Sunday, June 28, 2009

rice balls!

Yesterday was "Pool Day" at our friends' home, a big pot-luck with swimming, cards, and of course food. Our contributions to the buffet table were a succotash, prepared by the lovely Carol, and rice-balls, which were a joint effort.

Shelly asked about the rice balls; here's the story. First is the rice. You want something medium- or short-grain. We get ours at costco in 50-pound bags. Don't use "Minute Rice®" or "Uncle Ben's®" or basmati rice or the usual "long grain" rice popular on supermarket shelves -- the kind of rice you typically get at Chinese restaurants in other words. What you need here is the kind of stuff you typically get at Japanese restaurants; it's fairly sticky. Don't buy something labeled "glutinous rice", though; that's too much of a good thing. I grew up on Hinode brand "Calrose" rice; I think if you get rice with a Japanese brand name like Shirakiku or Kohoku you'll be OK.
These particular rice-balls were made by forming "shiso gohan" (しそごはん). What you do is cook the rice as usual. About 15 minutes after the rice-cooker pops, stir it around with a rice-paddle and let it sit a while longer (covered). Then you take some of this "yukari" stuff (from the envelope you see at left). Here's the interpretation. At the top, the small black letters on a gold background, it says "三島の" (Mishima's -- a brand name) -- oh, helpfully it says "mishima" at the bottom. Next, the big white letters on purple, "ゆかり" ("yukari", sounds like "you-kah-ree") is the name of the product. I guess. I don't know how to say it in English, but my lovely Carol said it's "purple basil."

The smaller white letters on green, in the middle, are "しそごはん用" which being interpreted says, "for use (in making) 'shiso gohan'" where "shiso" is that "purple basil" stuff and "gohan" is "cooked rice" (as distinct from "o-kome", rice before it's cooked).

OK, so you take your cooked rice that's sat for a while, say 15-60 minutes after you stirred it up with the rice-paddle, and mix in this "yukari" stuff. For three US measuring cups of rice, use four Tbsp of the "yukari" and stir it in well. That's the minimum. Give it a little taste test; you might want a little more.
Now for the fun part. With clean hands (a pure heart is optional but highly recommended -- see Psalm 24) -- oh, I mean clean wet hands -- form some rice into a ball. How much is some? Ah, maybe a scant ½ cup. Use your rice-paddle to put some rice into one cupped wet hand. Then, using both hands, to make a triangular prism, about 3cm tall, with triangles being 6-8cm on the side. We're about to go camping so I'm not going to make the volume calculation to verify that ½-cup is correct. Maybe it's more or less, but that's what you're aiming at.

If you have some "nori" (dried seaweed) around, you can wrap the rice-balls in it, but not everybody likes the seaweed. It's hard to imagine, I know, but it's true. If you're going to a Japanese store anyway, ask the proprietor for "aji-tsuke nori" -- it's prepared with "mirin" (sweet Japanese rice wine) and some other stuff, probably MSG, which really adds to the taste. If you suffer from "Chinese restaurant syndrome" you might want to go easy on this stuff.

But the rice balls were a success at pool day.

For those of you with an inner dietitian (or inner dietician -- /usr/share/dict/words has this but the spell-checker hates it), I have no idea whether this works with brown rice.

For those who love those extremely salty Japanese picked plums (probably no overlap with the inner-dietitian set), feel free to tuck one (or part of one) in the center of the rice-balls. Hey, it's a free country!

Bon appetit!

Update: another ingredient

If you can't get hold of the "yukari" stuff above, the tasty stuff at right also works just fine. The big white letters on purple background says "gohan ni mazete" (mix into rice). The rest of it I can't quite read, but it looks to me like "young vegetables and plum shi-so" -- I don't know how to say "shi-so" in English but maybe it's "Japanese basil"?? Lousy translation, but that's what the dictionary says.

This was the stuff used for the December 2010 pot-luck. I cooked 3 "cups" of rice (more like 2¼ cups American uncooked), and, as above, stirred and let it sit for a while. Then I added a little over 3 tablespoons of the stuff from the envelope at right, and used wet hands (I put salt on a plate and picked up a little salt on my hands from the plate) to form triangular prisms, a little smaller.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

nfsserver, autofs, etc., all working now: opensuse 10.2

the luddite finally has the computer up. 1280x1024 intel graphics, 24-bit color (yay), and it doesn't crash. The way nfsserver and autofs work on opensuse10.2 differs from the 9.3 setup, which caused a pile of annoyance. Bottom line, this sort of thing used to work:
collin@p3:~> cat /etc/auto.master
/home2 /etc/auto.home udp,--timeout 60
collin@p3:~> cat /etc/auto.home
collin -rw,hard,intr,rsize=4096,wsize=4096,udp p4:/home/collin
but it doesn't now :( Instead I ended up doing this in /etc/auto.master:
/mnt/home      /etc/auto.mnt-home     udp,--timeout 60
collin@p3:~> cat /etc/auto.mnt-home
collin -rw,hard,intr,rsize=4096,wsize=4096,udp p4:/home/collin
The directory /mnt must exist before starting autofs, but /mnt/home need not exist (must not exist?? I'm not sure but am not inclined to experiment now that it all finally works). I seem to remember from a Long Time Ago that it was considered bad medicine to NFS-mount toplevel directories (e.g., /data1) -- better to symlink /data1 to /mnt/data1 and NFS-mount the latter. So I've just made up a new superstition, let autofs create directories at least one level down. Thus, I have a pre-existing directory /mnt and I tell autofs to create /mnt/home, /mnt/data, and so on.

So if you're getting unexplained 521s when trying to mount stuff with autofs, this might have something to do with it.

What's left?

