Tarus Balog : A Wonderful OUCE

October 10, 2015 11:55 PM

Sorry for the delay in posting this, but the fourth quarter is always our busiest time of the year and I’ve been slammed. Plus, I’m still recovering from a great week at the OpenNMS Users Conference. You did go, correct? (grin)

We are always striving to find ways to bring more people to the conference, so this year I thought it would be cool to invite some open source celebrities, namely the guys from the Bad Voltage podcast. Plus, since this year’s conference was in September, we had the opportunity to make a side trip to Munich’s Oktoberfest.

We arrived in Fulda from Munich on Sunday night. Now in the run up to the conference the BV team would sometimes talk a little smack about Fulda (as in “where the hell is Fulda?”, etc.) but I love this town. It is a wonderful combination of old and new, with cobblestone streets and a beautiful cathedral. You can walk everywhere, and for us the fact that the university (the Hochschule) has great facilities makes it an awesome place to hold the OUCE.

Since we rely on the Hochschule we have to schedule the conference during a time when the students are not on campus. While it is usually held in the Spring, this year it got moved to Autumn. I think the weather is about the same, although we did have a snow storm during one OUCE.

The conference itself is two days long, but we put two days of optional training in front of it. I get to teach an OpenNMS “bootcamp” on Monday that attempts to cover most of the basics in a day. So fresh off of Oktoberfest I had to actually work on Monday.

The class went well, if a bit long. The students were some of the best I’ve ever had, and I don’t think we hit many snags except for the occasional typo. As much as I tried to hurry, it still took us about ten hours to cover the material. OpenNMS is such a huge platform that even the basics take time to go over, and perhaps next year I’ll ask the students to do some work before getting to the classroom.

We had about half of the team together for dinner that night, and I got to have some of the dark German beer I like (in this case, Köstritzer). I called it a night early on, although many of the guys headed to a small bar called “The Eck”, which was apparently a lot of fun.

On the second day of training, Jeff and Jesse discussed some of the more advanced features in OpenNMS. I slept in a bit and then worked with the Bad Voltage team to make sure everything was working for the show on Wednesday. This included making sure Bryan Lunduke could access and use the telepresence robot.

OUCE Robot

Normally when we hold the OUCE in Fulda we have access to a student run establishment called Cafe Chaos. Unfortunately this year it is being remodeled, so we had to make our own set up in Halle 8.


It was pretty cool. We had a large refrigerator for drinks and they set up some couches in the back corner. Being at the University, the bandwidth was stellar.

On Tuesday night Nethinks sponsored a meal at the Havanna Bar. Most people had arrived by then, so it was nice to get together. Many thanks to Uwe and his team for putting this on.

Wednesday was the first full day of the conference. I kicked things off with a “State of OpenNMS” keynote, with an introduction by Alex Finger, the man who pretty much created the OpenNMS Foundation.


I thought the talk went pretty well, and thanks to the A/V team at the University you can see it in all of its glory:

After that I could relax and let the rest of the gang take over. There were plenty of amazing talks, and you can catch them all on Youtube.

Speaking of Youtube, Wednesday night was the Bad Voltage Live show. I plan to review that in a separate post, but it was a lot of fun. We ran a bunch of errands Wednesday afternoon in preparation, which mainly included buying a tablet to use as a prize and beer … lots of beer.


On Thursday we had more talks, and then, sadly, the conference had to come to an end. Those of us who were still around helped tear down Halle 8. It looked really empty when we were finished.

OUCE Closing

We then headed off to the Wiesenmühle for one final gathering before going our separate ways.

If you like OpenNMS then you really should make plans to come to the OUCE. Next year will be held at about the same time at the same place, so reserve space on your calendar now.

In the meantime, there are two more conferences left in the year where OpenNMS will be presenting. In a week you’ll find us at All Things Open in Raleigh, NC, USA, and in November Ronny and I will be at the Open Source Monitoring Conference in Nürnberg.

Hope to see you at one or all of these.

Warren Myers : plogging?

October 09, 2015 07:48 PM

Wired Magazine recently had an article on the rise of “plogging“.

By their definition, “plogging” is “PLatform blOGGING” – or blogging as part of a network/site/service (DZone, LinkedIn, Medium, Facebook, etc) instead of running your own blog somewhere (WordPress.com, Blogger, self-hosted WordPress, etc).

This seems to be a modern representation of what newspapers, magazines, etc used to be (and still are, to some extent) – a place where you can find your favorite authors all in one place.

There certainly are benefits to this model – but there is also a loss of a sense of personal connection in such a model. As I wrote before, the facebookification of society has some pros and cons. One of those cons is that companies increasingly (and now, apparently, writers) are branding on the platform/network instead of via their own site and service.

The instant network aspect of “plogging” has appeal – otherwise why would Sett exist? Or Stumbleupon? Or any of myriad other networking sites and services.

Heck, remember back in the Good Ole Days when you had link sharing and webrings?

This also plays into the walled garden effect that AOL had 20 years ago, and, as I wrote yesterday, Facebook is merely the new AOL. Writing in an established (or establishing) network makes a great deal of sense – an “instant” audience, the “rising tide” effect, etc.

But it also means you are bound, for better or worse, to the rules and regulations, guidelines and gaffes of the site/service you decide to write on and with. Community building is hard. Administering built communities is hard. And it doesn’t get any easier by deciding to go all-in with a “platform”. (It may not be any harder, either – but it’s not quantitatively eased by any stretch.)

Forum tools have been around since the dawn of time. And every one has had its rules. From the Areopagus to Stack Overflow, synagogues to the Supreme Court, every community has its rules. Rules which you may either choose to abide by, petition to change, or ignore (to your “detriment”, at least in the context of continuing to participate in said community).

I guess it’s like they say, “what’s new is old again”.

Tarus Balog : GrafanaCon in NYC with Jesse White

October 09, 2015 06:44 PM

Just a quick note to point out that GrafanaCon is next week in NYC.


It’s a free, one evening conference that promises to be a lot of fun.

OpenNMS’s very own Jesse White will be discussing the amazing API he wrote to put OpenNMS collected data into the Grafana dashboard in a talk called “Tales of a Custom Data Source” at 6:45pm. If Grafana didn’t exist, we’d have to write it, and we probably couldn’t have done as good a job as they did.

If you want to see the future of data visualization, don’t miss this conference. Plus you get to see how we plan to display all of the billions of “Internet of Thingies” data points OpenNMS will be storing in Newts.

Warren Myers : facebook is aol

October 08, 2015 05:58 PM

Facebook is AOL.

Yes, that AOL.

America Online.

The one that advertised 20 years ago in conjunction with companies things like, “search AOL keyword ‘ford'”.

That’s what Facebook is now. It’s AOL – but without the ISP aspect.

Check that – Facebook is (or “has”) an ISP: just look at internet.org.

So we’ve come full circle.

The ISP that millions of Americans used to get online, send email, chat, read news, keep up with friends, follow/participate in chat rooms, and see “the web” (through an extremely walled garden, mind you) has been replaced wth a website that hundreds of millions of people around the world use to send messages, chat, read news, keep up with friends, participate in groups, and, apparently, get online (if you’re in a part of the world Facebook is targeting with its ISP, of course).

Warren Myers : subaru isn’t groveling

October 05, 2015 07:27 PM

Subaru released a new vehicle in the Japanese market recently called the Levorg (I saw it on Samurai Wheels on NHK World). It stands for LEgacy reVOlution touRinG.

It also spells “grovel” backwards.

From the review Samurai Wheels gave it, it certainly doesn’t grovel.

But it also purports to do something relatively difficult. Subaru has introduced EyeSight in this vehicle which uses cameras to offer assistive driving (automatic braking, automatic following, etc).

The interesting thing about this (and they are cameras), is that video processing is difficult. It is far easier to use something like FLIR or ultrasonic sonar or another technique than it is to use object tracking in a video stream.

Which makes me wonder if Subaru is doing pure video object tracking, or if it’s combined with something else to make it work as well as it seemed to in the review I watched recently.

Mark Turner : Little kids in Japan are independent – Business Insider

October 04, 2015 09:54 PM

There are no helicopter parents in Japan.

It’s a common sight on Japanese mass transit: children troop through train cars, singly or in small groups, looking for seats.

They wear knee socks, polished patent leather shoes, and plaid jumpers, with wide-brimmed hats fastened under the chin and train passes pinned to their backpacks. The kids are as young as six or seven, on their way to and from school, and there is nary a guardian in sight.

Source: Little kids in Japan are independent – Business Insider

Eric Christensen : RFC: Using video conferencing for GPG key signing events

September 24, 2015 03:17 PM

A thought that I haven’t had a chance to fully consider (so I’m asking the Internet to do that for me)…

I have a geographically-diverse team that uses GPG to provide integrity of their messages.  Usually, a team like this would all huddle together and do a formal key-signing event.  With several large bodies of water separating many of the team members, however, it’s unlikely that we could even make that work.

