Tour Diaries — End of the Road: There’s No Place Like Home

An early departure from Redding brought us by dawn to the southern border of the mythical state of Jefferson, that slice of the Pacific Northwest that encompasses the mountainous area between the Sacramento and Willamette Valleys.

Sunrise on Mount Shasta

Lunch today is Thanksgiving leftovers at roadside stops, and we quickly find ourselves through Oregon and back into our home state of Washington, in time to pick up our cat from “Just Cats” halfway between Olympia and Shelton, arriving at home just before dark, unloading the car from our long 30-day, 8,000-mile circumnavigation of the country. In the night, the rain starts, a soft, steady cascade that continues though the next day. We are home at last.


Several days before we arrived home, the first harbingers of Northwest winter had knocked out power long enough to drain the server batteries at Chaos Central, so we spent a bit of time getting all of the network services back on line, particularly those that require manual initiation after reboot. The last few days of our travels, not being able to “call home” and using our tunneled, encrypted proxy for Internet browsing safety, we relied instead on the Tor anonymizer service, which, though designed for a different goal, is, for our purpose, also an encrypted remote proxy that protects from packet snooping and firesheep attacks as well as disguising the location. Our dedicated proxy server makes all our browsing appear to come from our home location, while Tor packets are scattered among many locations. Both ideas are useful for working through firewalls and for maintaining security in untrusted public networks. At hotels and coffee shops requiring a web-based login, we use a separate browser for the network login, then do all our other browsing through the proxy or Tor network.

Hey, all this ‘Net jargon must mean we’re back at work. But, for 30 days, we suspended time and lived in another set of problems. If that’s what a vacation is, then we must have had one, the longest ever.

Tour Diaries: A Tale of Two Thanksgivings, part 2

On actual Thanksgiving Day, we rose early and walked around the block, picking up a few extra items at a nearby grocery: blocks are large in Anaheim, encompassing whole neighborhoods in little loops and cul-de-sacs. Once again, we sat to table in mid-afternoon for yet another feast. This time, the main course was ham, with a token bit of sliced turkey breast. In the morning, we had a light breakfast of fresh cinnamon rolls and headed, finally, north at last.

Judy and brother-in-law Ben

Nephew Rocky and his wife, Paula

Nephew Rick grabs a morning coffee

Darkness finds us at Redding, halfway home, and we spend a last night on the road.

Tour Diaries — Crossing Arizona: New Mexico to California

We left Tuesday at dawn, which comes late in Las Cruces, in the shadow of the Organ Mountains, and headed once more onto I-10 West. We manage to once again evade the clutches of Homemade Security at the “Papers Please” checkpoint just west of Las Cruces, but it will only be the first of many as we pass through Arizona and southern California.

Sunrise over the Organ Mountains, Las Cruces

Arizona landscape, near Benson

West of Tucson, we turned onto I-8, to avoid the Phoenix traffic and to break new ground, neither of us having been across California on I-8. We spent the night in Yuma/Winterhaven, twin cities of RV parks straddling the time zone boundary. An early start gets us well into California by sunup.
California sunrise near Pine Valley

At San Diego, we turn north, arriving in Anaheim in early afternoon, in time to do our Thanksgiving shopping: pie and potato salad for everyone and edamame salad for us.

Tour Diaries: A Tale of Two Thanksgivings, part 1

We rolled into Las Cruces on the Saturday night before Thanksgiving to find that our children and grandchildren had arranged an early Thanksgiving celebration just for us, on Sunday. We also discovered that, with their busy lives, our random appearances in their fair city mark the only times all of our extended family gets together, so it was also a family reunion of sorts. Of course, we also took time to visit as many individually as had time for us in our brief stay.

Here’s a photo gallery of some of the folks we cherish and are thankful to be part of our family:

Daughter, granddaughter: Shawna and Zylania

The five 'Ks' granddaughters (2) and great-granddaughters (3): Kristi, "Kiki" (Claudissa), Kalen, Karyssa, and Kayla

Grandsons Alex, Zanthian, Zundrian, and the Z's dad, Steve

Grandson Cage

Great grandsons "Chano" and "Murphy" with dad Marty talking to Kayla and Ricardo

Great grandson Paul

Great grandson Patrick

Son-in-law Jose and daughter Sheri hand over check for beadwork sold at Sheroz Jewelers

We missed a few, who could not be at the reunion. We also gained a few, notably Ricardo and his dad, Rick, who are part of Kristi’s life now.
Introducing Ricardo, age 5, to our family

We managed a bit of quality time with our son, Jason, a busy restaurateur, by catching him between shifts, for breakfast and dinner.
Son Jason

The ‘Net: Indistinguishable From Magic?