Printing and sound, in that order. Well, printing *might* work -- I just haven't tried it. Sound definitely doesn't. I have hope, though, because sound works on the box at my office under this very same distro. More later.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Christian kids and college: notes from a parents’ seminar

A few weeks ago, our church had a seminar for parents and high school seniors. They started it off with a panel, and then Kara Powell, from the Fuller Youth Institute, spoke to us for a while. There was a Q&A session (kids in one room, parents in another). Following are some notes -- none from the Q&A though.
What did your parents do that helped you feel supported when you were in college? A panel of college students replied:
  • Being available on my schedule, i.e., being flexible
  • Telling me "I'm praying for you"
  • Taking me to Costco!
  • Coming to see my athletic events (using up their vacation time like that)
  • Care packages.
  • Asking every few weeks, "How can I pray for you?"
  • Sending cards and packages. And newsy e-mails.
  • Supporting me in my decisions even if they don't fully agree.

What annoyed you?

  • Once when I was home on vacation, my dad told me, "Go to bed." ???
  • Telling me to do my homework at a certain time.
  • E-mailing my academic advisor
    (about what, I don't remember --collin)

What about getting connected with a faith community?

  • I didn't know anyone other than my (athletic) teammates and ignored faith for a while. Eventually another kid found me and told me about a good church in the area; we went together.
  • got connected through an FCA-like group (FCA = fellowship of christian athletes)
  • Don't just commit to the first church you see.

Kara Powell

Confession: "I can go a long time" (minutes, sometimes hours even) "without thinking about God." Life is full for Kara now, research and teaching and raising kids etc., and it gets full very quickly for students entering college.

According to research of T. Clydesdale(?), Christian kids sometimes put their faith into a "lockbox"; it's invisible from the outside. In some cases they drift away from their faith entirely.

One case: a leader in high school (worship leader? Bible study leader?) went to college and gave up on all that. He smokes pot with his buddies who are, he says, "far more supportive than" anyone at church was to him. (Is that reality, or was he only justifying himself? Did his youth group leader just use him, or did he really care about his relationship with Christ?)

They showed a 5-minute section of a longer (20-minute) video. I think you can see the clip at -- summary of the video: Christian kids go to college, some of them discard their faith (at least for a time) and get into alcohol and (other) drugs. Some get drunk every weekend; one girl was sexually assaulted while too drunk to resist. etc.

This video was shown at an InterVarsity meeting (this is a Christian group!) and some of the kids couldn't speak because they were so upset. The point: this sort of experience is far more common, even among Christian kids, than we would like to think.
Later, a mother asked if it's different at a Christian school vs others. They didn't answer the question, but I have my own sources :). Regarding alcohol and the party scene, I have a young friend at Vanguard University of Southern California, and she affirms that it's definitely easier to avoid it on a Christian campus than a "secular" one. But if you're determined to get drunk, you can still do it. My friend visited Cal Lutheran with her son, and alcohol is definitely available there. (She was not favorably impressed.)

Regarding sexual behavior, according to an article in Christianity Today (and a book by a Catholic college professor), there is a dichotomy between conservative/Evangelical colleges and others (including Catholic schools). At the Evangelical schools, abstinence and restraint are affirmed/celebrated, and at the others, promiscuity is the norm. So our kids probably would have a different experience going to Whitworth, Vanguard, Calvin or Hope than they would at Cal Lutheran, Holy Cross, Stanford or UC.
Kara next went into three factors for keeping faith in the college years:

Having a firm grip on the gospel

What is the good news, really? They observed (Fuller Youth Institute research) that youth group graduates who are teetotalers completely switch gears when they get to college and drink a lot. From this observation they think the kids don't really understand the good news. (How did they come to this conclusion? I didn't catch that.)

Summary of the gospel in four points:
  1. God made us GOOD; but
  2. we sinned, which led to GUILT.
  3. God responded by forgiving us through his GRACE, and
  4. we respond with GRATITUDE. It's not about "sin management."

How do we deal with doubts?

Questions inevitably come to the Christian student when s/he enters college. Why do you go to church? Why does God let nice people go to hell? (Imagine a Bible Belt kid going to Stanford or Harvard and meeting a lot of nice kids who are not Christians. They're nice; will they go to heaven? Why not?)

Four principal ways of dealing with doubt:
  1. diffused. student becomes a chameleon, simply adapting to whatever's around them.
  2. closed; they don't want to think about it.
  3. moratorium; they don't want to jump to any conclusions, so they try to hold all possibilities in their heads at once
  4. achieved identity; having considered all possibilities, aware that nothing in this life is 100% certain, yet deciding that following Jesus makes the most sense.
We all hope our kids come to #4 but that's not realistic for a new college student. Probably #3, a willingness to really examine conflicting claims to truth, is the healthiest for a college student. Some of us remain in #3 forever. Personally, I go between #4 and #3.


The suggestion was that we work on preparing our kids for what's coming. Part of this is being aware of the top 3 difficulties for Christian kids:
  1. Finding friends;
  2. Aloneness;
  3. Finding a church community.
So a poll of high school seniors showed 15% believe their youth group prepared them well for the transition to college. (In other words, 85% didn't think so.) The action plan then would be to think and talk about these things ahead of time:
  • where/how to find friends;
  • recovery: how will (my parents? myself?) respond when I goof up?
  • finding a church or an on-campus Christian group;
  • time and money;
  • the first two weeks.
Kids were asked why they go to youth group. #1 is they love their youth group leader. Seeing their friends was #6!

Most important factors on kids' faith:
  1. Relationship with their parents (and their parents' own faith);
  2. Non-parent adults;
  3. Peer relationships.
This isn't very precise. Was this positive influence, negative influence, or both? How was this measured? Was this kids who were still holding onto their faith after college? Those who had drifted away? When was the survey taken? etc.

That said, parents and non-parent adults apparently have a huge impact on kids' faith.

So: Do your kids have adults in their lives other than you? Are there any kids in your life other than your own?