The alternative I thought of was using a video chat meeting to facilitate the face-to-face gathering and exchange of information.  There are obviously some risks, here, but I wonder if those risks are suitably mitigated through the use of authenticated/encrypted links to the video chat system?  Can anyone point to why this would be a bad idea?

Mark Turner : NC budget is a fiscally responsible Goldilocks document | News & Observer

September 24, 2015 02:22 PM

N&O contributor J. Peder Zane sometimes gets it right (see Confederate monument) but the rest of the time he lives in a libertarian paradise that, frankly, doesn’t exist.

Read how he pooh poohs the Renewable Energy Investment Tax Credit, calling its repeal a “free market prod.” Well, it’s news to me that Duke Energy’s state-chartered monopoly on electricity is a “free market.” I was never the best student but I do seem to recall learning in school how a monopoly is pretty much the opposite of a free market.

I can’t wait to get this electricity free market that Zane promises. I’m sure that killing off competition is the best way to get it, right J. Peder?

Allowing the renewable energy investment tax credit to expire may be the best thing to happen to the green sector. Replacing the crutch of state support with the free market’s prod is our best hope of developing cheap, efficient renewables. It also addresses the fact that these well-intentioned subsidies have become a form of crony capitalism, sopped up by big corporations.

Source: NC budget is a fiscally responsible Goldilocks document | News & Observer

Mark Turner : Why Republicans are starting to panic, in 1 paragraph – The Washington Post

September 24, 2015 02:14 PM

Summer is over. And Donald Trump is — still — at the top of the 2016 Republican primary field.That makes lots and lots of Republicans with an eye on winning the White House in 2016 (or even 2020) very, very nervous.

That unease — and its origins — are explained brilliantly in this paragraph, taken from a broader piece entitled “The GOP is Killing Itself,” by former Bush administration official Pete Wehner:

The message being sent to voters is this: The Republican Party is led by people who are profoundly uncomfortable with the changing (and inevitable) demographic nature of our nation. The GOP is longing to return to the past and is fearful of the future. It is a party that is characterized by resentments and grievances, by distress and dismay, by the belief that America is irredeemably corrupt and past the point of no return. “The American dream is dead,” in the emphatic words of Mr. Trump.

Source: Why Republicans are starting to panic, in 1 paragraph – The Washington Post

Eric Christensen : Encryption you don’t control is not a security feature

September 23, 2015 02:55 PM

Catching up on my blog reading, this morning, led me to an article discussing Apple’s iMessage program and, specifically, the encryption it uses and how it’s implemented.  Go ahead and read the article; I’ll wait.

The TL;DR of that article is this: encryption you don’t control is not a security feature.  It’s great that Apple implemented encryption in their messaging software but since the user has no control over the implementation or the keys (especially the key distribution, management, and trust) users shouldn’t expect this type of encryption system to actually protect them.

For Apple, it’s all about UI and making it easy for the user.  In reality, what they’ve done is dumbed down the entire process and forced users to remain ignorant of their own security.  Many users applaud these types of “just make it work and make it pretty” interfaces but at the same time you end up with an uneducated user who doesn’t even realize that their data is at risk.  Honestly, it’s 2015… if you don’t understand information security… well, to quote my friend Larry “when you’re dumb, you suffer”.

Yes, that’s harsh.  But it’s time for people to wake up and take responsibility for their naked pictures or email messages being publicized.  I’m assuming most everyone makes at least a little effort toward physically securing their homes (e.g. locking doors and windows).  Why shouldn’t your data be any less protected?

In comparison, I’ll use Pidgin and OTR as an example of a better way to encrypt messaging systems.  OTR doesn’t use outside mechanisms for handling keys, it clearly displays whether or not a message is simply encrypted (untrusted) or whether you’ve verified the key, and it’s simple to use.

One thing I’ll say about Apple’s iMessage is that it at least starts to fix the problem.  I’d rather have ciphertext being sent across the network than plaintext.  Users just need to understand what the risks are and evaluate whether they are okay with those risks or not.

Mark Turner : Filmmakers fighting “Happy Birthday” copyright find their “smoking gun” | Ars Technica

September 23, 2015 12:56 PM

A judge has ruled that Warner/Chappell’s claim of the song “Happy Birthday” is invalid and the song is in the public domain. This has long been a notable case of copyright abuse and it’s thrilling to see it finally corrected.

It’s been two years since filmmakers making a documentary about the song “Happy Birthday” filed a lawsuit claiming that the song shouldn’t be under copyright. Now, they have filed (PDF) what they say is “proverbial smoking-gun evidence” that should cause the judge to rule in their favor.

The “smoking gun” is a 1927 version of the “Happy Birthday” lyrics, predating Warner/Chappell’s 1935 copyright by eight years. That 1927 songbook, along with other versions located through the plaintiffs’ investigations, “conclusively prove that any copyright that may have existed for the song itself… expired decades ago.”

Source: Filmmakers fighting “Happy Birthday” copyright find their “smoking gun” | Ars Technica

Tarus Balog : The Inverter: Episode 50 – Automated

September 23, 2015 12:22 PM

The latest Bad Voltage show, episode 50, was titled “Automated”. It marked a milestone, fifty episodes is a lot and the gang deserves credit for making it that far, and I was surprised they didn’t talk about it. That’s professionals for ya, just another show.

TL;DR: I didn’t really care for this show that much. Now, to me, Bad Voltage is like sex: when it’s good, it’s really good, and when it’s bad, it’s still pretty good, so please don’t tear into me too roughly for not praising it (see how I got “rough sex” into your brain and into the search engines?). This episode was a little more navel gazing than normal. They revisited the Mycroft Kickstarter (and now on Indiegogo), and then moved on to an interview that I thought was unnecessarily brutal. Many geeks are not the most socially gifted people on the planet and being on a podcast, even one like Bad Voltage, can make them extremely nervous and anxious. Considering that this was supposed to be a friendly interview I found it a little painful. Then there was a home automation “Internet of Things” discussion that I found too high level than I would of liked, and the episode ended with Jono’s review of a standing desk.

The show clocked in at seconds under ninety minutes. There is a large variation in times for these podcasts, and I’m happy listening to the team for as long as they are willing to talk, but the shows I like the most seem to be a little more focused, regardless of the length.

This episode started off with the announcement of the birth of Bryan’s second child, a boy named Solomon. It is the main reason he won’t be joining us in person for next week’s live Bad Voltage show, but congratulations are still in order.

The first segment was a discussion of the Mycroft project, which is attempting to create an open source Siri-like digital assistant. Yes, they discussed this on the last show as well, and while the Kickstarter has ended they have an Indiegogo campaign going on as well. I am eager to see what comes of this, but not willing to fund it at the moment. The last time I funded something, the open source fitness Angel Sensor, they took my money and it’s now a year overdue. Not really complaining (if I were complaining I’d be upset that the first app they plan to release is iOS only) but it kind of burned me on these kinds of things.

Still a cool idea, and it may be possible to eliminate any privacy concerns I might have. I need to help out by offering to read some stuff on Librevox as Aq suggests.

The second segment was an interview with Chris Waid. It turns out that the FCC is unhappy that, with software defined radios, one can increase the power in such a fashion that it violates the broadcast license for the device. For example, you could extend your WiFi range using the same gear through software. They want to stop this, but the concern is that the easiest way to do this would be to lock down the firmware for these devices, which would rule out things like installing alternative firmware on your home router, or perhaps even running free software on computers and laptops, as access to the WiFi and Bluetooth chips could be prevented.

While I’m in the camp that this is more a poorly thought out proposal on the part of the FCC than the FCC trying to be malicious, there is a chance this could be a Bad Thing™ and we should take steps to prevent it. However, in their zeal to get to the meat of this problem the team went a little overboard on poor Chris. Even when a guy in the room with Chris tried to help out, the immediate thought was that Chris was being corrected by one of his own guys (which wasn’t the case). Sure, it would have been funny, but Chris just got more flustered and the message got lost.

Now I’m all for skewering the bad guys, although I prefer it be done nicely as in the style of Jon Stewart, but this wasn’t a bad guy. At worst he is overstating the threat a bit, but compared to some of the jewels the US government has put forth in the past concerning technology, overstating the threat is worse than understating it. They do apologize, somewhat, at the end of the show, but the whole segment made me a little uncomfortable.

There was a short segment by Jeremy, resident home automation geek, about a project to mount a tablet inside a bathroom mirror. Not sure if there is a killer app for such a thing, but I have been in hotels with TVs in the mirror so it has possibilities.

The third segment was a discussion of home automation and “The Internet of Things”. A lot of it involved discussing all of the competing protocols and solutions, to the point where Jeremy needs several different hubs just to talk to everything. At the moment it is more like “The Internet of Silos”.

