Friday, November 27, 2009

Giving Thanks

I've been watching my neighbor's cat (and house) while they went away for a couple of days to celebrate Thanksgiving with their family. They don't watch a lot of TV so there's an abundance of reading material hanging around to look at while I'm there (I try to spend some time with the cat, not just feed her).

One of the things to read was a powerpoint slide presentation about boosting the immune system naturally. Like most of these things, some of it seemed more pseud0-science...but, the overall message was good. A good summary of the finer points in here (and the ones that tend to be more "science fact") are:
  1. Reduce stress - use the stress we have for constructive purposes. Get organized, eliminate clutter, simplify choices, and treat yourself well (like you would your best friend or pet).
  2. Eat right - Drink enough water, eat foods with fewer chemicals, be sure your diet is well-balanced and contains enough (varied) vitamins for your body's typical activity. Avoid foods that contain high fructose corn syrup. Don't over-eat.
  3. Reduce alcohol usage - No more than 21oz/wk for women, 28oz/wk for men.
  4. Don't smoke or inhale other chemical fumes
  5. Get enough sleep
  6. Exercise
  7. Get outside a little every day (sunshine is a natural source of vitamin D)
This is what we've been told for years. There's more in the presentation, but what isn't expanding upon the points above tends to be way too new-agey (ie. pseudo-scientific) for my tastes (eliminating red meat and pork completely, stop computer use after 7pm, don't get metal fillings, etc.). While some this "other stuff" may have some merit, it doesn't tend to be very practical and, in some cases, I doubt that it is something that truly affects the body's immune system.

If I look at the list above, there are definite areas for my improvement - mostly in the one I listed first: stress. One way the presentation identified to reduce unnecessary stress was to look backward and locate the root of the stressor. While I generally talk about this in other areas, I am not so good at putting the idea into practice when I get angry and stressed-out. Reduction of clutter doesn't just mean stuff - it also means reducing mental clutter as well. In general, what is being suggested in the area of stress reduction is to take time to smell the roses, and get rid of those things that tend to keep us in a constant state of stress. Another specific idea from the presentation was to get news from online sources rather than watch the news on TV. While this may seem somewhat counter-intuitive, the goal here is to identify those items that are really news, read it, and set aside the sensationalism and exaggeration that examplifies the typical TV news report.

So with it being "black Friday" today and my desire to be no part of it, here are some thoughts I had about what I should be thankful for:
  1. I have a job - actually, it is a job that I mostly think is a good one too. I need to take time to put it into the correct perspective sometimes (not over-work or become overly concerned about it).
  2. My finances are stable - In a time where some people are having trouble paying the bills, or who don't know how to budget when money is tight, I continue to make a good living and have a good sense of how to budget for all situations. I need to put some extra money in the budget to take care of myself, when I figure out what that is...
  3. I have good friends - While I don't see many of them as much as I probably should, there are many who stand ready to remind me that I'm not the dreadful person I sometimes see myself as. As I sit here typing this in my neighbor's house with their cat on my lap purring, that reminder is most definitely appropriate.
  4. I have common sense - I wish that I didn't have to include this one, but given what I see and read I need to be thankful every day that I can think for myself. Common sense isn't common anymore, and people are increasingly looking for ways to explain-away problems using supernatural magic or through illogical reasoning, or simply by ignoring them outright. This is not to say that every decision I make is perfect or well thought-out, but I at least put forth the effort.
Some clutter that needs to be dealt with is:
  1. Cable TV - Time Warner continues to have problems delivering a consistent TV signal to my neighborhood (possibly all of Austin). I have tried repeatedly to contact them recently about this, and they are generally unwilling to return my e-mails and phone calls, nor are they showing any progress on identifying and fixing the trouble. While I understand the complexity of delivering cable service (really, I know more than most people do, being a network guy and reading lots of Cisco/Scientific Atlanta literature), Time Warner, with their money and expertise, can't seem to get it right. Maybe the best thing to do is to just get rid of cable. Dealing with the cable company is overly-stressful and much of the programming on TV is of questionable quality anyway.
  2. Computers - While this is my area of expertise, I'm finding that I'm sitting in a sea of computer equipment without any real purpose. My personal computer projects are becoming less satisfying - partly because my workload (at work) has increased and partly because the effort required to complete the projects is more than the anticipated satisfaction resulting from their completion.
  3. Aggravation over Austin - Specifically what they call growth and I feel is more a destruction of the flavor and fabric of the city. I need to set my sights on leaving and finding a simpler and less populated place to live. I can't do that right away, because of my job (and pension), so the best I can do is to try my best to find some oasis inside the desert of ideas instead of hoping that the people here will get a clue. They won't.
I'm sure there's more, but my laptop battery is getting low and I need to spend some time with my own cat, and find something to do that doesn't involve shopping. There's certainly enough turkey and fixin's hanging around for lunch and dinner, so there's no way I'll be hungry. Sick of turkey, maybe...

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Chinese Water Torture

It has been a while since the last posting and I'm not sure if anyone is actually reading this anymore. Two of my favorite Blogger blogs (you know who you are :-) have had an eerie silence for the last few months. Several things have happened since I last wrote, keeping me away from writing here.

Mom & Dad's Visit & Home Improvement

My parents came to visit for a week a couple of weeks ago. I always look forward to seeing them - being 2,000 miles away means we only get a chance to see each other in person about once a year. They have a dog and I have a geriatric cat that has special needs, so we both have a bit of a problem coordinating visits. Since I live alone, having people in the house is always a little challenging because I'm used to my own schedule, interests, TV viewing habits, etc. On the other hand they're low maintenance, and I get a chance to show them all the neat places around here to eat, and they get a chance to take a break from all the chores of their own house (mostly).