Sunday, June 21, 2009

A happy fathers day

I had a great day today. I was given the gift of time -- I was permitted to bang my head against a brick wall while trying to fix my computer (as shown here and here).

The teen-ager gave me a calendar, the days of each month, with a fatherly photo above the month. the photos were lovingly retouched with oil pastels, very special. The ex-teen provided a bright orange T-shirt, V-neck. For cycling! The lovely Carol gave me a gift card for Kepler's.

And a lovely meal! Grilled tuna and vegetables, prepared on the patio. Steamed rice (of course). And for dessert, a fruit cobbler. All delicious.

We also had terrific weather. I washed the "whites" last night and hung them out this morning. They were dry (even the socks) before suppertime.

I think I am one of the luckiest fathers alive today.

Two questions for husbands

A brilliant piece of writing from Love & Stosny's how to improve your marriage without talking about it:
Remember the famous Far Side cartoon of the man talking at length to his dog, Ginger? One bubble had what the man said and the other had what Ginger heard. The man said a lot, but this is what Ginger heard:

"Blah blah Ginger blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah Ginger blah blah blah blah blah ..."

Unless a woman is emotionally connected to her partner, this is what he will hear when she talks to him:

"Blah, blah, blah, failure. Blah, blah, blah, not good enough. Blah, blah, blah, can't meet my needs. Blah, blah, blah, bad boy."

p. 26
They don't mean that Ginger is as smart as the average husband, because they have a similar passage for what a woman hears when her husband talks. The difference is that "failure" (etc) is replaced by "I don't love you," "I won't be there for you," etc.

Can't we stop hurting each other? We probably can't stop altogether, but we probably can hope for better days. Of course I have a plan; it'll probably improve things over a 20-30 year period. It has two parts, wherein a husband must cement his answers to two important questions:

The first question: Whose am I?

... that is, "To whom do I belong?" E. Stanley Jones said that this question, rather than the one below, is the most important question in any person's life.

The answer? If you belong to The Master, Jesus, I recommend that you reach out to him in prayer daily, maybe something like this:
Lord Jesus, you are full of grace and truth, but I am weak and easily distracted. Help me give myself for my wife as you gave yourself for the church. Give me power to understand and to know your astonishing love. What words do you want to say to my wife today through me?

And if she has some discouraging words for me, help me to know what's truly about me, vs what's about her. Help me to remember that you define me; she doesn't. You are my light and my salvation--who shall I fear? You are the stronghold of my life.
When I remember that I belong to Jesus, I'm a better husband, a better employee, a better neighbor. And now for ...

The other question: Who am I?

If I don't know who I am, I'll just bounce around, foolish, disobedient, led astray, a slave to various passions and pleasures, filling my days with malice and envy, hated by men and hating them in return (Titus 3:3), and so on. If we want to be men rather than beasts, there are a few other things we can and should do:
  • Relax. Get enough sleep. We'll have a hard time remembering whose or who we are when we're stressed out.
  • Say "No" more often. The Master did that a lot; he never let anyone else set his agenda.
  • Take time to be alone, or whatever you need to do, to take care of yourself.
  • Give thanks daily.
  • As Buechner wrote in Secrets in the Dark, there are times when it is quiet and you don't really have to do anything, when
    [t]he time is ripe for looking back over the day, the week, the year, and trying to figure out where we have come from and where we are going to, for sifting through the things we have done and the things we have left undone for a clue to who we are and who, for better or worse, we are becoming.
    p. 59
    Often we escape: in chores or other busy-ness, media (printed or electronic), etc. But sometimes we need to take time to do what the time is ripe for. Not to escape, but to look back, think about where we've come from, where we're headed, and so on.
The point of all these is to remain centered, to remember who we are.

And part of who you are is husband. You represent Christ to your wife, as I do to the lovely Carol. Let's ask God to help us remember that we belong to him, and to remember what we are about. Because it's really impossible to do well without his help.

Addendum: a point from the Japanese

When we were in Japan, I learned two words translated "help" in English. One is transliterated "tasukeru" and the other is "sukuu". The first is used when you're, say, trying to carry a heavy load and you'd like a hand. The second is when you're drowning and you need someone to throw you a rope.

When I talk about help from God so I can remember whose and who I am, it's this last I'm talking about.

vga=? hello mac mini

Continuing from my earlier posting, I tried booting with vga=0x31b but this mode was hated. What I got instead was this is unrecognized... it offered me a much narrower range of stuff, I mean I got ... whoa,
(EE) open /dev/fb0: No such file or directory
so that didn't work very well. How about 0x318 for vga? Nah, same thing:
Probing EDD (edd=off to disable)... ok
Undefined video mode number: 318
Press <ENTER> to see video modes available...
Oh, I didn't hit any key so it just continued with fb off. So there won't be a /dev/fb0 to use. Oddly enough, 0x305 doesn't appear in the list of modes, if you say "scan". but it works.

I wonder... would 307 work? Nope. They offer me this list:
0 F00   80x25
1 F01 80x50
2 F02 80x43
3 F03 80x28
4 F05 80x30
5 F06 80x34
6 F07 80x60
7 301 640x480x8
8 303 800x800x8
9 311 640x480x16
Enter a video mode or "scan" to scan for additional modes:
If I type "scan" (no quotes) then I get the same list. Oh, the quote mark just gets dumped anyway. OK, if I type "305" (no quotes) I get what the old one looked like. H'm...

OK, so at that prompt, it won't take any of the 1280x1024 modes, and the only 1024x768 mode it *will* take is 305. This is with opensuse 11.0 loaded.

Suppose I make defaultfbbpp 8 and same for defaultdepth? That will result in a supremely ugly screen, but if fbdev doesn't crash the box, well, then worse things have happened, right? So let me change DefaultDepth=8 and startx.