I was surprised no one mentioned X10. Any one of my three readers remember this? It was a home automation protocol that worked by sending signals over the home electrical wiring. I once had tons of the stuff: light switches, controllers, even a device that you could stick under your analog thermostat to turn on the air conditioning. It worked by turning on a small heating element that would make the thermostat think it was hotter than it was. Plus, no cameras or microphones phoning home with who knows what information to third party servers.

Those were the days.

The last segment was Jono reviewing a standing desk he bought. Standing desks are all the rage now, and he wanted to try one out so he bought one by LIFT. We got a bunch of movable desks from Varidesk at the office, and I quite like them. I do agree with Jono that if you are serious about them you need a floor pad.

While it wasn’t my favorite BV, I did enjoy it. It’s not like I want 90 minutes of my life back ‘n all. They also didn’t mention the morse code message from the previous episode and I’ve been too lazy to find out what was up with that. I like little Easter eggs. Perhaps they should come up with a contest where each week clues are hidden in the podcast, and if you put them together you win a laptop or something else cool.

Remember, the next show will be Live at the OpenNMS Conference in Fulda, Germany. We still have a few seats left, and if the 5€ fee is an issue, please drop me a note. We can work something out, and there will be beer.

Tarus Balog : Review: Varidesk Standing Desk

September 22, 2015 09:43 PM

Several years ago we did a lot of work in Sweden (Hi, Lasse!), and that is where I first saw some really nice standing desks. The first standing desk I ever saw was when I worked at Northern Telecom and it was for an employee who needed one due to health reasons, but it was fixed in place. The ones they had in Sweden (from IKEA, ‘natch) had a little switch that you could use to raise and lower it as needed, and they had places to mount a PC and run cables so they wouldn’t get snagged when it moved.

When I looked for them for the office, I was shocked by the price. A decent one with options pushed $900 and they could go north of $2000 fully loaded. While I’ve read a lot about the health benefits of standing I just couldn’t afford to get such a desk.

Recently I was on an American Airlines flight, and I just happened to see a small ad for something called a Varidesk in the in-flight magazine (and I’ve never bought something from the back of an in-flight magazine). This was something you put on an existing desk and you could use it to lift a monitor, keyboard, etc. to a standing height. It was manual, but it was considerably less than a dedicated desk.

Now, being the CEO of a profitable company it is required that I have the huge executive desk, so I do. Of course, mine was free from a business that was moving offices and all I had to do was go get it, and then repair all of the broken bits so I could put it back together. My monitor sits in one corner of this monstrosity, and I was happy to see Varidesk made a product that would fit perfectly.

Varidesk Lowered

First off, the sucker’s heavy. It cost a lot to ship due to its weight, but that translates to a lot of stability when raised. The unit I bought had a shelf for the monitor, speakers, etc., with a lower shelf for the keyboard.

In the upper shelf you will notice two holes. You place your hands through them to release levers which will allow you to raise the desk. It does take strength to get it started, but then it is balanced so that it becomes easier.

(Note: the little green light on my PC is my OpenNMS Blink notification)

Varidesk Raised

I love that everything comes up with it: the speakers, the monitor, the keyboard, my Yeti mic, etc. It will also go fairly high – I’m a little over six feet tall and I can get it high enough that I’m comfortable using it. It isn’t perfectly stable, if you are energetically pounding on the keyboard it will move slightly, but it is easy to get use to it. I did have to get some USB cable extenders to make sure things like my camera didn’t go flying off when I raised the desk, but outside of that it pretty much worked out of the box.

And, yes, when standing I like to crank the tunes and dance. You do not want to see me dance.

The Varidesk is well built and I did find myself using it, so some of the other guys in the office were interested. They don’t have fancy executive desks, so I got a slightly cheaper model that fit theirs better.

Varidesk Developers

We bought three more and everyone seems to enjoy them, although we probably don’t use them as much as we should. Because they are stylish and convertible, even in the down position they look good.

I found that after about an hour of standing my legs started to hurt. Our office, like many, is pretty much industrial carpet over concrete. There is little padding, so I bought a pad on Amazon that works well for me and I can dance longer.

It’s also cool to elevate the laptop for our daily scrum call:

Varidesk During Scrum

So, if you are thinking about getting a standing desk but already own a desk, consider the Varidesk. While it isn’t the cheapest thing out there, it is well made and will give you experience to see if you even like working standing up, which would be considerably cheaper than buying a new desk and finding you didn’t like it.

Warren Myers : show only most recent facebook news feed

September 22, 2015 08:53 PM

(Note: I did this in Chrome – it’ll be a little different in other browsers)

I have several complaints about the book of the face – not least of which is that it likes to reset your News Feed from “Most Recent” (aka most useful) to “Top Stories” (aka whatever Facebook wants you to see).

I also like to avoid the fluff off the other columns (ads, games, groups, pages, chat, etc) when all I want is the most recent stream. So, after some searching, fiddling, and tweaking, I now have my news feed (and only my news feed) appear on the side of my screen in chronological order.

How to do what I did:

  • install the Auto Refresh extension for Chrome (only if you want the news feed to automatically update)
  • go to https://m.facebook.com/home.php?sk=h_chr (this is the mobile Facebook view sorted by chronological order) in a new window (not new tab)
  • right-click on the tab holding the mobile Facebook feed, and select Pin Tab
  • click the Auto Refresh extension button and select how often you want your feed to refresh, and click Start
  • resize the window to a comfortable reading width (mine is about 15% of my screen, or about 3″)
  • slide it all the way to one side of your screen or another
  • enjoy

There are some other ways to accomplish more-or-less the same thing:

  • bookmark the mobile news feed URL
  • set the mobile news feed URL as your home page
  • sign-in to your Facebook account in more than one browser (instead of having two windows in one browser), and load the mobile edition therein

Hope this helps you like it’s helped me.

Warren Myers : wsj thinks apple will make and sell cars

September 22, 2015 06:22 PM

Dallas News thought so back in March (see here).

And I predicted it back in February.

Now WSJ thinks so.

Mark Turner : Jimmy John’s CEO under fire for alleged hunting photos – Business Insider

September 21, 2015 06:29 PM

I will never eat at Jimmy John’s again.

Jimmy John’s founder and CEO Jimmy John Liautaud is under fire after photos of him allegedly posing with dead elephants, a rhinoceros, and a leopard appeared on the internet. The photographs, allegedly taken during a 2010 safari in Africa, have sparked calls for a boycott of the sandwich chain, Grub Street reports.

Source: Jimmy John’s CEO under fire for alleged hunting photos – Business Insider

Mark Turner : The Penguin Tamer moves on

September 18, 2015 01:30 PM

On Monday, I put in my notice at my current job in preparation of starting a new adventure next month. It was a decision I made with much regret as I loved the work, the team, and the company. What I didn’t like was being awakened by my pager on countless nights as some production system or another at work melted down. That, and the several weekends of marathon maintenance work, some keeping me awake all night. I have been hit hard enough lately with the Gulf War Illness fatigue that I couldn’t pile on weeks of guaranteed disrupted sleep. It was affecting my health, it was disturbing my wife’s sleep, too, and taking family time away from me on those work-filled weekends. Unfortunately, no other relief was in sight other than to change jobs.

It wasn’t log into my job search that I realized just how in-demand my skills were. My resume on CareerBuilder attracted 2-3 job opportunities each day. Unfortunately, many of those were generated by lazy recruiters doing keyword searches and consisted of far-flung jobs that often didn’t match my skills or interests. On the bright side, several actual, clueful recruiters did reach out to me with decent opportunities. One of them wrote that this was the hottest IT job market his firm has seen in years, and I believe it. Actual quote:

We are in the strongest market for IT careers that we’ve ever seen and will be sending out lots of emails today.

I was quickly drowning in job leads, and the home phone was ringing off the hook. I couldn’t deal with the attention, particularly since most of it was noise. So, I did what any good sysadmin would do and created an automated solution! I used site-specific email addresses on the resumes I posted and funnelled them to a procmail script which responded to each one. In this response, I spelled out exactly what I was looking for and put to rest any questions of whether I’d be interested in working in East Armpit, Illinois. Occasionally, a non-robot recruiter would respond, thanking me for the response that spelled out what was what. Most of them I never heard from again, including many (apparently offshore) recruiters who had clue that Charlotte was not in commuting distance from Raleigh.

To keep the home phone from ringing at all hours, I dusted off one my seldom-used spare phone numbers and had calls to it go directly to voicemail, where my outgoing announcement there spelled out what kind of work I’d be interested in doing. To date, I have 16 pending messages there which I’ll get around to listening to eventually. Maybe.

Screening these opportunities was one of the smartest things I did in my job search, allowing me to focus on only those that were the best fit. The best part is that now I’m off the job market, I can simply pull the plug on the custom phone number and email addresses and instantly end the recruiter harassment! Ah, peace!