My father and I replaced the exhaust fan in my master bathroom, and that was overly-complex like everything in this house is to fix. I learned about a new problem with the latest thinking in making houses air-tight for energy efficiency purposes. The term is called negative pressure, and it is what happens when you try to suck air from a space without providing some air coming in to replace it. My house was made very energy efficient, and by that I mean they made the living area pretty much air-tight. There is actually plastic sheeting behind the sheet rock on the outer walls. What contributed to the bathroom fan going bad and not working properly is the lack of any air coming in from outside to replace the air the fan was trying to suck out of the bathroom and blow outside. This also explains why the kitchen exhaust fan never seems to sufficiently pull cooking odors from the house. There is no easy fix, and with the city mandating even more "energy efficiency updates" it is likely that the problem will get worse. This, again, is an example of unintended consequences. Why are people all of a sudden having problems with mold, radon, and outgassing of construction materials? Here's your answer, and the fix doesn't come cheap. It also underscores why all these chemical perfumes in air fresheners, cleaners, and other products are so irritating to those sensitive to them (like me).

The other thing my father did (since he was involved in water distribution for a while) was take a peek at my water meter, and like when he did last visit he discovered I had a water leak. It didn't take long to find it (it took a while to convince Dad though) - the culprit was the cold water faucet in the master bathroom tub that Smokey likes to drink from. There was a slow drip that is leaking about a quart of water a day (not horrible, but it is staining the tub and is just plain wasteful). So we try to fix the faucet, which should be as simple as replacing a plastic cartridge valve stem ("should be," being the important phrase here). Don't believe Moen's lifetime warranty for a second. Why? Well, nothing that comes in contact with water that contains a lot of calcium/mineral deposits lasts forever. The other thing is that Moen has so many exclusions in their warranty that it renders the warranty practically useless. I digress, though. What I found first is that removing the cartridge from the tub valve requires a special tool, and while Home Depot and Lowe's carry the cartridges in the store, one can only obtain the $3.50 tool online. The tool arrived the day after my parents left, and I went to the store, bought what I thought was the correct cartridge, and proceeded to do the fix. I then discovered that the cartridge for this Moen two-valve set is slightly larger than the ones available at the store. I need to purchase the new cartridge online, of course. Dad recommended trying to replace the O-rings to see if that's where the leak was happening, but as I figured the problem was mineral deposits scoring the plastic surface in contact with the valve stem, so the cartridge is just bad. So for now, my faucet continues to drip...drip...drip. Thankfully I don't think I made anything worse than it originally was.

I told Dad he was not allowed to look at my water meter the next time he was here! :-)

Sick Again

In return for my comments about not getting paranoid about germs, I came down with a nasty cold a couple of days before my parents left last week. That has completely taken me out-of-service for the last several days. This is one of those upper respiratory things where your head hurts and the post nasal drip on your throat causes a hacking cough. I stayed home from work on Thursday and Friday and am now only now (on Sunday, of course) feeling well enough to handle my usual workload. This bug was particularly weird. I woke up Friday morning with blood all over my face that had dripped down onto my pillow case. I didn't realize it until I looked at myself in the mirror and realized I looked like a scene from CSI. I never get nosebleeds. A less dramatic version of the same thing happened last night, and the only thing I can figure is that the airflow from my CPAP irritated my nasal passages enough to cause bleeding. Last night I started coughing after I went to bed (after a whole evening of feeling pretty good), and that's when I noticed I had a bloody nose again. So I think that I'll need to be a bit careful tonight. Here's hoping all is back to normal finally. I haven't died yet, although I didn't get much sleep last night.

Learning About Subversion

I'm not a good patient when it comes to getting sick. I feel I need to always be doing something, so I spent a lot of Thursday, Friday, and the weekend (during periods of lucidity) learning the finer points of the Subversion version control system for work. In particular, I have been trying to find a more elegant way to track the custom changes we make to the Asterisk PBX software in our environment, while still leaving us a way to upgrade as newer releases come out.

It turns out that the feature we're looking for is called "vendor drops," and is explained in the very helpful online book, Version Control With Subversion. The way I set-up the repository was like this (click on image to get a more readable version):

What I was trying to accomplish here was to load branch versions of Asterisk (from the open source project) as needed into asterisk->vendor->current and then tag that release and put it under "vendor." That version would get merged back to "trunk" that would be used for development of our internal changes and releases. When we release a version to be put into production, we tag the current "trunk" into "tags" with an internal revision number tacked onto the original Asterisk version number (in case we needed to make several internal releases from that revision). The same thing will be done to libpri, dahdi, and asterisk-addons in the same manner. I have the last 4 internal releases we have done put into Subversion so far, and it looks to be working. Since the phone system is running Gentoo Linux, I'm creating an ebuild for all the components each time there is an internal release to be made (that will likely be tracked under trunk and moved into our portage overlay).

Ultimately I am shooting for putting the entire phone system development tree into Subversion as it should be (right now it is only in RCS). There an extensive amount of dialplan & configuration files, MySQL database table/trigger/function definitions, perl scripts, and a bunch of other stuff (including some sound files) that really need to be tied together in a more cohesive fashion.

As an aside, I'd like to add that Blogger doesn't have a nice way to add diagrams or preformatted text of any kind without simply adding them as an image. This is one of the reasons why I hesitate to put more technical information in here.

Political Rants?

I am going to refrain from Blatant Stupidity, political or religious rants for the time being. Not that there isn't an abundance of frustrations on my mind - in fact, enough to really make me wonder about human beings in general - I just can't see where writing it all down right now is going to be constructive.