Yet Another Fruit-ful Computing Modality

Followers of the computing side of the Unix Curmudgeon blog will note that our 20-year dalliance with Linux has expanded from the server, workstation, and laptop incarnations to the appliance, namely Raspberry Pi, a tiny single-board card that runs Linux and uses an HDMI TV as a monitor. Of course, we’re familiar with the other fruity moniker, the Apple, and have even used Macs from time to time, since the advent of OS/X, the BSD-based operating environment introduced around the turn of the century:   use generally confined to command-line scripts in terminal windows, as opposed to the graphical desktop made popular with the original MacIntosh.

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This summer, Judy–the Nice Person complement to the Unix Curmudgeon–who has patiently put up with the Linux-only network at Chaos Central until now–bought herself an iPad to replace the severely outclassed and underpowered Netbook road machine, which hadn’t fared well in the progressive upgrades over the years from Ubuntu 10.04 to Mint 17 (based on Ubuntu 14.04). Naturally, she has fallen in love with the tablet, the latest successor to “the computer for the rest of us.”

Meanwhile, the Curmudgeon has been making do between the Android phone and the Netbook during his limited-duty recovery from surgery earlier, akin to typing with boxing gloves while blindfolded.  So, the Nice Person, being a sentimental soul, designated a second iPad as a belated birthday present for the septuagenarian Curmudgeon.  OK, iOS, like Android, might have deep Unix roots, but, as “locked” appliances, aren’t multiuser and don’t have a command shell or root.  They also have “apps,” which aren’t “open,” though many of them are free (as in beer), and which, then aren’t customizable and it is less easy to roll your own custom apps.

So, the annoyances abound.  One of the first things of note is the way Apple deals with technologies they don’t like: they simply don’t support them.  Thus, none of the five dozen or so videos we’ve produced in the last couple of years will play on the iPad, with audio and/or video missing: we used the LAME MP3 coding for the audio track, and IOS only supports the newer Advanced Audio Coding format (OK, it’s been around for 17 years, but MP3 is still more common).  This in itself isn’t a huge problem, but it does mean re-generating all of the videos from project files, for which some of the source components have been moved, requiring hand-editing the text-based project files and searching for the missing component files.  Now, we do have some conversion utilities, but they inconveniently do not include the requisite audio coding.  The other issue is that we normally render videos at 25fps, even though the camera runs at 30, and Apple likes 30fps, period.  Fortunately, the video coding remains at H.264.  The real problem in all this was ferreting out the real cause of the problem, wading through the often less-than-helpful online help forums. The good news is that most other video software will accept the Apple set of protocols.

And so it goes: we have managed to find SSH apps that let us interact with the other *nix machines, with the exception of our bastion server, which requires host identification that we can’t generate or set on a rootless machine.  However, we can go through a third machine that is external to the network and registered with our server.

Some of the apps are just plain annoying or obtuse, with few clues as to how to get them to behave the way you expect ( no doubt some of the problem is unfamiliarity with the iOS gesture vocabulary that 4-year-olds seem to find intuitive).  As with all rapidly-changing technology today, the helpful hints found online only worked with the previous version of the system you just upgraded to.  But, yes, the slim tablet is much more portable, faster, brighter, and higher resolution than the old netbook, and the on-scene keyboard is much better than the tiny one on the phone… The apps put out by many of the sites we visit most make better use of the display than do the web browsers. I’d like to see some of the apps more generally available for Linux as well as the tablet OSes.

Oh, by the way, this post was composed, graphics and all, entirely on the iPad.  Who says old dogs can’t learn new tricks?

Warm Showers 2014, Part 2

In mid-September, after our return from Oregon and when I was finally healed enough from my thoracic surgery to safely open and close the garage door and lift moderately heavy objects, we once again hung out the welcome sign on the warmshowers.org website. Almost immediately, we started getting requests, as touring season on the Pacific Coast runs until late October, with tourists taking advantage of the cooler weather in southern California in November and winter months in Central America.