CareerBuilder may have been king of job leads quantity but it was Dice that actually landed me my upcoming job. A recruiter found me there and got me connected with this Raleigh software firm. Things just fell into place from there! The work is interesting, the pay and benefits are better, and the commute is within easy walking distance of my home. Most importantly, the company highly encourages their people’s pursuit of public service. This is one thing I could not work out with my current boss, so I’m quite pleased that this came about.

So, while I’m sorry I had to make this move I’m happy with the upcoming adventure. The future is bright indeed!

Warren Myers : “like” problems: social ‘voting’ is a bad idea

September 16, 2015 05:30 PM

The news story making the rounds about Facebook the past few days indicates they’re working on a kind of “dislike” button.

The problem with the Facebook “like” button is the same problem Google has with Google+ and their “+1” button: it doesn’t tell you anything meaningful.

Voting on Reddit doesn’t really convey much meaning, either.

Stack Overflow tries to address this with its up/down voting and being able to see the gestalt votes as a ratio (if your rep is high enough (an admittedly low bar, but till a bar, and an aspect of the gamification of Stack Oveflow)). But that doesn’t really cut it, either.

The problem with online “voting” (or “liking”, or “plussing”, etc) is that it is a dimensionless data point.

Does getting 300 “likes” on a post make it “good”? Does it reflect on its quality in any way? How about getting nearly 400 upvotes (and only a handful of downvotes) on a question about MySQL (along with 100+ “favorites”) mean the question is good? Does it show something is popular? Are people clicking the vote mechanism out of peer pressure, because they actually agree, or because they think it needs more visibility?

Dimensionless data that gets used as if it has meaning is a problem – one of many problems of social media and web sites in general.

Of course, you will object, quality is a potentially-subjective term – what does “quality” mean, exactly, when talking about a post, website, question, etc? Is it how well-written it is? Is it how long? How funny? How sad?

Take this question I asked on Stack Overflow, “CSS – how to trim text output?” It’s clearly-written, was answered excellently in 2 minutes, and is a “real” problem I had. Yet in the 4.5 years since asking, it’s only gotten 2 votes total (both “up”, but still only two).

Reddit has upvotes and downvotes – and your comment/post score is merely the sum of the ups and downs; below a certain [relative] threshold, you won’t see content unless you ask for it.

One of the biggest problems with all of these systems is that the “score” doesn’t actually tell you anything. An atheist subreddit, for example, will tend to downvote-into-oblivion comments that are theistic in nature (especially from Christians). Quora‘s voting system is highly untransparent – downvotes don’t really seem to mean much, and upvotes are pretty much just for show.

This derives from the fact that these sites use dimensionless data and try to give it a value or meaning outside of what it really is – a number.

What should be shown is the total number of “votes” a given post has gotten – positive negative, reshare, etc – but never combined. A ratio could be displayed, but the sum of the votes is a poor plan.

Facebook, Google+, and others should offer various voting options – “up”, “down”, “disagree”, “agree”, “share”, and possibly others – some of which may be mutually-exclusive (you cannot upvote and downvote the same thing), but you might downvote something you agree with (or upvote something you disagree with) just because of how it is written/presented, etc.

And the total of each type of click should be shown – show me 10,000 people disagreed with what I said, 15,000 agreed; 20,000 upvoted, and 30,000 downvoted; 12,000 reshared it (with, or without, comment).

Using voting as a means of hiding things (and trying to prevent others from seeing them) can be somewhat akin to online bullying – revenge voting has its problems; as does blindly upvoting anything a particular person says/does. Which is why assigning (and then displaying) dimensionless data anything more than a count is dangerous.

Tarus Balog : Ad hoc Suspension of Polling Services

September 16, 2015 11:35 AM

As I was reading through my RSS feeds this morning, I saw that a user named “Fredebben” had posted a neat find on the OpenNMS wiki.

I didn’t know this, but it turns out that you can temporarily suspend service polling with an event, and then resume it as needed. This is pretty cool, especially if you need to stop polling for just one service.

I once had a client with a requirement that there be a scheduled outage once a week for all services but ICMP. In their case I had them move ICMP into its own package, and then they could use a Poll Outage to suspend polling on the other services. That is still probably the best way to do it for a lot of services, but it is nice to know this event method works as well.

Tarus Balog : The Inverter: Episode 49 – The Tapas of All Bananas

September 15, 2015 12:13 PM

I am a fan of the Bad Voltage podcast, but as it is hard for me to listen, pay attention and work at the same time, I tend to listen to it on airplanes. A lot of ideas and comments come to me during an episode, so I’m going to start a new feature on this blog called “The Inverter” where I review and comment on each show.

TL;DR: This episode was well done. It was tight, it flowed nicely and clocks in at slightly over an hour. That is their target time but the average show is closer to 80 minutes. There was a cool little mystery at the front followed by a discussion of the Endless Computer project, which was deemed too expensive to succeed. They talked about the horrible Nest smoke detector, version one, and the much nicer version two. Aq reviews Gliffy, a web-based Visio-like application, and they end with a segment on Microsoft’s changing relationship with open source.

This week I’m on a flight to DC so it is time to pull out my copy of the latest Bad Voltage. After the intro, starting about minute three, you get two minutes of what sounds like Morse code.

Intrigued, I found an app that will decode Morse (this webby one didn’t work for me but the Android app did fine) and read the following message:


Now, I’m not sure what “Insots” or “in Sots” are but I thought it was cool that they put this in the podcast, I probably would have added it after a delay at the end of the recording, as it was a little weird listening to two minutes of beeps (I thought my mp3 download was corrupt) but then only the hardcore listeners would have made it all the way through. Apparently you can find more about this in the t00bz but I’ve been too lazy. Cool addition, though.

The first segment was on the Endless Computer, which states it is building a “computer for the entire world” which brings to mind the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project. But there are a lot of differences, the main one being that Endless is a for-profit company (at least I think so – during my exhaustive, nearly 60 second perusal of their website, I didn’t find any verbiage to indicate that this was a charitable foundation versus a commercial enterprise).

As a for-profit company, their gear is not inexpensive, and most of the discussion on the show concerned the price, which is pretty steep for the hardware. There is also the issue that you still need to spend even more money to get it functional (as in buy a keyboard and a mouse). Jono, who was the only one who has actually played with the thing, pointed out that the user experience they have created is pretty nice, but the rest of the gang was still stuck on the price.

There is a $169 version, and a $229 version and they both have a funky look, something like an egg.

Now, I have zero experience with the thing but since that hasn’t stopped me from having an opinion before, here are my thoughts.

First off, I loved the OLPC project. I wonder what would have happened if the OLPC project started now, with the vast improvements in open source operating systems, instead of having to come up with their own O/S that was a little hard to understand.

Endless is not OLPC, and I think that’s the main reason for the price point – they need and want to make money.

If I really wanted to get computing power into the hands of the disenfranchised I would have gone with a tablet. For $229, you can make a decent tablet, which would remove the need to have a TV or keyboard/mouse. You could even add an option to charge it via solar cells. Heck, even the Endless website says “as simple as a tablet” which makes you wonder why they didn’t build one of those (margins, probably). With PC sales in free fall, starting a company to make a new one seems silly – like making a “VCR for the World”.

No, what I think happened is that someone found an investor in the Valley who heard “2 billion potential customers” and started seeing dollar signs. We can be the third world Apple! Simply make a funky design, hire a “Chief Growth Officer” and then … profit!

Another sign of impending doom is that they don’t even own the “endless.com” domain name. According to Paul Graham, it matters.

I’m willing to wager Endless is pretty much DOA, but then I guess I’m just bitter in that this pipe dream got funded and I can’t find decent investors for my company, which actually makes a profit. (sigh)

Moving on, the next segment was on the Nest “Protect” smoke detector. Apparently the first generation ones were crap, but Jeremy invested in the second generation and, so far, likes them. They have all kinds of whiz-bang features, such as two different sensors for various types of fires, and a networking feature so that in, say, a three story house like Jeremy’s, the detector on the third floor can set off all of the others.

I’ve avoided Nest products because I’m a bit of a privacy nut (odd, considering that I share most of my life on-line, I know). I don’t want microphones in my house. I don’t want things “phoning home”. Plus, my old smoke detector works just fine and alerts the nice people who provide my security monitoring when I cook bacon, so I don’t see the need to upgrade.

I did like hearing about the feature where the Nest can serve as a night-light and light up when people walk by it, sort of like the lights in a European hotel hallway. But I think I’d rather engineer that solution on my own then to buy something that is always talking to a third party, no matter how often that third party says I can trust them.

This episode the guys have introduced something called “Hack Voltage” in which one of the hosts will review something cool they’ve discovered. Aq did a short segment on “Gliffy” – a diagramming tool like Visio that you can run in a browser. As a hosted solution, you get some bits for free but then you pay a subscription fee for more features and storage. He seemed to like it, but for me I’d rather struggle with something open source, but if I ever have the need for such a tool I’ll check out the “free” version.