OK, it does seem to start. Sort of. OK, I started the teen's screen, 1024x768, 8 bits per pixel, very ugly. But will it freeze? I guess I'll find out.... YES. Still freezes. Pingable, but my pre-existing ssh session doesn't respond. Hitting NumLock does not change state of the LED. ctl-alt-backspace, ctl-alt-delete, no response.

Maybe it *is* the RAM and I have to run memtestX86 really for 24 hours?? I'll start it. What is it now, 6pm? Okay....

Meanwhile, it looks like a mac mini is about $700 :(

Father's Day

Today is Father's Day. I wrote about my own dad in 2006, and a little last year about fathers in general. But I thought I'd try to summarize some of the things my dad did that make him a great father.
  • He modeled his values to me. Does he preach these? No, he lives them:
    • Empathy: try to see thing from the other person's point of view. He didn't talk a lot about this, but when I remarked that something (a caterpillar?) was funny-looking, he remarked that I probably looked funny to that caterpillar, too.
    • "The people that made this thing weren't magicians. They made it; we can take it apart (and maybe fix it)." This isn't to say "I can do anything", but just a reminder not to give up too early.
    • Kindness: don't make someone feel bad without a really good reason. He was rather annoyed with a colleague who had ridiculed someone else. The deed was done; why make him feel worse?
    • Thrift is good, but never buy something you think might be stolen. It came out that a highly-paid individual at the office had bought a stolen TV set. He didn't have to tell me never to do that; his disdain for that guy stuck with me.
  • I wrote about this 3½ years ago, but Dad taught me to do things by doing them with me -- how to wash the car, how to overhaul the cylinders and adjust drum brakes, this sort of thing.
  • He always appreciates the food Mom prepares.
  • "I'm proud of you!" There are a lot of guys who never hear that from their fathers. I'm glad to say Dad said that to me many times as I was growing up, and he hasn't stopped. Not to say I'm so great, but he makes me feel like I'm great.
Odd that I think of these things now that the kids are all but gone. I like to think I've practiced them as they grew up.

You may have noticed that I don't write as much about my mom as I do about my dad. This is not to say she's not a terrific mom too! I suppose, though, that I think about Dad's example more than Mom's because he's the one I more naturally emulate.

Dad, if you're reading this, I hope the rest of your Father's Day is a great one!

Is this worth the trouble? Well, if there's no opposition...

So I've been part of a team doing sermon study guides for our church. Here's how it works. For any given weekend, two of us sign up to crank it out. We get sermon notes by Thursday, and collaborate on the weekend's guide, which we send to the staff guy by Saturday morning. He polishes it up and posts it on the website (example sermon page and study guide).

This week was a little rough. My partner in crime, who like my lovely wife happens to be named "Carol", had a pile of stuff suddenly come up -- work-related things that ended up taking a whole lot of her time. This is not a frequent or regular occurrence for her (we've collaborated in the past more than once). And though you may find this hard to believe, there were some enthusiastic discussions in my house about how much time I was spending on projects -- not just the sermon study guide, but also on trying to upgrade the computer, etc.

Anyway, we produced the guide and sent it off by Friday morning (yes, we finished early). As Carol and I discussed the guide, she mentioned how all these things had come up suddenly in her life.

That's when it hit me. That was no coincidence. I believe there are spiritual forces at work in the world today, and not all of these forces are good. You might think that's silly, but my observation is that often, when we're involved with serving God or serving the Church, pardon my French but merde happens.

And when stuff like that happens, I take it as a reminder that we're doing something important (otherwise they wouldn't bother).

Before that Friday morning discussion, I was wondering if this was all worth it. Couldn't I leave the sermon study guides to someone else? It seemed like it wasn't worth the trouble. But that Friday morning talk reminded me that some kinds of trouble might be a sign that what we're doing absolutely is important, that it is worth the trouble.

When there's no trouble, when there's no opposition, I guess that's when it's time to wonder if we're doing anything worthwhile.

More pain: OpenSUSE 11.1 on my Dell OptiPlex GX270

I've been saying for several days now that the next computer I buy will be a Mac mini or something of its ilk. I'm getting too old for these sysadmin challenges at home.

The old Dell was running a four-year-old OS (SUSE Linux 9.3 Professional), which had its issues (couldn't run flash10, can't order printing online from, can't run ffox3). Not to mention the scorn heaped upon my computer by the ex-teen's Penguinista friend. Therefore, I thought I'd install the latest stable opensuse distro, which was a lot harder than it should have been. The NFS, printing, and sound were not a real huge issue, but having the box freeze (keyboard and mouse have no effect -- I mean NumLock doesn't even toggle the LED; ctrl-alt-backspace, ctrl-alt-f1, all useless -- can ping, can't ssh in) is quite frustrating.

I asked my Linux buddies at work. Is it a driver issue? I tried replacing "intel" (with quotes) by "fbdev" in xorg.conf -- got no graphics at all. That was easier than updating the BIOS, which I tried next.

No-Windows BIOS upgrade procedure

Careful observation during bootup told me that the GX270 was running the ancient A02 BIOS (short for April 2002??); the latest (and therefore greatest?) seems to be A07. But I had a problem: you're supposed to run this under ’doze :( Now I have a partition on the HDD marked HPFS/NTFS, but of course it has an ext2 filesystem on it. I really (I mean really) don't do windows on this box.

The good news though was that this could be run under DOS, for example FreeDOS. Yippee! But wait. Suppose I burn the CD image onto a CD-R and run it in "live CD" mode. How do I get it to run GX270A07.EXE? I mean, I downloaded it to an ext2 or maybe a reiserfs filesystem, which DOS manifestly doesn't grok. (Smart-alecks out there may refrain from suggesting I write an ext2-to-FAT shim for FreeDOS.) I thought, OK, I'll put it on a floppy disk. I actually have a few of these lying around, and my not-so-trusty GX270 even has a floppy drive! Yippee!

