Wednesday, February 23, 2011

You haven't had enough trouble in your lives...

In Kent Haruf's marvelous Plainsong, a high-school teacher visits two bachelor ranchers to ask them to take in a homeless pregnant 17-year-old. They're about to realize it:
All right then, Harold said, you got our attention. You say you don't want money. What do you want?

She sipped her coffee and tasted it and looked in the cup again and set it back on the table. She looked at the two old brothers. They were waiting, sitting forward at the table across from her. I want something improbable, she said. That's what I want. I want you to think about taking this girl in. Of letting her live with you.

They stared at her.

You're fooling, Harold said.

No, Maggie said. I am not fooling.

They were dumbfounded. They looked at her, regarding her as if she might be dangerous. Then they peered into the palms of their thick callused hands spread out before them on the kitchen table and lastly they looked out the window toward the leafless and stunted elm trees.

Oh, I know it sounds crazy, she said. I suppose it is crazy. I don't know. I don't even care. But that girl needs somebody and I'm ready to take desperate measures. She needs a home for these months. And you—she smiled at them—you old solitary bastards need somebody too. Somebody or something besides an old red cow to care about and worry over. It's too lonesome out here. Well, look at you. You're going to die some day without having had enough trouble in your life. Not of the right kind anyway. This is your chance. (109-110)

They are speechless for a bit, and then Harold has a counterproposal:
Hell, Maggie, Harold said at last. Let's go back to the money part. Money'd be a lot easier.

Yes, she said. It would. But not nearly as much fun.

Fun, he said. That's a nice word for what you're talking about. More like pandemonium and disruption, you mean. Jesus God. (110)

Maggie leaves, asking them to call her if they change their minds. Of course you know they will. Raymond decides to take the girl in, and Harold puts up a bit of an argument:
Why wouldn't she be as much trouble? As much trouble as what? You ever had a girl living with you before?

You know I ain't, Raymond said.

Well, I ain't either. But let me tell you. A girl is different. They want things. They need things on a regular schedule. Why, a girl's got purposes you and me can't even imagine. They got ideas in their heads you and me can't even suppose. And goddamnit, there's the baby too. What do you know about babies? (112)

Of course Harold is right. Their lives will change beyond what they can imagine. For the most part, at least as Haruf tells it, their lives have been mostly in control. No, they can't control the weather, but they have technology, like barns and a house and a waterproof box with a gas flame to keep the stock tank from freezing over.

Those are anyway only technological challenges; for relationship challenges they just have each other. Taking this girl in will turn out to be an exciting adventure for them. There's heartbreak, too, but then life is like that.

Especially if we want to live in relationship with God: He loves us too much to let us stay in the same condition we are, so he will bring things into our lives that will help us grow. Our part is to trust him and walk through the door. Not to be foolish or rash, but to trust and obey.

Easier said than done, but the result is goodness.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Opensuse 11.3: Software upgrades should always be this easy

Now that I've been running opensuse 11.3 at home for some months now (link from Dec'10), I've been thinking about installing it at work. After some recent frustrations with the printer (I've had issues printing from both thunderbird and firefox on opensuse 10.2) I started thinking more seriously about it, and when it became interesting to try installing shapado at the office... well, let's just say I looked at the prerequisites and decided to pull the trigger. Oh, the other thing is that 11.4 is due out next month, so it's about time to install 11.3 on the office desktop.

Why opensuse? It's a matter of personal preference, really, but here are a few of my thoughts.

  • I'm accustomed to SuSE Linux, having run 5.3, 6.0, 7.0, 8.0, 9.1, 9.3 and then opensuse 10.2; it has packages I've become familiar with (can you say "asclock"? "fvwm2"?)
  • I seem to remember being pleasantly surprised once that SuSE's build of ksh had some capabilities enabled that weren't turned on by default in Red Hat. To get those features in RH I had to rebuild ksh from source. This wasn't hard, but since I've occasion to upgrade over the years (and maybe I saw it coming) I just decided to go with a distro that I wouldn't have to tweak as much.
  • During the sco wars (see I read that Novell (the purveyor of SuSE Linux in the 9.3 days) had been instrumental in bringing down the bad guys. Upon reading this, I sent off for their latest boxed set (SuSE Linux 9.3 Professional), paying whatever they were asking.
I'd had some bad experiences with Linux upgrades on some old Dell boxen, but the recent IBM lease-return I have at home seems to be sufficiently recent to play well with 11.3, so I was optimistic. Also, I loaded up an old NetVista box at the office with 11.3, and it worked fine -- hence my not-quite-as-old primary desktop (a thinkcentre I believe) would probably work.

Before even thinking about it

The previous Linux install on the old IBM (I think this is a pre-Lenovo box) had /home in a separate partition. This is where my home directory was. The thought was to be able to upgrade the system SW without touching my personal data. A bunch of other stuff is on NetApp filers, accessed via NFS, so no worries there. If you have a chance to put your home directory in a separate partition from the system partition -- better, if you have enough space to carve out multiple areas where you can install various system versions -- you're all set for playing with multiple distros. But for me, it was enough to have one system partition and one for my personal stuff.

I had some quirky stuff which is less so now: Privoxy, which I don't believe was on the opensuse 10.2 install media; tkremind; dovecot. Some of these were installed under /usr/local. Also I think some configuration might have been kinda special -- automounter and this sort of thing. So I copied or moved all of /usr/local/src under $HOME; also I copied the /etc/ tree to a place under $HOME for future reference.