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Our first fall guests were Ronnie and Linda, seasoned tourists from the Netherlands, on the last stage of a two-year odyssey that took them through New Zealand and from the tip of South America to San Francisco, where they jumped north to Alaska to make their way back south to San Francisco.

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Next came tandemists Normand and Helene, who had ridden from their home in Quebec to Seattle, visiting the Black Hills, Yellowstone, and Glacier parks on the way. They were on an open-ended tour, and starting their way down the Pacific Coast to see where there travels led them. Unfortunately, a week or so later, they caught the front wheel in a groove in the asphalt on a particularly treacherous section of US101 just south of the Oregon Hwy 26 intersection and crashed, fortunately neither onto the roadway nor into the guard rail, but nevertheless onto the rough shoulder. Helene was badly injured, with multiple collarbone fractures, and both suffered heavy abrasions (“road rash”). With the help of a cyclist doctor who treated them and Warm Showers host Neil in Seaside, they were able to recuperate enough to head for home. In the spirit of the generosity and comradeship of the Warm Showers organization, they lent some of their gear to another tourist who had been victim of theft. Sadly, bicycle tourists are not immune to theft, and the density of bicyclists along the Oregon Coast makes it a prime target area for thieves. Leaving a loaded bike unattended for even a few minutes invites disaster. You can read more of their epic and tragic journey at http://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/?o=Sh&doc_id=12201&v=3PV (It’s in French, with some English translation)

We have great sympathy for Normand and Helene, having survived a low-speed tandem crash ourselves in the spring of 2013. Any bicycle crash can result in serious injury or death, but a tandem crash is particularly dangerous because of the increased weight and momentum. Plus, while the captain may sense the impending fall and brace for it, the stoker may not be aware of the accident until striking the ground with great force, adding disorientation to injury. While most of US 101 through Oregon has a wide shoulder, there are still places where repaving has left a rough or partial shoulder. Slides are very common also, opening cracks parallel to the road along the edge. No matter how fast tandems travel, they are still no match for cars and trucks, so it isn’t always possible to move into the traffic lane when confronted with damaged or substandard shoulder conditions.

We had a few other reservations that didn’t pan out, when the tourists stopped short of Shelton because of rain. Then we had some who were almost drop-ins, with a few hours notice, when mechanical issues or weather made Shelton the only practical destination for the day.

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Eric called us from downtown Shelton, in early evening. On his first day of his tour from Seattle to San Francisco, less than 20km from the Bremerton ferry, his chain broke. He got a ride into Belfair and bought a chain at the hardware store, but it wasn’t the right size for a 9-speed cassette, so he called us and his rescuer ferried him on to Shelton in search of a non-existent bike shop, and then to our house. The next morning, Eric and I took a car trip to Olympia to our favorite bike shop, Falcone’s, to pick up a genuine Shimano Deore 9-speed chain, then back home to install it and send him on his way, with a caution to pull the power when shifting. The old chain was just at the 75% wear mark, where shifting becomes difficult and the chain does not drop smoothly into gear, and it sounded like a shift under load did it in. He now has a spare link, as most chains are a bit longer than needed. We also carry a spare link and chain tools when we tour.

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Gina, like Normand and Helene, was starting the Pacific Coast leg of a cross-country tour, having left Seattle after a five-day layover. She had started from Madison, Wisconsin, picking a route that led her to homes of college friends along the way, and plans to reach San Francisco in the next few weeks. Amazingly, she had camped at the city park in Odessa, Washington, just a block away from Judy’s brother’s house, on her way to Moses Lake. Gina had planned to make it to Elma for the night, but fought blustery and cold headwinds from Bremerton, so called us from Belfair in midday, arriving just before dark. We helped her plan the next day’s route. She was an early riser, and headed off into the mist just as the city road crew arrived to start re-configuring the pavement in front of our house.