Android Wear Translate Screenshot

For my own version of Hack Voltage, the coolest new thing I’ve been playing with is Google Translate on my watch. I haven’t had time to make a video, but you set up your source and destination languages, speak into to the watch, and voilà, translation. When you flip the watch over (like you would when showing it to another person) it enlarges and displays just the translated text. I plan to use this a lot when I’m in Germany for the OUCE and Bad Voltage Live.

The final segment was on Microsoft warming to open source, which it once referred to as a “cancer”. The new CEO seems to be very open to working with open source projects as well as integrating with them, although certain things, like requiring Surface tablets to boot in secure mode, seem to harken back to the bad old days.

All I can say is that Microsoft has always treated OpenNMS well, including gifting us with an MSDN subscription so that we can improve OpenNMS support on Windows. Overall, Microsoft is much more friendly toward open source than they have been in the past.

That was it for this episode. Short and focused with a minimum of swearing and a modicum of mystery. Just one more show before they descend on the little town of Fulda, and I’ll probably listen to it on the plane ride over there. Hope you can make it.

Magnus Hedemark : State of the Nerd

September 14, 2015 03:28 AM

What have I been up to since Bald Head Island?


The weekend after Bald Head Island, I took the family to Hanging Rock State Park. The trip was a mixed bag. I think it was too soon after Bald Head Island, and we weren’t ready to have that much adventure again quite so soon. The rustic cabin accommodations within the park were deemed by the family to be a bit too rustic, and we actually cut the trip a little short. The park was also having some problems with aggressive hornets all around the camping area while we were there. My great adventure was sitting in a rocking chair, smoking my pipe and finishing a good book. We’d like to go back, but will probably find lodging outside of the park. Yes, we like our adventures to have some creature comforts at the end of the day. No apologies for that.


Now that one of my favorite series, Hannibal, has run its full course, I’m kind of bummed out. I felt like this was some of the most engaging television that I’d seen in years, but ultimately ended up losing because the viewers didn’t have the attention span for its complex storyline. The final season wrapped up with a retelling of the Red Dragon storyline, so I followed up by rewatching Manhunter (the original theatrical telling of this story) as well as Red Dragon (the retelling with Anthony Hopkins in the Hannibal Lecter role). While I loved them all, to be honest, this is one rare example of TV doing a much better job than cinema. I’ve added the original Hannibal Lecter novels to my reading list.

I also binge watched Stargate Universe. I liked it when it first came out. But I liked it even more in binge form. I think the pacing of it at first air was too slow. Between mid-season breaks, breaks between seasons, and the multiple schedule changes the show had suffered quite a lot. And us fans suffered with it. Watching it all in one go pretty much killed my weekend, but it revealed a bit of television brilliance that we don’t often get to see. I’m sad that it’s gone, and that it’s not likely to continue in any form.


Neil Gaiman has been on my to-read list for years. It’s a big list, so it took awhile for me to get there. I recently finished his anthology of short stories, Trigger Warning. These stories tended to be just a little dark, half twisted, and definitely fun. Several of these stories would make fantastic films. I’ll make sure to get more of his work onto my plate. This was enjoyable.

I’ve also finished reading Sparks of Genius. This is yet another book that is scratching the itch that I have to understand the neuroscience behind creativity, especially the mechanisms by which exceptional creativity might be enhanced and harnessed. I’ve had some frustrations over the years with the limitations of my career as an engineer vs. the latent creative potential that might be better realized in some other way. Anyway, this was a really good read. I suspect I’ll be coming back to this as a reference for my own personal kaizen.

I’ve also been reading a very new book about autism, Neurotribes. I’m guessing I’m about 25% of the way through it and I’m finding this to not only be incredibly informative, which I had expected, but also emotionally taxing. So much of what we think we know about autism is wrong, and the rest is only a modern rediscovery of what was known during WW2, but lost in the fog of war and anti-German sentiment following the war. I actually put it down for a couple of days before going back into it.

I’ll be working on Neurotribes for awhile; it’s a big book and I’m going through it at an easy pace. I have a huge to-read list and I’m not quite sure what’s going to be next. Who knows, maybe it’s time to go back to writing.

Speaking of writing, I have enough concepts stored up to keep me busy for years of writing full-time, and that’s if I come up with nothing new before I’m done. But I’m not a full-time writer, and I’m finding it hard to get into writing while also nurturing a day job in the software industry, and also being a father/husband. I’ve been pulling back from some other creative time sinks, like photography, in the hopes of finding a new routine that is more supportive of writing regularly.


I now own a “butterball” ball python. Her name is Pandora. She’s about two feet long right now, and I’m not sure how old she is. I’ve been wanting a python of my own for a very long time, though, and I figure that given how long they tend to live and how old I’m getting, I’d better get one now. If I’d waited much longer, I’d surely have to have considerations in my will.



My electricity bill was getting crazy. I’ve shut down most of the homelab for now. I’ve not been spending enough time with it for it to be worth the costs. The shutdown was delayed for awhile because I didn’t want to shutdown by Bitcoin node, but now that a fork seems to be underway, that sort of forced me to take some action. So I hit the power button.


I’m in a weird place with my career right now. I’m no longer a SysAdmin, but I’m not back into management or an Agile leadership role. Doing something new that doesn’t really have a well-defined industry description honestly leaves me feeling a little exposed. I recently had someone from Cisco ask me to deliver my DevOps: Year One talk internally at Cisco, and to be honest, I’m really welcoming the opportunity to revisit that older talk and get it refreshed with newer considerations. Perhaps in the process I’ll get some more inspiration about course corrections for my career path, which may have taken a bit of a detour these last few years.

Twenty-one years into my career, I’m only just warmed up. I’ve got another twenty-four to go before I plan to retire. So what happens between here and there? If I’m to remain in the software industry for the duration, I think I need to find my way out of the day to day engineering role and into the sort of headspace where I reach my fuller potential: the more distant horizon challenges where middle to executive management earns their keep. I’ve had little tastes of this and would very much like to get back to it. Things were on the right path a few years ago when I started getting seriously interested in developing my leadership potential, but I took a bad turn with the non-leadership role I later accepted at Red Hat.

The “what if” path would likely be something involving writing, either as a novelist or as a screenwriter (or both). Though with a family to support and a solid reputation in the software industry as a thought leader in my field, it may never be more than a side gig.


I’ve now gotten my second quadcopter stuck in a tree. The Syma X5C-1 was attacked by three birds on my street and knocked into a nearby tree. I’ve been watching it up there for days, hoping that I’ll be the first to see it if it ever comes down. It’s not likely. The neighbor who’s tree it’s in is a bit of a cranky puss, too (the “get off my lawn” type), so I’m not expecting him to be forthcoming if he’s the first to find it. While I’ve been pretty good at flying these things, getting one stuck in a tree is expensive. And for those who haven’t been to Raleigh: they don’t call this the “City of Oaks” for nothing. We’re definitely a tree-friendly city. Which probably makes us less of a quadcopter-friendly city.

Mark Turner : Sixteen years and counting

September 11, 2015 06:30 PM

It was sixteen years ago that Kelly and I got married. It’s been a blast! I’m lucky to have met such a smart, confident, funny, and all around amazing woman. Oh, and good looking, too! I’m still hopelessly, goofily in love with her.

Mark Turner : What Programmers Want | Michael O. Church

September 11, 2015 05:41 PM

Interesting take on what motivates a software engineer. This is three years old but surprisingly relevant.

Most people who have been assigned the unfortunate task of managing programmers have no idea how to motivate them. They believe that the small perks (such as foosball tables) and bonuses that work in more relaxed settings will compensate for more severe hindrances like distracting work environments, low autonomy, poor tools, unreasonable deadlines, and pointless projects. They’re wrong. However, this is one of the most important things to get right, for two reasons. The first is that programmer output is multiplicative of a number of factors– fit with tools and project, skill and experience, talent, group cohesion, and motivation. Each of these can have a major effect (plus or minus a factor of 2 at least) on impact, and engineer motivation is one that a manager can actually influence. The second is that measuring individual performance among software engineers is very hard. I would say that it’s almost impossible and in practical terms, economically infeasible. Why do I call infeasible rather than merely difficult? That’s because the only people who can reliably measure individual performance in software are so good that it’s almost never worth their time to have them doing that kind of work. If the best engineers have time to spend with their juniors, it’s more worthwhile to have them mentoring the others (which means their interests will align with the employees rather than the company trying to perform such measurement) than measuring them, the latter being a task they will resent having assigned to them.

Source: What Programmers Want | Michael O. Church

Mark Turner : Gangs and kids

September 11, 2015 05:30 PM

One morning last week, I was waiting with my kids in the middle school carpool line when I saw a 20-something adult on a bike ride by, dressed head to toe in gang colors. As I casually watched in the rear-view mirror, he started chatting up a teenage middle school student as the young man was walking to school.

