blocks. When we arrived, the interior of the restaurant was well-lit, warm, and comfortably elegant without being pretentious or snobby. They greeted us by name, reassured me that they had Steph’s dietary restrictions on file, and showed us to a quiet table in the corner.

Pinot Blanc

Albrecht 2008 Pinot Blanc from Alsace, France

They had an interesting and eclectic wine selection, with offerings from a number of sources. Unlike many wine lists, they seemed to focus on offering affordable, enjoyable wines, mainly from local and regional wineries. Stephanie and I both favor white wines, and I noticed they offered a pinot blanc from Alsace. I’ve heard good things about Alsace wine but have never had it, so I enquired about it; apparently, this was a good thing, because this wine turned out to be a favorite of their wine expert. We ordered a bottle and found it to be delicate and satisfying both chilled and warm; it boasted a fantastic balance of dry vs. sweet with an unassuming and crisp fruity taste. A lot of whites taste like alcohol mixed with simple syrup; this one barely tasted like alcohol at all, and went well with both our dishes. While we waited for our entrees, Steph enjoyed a salad and I attacked a basket of bread with butter.

Stephanie chose the king salmon with raspberry barbeque sauce with greens and mixed vegetables. I went with something a little less adventuresome: linguine alfredo with chicken; in my defense, I don’t get cream-based sauces at home any more thanks to our Glorious New Dietary Regime. Our food was served rather quickly and was presented with a simple elegance that could easily have double the price tag in another establishment. I’ll let Stephanie speak for her meal if she chooses, but I will note that she told me at least once that she could eat it every day and be happy. My linguine was simply fantastic; the pasta was perfectly al dente, the sauce was light and creamy and in perfect proportion to enhance the pasta without smothering it, and the chicken was tender and full of flavor. It was easily the best pasta I’ve had in my life, and the entire meal rates up in my top three dining experiences. The service, of course, was quick, cheerful, and unassuming. We will happily come back and acquaint ourselves with the rest of the menu.

Picasso at the Seattle Art Museum

Upon arriving back at home around 12:30pm on Saturday, we unpacked, grabbed an informal lunch with the family, and planned out the rest of the day. For Christmas, the kids had purchased Stephanie a family membership in the Seattle Art Museum, in part so we could all head to the Picasso exhibit they have running through January 17. We had our tickets to get into the Picasso exhibit for 5pm, and with the Seahawks kicking off in Seattle at 1:30pm, we decided to wait for traffic to die down and head into town later in the afternoon. That gave us time to locate several alternatives for dinner after we’d been to the museum.

Once we got into Seattle and were parked at the garage underneath the SAM — a much trickier proposition now that we have a Ford Freestyle — we went up to Member Services and got our temporary membership cards. At that point, we had about 75 minutes to fill before we could enter the Picasso exhibit. We therefore broke up into groups and wandered around the museum’s various levels. Much of what I saw made little impression on me; a few of the pieces provoked a strong response (usually strong incredulity). I very much enjoyed the European and Italian galleries; in particular, they had a recreation of an Italian room, full of dark carved wood, that I found particularly intriguing.

Soon enough, 5pm approached and we queued up to enter the Picasso exhibit. I’m afraid I’m the wrong person to comment on it — I find most of Picasso’s work to be unapproachable. I tended to concentrate, instead, on the other people viewing the exhibit. There were a lot of very serious people there who apparently found all sorts of serious things to ponder. They were no fun. I liked watching the people who were totally blown away by what they were seeing; even if I didn’t share their reaction, I couldn’t help but be happy they were having a great time. These people invariably talked about how the art made them feel; the former types tended to pontificate on how it should make others feel and think. That’s an interesting lesson, don’t you think?

Once we had our fill of Picasso — or at least of walking around on the hard floors and dueling our way through the maddening crowds — we headed down to the waterfront to the Old Spaghetti Factory. I hadn’t dined here in many years — back when Stephanie and I were first married and I was working down on Pier 70. I’d really enjoyed it then and was looking forward to introducing my kids, especially because they offered gluten-free/dairy-free options. Instead, Stephanie and I found it to be one of the most disappointing dining experiences we’ve ever had. Maybe we were spoiled by still being on a high from the previous evening’s dining, but the restaurant felt crowded and dark, our table was noisy and drafty, and our server, while personable enough, couldn’t hit the right balance between competence and comedy. I can make better pasta than the half-hearted attempt I received. The best thing we can say is that Mom enjoyed it, as did the kids, although even the kids say that Steph would have made a better meal.

Wrapping Up

So, now it’s time for me to get off the computer and go spend the rest of the day with my family. I think we’ve got a board game or two on deck, maybe a family movie. Or, I could always pull out the copy of Enchanter’s Endgame that we’ve slowly been working through and read another chapter out loud. At any rate, we’ll have a good evening and get prepared to throw ourselves back into school, work, and life come Monday morning.