We also quickly packed up and left in the car, dropping the cat at Just Cats Hotel on the way to Odessa to resume our postponed fall road trip, “in progress,” skipping the Montana-Idaho legs of our plan. So, we managed to host a couple more tourists than we would have had we not been forced to postpone our planned trip due to medical reasons. But, by the time we return at the end of October, the season should be over, as rain and frost discourage all but the most dedicated of tourists. Already, the days are getting too short to make good progress, and hypothermia due to damp and cold conditions is an ever-present danger in case of mechanical breakdown or even just plain exhaustion from wind and hills. Many of the RV parks and campgrounds are closed for the season, and motels, though cheaper in the off-season, are still expensive when you can only travel 60-100km per day on short days in bad weather.

As for us, we are looking forward to a winter of indoor training and a spring of trail riding before adventuring out on the road next summer, should our health hold and my blood-thinner regimen end on schedule. We certainly don’t need to risk another crash or significant road rash. The incident that postponed our trip was a four-day bleeding episode that abated only when the dosage was reduced.

So, this year’s Warm Showers guest list included only 17 overnight guests and one lunch guest (a rider who stopped short the day before), in contrast to last year’s 44 overnight guests plus a dog and a repair assist. This year saw the earliest arrivals, in January, and two tandem teams. Of course, we were closed to guests for three months during peak touring season due to convalescence from my heart surgery, and unfortunately had to cancel several reservations because of that. Cyclists ages weren’t in as wide a range this year—most were late 20s to early 50s: most years range from infants to septuagenarians.

Shelton desperately needs either more in-town Warm Showers hosts or a decent bicycle campground. We feed our guests, so we spend a bit extra for groceries, and many of our guests restock supplies before arriving, so cycling is a non-insignificant part of the summer tourist economy. Many cyclists stay at local motels, either because of lack of alternatives or because that is their style of travel. Some find local lodging through the Couch Surfer web network, but that, in our experience, is a bit more bohemian than the cyclist-only Warm Showers network, and not as desirable for a lot of older tourists. Many more would stay at an in-town or nearby campground if one was available, rather than pushing on to Elma or Olympia or, as many Canadian and European tourists do, simply go off-road onto forest land and pitch a tent out of sight of the road, a practice we try to discourage in Mason County.

As for us, we may not be available for hosting much longer, as we plan to downsize, which will entail yet another move, and to travel more during prime season: the hosting versus guest ratio stands now about 17 to 1, so we could “collect” a few nights as guests over the next couple of years without guilt. We also plan to move fairly close to bike trails and public transit, and will most likely have a guest room yet. Next year depends on how soon we can unburden ourselves of way too many books and other possessions and when and for how much we can sell our properties in Shelton and Montana. Our ideal is to pare down to what will fit in the bike trailer, but that isn’t practical, so we will also need to find another place that fits our projected life style through our 70s.

Cat Talk

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It is the last full day of summer, the longest and driest in the 24 years, off and on, I have spent in Washington State since 1980, and certainly in the five years Delia, our 18-year-old cat, has lived here. She has lived with us for the past 14 years, during which time she has adapted to living with humans and struggled with communicating with us, or at least teaching us to interpret Cat. She hasn’t always been quite so vocal, but during our frequent travels over the past few years, she has had ample time to observe other cats, among her fellow guests at the Just Cats Hotel, and to duplicate their vocalizations, particularly, such phrases as, “I’ve used my litter box: clean it now!” And, “It’s 4:30am—time to make a fire and sit by it.” Language, after all, is but a sequence of sound tokens and context, with meaning a mutual understanding among the speakers and listeners. And, cat talk has a simple grammar—every statement is a demand for some action on the part of the human half of the conversation.