I’m not sure what was said there, but I sure hope that the student has a good head on his shoulders and gave no thought to joining a gang. I’d like to find out how I can do more to keep kids from choosing this dead-end path. It got me thinking, anyway.

Mark Turner : The Jet fuel; How hot did it heat the World Trade Center?

September 11, 2015 12:50 PM

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) report into collapse of the WTC towers, estimates that about 3,500 gallons of jet fuel burnt within each of the towers. Imagine that this entire quantity of jet fuel was injected into just one floor of the World Trade Center, that the jet fuel burnt with perfect efficency, that no hot gases left this floor, that no heat escaped this floor by conduction and that the steel and concrete had an unlimited amount of time to absorb all the heat. With these ideal assumptions we calculate the maximum temperature that this one floor could have reached.

“The Boeing 767 is capable of carrying up to 23,980 gallons of fuel and it is estimated that, at the time of impact, each aircraft had approximately 10,000 gallons of unused fuel on board (compiled from Government sources).”

Quote from the FEMA report into the collapse of WTC’s One and Two (Chapter Two).

Since the aircraft were only flying from Boston to Los Angeles, they would have been nowhere near fully fueled on takeoff (the aircraft have a maximum range of 7,600 miles). They would have carried just enough fuel for the trip together with some safety factor. Remember, that carrying excess fuel means higher fuel bills and less paying passengers. The aircraft would have also burnt some fuel between Boston and New York.

“If one assumes that approximately 3,000 gallons of fuel were consumed in the initial fireballs, then the remainder either escaped the impact floors in the manners described above or was consumed by the fire on the impact floors. If half flowed away, then 3,500 gallons remained on the impact floors to be consumed in the fires that followed.”

Quote from the FEMA report into the collapse of WTC’s One and Two (Chapter Two).

What we propose to do, is pretend that the entire 3,500 gallons of jet fuel was confined to just one floor of the World Trade Center, that the jet fuel burnt with the perfect quantity of oxygen, that no hot gases left this floor and that no heat escaped this floor by conduction. With these ideal assumptions (none of which were meet in reality) we will calculate the maximum temperature that this one floor could have reached. Of course, on that day, the real temperature rise of any floor due to the burning jet fuel, would have been considerably lower than the rise that we calculate, but this estimate will enable us to demonstrate that the “official” explanation is a lie.

Note that a gallon of jet fuel weighs about 3.1 kilograms, hence 3,500 gallons weighs 3,500 x 3.1 = 10,850 kgs.

Jet fuel is a colorless, combustible, straight run petroleum distillate liquid. Its principal uses are as an ingredient in lamp oils, charcoal starter fluids, jet engine fuels and insecticides.

It is also know as, fuel oil #1, kerosene, range oil, coal oil and aviation fuel.

It is comprised of hydrocarbons with a carbon range of C9 – C17. The hydrocarbons are mainly alkanes CnH2n+2, with n ranging from 9 to 17.

It has a flash point within the range 42° C – 72° C (110° F – 162° F).

And an ignition temperature of 210° C (410° F).

Depending on the supply of oxygen, jet fuel burns by one of three chemical reactions:

(1) CnH2n+2 + (3n+1)/2 O2 => n CO2 + (n + 1) H2O

(2) CnH2n+2 + (2n+1)/2 O2 => n CO + (n + 1) H2O

(3) CnH2n+2 + (n+1)/2 O2 => n C + (n + 1) H2O

Reaction (1) occurs when jet fuel is well mixed with air before being burnt, as for example, in jet engines.

Reactions (2) and (3) occur when a pool of jet fuel burns. When reaction (3) occurs the carbon formed shows up as soot in the flame. This makes the smoke very dark.

In the aircraft crashes at the World Trade Center, the impact (with the aircraft going from 500 or 600 mph to zero) would have throughly mixed the fuel that entered the building with the limited amount of air available within. In fact, it is likely that all the fuel was turned into a flammable mist. However, for sake of argument we will assume that 3,500 gallons of the jet fuel did in fact form a pool fire. This means that it burnt according to reactions (2) and (3). Also note that the flammable mist would have burnt according to reactions (2) and (3), as the quantity of oxygen within the building was quite limited.

Since we do not know the exact quantities of oxygen available to the fire, we will assume that the combustion was perfectly efficient, that is, that the entire quantity of jet fuel burnt via reaction (1), even though we know that this was not so. This generous assumption will give a temperature that we know will be higher than the actual temperature of the fire attributable to the jet fuel.

We need to know that the (net) calorific value of jet fuel when burnt via reaction (1) is 42-44 MJ/kg. The calorific value of a fuel is the amount of energy released when the fuel is burnt. We will use the higher value of 44 MJ/kg as this will lead to a higher maximum temperature than the lower value of 42 (and we wish to continue being outrageously generous in our assumptions).

For a cleaner presentation and simpler calculations we will also assume that our hydrocarbons are of the form CnH2n. The dropping of the 2 hydrogen atoms does not make much difference to the final result and the interested reader can easily recalculate the figures for a slightly more accurate result. So we are now assuming the equation:

(4) CnH2n + 3n/2 O2 => n CO2 + n H2O

However, this model, does not take into account that the reaction is proceeding in air, which is only partly oxygen.

Dry air is 79% nitrogen and 21% oxygen (by volume). Normal air has a moisture content from 0 to 4%. We will include the water vapor and the other minor atmospheric gases with the nitrogen.

So the ratio of the main atmospheric gases, oxygen and nitrogen, is 1 : 3.76. In molar terms:

Air = O2 + 3.76 N2.

Because oxygen comes mixed with nitrogen, we have to include it in the equations. Even though it does not react, it is “along for the ride” and will absorb heat, affecting the overall heat balance. Thus we need to use the equation:

(5) CnH2n + 3n/2(O2 + 3.76 N2) => n CO2 + n H2O + 5.64n N2

From this equation we see that the molar ratio of CnH2n to that of the products is:

CnH2n : CO2 : H2O : N2 = 1 : n : n : 5.64n moles
= 14n : 44n : 18n : 28 x 5.64n kgs
= 1 : 3.14286 : 1.28571 : 11.28 kgs
= 31,000 : 97,429 : 39,857 : 349,680 kgs

In the conversion of moles to kilograms we have assumed the atomic weights of hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen and oxygen are 1, 12, 14 and 16 respectively.

Now each of the towers contained 96,000 (short) tons of steel. That is an average of 96,000/117 = 820 tons per floor. Lets suppose that the bottom floors contained roughly twice the amount of steel of the upper floors (since the lower floors had to carry more weight). So we estimate that the lower floors contained about 1,100 tons of steel and the upper floors about 550 tons = 550 x 907.2 ? 500,000 kgs. We will assume that the floors hit by the aircraft contained the lower estimate of 500,000 kgs of steel. This generously underestimates the quantity of steel in these floors, and once again leads to a higher estimate of the maximum temperature.

Each story had a floor slab and a ceiling slab. These slabs were 207 feet wide, 207 feet deep and 4 (in parts 5) inches thick and were constructed from lightweight concrete. So each slab contained 207 x 207 x 1/3 = 14,283 cubic feet of concrete. Now a cubic foot of lightweight concrete weighs about 50kg, hence each slab weighed 714,150 ? 700,000 kgs. Together, the floor and ceiling slabs weighed some 1,400,000 kgs.

So, now we take all the ingredients and estimate a maximum temperature to which they could have been heated by 3,500 gallons of jet fuel. We will call this maximum temperature T. Since the calorific value of jet fuel is 44 MJ/kg. We know that 3,500 gallons = 31,000 kgs of jet fuel

will release 10,850 x 44,000,000 = 477,400,000,000 Joules of energy.

This is the total quantity of energy available to heat the ingredients to the temperature T. But what is the temperature T? To find out, we first have to calculate the amount of energy absorbed by each of the ingredients.

That is, we need to calculate the energy needed to raise:

39,857 kilograms of water vapor to the temperature T° C,
97,429 kilograms of carbon dioxide to the temperature T° C,
349,680 kilograms of nitrogen to the temperature T° C,
500,000 kilograms of steel to the temperature T° C,
1,400,000 kilograms of concrete to the temperature T° C.

To calculate the energy needed to heat the above quantities, we need their specific heats. The specific heat of a substance is the amount of energy needed to raise one kilogram of the substance by one degree centigrade.

Substance Specific Heat [J/kg*C]
Nitrogen 1,038
Water Vapor 1,690
Carbon Dioxide 845
Lightweight Concrete 800
Steel 450

Substituting these values into the above, we obtain:

39,857 x 1,690 x (T – 25) Joules are needed to heat the water vapor from 25° to T° C,
97,429 x 845 x (T – 25) Joules are needed to heat the carbon dioxide from 25° to T° C,
349,680 x 1,038 x (T – 25) Joules are needed to heat the nitrogen from 25° to T° C,
500,000 x 450 x (T – 25) Joules are needed to heat the steel from 25° to T° C,
1,400,000 x 800 x (T – 25) Joules are needed to heat the concrete from 25° to T° C.