The great science fiction author and visionary Arthur C. Clarke once wrote, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” He was thinking, of course, of the clash of civilizations at different stages of development. But, in the modern age, sadly, much of our everyday technology appears magical to the end user.

The Unix Curmudgeon has been a long-time subscriber to the increasingly popular philosophy of “if you can’t open it, you don’t own it.” In this age of throw-away commodities and instant obsolescence, manufacturers don’t even bother to put those “No user-serviceable parts inside” or “Warranty void if opened” stickers on our electronics and other gadgets. Broken gadgets are not repaired, but replaced or upgraded. Almost no one thinks about how things actually work, and might have difficulty finding out, as many of our gadgets are sealed not to protect the user, but to protect the makers’ trade secrets.

The World Wide Web gets the same treatment, for the most part. But, if we have a web site, we expect “user-serviceable parts.” Only, we expect making changes to content to be simple and seamless. What most users don’t realize is that there are many layers to the web, some of which appear simple and some of which are hidden altogether. The layers and roles in the care and feeding of the web are as follows. Some roles may be filled by the same person, and some may require teams of skilled workers and managers, depending on the size and scale of the web and its software.

  • Systems programmer: responsible for creating software like web servers, databases, and programming languages that form the basis for the web and reside on the web servers.   Systems programmers write code in C++, C, or other compiled languages.
  • Sytems Administrator/Network Administrator: responsible for staging the software and data on a server, setting permissions and security on the system and network, and managing the operation of the server.
  • Web Programmer: responsible for writing server-side and client-side software to implement the web design, and/or content management systems and web authoring software. Web programmers commonly write code directly for the web in scripting languages such as PHP, Perl, Ruby, Python, and Javascript; database languages and interfaces such as SQL; and also have a working knowledge of HTML and Cascading Style Sheets (CSS).
  • Web Designer: responsible for designing the page layout, navigation scheme, and user interactions with the web, using text editors, HTML, CSS, and design tools like Microsoft Sharepoint Designer, Microsoft Expression Web, Adobe Dreamweaver, or any number of free or less-well-known web authoring systems created by systems programmers or web programmers.
  • Graphics Designer: works with the web designer to create static and dynamic graphics for web content and layout. Works with Photoshop and Flash or other graphics editing tools.
  • Web Editor: responsible for data entry and minor updates to the content or structure. May work with a content-management system such as WordPress, Joomla, SharePoint, or custom content management code built into a site, or use a web authoring tool to maintain a design created by someone else.
  • Content Provider: writes text copy and/or creates visual content (photos or drawings) to be inserted into web sites, either as static files for download (such as PDF), or data for specific pages or sections. Usually works with content management systems or word processors.

Depending on the division of labor and combining of roles, persons assigned to a specific role may have complete control of the server, control of the web server software configuration, permission to upload or edit files directly in the web directory, login access to restricted content management interfaces, or no access at all. In the latter case, content is simply submitted to a role with the required access, via email or file exchange.

So, when someone says, “Can you change this word on this page?” the answer may vary, depending on the role of the person being asked, and the design of the web. Sometimes the word may be hard-coded in the web and not accessible to the web editor or content provider. Sometimes, the content provider may have supplied a binary copy such as a PDF or a graphic with embedded text, for which only the content provider has the original source. Changing the color of a particular item may involve creating new style definitions. Adding a slight change to a paragraph may require restructuring a database design and updating hundreds of records to keep the presentation consistent.

As the Unix Curmudgeon is fond of saying, “Software is not rocket science: rocket science follows well-established physical principles and engineering disciplines. Software is always someone else’s idea of a good time.” The corollary to this is the saying, “Software doesn’t break–it comes that way.” Simple web pages are not simple, but merely the visible portion of a highly complex and intricate technological system with many rules and countless possibilities for variation in design. The care and keeping of them is not magic, but the outcome of careful design and subject to infinitely variable rules and conditions set by the people who run the systems.