Most of her conversation is in body language, though, and we have learned that, as a pad between her and a lap, she likes quilts best, having lived in a household where quilts are made: before she was banned from the sewing room, she would crawl onto the sewing table and lie on the half-finished quilt top as the blocks were sewn together. Her next favorites are handwoven wool coverlets, a fairly new addition to the handcraft repertoire. The crocheted afghans, gifts from “Auntie Bing,” on which she spent so much time earlier, are now rejected outright as too claw-catching. We are frequently beseached to join her in the living room to provide a platform for proper use of a quilt, preferably in a recliner by the fire. However, this summer, I have put a screen in my office window and placed her scratching platform next to it, so she sometimes consents to be “office cat” to be near her people as well as near the porch.

This summer, while recovering from open heart surgery, I spent less time rushing about or sitting at the computer, and more time sitting on the porch, to the delight of the cat. Our current base camp in our life journey is a 1920s bungalow, of the classic design where the porch is under the natural roof line rather than a mere covered entryway, forming a room with three sides open to the outside. Delia has always enjoyed the porch as a place to get out of the rain while trying to get our attention to be let back in after her daily inspection of the grounds, but quickly adopted it this summer as part of our living space.

Of late, since I have recovered enough to focus on other tasks, Delia has indicated more and more that, no, she doesn’t want in, she wants us to come out, to sit with her on the porch to enjoy the mild summer. So we go, with lunch or books, and enjoy the sun and fresh air. She sits under our chairs or the patio table we moved up for the season, or on a convenient lap.

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So it was on this last day of summer—she all but begged me to come out and sit with her. Judy was busy in the house, so Delia sat in her chair, the one in the sun, where she could look out over the low wall toward the street. I had sat there, but Delia indicated that, no she didn’t want to sit on my lap, she wanted to sit in the chair, so I moved back to “my” chair on the other side of the table, whereupon she curled up in Judy’s chair and assumed that regal stone lion pose seen on the entry to libraries and great houses, while I was left alone with my book.

As the afternoon wore on and the sun moved around behind the house, the breath of Fall settled on the porch, prompting me to retreat to the house. Delia remained, and pleaded with me through the office window to rejoin her. I put on a jacket and went back outside, but soon felt the deepening chill with the sun falling below the hill and shadows lengthening. This time, Delia reluctantly followed me into the house, closing the door on summer one last time.

At nearly 18, summers are precious to a small cat, something that I, in my 70th summer, can also appreciate. The rain came at last, but briefly, during the night, and fall colors began to appear with the gray dawn. Winter is coming.

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Warm Showers 2014

The 2014 Warm Showers hosting season started early, with three brave riders in January, taking advantage of the mild but wet Pacific Northwest winter to head from Seattle to Los Angeles.

Peter, Eric, and Shaun prepare to head south toward drier and warmer climes.  January, 2014.
Peter, Eric, and Shaun prepare to head south toward drier and warmer climes. January, 2014.
James headed out in March for a "shakedown" tour around the Olympic Peninsula before heading east toward Nashville.
James headed out in March for a “shakedown” tour around the Olympic Peninsula before heading east toward Nashville, becoming the second visitor of the season to the Adventure Cycling Association headquarters in Missoula, missing first place by mere hours.
Liz and Morgan, traveling companions headed south in late April.
Liz and Morgan, traveling companions headed south in late April.
Bruce and Karen, a tandem team and B&B owners from Ohio, on spring tour in May before the tourist season back home.
Bruce and Karen, a tandem team and B&B owners from Ohio, on spring tour in May before the tourist season back home.
George and Dennis, retirees from southern California, headed down the coast in mid-May.
George and Dennis, retirees from southern California, headed down the coast in mid-May.
Maryam, northbound for a summer job in the San Juan Islands at the end of May.
Maryam, northbound for a summer job in the San Juan Islands at the end of May.
Jameson had made a reservation for the previous day, but his mileage estimates were off, so he just stopped by for coffee and a chat midday the next day in early June, and didn't stay.  He is a yoga instructor, so we had something in common besides a love of cycling.
Jameson had made a reservation for the previous day, but his mileage estimates were off, so he just stopped by for coffee and a chat midday the next day in early June, and didn’t stay. He is a yoga instructor, so we had something in common besides a love of cycling.