Solving The Problems You See

Somewhere along the way, I picked up an unusual philosophy: problems are meant to be solved by those who see them. Time after time, I have watched various friends and acquaintances become aware of a cause or injustice, get involved, and find that they had the right combination of talents and drive to becoming actively engaged in the solution in ways they never could have previously imagined. It’s the same phenomenon that can make churches and charitable organizations far more effective at solving particular problems than government programs could ever be. There’s something transformative about passion, moreso when you’re directly involved in changing lives instead of working through some faceless proxy organization.

Right now, I’d like to introduce you to a friend of mine by the name of Chris. Chris and I became acquainted lo these many moons ago when I got involved in the community for the online PC game Starsiege: Tribes back at the end of the 90s. A week after we met, Chris was in a horrible motorcycle accident that changed his life forever. It’s a miracle he’s still alive. Stephanie and I have kept touch with him and over the years, have had the privilege of having him fly out from Vermont for three extended visits with our family, including two memorable Christmas holidays. He’s been placed in our lives for a reason, and we’ve drawn him into our family-of-choice.

Chris at the Gangers for Christmas 2007

Chris at the Gangers for Christmas 2007

Chris’s medical condition is deteriorating; his doctor now estimates that he has approximately five years at the outside until he will need to live in assisted care. We were able to help him out a couple of years ago by putting him up on the awesome Select Comfort air bed that Steph had scrounged up for our guest room. The difference it made during his four-week visit that year was amazing — by the end of the visit, he was regularly going without an entire pain medication dose and was still more active and healthy than he’d been since the accident. His doctor worked all year to get the State of Vermont health services to purchase a Select Comfort bed for him — wrote the prescription, jumped through hoops to show how the cost of the bed would easily repay itself in the reduced medication costs, etc. — and some bureaucratic organization killed the whole idea. Why? Good question — we still don’t know. After a year of struggling, we sent the bed home with him after the next Christmas visit. (Screw you, nameless Vermont functionaries!)

We’ve been working on getting him moved from Vermont to Washington — specifically out to be near us — but it’s been an uphill battle. It has been extremely frustrating hearing him tell us over and over how he gets a good phone interview for a perfect part-time job but then once they meet him in person, game over. Now Chris has a plan. It may not be the best plan, but it’s better than what we’ve been able to come up with and we’re going to help.

PICT0499

Chris working on my Lego Star Destroyer

Those of you who read my blog, whether directly, through some feed, through Twitter, or through Facebook: I’m hoping that you might be able and willing to give some help as well. Please go read his site and background — we’re going to scrounge up the pictures we have of him and send them so he can include them in updates and allow folks to get to know him. If you can, donate. If you can, spread this further. We’d love to get Chris relocated this spring and summer once the weather turns good and get him out here where we can provide in-person assistance. It won’t take much — $1, $2, $maybe even $5 and then pass the word on.

A Virtualization Metaphor

This is a rare kind of blog post for me, because I’m basically copying a discussion that rose from one of my Twitter/Facebook status updates earlier today:

I wish I could change the RAM, CPU configuration on running VMs in #VMWare and have the changes apply on next reboot.

This prompted one of my nieces, a lovely and intelligent young lady in high school, to ask me to say that in English.

I pondered just hand waving it, but I was loathe to do so. Like I said, she’s intelligent. I firmly believe that kids live up to your expectations; if you talk down to them and treat them like they’re dumb because that’s what you expect, they’re happy to be that way. On the other hand, if you expect them to be able to understand concepts with the proper explanations, even if they may not immediately grasp the fine points, I’ve found that kids are actually quite able to do so – better than many adults, truth be told.

So, this is my answer:

The physical machinery of computers is called hardware. The programs that run on them (Windows, games, etc.) is software.
VMware is software that allows you to create virtual machines. That is, instead of buying (for example) 10 computers to do different tasks and have most of them have unused memory and processor power, you buy one or two really beefy computers and run VMWare. That allows you to create a virtual machine in software, so those two computers become 10. I don’t have to buy quite as much hardware because each virtual machine only uses the resources it needs, leaving the rest for the other virtual machines.

However, one of the problems with VMWare currently is that if you find you’ve given a virtual machine too much memory or processor (or not enough), you have to shut it down, make the change, then start it back up. I want the software to be smart enough to take the change *now* and automatically apply it when it can, such as when the virtual machine is rebooting. For a physical computer, it makes sense — I have to power it down, crack the case open, put memory in, etc. — but for a virtual computer, it should be able to be done in software.

Think of it this way: hardware is like a closet. You can build a big closet or a small closet or a medium closet, but each closet holds a finite amount of stuff. Software is the stuff you put in the closet — clothes, shoes, linens, etc. You can dump a bunch of stuff into a big closet, but doing so makes it cluttered and hard to use. So if you use multiple smaller closets, you’re wasting space because you probably won’t fill every one exactly.

