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Aug 31, 2008

Busy Day
last update: 08/31 @ 21:06
Robert and I had a very busy day today: hardware store to pick up 2X4s and bolts for canoe rack, hair cut (school starts Tuesday), picked up birdseed, ate lunch — note the huge burrito Robert is tackling; he made an impressive dent — stopped by the grocery store, dropped off a borrowed shirt, put the groceries away, built up the canoe rack, ate a late dinner and took a shower (after all the hard work on the canoe racks and in the sand table).


Aug 30, 2008

New Canoe!!!
last update: 08/30 @ 21:18
We miss Sarah who is helping out in very tough times in Seattle. However, before we realized quite how tough the times there were, we had ordered a canoe which Robert and I picked up last night. Today we invited Evan and his mom on the maiden voyage of the SS Zapolsky-Williams. There are couple more photos in Robert’s section.


Aug 27, 2008

Bittersweet
last update: 08/27 @ 22:38
Robert took his camera to day care today. It was his last day there and we’re going to miss that part of our life. On the way home, Sarah was explaining what “bittersweet” means in relation to leaving the very nice day care and moving on to a very nice school. Robert was pretty tired so I’m not sure he got it. In his section is a very lightly edited, very impressionistic view of a day in the life of his day care class.


Aug 24, 2008

Indirectly Robert
last update: 08/24 @ 11:04
Robert hasn’t picked up his camera in a while — until this morning when he went on brief photo safari. He was very particular to set this shot up with my arm and the car and a box in the background (the box didn’t actually make it into the frame). It was fun to see after taking shots of this and that and the other that he wanted to stage this still life just so.


Aug 23, 2008

Life on the Edge
last update: 08/23 @ 20:35

(Sorry, no Robert content here; strictly geek speak.)

One decision I made after leaving AARP was to try out Fedora Linux rather than Red Hat Linux. Red Hat charges an annual subscription fee that covers support by their pretty useful Red Hat Network. Fedora is completely free and is really the test-bed for Red Hat (they are very closely related). As the test-bed, Fedora tries to get the latest and greatest versions of the operating system and software integrated and running smoothly. They cut down on time and effort spent on maintenance by only supporting each version for about 13 months and distributing a new version every 6 months. By contrast, Red Hat supports each version for 7 years and distributes a new version about every 2 years. The impact for me meant, I installed Fedora 7 in June of 2007 and needed to upgrade/install Fedora 9 in July of 2008 to continue getting updates and bug fixes for the software.

I have been happy with the stability of Fedora; once installed, I’ve had very few problems (though I think some of my 7 year old hardware is suffering these days). And the software update process is pretty painless — though frequent. Red Hat generally batches updates and focuses more on bug fixes than new versions of software. I also had the Red Hat system of automatically updating the software working well. For Fedora, I’ve been doing it manually, mostly because I’ve not taken the time to set up automation, which is a tiny bit more difficult. But also, with the frequent updates of Fedora, I have seen (rarely, less than 10% of the time) some conflicts between software installed vs. software to update. I’ve only had to struggle with cleaning up an update gone awry once (so far, knock wood).

For me, the real downside has been the need to move to a new version frequently. For desktop machines, that’s not been a problem; for the two servers I have, it’s a little more challenging to make sure all the configuration changes I’ve made get migrated to the new OS. I’ve gotten better about it as I’ve done it more, but it is still not a task I look forward to. I would much rather stick with one version until I replace the hardware and upgrade then. That said, it has been nice to be able to install a packaged and supported version of just about new any software that looks intriguing to me. With the more stable Red Hat, I was frequently missing updated libraries needed to run the latest and greatest if I tried to install from source (they don’t offer the same breadth of packaged software). But I think after this past year, I’m ready to go back to something more stable. I have until about June of 2009 when Fedora 9 will stop being supported.

I expect that I’ll move to CentOS then as it a free version of Red Hat Linux — long support lifespan and no cost. Of course, there are other options so I’ll just have to see what looks good when the time comes.

In case you are interested in the details; here’s how my Fedora 9 upgrades went:

Robert’s PC: Fedora 8 - 9 The network upgrade option was ok with one squid change and some boot errors that seem innocuous. It was slow, however, the site I chose to install from advertises lots of bandwidth, but I couldn’t get much of it. The downside to upgrade is there are probably some less than ideal configurations and some general junk that gets carried forward. The upside is it was painless.

