In Remembrance: Bertrand C. Turmel, 1933-2010

My father passed six years ago, today, after a long battle with lymphoma.  Since then, as each anniversary of his death has approached, I’ve considered writing about him, and the love a son has for his father.  And then I’ve set it aside, not being able to wrap my mind around all of the little things I’d want to include.  A few weeks ago, I resolved not to let it pass this time, and to keep it short.

Those few weeks ago, I was visiting my mother in Maine, having an opportunity for a side trip while travelling for business.  I managed to attend a Daily Mass and Sunday Mass with her. For the Friday mass, we sat near some of Mom’s cousins that she’s close to, Tom and Mariette Castonguay, cousins I myself don’t know well.  I’d probably been introduced to them at some point in my life, but Mom introduced me again.   I needed it — Mom’s mom was one of thirteen children, and their numerous descendants are densely distributed around my hometown.

On Sunday, we didn’t see them when we entered, but Mom headed for her regular spot, towing me along.  I ended up on the left end of the pew, against the clerestory aisle.  Tom and Mariette joined us shortly, and sat in the pew ahead of us.  Coming from behind, Tom reached out and gripped my shoulder in greeting, before taking his seat.  I’m not typically greeted that way by anyone, and was startled, but stuttered out a “good morning”.  I stuttered because while struck by the unexpected contact, I was also startled by the sudden physical memory of my father gripping my shoulder in precisely the same way.  “Pop” wasn’t much of a hugger, but would grip my shoulder.  Sometimes for disciplinary reasons, but most of my memories of this are greetings or congratulations.

Tom didn’t notice, but by the time he was seated in front of me, I had tears running down my face, my composure completely destroyed by the intense sense of my father’s presence.  Us Roman Catholics believe in the communion of saints, the reality of the dead’s continued existence, and their availability for intentions.  There’s no way my sudden surge of emotion would be “evidence” for that in any normal sense, but I was (and am) sure my father was there with me as I sat with Mom.  It took me a minute or two to rein in the flow of tears and snuffle my way to enough composure to lean toward Mom and whisper “Pop’s here with us, Mom”.  Mom’s response was simply “He’s always here with us.”

After mass, I shared my experience with Tom and Mariette, with appreciation for his role in loco parentis, even if inadvertent.  And I wanted Mom to know why I was silently crying before mass.  I’m not a terribly emotional man, so it was rather out of character.  I didn’t want her to wonder what was wrong and worry about me.

Thinking more on Mom’s comment, I have to admit that Pop has always been in my head — the role model I’ve most wanted to emulate.  First as a young man pursuing engineering in an industry he’d succeeded in, and then as a father myself, raising rambunctious children of my own.  Long before he passed, I’d internalized the question “What would Pop do?” when faced with the challenges of work and marriage and life in general.  I know that some of his personality rubbed off on me, as my children have reported episodes with their Pépère that echoed episodes here at home.

My father’s aid and encouragement and understanding is at the foundation of the man and father I am today, and I cannot be more grateful. { Though my failures are my own. /-: }

Thank you, Pop.  I know you are still with me, in every sense but physical.

Conspiracy Theories

I am more than willing to talk politics with just about anyone I encounter. This has exposed me to a generous helping of wild-eyed kooks insisting that their pet conspiracy theory will decide the fate of the world. The phenomenon is not linked to any particular political persuasion, although I sometimes think people who are most susceptible to such ideas lean towards anarchic philosophies.  Claire Berlinski recently posted on the topic at Ricochet, one of the blogs I check regularly.  Ricochet charges a modest monthly fee for commenting privileges in an effort to crush trolls, and has an outright ban on conspiracy-mongers.  One of its members asked “How do you decide what to ban?”, considering that occasionally, a conspiracy of one form or another comes to light.

Claire makes a crucial point:  groups of humans are notoriously bad at keeping secrets.  In essence, when a conspiracy theory depends on many people having kept a secret for many years, and no evidence has appeared, it’s just not credible.  I can’t compete with Claire’s eloquence, nor her imagery (cat lovers take note!), nor the additional points she makes, so I highly recommend reading the whole thing.

It occurred to me that while humans are notoriously bad at keeping secrets, they are also very good at filtering out information that doesn’t fit their view of the world, and associating with people with similar views.  This creates the appearance of conspiracies where none exists.  In the modern world, the media has been fertile ground:

The “Journolist” was a real conspiracy to spin the media to the left.  There were several hundred members, all presumably vetted by Ezra Klein, the operator of the e-mail list.  But some of them couldn’t keep the secret.  Some conspiracy theorists on the right, though, insist that the entire field of traditional journalism is waging a propaganda war on behalf of modern progressives.

OK, there’s clear evidence for media bias.  But a conspiracy across the entire field of journalism?  Wrap that in tinfoil, please.  Are there progressive activists who wish to use the media to further their political goals?  Of course, but they are right out in the open.  “Rules for Radicals” is not hidden in a back room, after all.

Oooo! Shiny!

I proudly admit that I’m crazy about tools.  This often causes my business partners to look at me like I’m, well,  crazy.  Long ago, my father pointed out that the money saved when “doing it yourself” didn’t always pay for the tools required the first time.  But even exotic tasks were likely to show up again.  Based on that advice, I generally talk Patricia into the “do it myself” path if the tools can pay for themselves on the second use.  My partners are much more skeptical.  If a given project will cost us more when buying tools vs. buying services, we almost always buy the services.