The assumption that the specific heats are constant over the temperature range 25° – T° C, is a good approximation if T turns out to be relatively small (as it does). For larger values of T this assumption once again leads to a higher maximum temperature (as the specific heat for these substances increases with temperature). We have assumed the initial temperature of the surroundings to be 25° C. The quantity, (T – 25)° C, is the temperature rise.

So the amount of energy needed to raise one floor to the temperature T° C is

= (39,857 x 1,690 + 97,429 x 845 + 349,680 x 1,038 + 500,000 x 450 + 1,400,000 x 800) x (T – 25)
= (67,358,330 + 82,327,505 + 362,967,840 + 225,000,000 + 1,120,000,000) x (T – 25) Joules
= 1,857,653,675 x (T – 25) Joules.

Since the amount of energy available to heat this floor is 477,400,000,000 Joules, we have that

1,857,653,675 x (T – 25) = 477,400,000,000
1,857,653,675 x T – 46,441,341,875 = 477,400,000,000

Therefore T = (477,400,000,000 + 46,441,341,875)/1,857,653,675 = 282° C (540° F).

So, the jet fuel could (at the very most) have only added T – 25 = 282 – 25 = 257° C (495° F) to the temperature of the typical office fire that developed.

Remember, this figure is a huge over-estimate, as (among other things) it assumes that the steel and concrete had an unlimited amount of time to absorb the heat, whereas in reality, the jet fuel fire was all over in one or two minutes, and the energy not absorbed by the concrete and steel within this brief period (that is, almost all of it) would have been vented to the outside world.

“The time to consume the jet fuel can be reasonably computed. At the upper bound, if one assumes that all 10,000 gallons of fuel were evenly spread across a single building floor, it would form a pool that would be consumed by fire in less than 5 minutes”

Quote from the FEMA report into the collapse of WTC’s One and Two (Chapter Two).

Here are statements from three eye-witnesses that provide evidence that the heating due to the jet fuel was indeed minimal.

Donovan Cowan was in an open elevator at the 78th floor sky-lobby (one of the impact floors of the South Tower) when the aircraft hit. He has been quoted as saying: “We went into the elevator. As soon as I hit the button, that’s when there was a big boom. We both got knocked down. I remember feeling this intense heat. The doors were still open. The heat lasted for maybe 15 to 20 seconds I guess. Then it stopped.”

Stanley Praimnath was on the 81st floor of the South Tower: “The plane impacts. I try to get up and then I realize that I’m covered up to my shoulder in debris. And when I’m digging through under all this rubble, I can see the bottom wing starting to burn, and that wing is wedged 20 feet in my office doorway.”

Ling Young was in her 78th floor office: “Only in my area were people alive, and the people alive were from my office. I figured that out later because I sat around in there for 10 or 15 minutes. That’s how I got so burned.”

Neither Stanley Praimnath nor Donovan Cowan nor Ling Young were cooked by the jet fuel fire. All three survived.


We have assumed that the entire 3,500 gallons of jet fuel was confined to just one floor of the World Trade Center, that the jet fuel burnt with perfect efficency, that no hot gases left this floor, that no heat escaped this floor by conduction and that the steel and concrete had an unlimited amount of time to absorb all the heat.

Then it is impossible that the jet fuel, by itself, raised the temperature of this floor more than 257° C (495° F).

Now this temperature is nowhere near high enough to even begin explaining the World Trade Center Tower collapse.

It is not even close to the first critical temperature of 600° C (1,100° F) where steel loses about half its strength and it is nowhere near the quotes of 1500° C that we constantly read about in our lying media.

“In the mid-1990s British Steel and the Building Research Establishment performed a series of six experiments at Cardington to investigate the behavior of steel frame buildings. These experiments were conducted in a simulated, eight-story building. Secondary steel beams were not protected. Despite the temperature of the steel beams reaching 800-900° C (1,500-1,700° F) in three of the tests (well above the traditionally assumed critical temperature of 600° C (1,100° F), no collapse was observed in any of the six experiments.”

Quote from the FEMA report (Appendix A).

Recalling that the North Tower suffered no major structural damage from the intense office fire of February 23, 1975, we can conclude that the ensuing office fires of September 11, 2001, also did little extra damage to the towers.


The jet fuel fires played almost no role in the collapse of the World Trade Center.

So, once again, you have been lied to by the media, are you surprised?

From How Hot Did The Jet Fuel Heat The World Trade Center?

Warren Myers : system-wide proxying with os x (yosemite)

September 11, 2015 10:43 AM

Perhaps you’re at a coffee shop, and want to ensure your communication is secure.

Or maybe you are out of the country, and need access to something like annualcreditreport.com.

What’s a body to do?

If you have a Mac, set up a system-wide proxy setting for a new Location, of course!

This is a very simple thing to do, but does require you have access to an SSH server somewhere.


  • Create a new Location in your Network Preferences (name it something ‘obvious’ like “Proxy” or “Untrusted”Locations
  • Remove services you don’t need (most likely you only need WiFi) Services
  • Go to Advanced -> Proxies
  • Enable SOCKS Proxy and set server to ‘localhost’ with ‘9999’ as the port proxies
  • Start a port-forwarded SSH session in Terminal :: ssh -D 9999 user@remotehost
  • Click OK in the Proxies setting window
  • Click Apply in the Network preferences panel

That’s it. You do need to remember to create the port-forwarded SSH connection, or your web browsers and such will fail to connect properly.

You can change Location easily via ->Location.

Tested on OS X Yosemite. It should work elsewhere, but I only have a 10.10 machine to work with.

Mark Turner : Renewables critics sound off :: WRAL.com

September 10, 2015 12:54 PM

Fossil-energy advocates are desperately pleading with the NCGA to revoke our state’s clean energy standards called REPS (Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard). Thankfully, they have an uphill battle as large-scale solar projects become a property-tax bonanza for the rural areas where they get built, instantly boosting the property values without requiring any public infrastructure investment.

I used to be worried about attempts like the Koch-backed American Energy Alliance but not anymore. They are this century’s buggy-whip makers, propping up a rapidly-dying industry: coal.

The writing’s on the wall for dirty-energy producers. Clean energy is kicking their ass and it’s only going to get worse for them. Hey Koch brothers, you have no chance of stopping the clean energy revolution, you’d be better off learning how to take advantage of it.

Raleigh, N.C. — Opponents of renewable energy programs held an hour-long roundtable at the Legislative Building on Wednesday about their concerns.The event was sponsored by the American Energy Alliance, the political lobbying arm of the Institute for Energy Policy, a conservative think tank funded by Charles and David Koch. The event moderator was Tom Pyle, president of the AEA and the IEP, and a former Koch Industries lobbyist.

Source: Renewables critics sound off :: WRAL.com

Mark Turner : Trying to follow what is going on in Syria and why? This comic will get you there in 5 minutes.

September 10, 2015 12:31 PM

I was not aware until now of the role climate change has played in the Syrian crisis. Pentagon studies have long argued the destabilizing nature of climate change will lead to increased conflict as people fight over diminishing natural resources. We can expect more of this as our environment continues its collapse.

Wars are complex. They come out of nowhere and all of a sudden, people you’ve never heard of are killing each other on the evening news. Here’s what you need to know about the war in Syria — and it’s not oil or religion. It’s something that we’re all creating together.

Source: Trying to follow what is going on in Syria and why? This comic will get you there in 5 minutes.

Mark Turner : 10 Military Habits That Make Service Members Stand Out

September 10, 2015 01:10 AM

We all know the tell-tale signs of a military service member: high-and-tight haircut, camo backpack, polo shirt and cargo shorts combination, unit t-shirts or hats, decals on cars, and of course, “Affliction” t-shirts. These are all easy ways to spot military folks in public places. And while many of us try not to stand out, there are still subtle indicators. Most civilians would never notice these things, but they are dead giveaways to those who have served. Here are the top ten.

Source: 10 Military Habits That Make Service Members Stand Out

Warren Myers : half year update: how are my predictions so far?

September 09, 2015 07:11 PM

Back in Feb, I published a list of tech-related predictions for 2015.

How’m I doing?

Let’s see ones that have happened (or are very close to have happened):

  • Itanium OEL’d
  • HP spinning-off business units – sorta, they’re splitting in half
  • IBM is losing value … but not as much as I predicted (yet)
  • cloud is still “a thing” – but it’s gradually becoming less of “a thing”
  • cloud hosting providers are in a price war – so I’ll count this as “kinda”
  • iPad 5 – it’s the iPad Pro, but has the expected resolution (5.6 megapixels)
  • I’m counting the iPad Pro, in conjunction with the keyboard accessory, the MacBook Flex – it’s not x86 (ARM A9X) .. but still iOS, not OS X – so I’m half right
  • Tesla has the Model S in a non-millionaire price point ($57k at the bottom end) .. but it’s not down to the Chevy Volt or Nissan Leaf yet :: then again, the Tesla gets substantially further on its charge than does the Volt or Leaf
  • more cities are entering the “gigacity” club – Salisbury NC just opened the 10-gigabit club

Mark Turner : The Preeclampsia Puzzle – The New Yorker

September 08, 2015 02:34 PM

A good article about preeclampsia.