But though I found several disks lying around, they mostly seem to hate the GX270's disk drive. I finally wrote the A07 file onto a floppy, and burned a FreeDOS CD. Oh joy!

Booted FreeDOS, and with the floppy in the drive, typed:
A:\> B:GX270A07.EXE
Nothing happened. Thinking no news was good news, I rebooted the box and wasn't too happy to see BIOS VERSION: A02 on the screen.

What?? Then it occurred to me -- usually programs like this tell you to hit <ENTER> to confirm whatever operation. I saw nothing like that. What to do, what to do? Should I try to find a "good" floppy? Heck, I didn't even know if the floppy drive was any good! Maybe I could burn a CD with the BIOS upgrade on it?

Well, FreeDOS gives you the option of booting in real mode, HIMEM, and one other. At least one of those options lets you see the actual CD as the "X:" drive. "D'oh!" I said to myself. Booting the FreeDOS live CD means it's executing from RAM. I typed "dir X:" at the command prompt and got the actual contents of the CD. Another "D'oh!" -- the CD was DOS/windows compatible by virtue of having that iso9660 Joliet thing on it.

The thought then was: boot the FreeDOS CD "live" (I had no intention of installing DOS on my HDD -- where would I put it?) and run from RAM. Then eject that CD and put the GX270A07.EXE CD into the drive, and say "X:\GX270A07.EXE" at the command prompt.

Brilliant. I found a CD-RW blank and put the BIOS file onto it. Actually I had both A06 and A07....

Booted from the FreeDOS CD-ROM and typed "DIR X;" and got "No such file". What??

In my haste I made a typo -- made the same typo several times in a row actually before finally, carefully, holding the shift key down so that I had the right command:
A:\> DIR X:
That is, a colon, not a semicolon. Once I determined that I could read the files, I issued the fateful
A:\> X:GX270A07.EXE
I said "yes" (twice I think) and rebooted. Was I ever happy to see BIOS VERSION A07 on the screen!

But that wasn't quite enough

But logging in as the teenager still produced a blank screen. Well, almost blank. Also, if I did "startx -- :1" first, then I still, reliably got a freeze. No mouse, no keyboard. Next up: Bad RAM?

I inserted the OpenSUSE 11.1 DVD and selected memory test. We went to church and returned, and MEMTESTX86+ has gone seven full passes with no errors whatsoever. I'm thinking it's not the RAM. Well, the 11.0 HCL page says that everything works under 11.0 on a GX270, so my next theory is that switching to 11.0 will result in a happier box. Pipe dream? I hope not! I'm burning an 11.0 image right now.

Someone suggested that maybe I need to find a cheap well-supported video card (one of those low-end ATI or matrox cards), "but that shouldn't be necessary." Well, I hope not. I swear the next box is gonna be a mac mini.

11.0: No joy

Well, that didn't work. I still get a freeze. ping: yes, ssh: no. Also keyboard useless.

I grabbed a couple of video cards from the office -- both in computers not currently being used. One needs the wrong kind of AGP slot. The other plugs into a PCI slot, but yast2 hung when trying to probe it or something. I could still ssh in, so I became root and said "shutdown -h 0". that didn't do anything until I killed a few processes with HUP and some others with KILL. So I don't think these cards are gonna help me.

Next up is the framebuffer. I'm starting now (5pm) by just replcing "intel" with "fbdev" (with the quotes), like:
Section "Device"
BoardName "865 G"
BusID "0:2:0"
Driver "fbdev"
Identifier "Device[0]"
Option "NoDDC"
Vendorname "Intel"
I know from experience this won't work, but I want to see the messages. OK, this gives "AddScreen/ScreenInit failed for driver 0" (no quotes). The log has:
(II) Module fbdevhw: vendor="X.Org Foundation"
compiled for 1.5.2, module version = 0.0.2
ABI class: X.Org Video Driver, version 4.1
(**) FBDEV(0): claimed PCI slot 0@0:2:0
(II) FBDEV(0): using default device
(II) resource ranges after probing:
[0] -1 0 0xffffffff - 0xffffffff (0x1) MX[B]
[1] -1 0 0x000f0000 - 0x000fffff (0x10000) MX[B]
[2] -1 0 0x000c0000 - 0x000effff (0x30000) MX[B]
[3] -1 0 0x00000000 - 0x0009ffff (0xa0000) MX[B]
[4] -1 0 0x0000ffff - 0x0000ffff (0x1) IX[B]
[5] -1 0 0x00000000 - 0x00000000 (0x1) IX[B]
(**) FBDEV(0): Depth 24, (--) framebuffer bpp 32
(==) FBDEV(0): RGB weight 888
(==) FBDEV(0): Default visual is TrueColor
...lots of stuff...
(==) Depth 24 pixmap format is 32 bpp
(II) do I need RAC? No, I don't.
(II) resource ranges after preInit:
(EE) FBDEV(0): FBIOPUT_VSCREENINFO succeeded but modified mode
(EE) FBDEV(0): mode initialization failed
Somebody said that the problem had to do with this line:
(**) FBDEV(0): Depth 24, (--) framebuffer bpp 32
so the thing to do was, per the above,
Adding "DefaultFbBpp 24" to the "Screen" section and running with 32 bits
depth ("DefaultDepth 32") solves this problem
But hold on a sec, my log has this:
(II) FBDEV(0): checking modes against framebuffer device...
(II) FBDEV(0): mode "1280x1024" test failed
(II) FBDEV(0): checking modes against monitor...
(--) FBDEV(0): Virtual size is 1024x768 (pitch 1024)
(**) FBDEV(0): Built-in mode "current": 78.7 MHz, 59.9 kHz, 75.7 Hz
(II) FBDEV(0): Modeline "current"x0.0 78.65 1024 1056 1184 1312 768 772 776
792 -hsync -vsync -csync (59.9 kHz)
Why would that fail? Ha, because I have the wrong vga mode, that's why:
collin@p4:~> cat /proc/cmdline 
root=/dev/disk/by-id/scsi-SATA_Maxtor_6Y080L0_Y24H85SE-part6 resume=/dev/sda2 splash=silent vga=0x305
That 0x305 vga says 1024x768 with 256 colors, according to this page OK, so lemme try with vga=0x31B... Think I'll continue in another post.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

You don't... do you???