My PC: Fedora 7 - 9 I tried an upgrade (I’m not sure that is even supposed to be supported since I was skipping a version) by copying the needed files (by mirroring an existing site) and storing them on our internal web server but ran into problems (I think it was package metadata not found — my notes are not good). Then I tried a network update with the same error (note to self, if the downloaded version isn’t working, try a different site rather than the same one you downloaded the files from). Then I tried a network install from the same site with the same problem (same note to self) — after having reformatted my disk. So then it was too late to try a network upgrade from a different site. I did a network install from a site that did not cause the problem.

This time, when 9 started, it had a gateway address but no routing set up — so no working networking, but easy to fix. (I also had issues with networking and Fedora 7 — the slick NetworkManager system was really designed for DHCP-based systems. I have a static IP network here.) I ran into a mouse button issue that a helpful page at Missouri University solved for me. And for reasons I don’t understand, the Enigmail Thunderbird plugin worked once, worked one more time after uninstall and reinstall and refused to work after that; until, that is, I installed pinentry-gtk2. Since then, it’s been fine.

With the annoyances out of the way, I don’t really notice firefox 3 — it just works. I couldn’t find (and didn’t look hard for) KDE address book — I had a recent CSV export which imported fine into Thunderbird after swapping some columns around (the import interface for column swapping didn’t work well for me). I like the packaged twitter client (and updated version of twitux). And I’m happy with the cool compwiz desktop eye candy.

Internal server: Fedora 7 - 9 upgrade didn’t even appear as an option, not surprising as I don’t think the installer can read the LVM disk layout on the box. Then my attempt to use the local copy (from a different site) failed with the package metadata can’t be found error. Next I tried anl.gov as the network source — that was really slow: about 48 hours to install and apply all the updates.

Public server: I copied CD *.iso files locally and installed from there — before I’d been trying to get a mirrored version of the standard http network install tree locally. Finally, a good answer: about an hour to install (with little intervention). About 2 more hours to update and restore the basic configuration. Then 6 more hours to tweak the configuration. Eventually I gave up on the SPF milter for sendmail — it was just too unstable. And I had some SELinux woes that took a bit to work out (the policy from Fedora for sendmail seemed to have changed a bit).

Final thoughts: If I had DVD drives on all my machines (some are pretty old) I expect that would have made the process much easier and quicker and I think more consistent. I think the upgrade path from one version to another is fine; the downside of having a bit more junk lying around is not that big a deal to me. I have decided to configure my machines in slightly abnormal ways, and for that I pay some pain in getting things configured as I want them to be. A fairly stock install should be fine for most any purpose. It has been nice to not worry about having the prerequisites to run just about whatever I want to, but the pain of a forced upgrade before the hardware needs to be replaced is not (to me) worth the benefit of running the latest and greatest.


Aug 19, 2008

Pom Pom Olympics
last update: 08/19 @ 22:01

So, O.K. - Robert has seen a bit more TV since the Olympics have been on. But Monday found us baking banana bread, then playing with flour then making some playdoh. One thing lead to another and I’ll spare you the details, but pictured is the blowing of the semi-final pom pom qualifiers to determine who gets to race for the gold. I forget who eventually won. -Z


Aug 12, 2008

One less mouse…
last update: 08/12 @ 21:29
Hmmmm… to bad I can’t file a patent application for this mousetrap now that I work at the USPTO. We were pretty surprised to see this guy in our back yard this evening. But the benefits to having a hawk (I think this is a juvenile sharp-shinned hawk) were clear when he (or she) starting gobbling down the mouse. That’s one mouse Zip Drive doesn’t need to hunt down for us should it have gotten into the house.


Aug 04, 2008

Daddy’s First Day at Work
last update: 08/04 @ 20:48

It felt like “first day of school” day here at the homestead and Robert decided the only way to send off Daddy was to dress like a jaguar caveman. Later, after deciding that if he wants to dress like a caveman then darn it, let him dress like a caveman (with shorts on), Robert and I spent a great day with Ev and his mom at the park. Notice the blessed shade, which covered the fun “mountain-construction-skyscraper” wall the whole morning.


Aug 03, 2008

Obama Mamas Meeting in Beech Park
last update: 08/03 @ 14:49
Go Obama in O8. The northern Virginia Arlington campaign office now has new custom made signs for its bare walls. (Robert halfway up on the right. His sign was drying so not pictured.) :)



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