Every once in a while, the math is ambiguous.  A small part of our project work involves mechanical engineering, and fabricating the associated custom parts.  It’s not enough to justify a machinist on the payroll, and isn’t likely to be in the foreseeable future.  Having custom parts made can get expensive, though.  Any project we undertake for a fixed price has some business risk attached, but custom mechanical parts are particularly risky, as a design flaw usually requires fabricating a fresh set of custom parts.  Electrical design flaws usually result in an off-the-shelf purchase or two, with a bit of rewiring.  Software design flaws typically cost us some time in front of a keyboard.  It’s no accident that electrical design and software make up the bulk of our billable hours.

Rong Fu Model 40 Mill/Drill

However, the math worked out for a new customer’s project, and we are tickled to have a brand new industrial mill/drill machine in the company workshop.  No fancy power feed motors or numerical controls.  Not even a Digital Read-Out.  But solid construction and allowances for later add-on features.

The unfortunate part is that our new toy tool is a Chinese Taiwanese import.  The equivalent American-made unit was twice the price.  The project’s budget can’t justify a higher-priced machine.  Long-standing political/economic foolishness has left American machine and tool makers at a distinct disadvantage.

Netconsole to the rescue!

My work laptop recently started randomly crashing on me.  The warranty is long since passed, and I’m the IT department for my little company, so I’m on my own.  The symptoms were “hiccups” in mouse movement, followed shortly by a total freeze,  followed in 30 seconds by a panic/reboot.  My first suspicion was a new video driver I’ve been trying.  It’s beta software, so problems aren’t that unusual.  In any case, the problem sequence was leaving no evidence in my system logs, so I had nothing useful to report to the developers.

My linux kernel is custom-compiled: although I have many debugging tools compiled-in, I didn’t have anything that could save the messages from my dying laptop.  Yesterday, I took the time to dig around in the documentation, and created a new kernel with netconsole turned on.  I configured it to send my console log to my office server.  As luck would have it, my laptop crashed about two minutes after I turned the remote logging on.  And the remote log worked.

Surprise!  It wasn’t a driver error!  My laptop’s dying messages were reporting corrupted transfers between my cpu and my memory chips.  Hardware.  For the specific failure, there are only three possibilities: bad cpu, bad memory, or bad motherboard.  First, I opened the case and swapped the two memory chips.  This appeared to help, as I didn’t have another crash for the rest of the day, nor overnight.  (My linux install does the virus-scan for my Windows partition every night, ensuring that any virus that does get into my Windows box can’t modify the scanner.)

But I’m not out of the woods, as it did crash one more time today.  I have memory chips on order, so I can definitively rule out memory issues.  If that doesn’t work, I guess I’ll be shopping for a new laptop.

After the fold, I describe how I set up remote logging to accommodate my laptop’s road warrior use case.

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My movie reviews

Hello  everybody. I am writing this post about my movie reviews. So, you’re thinking, about the new upcoming movie and its previews. About how awesome they look. So you look up the movie’s reviews, and you also look up the actual story. You see that the story is is making the movie come to life. So you ask your parents if you can go see the movie with their permission. They say ”Yes you may , but with us.” So you see the movie and you thought  in your fact  and opinion that it was awesome .

So here is my movie review about “AVATAR: The Last Air Bender”. To me it was the best movie seen in my entire life. It has great graphics in the movie, really awesome bending moves, and awesome characters. It had explosions, really cool scenes, and pretty awesome fights and battles. I also saw the actual cartoon series  that they use to have on Nickelodeon . It use to be my favorite t.v. show.

Second, “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.” When I saw that movie it was the second most awesome movie I have ever seen. It was cool  for  me and my dad. It was cool and has action to it. Really awesome graphics and lights, including electric forces. I recommend you see it.

Super excited.

Hey!  Hey!  What’s  up everybody?  Today I am excited about writing this post, right now.  So how do I feel about our new website?  I wonder how?  Well thanks to my dad, I got my own e-mail address. Yes, finally.  But, I am nervous about going to middle school.  But hey,  at least I get to have a locker.

You know, life is awesome, sometimes.  But that is because your parents are the most helpful people, ever.  You know why?  They help you, protect you from danger,  and they do anything  to keep you healthy and clean.  Your parents love you all with all their heart and you do to.  So stay tuned to hear about my next post.  See you guys later next time.

The Gorilla and the Wallet

I try very hard to be careful with passwords, and to follow modern best practices: I use an encrypted password safe, with a master password known only to me.  I memorize only my login passwords and my master password.  I allow my browser to remember web passwords for me, also protected with my master password.  I use RSA keys with ssh-agent for remote access to my servers.  Everything else gets looked up manually when needed.

First, let me answer “Why do this?”.  The general public is constantly bombarded with advice on security.  A lot of it is focused on the use of passwords.  It is difficult, if not impossible, to follow it all.  “Memorize your passwords!”  “Don’t write them down!”  “Don’t use names or birth dates!”  “Don’t use dictionary words!”  “Mix letters and digits!” “… and symbols!”  “Upper and lower case, too!”  “Make a different password for every website or program!”

As Charlie Brown would say, Aaaaauuuuugggggghhhhhh!

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WordPress Conversion

Since I had to set up a new server, I decided to retire the custom PHP site that had served us for so long…. Blogging wasn’t so refined back then, and I wanted to ‘do it myself’. The old site was largely static, anyways. I’ll begin moving links and features into the sidebar in the coming days.