Dicussing possible meeting venues on the phone with Philip the other day, I pointed out that Togo's across the street serves beer.

"Do you drink beer?" he asked. He was flabbergasted.

In contrast, several weeks ago when I walked into the cafeteria, Dave said to Kong, "Better refill your beer before Collin gets up there."

Yesterday, in a meeting with Philip, he thought I was a vegetarian. So I had to say it. "You think I don't drink beer, you think I don't eat meat... you probably think I'm a virgin, too!"

My wife and teen-ager found this story hilarious.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Creation and the good things of life

Apropos of this weekend's sermon, here's a thought from Merton about enjoyment:
It gives great glory for God for a person to live in this world using and appreciating the good things of life without care, without anxiety, and without inordinate passion. In order to know and love God through His gifts, we have to use them as if we used them not (I Corinthians 7:31)—and yet we have to use them. For to use things as if we used them not means to use them without selfishness, without fear, without afterthought, and with perfect gratitude and confidence and love of God.
Thomas Merton, No Man Is an Island, p. 100
Our sermon this weekend made the related point that when we stand in wonder at creation, it helps us to relax, to slow down, to cease striving, as we're told in Psalm 46:10 (NASB NIV). When I consider the heavens, the work of God's hands, my own sense of importance fades (Psalm 8); I get a little perspective on just how important my plans and projects really aren't.

When we enjoy the good things of this life, we proclaim God's goodness and generosity and faithfulness. Of course I'm relaxed; my master gives me way more good things in this life than I deserve, and I don't believe he's going to change next week or next year. (At least that's how I want to be!)

This is not about sloth; this is about fully enjoying, fully relaxing, fully trusting.

So I'm going to practice. Though I have a busted optiplex GX270 (possibly related to its ancient A02 BIOS interacting with something in OpenSUSE 11.1) I'm going into the great outdoors, to be completely unproductive for a while.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Installing OpenSUSE 11.1 on a Dell OptiPlex GX270

Ouch! June 14 update

Bad things have been happening. The box reliably(!) freezes. More in a follow-up.
OK, call me a Luddite, but after some years, I'm finally going to update this machine to OpenSUSE 11.1. So I got the image and burned a DVD-R.

Today I popped the DVD into the drive, shutdown the box, and rebooted.

Oops, can't boot from the DVD drive (/dev/hdd)! That's an annoyance. The BIOS didn't seem to give me a way to do that. It was willing to boot from the CD drive (/dev/hdc)

Well, I had to open the box and pull the drive out so I could see the legend. The jumper was set to "CABLE" (as in "cable select"); based on an old prejudice I moved it to "MASTER". I also put the end of the cable onto the DVD drive, so the cable and the jumper would agree.

Now I could boot! OK, first thing, it complained about my fstab; it said the root partition on /dev/sda6 had things like "/dev/hda1" for the device; they wanted me to do "LABEL=blahblah". or maybe the uuid thing, which I am just not gonna do. Why? Alert readers will notice that the new OS calls the root partition /dev/sda6 (as in SCSI) whereas the fstab used /dev/hda1 (IDE). Harrumpf.

OK, I humored it; I switched the non-root partitions to the LABEL thing. Next was a conflict with kernel-default-nongpl-; I told Yast2 to just deinstall it.

What's next? OK, it added a whole boat-load of other packages to resolve dependencies. And that was it! I pulled the trigger.

Man, I feel like a twitter-er, but I'm gonna stop here because the other computer (the one I'm typing this one on) wants to upgrade ffox to 3.0.11

Other issues

Yes, there were several:
  • we had avahi-daemon taking up just about all the CPU; "chkconfig off" took care of that. also "/etc/init.d/avahi-daemon stop"
  • I typed "startx -- :1" but I got no WINDOWMANAGER because the path to fvwm2 is now /usr/bin not /usr/X11R6/bin. Not only that, but the .fvwm2rc has paths like /usr/X11R6/lib/X11/fvwm2/ -- that's right, doesn't exist.
  • sound doesn't work!
  • emacs doesn't do what I'm accustomed to.
  • NFS server was turned off! "/etc/chkconfig nfsserver on", then "/etc/init.d/nfsserver start" Whew!
  • autofs was turned off. they also moved my auto.master aside (auto.master.rpmsave). Arrgh, there was a reason for that -- syntax has changed! Gotta puzzle through that too, as the NFS client won't mount any of my (now all automounted) remote filesystems.
    • NEVERMIND. The problem was I had an extra parameter on the line. It wasn't "all" that couldn't be mounted, just the one that had the (bad) extra parameter. The bad file had:
      pres15content  -rw,hard,blahblah pres15:/content --timeout 60
      The desired line was:
      pres15content  -rw,hard,blahblah pres15:/content
      i.e., everything except the "--timeout 60". So that was my fault.

I'm going to have to get used to emacs. It's got all this gtk stuff! But not having sound... that's annoying.

East Coast to West Coast Executive's Translation Guide

I found this in my archives, from the late 1980s. It's mostly (but not entirely) tongue in cheek.