Unfortunately, the season was cut short: our own “training” rides and mini-tours, starting in New Mexico and California in late January and early February, continuing in April and May in Washington and Idaho, were  truncated because of increasing back and chest pain while riding.  We finished a successful 2013 riding and tour season (including a 700km self-supported tour to cap a 2500-km yearly total) after seeking treatment for GERD (gastro-esophageal reflux disease), but the symptoms progressed to a wider spreading chest pain as the 2014 season developed.  After returning from a really scary 30-km ride in Idaho at the end of May, and experiencing chest pains even while walking, I pressed for more comprehensive testing to get a better diagnosis: we were a mere six weeks out from a scheduled supported week-long tour and needed to train.

A treadmill test on Friday, June 13 (an auspicious date) made it absolutely clear that the problem was cardiac-related, and severe: the test was aborted after less than three minutes, with blood pressure and pulse over 200 and the EKG trace looking like a major earthquake.  After being sent home with nitro tablets and some powerful heart regulators and told to “do nothing” over the weekend,  a visit with the cardiologist on Monday got me scheduled for more testing on Tuesday, June 17, a cardiac catheter probe, which showed nearly total blockage of the main cardiac arteries, only days or hours (or one bike ride)  from what would have been a fatal heart attack.  I was wheeled from the recovery room at the test center directly to surgery, where I had a full six-hour open-heart procedure.

While still in the hospital, I took us off the Warm Showers schedule for the summer, and cancelled our late July tour: I went home at the end of the week a temporary invalid, confined to a (new) recliner in the living room for a few weeks while Judy, a retired nurse, slept on the sofa for a few nights and then in the downstairs guest room.  After a few weeks, I could, with help, get in and out of the guest room bed, as lying flat helped the healing some, but continued to spend part of the night in the recliner for the next two months.  After a month, I was strong enough to climb stairs to the master bedroom, and able to walk a kilometer or two, slowly.

Now, eight weeks after what can only be called emergency surgery, and six weeks after a repeat hospitalization for severe pulmonary emboli and subsequent warfarin regimen that will last for six months or more, recovery is in sight.  I am driving again, and able to walk at least 5 km on outings 4-5 days a week, but not yet cleared for heavier duties like opening the garage door and other pushing and pulling, so our guest room is still closed.  We’re off to Portland, Oregon by train and public transit next week for a conference, and on vacation in early September, one we had hoped would be filled with day rides, but we will need to be content with hikes and walks.  The bicycle needs to wait until the bones are completely healed and probably until the blood thinner treatments end.  We might open our doors to guests for a week or so between the Oregon trips, in late August, but only if I get medically cleared for more activity.

But, by mid-September, we should be on the Warm Showers active roster again for the  Fall Pacific Coast touring season, briefly, but at least for a couple of weeks before we head to Montana in early October to re-winterize the cabin we last saw–buried in snow–in March, and to build a ship’s ladder to replace the vertical ladder to the loft, now that I have joined the ranks of the old and feeble, to avoid undue strain on the divided and now “zippered” sternum, which I have been promised will soon be strong enough to withstand hours on the handlebars for many touring seasons yet to come.


Warm Showers (www.warmshowers.org) is an international organization of bicycle tourists who provide lodging—at a minimum, a place to camp and access to shower and toilet facilities—to other cyclists on tour. Many hosts also provide full guest services: bed, meals, laundry, transport to and from public transit facilities and bike shops, sag service, and storage (bike boxes, etc). The web site is run by volunteers and funded by donations, and guests are never charged for services offered. Warmshowers.org is also on Facebook, where members discuss travel and post photos.