In this metaphor, virtualization is like a closet organizer system. You can add a clothing rod here to hang dresses and blouses on, and underneath that add a shelf or two for shoes, while to the side you have more shelves for pants and towels and other stuff. You waste a little bit of your closet space for the organizer, but you keep everything organized and clutter-free, which means you’re better off and take less time to keep everything up.

Of course, this metaphor fails on my original point, because it totally makes sense you have to take all the stuff off shelves before moving those shelves around. In the world of software, though, it doesn’t necessarily make sense — it’s just the right people didn’t think of it at the right time.

Clear?

I came close to busting out Visio and starting to diagram some of this. I decided not to.

Edit: I don’t have to diagram it! Thank you, Ikea, and your lovely KOMPLEMENT wardrobe organizer line!

Ikea KOMPLEMENT organizer as virtualization software

A Modest Thought on “Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell”

With the recent activity surrounding the hearing for Army Lieutenant Dan Choi, an Iraq War veteran and Arab linguist who is also openly gay, I had a thought occur to me and I wanted to share it with y’all.

In my (limited) experience with the military, there’s still quite a bit of public resistance to the idea of allowing gays to openly serve. There are many reasons that one may take this stance, ranging from deeply principled to deeply homophobic and covering all points in between. If the objection comes from deeply held religious or moral convictions, I choose to respectfully disagree with you, but I understand and value the fact that you do have your beliefs on this issue.

From my anecdotal experience, though, the people who are usually the loudest about this issue (“I ain’t lettin’ no queer next to me with a gun; I’ll shoot his ass first!” is a representative sample I’ve heard recently) tend to be strongly grounded in the “mindlessly homophobic” rationale. This isn’t just confined to the military, though. I have plenty of memories of the charming functional illiterates at my rural high school indignantly asking me if I was gay, harrassing me for my presumed homosexuality, and making not-so-subtle meant-to-be-overheard comments about my lack of “real manliness”. These were the people who would always get in your face and confront you on your disgusting life choices — as long (of course) as you weren’t big enough or mean enough to be perceived as capable of handling the violence they always threatened to dish out.

Let’s take a representative example of this kind of person — we’ll call him Bubba. (Don’t assume that it’s only guys who do this; I’ve heard plenty of women who do too. ) Down at the bottom of it all, though, these guys and gals have one common flawed assumption, deeply rooted in raging sense of entitlement:

If that person is gay, they want to have sex with me.

I think the appropriate response here is a quote from Megan Fox’s character of Mikaela:

Oh God, I can’t even tell you how much I’m not your “little bunny.”

In other words, Bubba has committed the logical fallacy of assuming that just because a gay man is sexually attracted to some men, they must like all men — including, necessarily, Bubba. In other words, the defining characteristic of a gay man’s sexuality, according to Bubba, is the orientation; once a man is gay, they automatically must like all men even if those men are otherwise unattractive. Bubba, sad to say, thinks that being gay overrides any sense of taste or choice or other form of preference.

Bubba is a dumbshit. Bubba is, however, all too common — I’ve heard plenty of people independently reproduce this exact line of reasoning.

My thought and theory is: that for the Bubbas of the world, the objection to knowingly associating with someone who is gay comes down to projection of their own inner characteristics: Bubba wants to nail pretty much every female, or in the event that he has some self-restraint, is deluded enough to think that every woman wants to have sex with him. Being a paragon of self-control and discernment, Bubba is naturally are unable to conceive of someone who could in theory be attracted to them but isn’t.

What Bubba objects to, I believe, is not the gay person’s lack of taste and self control, but his own. It’s the same as the liar who in turn is convinced that everyone lies to him and is unable to see a truthful response without looking for the “real” answer, or the person who continually cheats others in big and small ways and in turn expects everyone to cheat her.

Do I think that everyone who objects to military service for gays and lesbians falls into this trap? Not at all. I just tend to think that the more vocal someone is about it, the more likely they are to have this motivation simmering at the bottom of it all. People who suffer from this attitude tend to have the crudest, most violent responses to homosexuality; they tend to be the loudest slanderers, the meanest and most illogical protesters. They argue from a well-deserved fear, because if everyone was just like them, all the sick, dark scenarios they fantasize would of course happen.

God knows that my gay and lesbian friends and acquaintances are no saints. Some of them are people I don’t willingly spend time around — but then, there are plenty of straight people I don’t want to spend a lot of time around either. Frankly, I’ve found that brushing off determined advances from a guy who likes me is no better and no worse than those from a gal who likes me — orientation having less to do with it than does their fundamental ability to hear and accept, “Thanks, but I’m not interested.”

Mind you, typically the Bubbas of the world are at heart hypocrites, because almost all of them have absolutely no problems with lesbians. Oh, no. They’re in favor of lesbians. Mainly because, along with all their other stinking thinking, they are under the delusion that those lesbians still secretly want them — so they’ll be able to score with the lesbian and her girlfirend at the same time.  Because of this, it’s easy to spot a Bubba and identify his objection for what it really is.