East Coast to West Coast
Executive's Translation Guide

Absolutely no Maybe
Action item for Joe by 2/12 Joe's working on the problem
Bozo Subcontractor
Brawl Design Review
Dictator Facilitator
Do it and do it now Can you sign up for this program
Do it right or you're fired I'm confident in you
F--- off Trust me
Follow the spec Is there a spec?
Get out of my office Let's get a consensus on this one
He's a jerk He's not signed up to our plan
He's a subordinate He's a team player
I'll cover your a-- Consider me your resource
Ignore him he's new I'm bringing you up to speed
Local bar Offsite facility
Oh sh-- Thanks for bringing that to my attention
Overdesigned Robust
Punch his lights out Constructive confrontation
Shut the f--- up Thank you for your input
Shut up a minute Let me share this with you
That's totally incompetent Let me build on that point
Unemployed Consulting
Overbudget On schedule
Underbudget We haven't started yet
We finished early <No translation>
We're done How do you feel about that
What's wrong with you I certainly understand your feelings
Where is the spec? What is a spec?
Where's the schedule What is the game plan
Yes Maybe
Your plan sucks Let me share my feelings on this plan

Friday, June 12, 2009

Machine translation may have a way to go...

For some reason the Japanese children's song about goat pen-pals came to mind. I couldn't completely recall the lyrics but I got a few of them: black goat, white goat, letter, ate... and google helped me out. If your display looks like mine, quite a few entries show a "Translate this page" link on the right, and just for kicks I tried one.

The original page is here:; what you see basically in the middle is the title "やぎさんゆうびん" -- yagi-san (goat) yuubin (post, as in postal service). Then come the lines of the song:
♪ しろやぎさんから おてがみついた
♪ くろやぎさんたら よまずにたべた
♪ しかたがないので おてがみかいた
♪ さっきのてがみの ごようじなぁに
Basically, a letter from the white goat came to the black goat, who ate it without reading it. Nothing for it but to write a letter back: "What was your last letter about?" You can see where this is going, right? The white goat gets the letter from the black goat, eats it rather than reading, and infinite loop....

Now check out the translation. Japanese often doesn't have separations between words; in the above song, there are separations sort of between lines. I think this is what makes it really hard for the translation software to parse it.

Still the translation has its farcical side:
♪ MITSUITA to us from the white goat TABETA to YOMAZU GISANTARA
♪ ♪ KAITA there are black and you can not stand it so I stick ♪ The earlier you have it
I'll guess that English, French, or Chinese are easier than Japanese. Just a guess though.

Cheaper than a flight to Paris

The lovely Carol had a birthday recently, so I took CalTrain to San Francisco and walked a few blocks up 4th to meet her and our teen-ager at LuLu, on Folsom, just off 4th next to a Shell(?) station. I got there first, and decided to wait for them at the table. I saw them walking up to the door and dashed up to greet them. "Welcome to LuLu!" I said, and got a kiss from the birthday girl.

LuLu has an extensive wine list, and something I really liked was their "wine flight" -- "tastes", 2 oz. each -- of each of four wines from a region. I tried the Rhône valley set and liked three of them:
  • Syrah, costieres de Nimes, domaine de petite mas (France) 2006;
  • Syrah and Grenache, domaine de l'Echevin, Côtes du Rhône Villages (France) 2006 (really nice);
  • Syrah, Grenache and Carignan, Domaine de la Verrière, Côtes du Ventoux (France) 2007 (maybe my favorite)
H'm, I guess that means I'm a blend kind of guy? Those four quarter-glasses set us back $11, a fantastic chance to get a taste of four pretty good wines. Now if I spelled them correctly....

On to the food: we got the romaine salad for the table. Carol ordered the "Grilled Pacific Prawns with Chick Pea, White Bean and Green Bean Salad, Charmoula Sauce." The teen-ager got the asparagus risotto (big surprise there--not). I asked for the rotisserie lamb, which came with ratatouille. We also got a succotash of corn and... something. It was sweet and tasty.

Everything was good. The lamb was a little on the rare side. But what really excited me was the ratatouille. I'm not sure what they put in there, but every bite reminded me of a past visit to the Paris area. I can't describe it exactly, but there it is.

We didn't finish everything, and the wait-staff boxed the leftovers for us in paper-based boxes, placed in a paper sack. We did order dessert: a semifreddo with fruit, and the panna cotta. I asked for a cup of decaf coffee. It tasted great -- like coffee I've had in France -- but I think it was what one French barista called "vrai café" rather than "faux café" (I was wide awake quite early -- like two -- the next morning).

Dessert came with a candle for the birthday girl. The semifreddo -- well, I guess we aren't quite sophisticated enough to fully appreciate it. The panna cotta -- that was a different story. I took just a couple of small bites, but if I closed my eyes and forgot everybody was speaking English, I might think I was on the Continent.

Gosh, I feel really decadent writing all that stuff about Europe, and I hope I haven't oversold the place. But I'm glad we discovered LuLu. The service was terrific. It's not an economy kind of place, but it's a lot cheaper than a ticket to Europe, and you don't have to speak French.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Means of Grace? Spiritual Disciplines?

I just posted this article on waywords. There's this tension between the disciplines, and grace, and remembering how much we need God and...

I hope you enjoy it.

wget 1.10 hurts -- or, Perils of an Old OS

The ex-teen's friend tried to update Firefox on our box and discovered that the commands he knew just didn't work. What operating system are we using, anyway?
$ uname -a
Linux p4 #1 Thu Feb 2 20:54:26 UTC 2006 i686 i686 i386 GNU/Linux
OK, so it was compiled three years ago. Well, ffox 3.x wouldn't run on this box anyway, even if whatever commands had worked.