The Unix Curmudgeon, Reloaded

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It’s been exactly one month since I woke up a little after midnight with a tube down my throat and two more sticking out of my abdomen and a long red seam down my chest, where the good surgeons from Franciscan Cardiothoracic Surgery had pried me open to re-plumb my heart. My last clear memory before they yanked the throat tube out was of looking at an X-ray image of totally blocked main left ventricle cardiac arteries and being told I was headed for surgery instead of home, some 14 hours earlier.

As if recovering from that trauma, which included several hours of having my blood diverted through a fancy aquarium aerator while my heart was taking a nap and my arteries were rearranged and supplemented with veins fished out from behind my left knee was not enough, two weeks later I ended up back in hospital again with severely painful clots (embolisms) in my lungs. Nevertheless, healing proceeds: in the last week or so I’ve been able to spend enough time at the computer to do actual damage.

First, there was the matter of fixing a software package and install script hastily uploaded to the client site the night before surgery. Secondly, a local heat wave was setting off overtemp warnings on my development laptop, when I noticed that the graphics processor wasn’t reporting temperatures. Foolishly, I attempted to upgrade the graphics driver, ending up with a text-only display. Hmm, back out, reinstall the stock drivers, and the graphics desktop returned, albeit with a few quirks. I’m still not up to speed yet–when I think hard, I break into a sweat and have to take a nap, so best not tackle any seriously difficult problems just yet.

Several other projects have simply been put on hold: I have been content with putting in short half-hour spurts of work once or twice a day. As noted elsewhere in earlier posts, my rehabilitation has already started with daily walks to keep the circulation going and build up cardiac strength. Early walks, plodding along in a light-headed daze, have given way to reasonably-paced striding. After having tackled a few wilderness paths that proved to be a bit rugged, we’ve contented ourselves with flat-land walks on the north side of Shelton, close to the medical facilities, or, alternately, on the relatively flat and convoluted running trail through the greenspace near Shelton Creek, a park called, appropriately, “Huff ‘n Puff.” These excursions have extended to 1-3Km, of duration 30-55 minutes. Meanwhile, I’m still under motion restrictions while my sternum knits itself back together under the wire lacing that held it shut after surgery, not to mention recoverying from abused and sore muscles and ribs that were stretched and bent into abnormal shapes.
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One of the side effects of such drastic surgery, where life is sustained artificially, is the possibility of cognitive impairment: fortunately, so far only a few well-known facts have had to be re-verified, but we haven’t pushed the envelope too hard or taxed the coding skills excessively. Starting coumadin (warfarin) treatment to avoid repeat emboli has been a bit of an ordeal, with twice-daily injections of blood thinner while adjusting the rat poison dosage to get to the proper levels. The formula also includes careful attention to diet, to reduce the amount of clotting factor, vitamin K, which is present in most green leafy vegetables, a challenge for a dedicated vegetarian. But, finally, after two weeks of injections and frequent blood tests, we are “in range.” This means no more injections and now just a matter of infrequent blood tests to adjust the warfarin dosage from time to time and avoiding cuts and bruises for the next six months while the treatment runs its course.

This interlude of recovery  gives us pause to think about the gift of a few more years to enjoy life and family, and to think about  when to declare a true state of retirement and what exactly that entails.  Unix and Linux will always be a part of our life, but perhaps with a little more focus on enhancing personal goals and less about deadlines and external projects.  We have grandsons who are beginning to mess around with computers and need some guidance (i.e., indoctrination in the benefits of “the one true operating system” and maybe some instruction in scripting and programming).  The new generations of tiny machines with analog interfaces, like the Arduino and Raspberry Pi beg to be incorporated in other hobbies and home projects.  The rehab program requires regular exercise, which means much more time on the bike when we get cleared for that type of activity (probably after the bleeding danger is over: meanwhile, trips to the gym for some stationary workouts are in order).  Yoga is another activity on modified hold until the bones and muscles heal.  Beginning a new phase as a cardiac patient puts a new perspective on life, truly a reboot and fresh start with new priorities and goals.

Musings on Unix, Bicycling, Quilting, Weaving, Old Houses, and other diversions

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