Now I wanted to remain productive during the transition (yeah, I know, too much multitasking makes you stupid. But I figured that since I already hit bottom I'm likely immune) so I turned off fetchmail on the primary desktop, rsync'd the maildir from the desktop to my temporary workstation, then ran "fetchmail -d 60" on the temporary.

Now I could insert the DVD and reboot my primary desktop. I hit <ENTER> to interrupt normal boot, and chose to boot from CD-ROM drive. I selected "Install" from the boot menu, agreed to "no warranty", and selected my timezone (hwclock set to UTC).

KDE is the default desktop (they don't have an fvwm2 option) so I chose KDE, and then told the installer to leave /home alone (mount it as /home in the new world) and to go ahead and format the system partition, /. Before clicking the "go do it" button, I clicked the box to enable sshd and open a hole in the firewall.

Then I went back to work, using the slower and louder temporary workstation. After a while, the installation was pretty much done.

First happy surprise: it saw that /home/collin existed and figured out my uid from the files there -- it didn't blindly assign me 501 or 1000 or something, so I didn't have to go back and change it. Kudos to the OpenSUSE team for this nice touch!

I had to add a group, though, with a number less than 100. This is supposed to be reserved or something, but to be compatible with the assignments on the Linux/Unix boxen in the compute farm, I tried to create a group with gid=30. The installer wouldn't let me do it, so I created a group with a different id; later I'd become root and "vi /etc/group".

I tweaked the LAN card configuration for static IP, and had to enter the netmask and default gateway in by hand. I'm willing to put up with that in order to have a static IP address. Anyway, I made the mistake of enabling NIS before trying to configure the mail stuff. When we got to the part about which local users to masquerade, it tried to download all the userids that NIS knew about -- this is over 10,000. I went to the terminal that kicked off yast2 and said ^C... turned off ypbind and then went through the mail config -- much better. The key part was selecting delivery to be through procmail.

With yp turned on, the automounter could work -- I just put the saved versions of /etc/auto.* back in place and "/etc/init.d autofs start" and yes, that was it! A few more adjustments were needed, like opening privoxy up for remote connections, letting dovecot use plaintext authentication (only from localhost though), this sort of thing.

But overall, a piece of cake.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

How to decide?

From Merton's Witness to Freedom:
[T]here is one basic idea that should be kept in mind in all the changes we make in life, whether of career or anything else. We should decide not in view of better pay, higher rank, "getting ahead," but in view of becoming more real, entering more authentically into direct contact with life, living more as a free and mature human person, able to give myself more to others, able to understand myself and the world better.
pp. 254-255, quoted in
Echoing Silence, Thomas Merton on the Vocation of Writing
edited by Robert Inchausti
What a beautiful word of advice! Why do I need to read this? I guess that I (and maybe you?) have been paying too much attention to those other things -- "getting ahead" or the like.

Why do we do that? I think of the command in Colossians 3:2 Give your heart to the heavenly things, not to the passing things of earth (Phillips I think) and as my friend Jim says, there's a reason that's a command. We tend to look at what's right in front of us, and if everybody around us is talking about status and toys and money, after a while we start believing that stuff is what's important. More than that, we get into the habit of measuring ourselves by status and toys and money -- silliness.

How can someone like me change into someone more real, more authentically engaged, more generous and all that? As I've written before, this isn't something you or I can do on our own; we need help. Monitoring and changing what goes into our minds (reading the World Vision newsletter, rather than watching Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, for example), prayer, fellowship, the Scriptures... That's my plan, and will be for the next 20-30 years.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Some excuses for getting faster DSL... from

For the past N years, our DSL has promised "Up to 1.5mbps Download" speed. Our isp is, located in Santa Rosa, and we've been using their Express-S (static IP). I kept telling myself I'd host a website from my house, but with flickr/picasa offering huge amounts of storage for free, besides not wanting to have to watch carefully for intrusions on my boxen, I never got a Round Tuit.

The lovely Carol has been wanting to watch Castle online, but our 2006 powerbooks don't cut it. The mac mini is in the den, and we're not moving that to the living room. I'm thinking roku. This $100 box will forestall having cable tv, even if hulu plus is $10/month oh, that's $8/month now. Yow!

Oh, back to DSL. I discovered that the 3-6Mbit/sec download DSL option (with dynamic IP address) would cost me less than I've been paying for "up to 1.5Mbit/sec download" with static IP. I put the order in Sunday I think, and they said it would be complete today.

Well, I woke up this morning, fired up my computer, and... no internet. H'm... Then I remembered -- dynamic IP address day today! So I reconfigured my router for DHCP. Still couldn't ping my nameservers, but after a few minutes we were good. Then I tried downloading Scotty's sermon from last weekend and it came in at over 600 kbytes/second -- that's nearly 5Mbits/sec. Oh yeah!

Next I tried connecting to the office. I'm taking the day off today, so I thought I'd connect up and put up my "vacation" notice. BOY was the connection faster! Since I connect to the office using vnc, the higher speed gives me a much better work-at-home experience.

If you're thinking of getting DSL and you live in this area, I have to say I really like -- especially if you want to login to the server and do stuff, like edit your .procmailrc. They have NetApp filers with two nightly snapshots, there's a backup service you can use, etc. And I love their support crew. I don't get any kind of referral bonus unless you mention my name or something when you call them.