So I decided to overcome my Luddite slothful tendencies and download the latest stable OpenSUSE version -- which turns out to be 11.1 (there are release candidates for 11.2, but I didn't want to go there). So I went to the download site, selected DVD and 32-bit processor, and fed the ISO image link to wget, like this:
$ time wget -O /content/openSUSE-11.1-DVD-i586.iso \ &
[1] 9452
Logging in as anonymous ... Logged in!
==> SYST ... done. ==> PWD ... done.
==> TYPE I ... done. ==> CWD /pub/opensuse/distribution/11.1/iso ... done.
==> PASV ... done. ==> RETR openSUSE-11.1-DVD-i586.iso ... done.
Length: 262,916,096 (unauthoritative)
It got off to a good start, though 262-263 Mbytes seemed pretty small for a DVD install image. I feared a 32-bit arithmetic problem, but anyway, the download speed was over 1Mbit/second over DSL. A few hours later, I got some bad news:
100%[==================================>] 2,147,469,984  157.43K/s    ETA 00:00
wget: progress.c:704: create_image: Assertion `insz <= dlsz' failed.
-bash: line 4: 9453 Aborted wget -O /content/openSUSE-11.1-DVD-i586.iso

real 275m45.797s
user 0m4.908s
sys 0m26.973s
$ ls -o /content/openSUSE-11.1-DVD-i586.iso
-rw-r--r-- 1 collin 2147502816 2009-06-07 12:46 /content/openSUSE-11.1-DVD-i586.iso
That looked to me like a 32-bit problem. I mean really, 2147502816 is clearly bigger than 2,147,469,984, right? Well, not in 32-bit signed arithmetic:
$ d2x 2147502816
$ d2x 2147469984
$ type d2x
d2x is a function
d2x ()
python -c "print('%#x' % $1)"
Awww, man! What kind of wget were we using here anyway?
$ rpm -qf /usr/bin/wget
$ rpm -qi wget
Name : wget Relocations: (not relocatable)
Version : 1.10 Vendor: SUSE LINUX Products GmbH, Nuernberg, Germany
Release : 1.3 Build Date: Fri 14 Oct 2005 09:34:32 AM PDT
So, it was compiled over three years ago. I made a token effort to find release notes for this 3½-year-old version of wget but no joy.

Well, it turns out that the file was actually 4557883392 bytes in length. Translated into hex, that's 0x10fabc800. If we trim that to 32 bits, it comes to...
$ x2d fabc800
Which matches the bogus "Length: 262,916,096 (unauthoritative)" that my old version of wget gave me earlier.

Well, perhaps OpenSUSE 11.1 will give me a version of wget that'll handle a 4.5Gbyte download, even in a 32-bit version.

"Hope springs eternal..." --Pope


So what to do? Fortunately my office is very Linux-friendly. I pulled the image onto one of the boxen there, and I'm running rsync. Yes, even a 2005 rsync (version 2.6.3, Build Date: Tue 22 Mar 2005 10:54:18 AM PST) can handle files bigger than 2GB; hopefully it can also handle files bigger than 4GB. I guess we'll see.
Yes it does!

<Pope again here> "A longing fulfilled is a tree of life."

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Best place to work? You bet!

True story about working at NetApp. Names changed arbitrarily. "Bob" was an intern with us last summer; he shared an office with me (still does). At the end of the summer, our boss, "Ingrid," told me we could hire a new college grad. Should Bob come on full-time after graduation (December)?

"Sure!" I said. He performed well during the summer -- not like a seasoned veteran, but like a promising young intern.

Ingrid made the offer and Bob accepted. He helped Ingrid out a number of times with reports and websites and such, while learning a whole bunch of stuff, including Python. He did some programming tasks that I really would never have gotten around to, and we were able to deliver a fuller set of services to the product developers. In particular, Bob came up with a cool way to provide a service the developers have wanted for quite a while, and put it into production last week. It's fast, too -- faster than the rest of us thought it could be.

Yesterday, June 1, one of the developers emailed Bob (I was cc'd). The new capability Bob coded up? It worked great!

Now for the fun part. NetApp's Vice Chairman, Tom, has an open offer out: "Catch someone doing something right," he said, "and tell me about it. I'll call that person and thank them." So I emailed Tom last night:
To: Vice Chairman Tom
Subject: Caught this guy doing something right!
Date: Mon Jun 1 19:19:59 PDT 2009

Hi Tom,

Bob is a young guy, been with us just over a year (the first 6 months as an intern, some of that being part-time). Our developers had been asking for the capability to (technical details elided) Though he's been with us this short time, he figured out a way to provide this capability, and as you can see from the below, a happy (internal) customer also expressed his appreciation.

btw "only took 2 minutes" is contrasted with "waiting a few hours after the nightly build" so this is a huge plus for our developers. If you're still making those phone calls, I'm sure it would mean a whole lot to him.

Bob's extension number is: XXXX


--- Original message ---
From: <>
To: Bob
cc: <elided>
Subject: re: quick <elided> capability

It works really well. Only took 2 mins to check (technical details elided)....

Now we have a way to ensure the fix really works before checkin.
Thanks a lot, Bob

Mid-morning, the phone rang. Bob didn't recognize the number. It was local, though, so he picked it up. I overheard the conversation (Tom's voice carries, even on the phone).
Bob: Hello?

Tom: Hi, Bob? This is Tom M______. How ya doin'? (Bob looked quite surprised.)

Bob: Uh, fine.

Tom: Hey, I just got a message from Collin Park telling me that you provided a way for developers to (technical details elided)... Very cool. How long you been with us?

The whole thing was maybe a minute or two, but Bob had this gigantic smile on his face afterwards.

A minute or two later, I got an email back from Tom. "Just spoke to Bob... thanks for bringing that to my attention."

You know, the only reason I would ever want to be a big-time manager or VP or anything would be so I could make phone calls like that. What a kick in the pants! I think Bob was smiling the rest of the day.

NetApp's not perfect; it is, however, a great place to work. How many other companies have a big-time executive willing to call a one-year employee on some random person's recommendation?

I love this company!