In June, 2000, Ananth Karumanchi, a thirty-one-year-old kidney specialist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, in Boston, read an article in Nature about preeclampsia, a poorly understood disorder that affects about five per cent of pregnant women. In the developing world, preeclampsia is one of the leading causes of maternal death; it is thought to kill more than seventy-five thousand women each year. In the United States, where treatment is more readily available, few women die of the disease, but complications—including rupture of the liver, kidney failure, hemorrhage, and stroke—can cause lasting health problems. (In rare cases, patients with preeclampsia develop seizures or lapse into a coma; this is called eclampsia.) The only cure is delivery. “If a woman develops preeclampsia near term, then she is induced to have a delivery or undergoes a Cesarean section,” Benjamin Sachs, the chief of obstetrics and gynecology at Beth Israel Deaconess, told me. “In most cases, as soon as she is delivered we know she will get better. But, if preeclampsia develops early in the pregnancy, then we have a huge challenge, because we have two patients: the mother and the baby. If you deliver the baby early to spare the mother, then you put the baby at risk for the complications of prematurity; if you wait, then the mother can have severe complications and go on to eclampsia.”

Source: The Preeclampsia Puzzle – The New Yorker

Tarus Balog : OUCE 2015: Fulda? Where is Fulda?

September 04, 2015 12:47 PM

With the OpenNMS Users Conference less than a month away, I hope you have convinced your boss to let you attend. Ronny updated the website recently, the call for papers has closed and the schedule is being finalized.

With that in mind I thought I’d share a little about the town of Fulda (pop. 65,000) where the OUCE is being held.

The reason we are holding the OUCE in Fulda is mainly due to it being the home of the Hochschule Fulda, the University of Applied Sciences. This is where a number of OpenNMS contributors went to school and some of them still work there. The facilities are excellent, as is the bandwidth, and the town itself is pretty cool.

The city started in 744 when Saint Sturm founded a monastery there. For someone from the United States it is mind boggling to visit a place that is nearly a millennium older than most places in my country. Thus modern Fulda is a mix of old and new.

In addition to the university, the OUCE will visit a number of other places. On Tuesday night, Nethinks is hosting a dinner for the attendees at Viva Havanna, a Cuban style restaurant (I learned that in German, the extra “n” actually means the “n” sound is pronounced in a shorter fashion than normal). On Wednesday night we’re having the Bad Voltage team do a show, and afterward we’ll most likely end up at a biergarten called the Wiesenmühle.

It is easy to get to Fulda. If you are coming by air, the closest major airport is Frankfurt (FRA) and you can take a train from there to Fulda Station. The website has more details.

Fulda has some historic significance as well. Nearby is the Fulda Gap, an east-west route often used by invading forces into Europe and it was thought to be a primary route any Soviet invasion of NATO countries would use. Thus there was a strong military presence in the area during the cold war.

My favorite “Fun Fulda Fact” is that the monastery there was responsible for the survival of the book/poem De rerum natura (On the Nature of Things). Written in 100 BC by the Roman poet Lucretius, it was one of the first books to state that the world could be explained by natural phenomena versus gods, and includes such gems as all matter being made up of atoms. As you might imagine, there were those who disliked these ideas and thus all copies of the poem were thought destroyed.

De rerum natura image from Wikipedia

However, in 1417, ­Poggio Bracciolini found one at the Benedictine abbey at Fulda. He made a copy, and thus the book survives to this day. Author Stephen Greenblatt wrote a book called The Swerve about the impact of the poem. From the New York Times article “The Almost-Lost Poem That Changed the World”:

Titus Lucretius Carus’ “De Rerum Natura,” or “On the Nature of Things,” is a 7,400-line poem in Latin hexameters written in the first century B.C. It covers philosophy, physics, optics, cosmology, sociology, psychology, religion and sex; the ideas in it influenced Newton and Darwin, among others.

Cool, huh? Well, I have been to the abbey in Fulda, and you can too, if you come to the OUCE. Hope to see you there.

Mark Turner : 100 Men Of Color Greeted Kids On Their First Day Of School To Make Incredibly Powerful Point

September 04, 2015 12:42 PM


There’s a certain stereotype that follows men of color collectively, wherever they go, no matter what they do. It’s the notion that they’re deadbeats, thugs or just simply not that involved in their community.

DeVaughn Ward and Pastor AJ Johnson know these stereotypes all too well, so they planned an event that puts those notions to shame — just in time for the first day of school. After seeing a group of men in Georgia greet kids on their first day, Ward and Johnson knew they had to bring the idea to their hometown of Hartford, Conn.

The men created a call-out group on their social media pages called “Calling All Brothers” and asked the men of color they knew to tag others. Their goal? Form a group large enough to greet the children of Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School on their first day. And do it wearing suits.

Source: 100 Men Of Color Greeted Kids On Their First Day Of School To Make Incredibly Powerful Point

Tarus Balog : Send an SMS with OpenNMS

September 03, 2015 04:48 PM

I thought I’d written this post years ago, but apparently I didn’t. Since my friend Salma asked about SMS notifications with OpenNMS I felt it was a good opportunity to document this process.

Of course, OpenNMS can’t send an SMS message without a little help. You’ll need some sort of modem that can actually connect to the network. We use one from the great folks at MultiTech.

Multitech Modem

It’s USB powered, so all you need to do is insert an active SIM card and plug it in. Here is the exact model:

Multitech Modem Back

and you can find more information on their products on their website.

For the SIM card, I just added a phone to my AT&T plan for a few dollars a month.

The next thing you’ll need is software to send the notices. I used smssend, which comes in RHEL/CentOS via the smstools package:

Name        : smstools
Arch        : x86_64
Version     : 3.1.15
Release     : 12.el7
Size        : 748 k
Repo        : installed
From repo   : epel
Summary     : Tools to send and receive short messages through GSM modems or mobile phones
URL         : http://smstools3.kekekasvi.com
License     : GPLv2+
Description : The SMS Server Tools are made to send and receive short messages through
            : GSM modems. It supports easy file interfaces and it can run external
            : programs for automatic actions.

This will install a daemon called smsd that is configured via /etc/smsd.conf. You’ll need to edit that file to set the path to your modem, in my case it’s /dev/ttyUSB0. Then start the daemon (via “service” or “systemctl”, etc.)

At this point you can test if it works by running:

smssend [number] "This is a test message"

Note that the number must include the country code, such as “+19195330160”.

Once you have that working, it is pretty easy to set up in OpenNMS. First, edit notificationCommands.xml and add the “smssend” command:

    <command binary="true">
        <comment>Send an SMS</comment>
        <argument streamed="false">
        <argument streamed="true">

This configuration includes the full path to the “smssend” command, and I used the mobile phone “-mphone” field as well as the short message “-nm” field, which are the only two parameters required for the command.

At this point you’ll need to restart OpenNMS. It actually isn’t necessary to make this work, but it is needed to make the webUI know that the “sendSMS” command has been added.

The rest of the configuration can be done through the webUI. For every user you want to receive SMS messages, make sure that their mobile number (including country code) is configured on their user account page. Then you can just add “sendSMS” as a notification action on a destination path and it should just work.

Mark Turner : McSweeney’s Internet Tendency: Open Letters: An Open Letter to 17-Year-Old Boys Who Just Discovered The Doors.

September 03, 2015 12:29 PM

Dear 17-year-old Doors discoverers,

Well, this was probably unavoidable. You are about to think some very dumb stuff about poetry, women, and dead Native Americans. This is a tradition, or affliction, that has been passed down to at least three generations of 17-year-old white boys and then foisted upon 15-year-old-white girls for just as many decades— girls your own age are way past this shit, stick with the sophomores. You are going to abuse the word “shaman” in ways that will violate international torture conventions. You’re going to think that something important and meaningful is happening to you, even though you haven’t left your room for three days. You are going to sit at the feet of the master of total self-regard, one James Douglass Morrison, the “Lizard King,” and think yourself the Prince of Salamanders and heir to a throne carved from your own bullshit.

Source: McSweeney’s Internet Tendency: Open Letters: An Open Letter to 17-Year-Old Boys Who Just Discovered The Doors.

Mark Turner : Aphantasia: A life without mental images – BBC News

September 03, 2015 11:54 AM


Close your eyes and imagine walking along a sandy beach and then gazing over the horizon as the Sun rises. How clear is the image that springs to mind?

Most people can readily conjure images inside their head – known as their mind’s eye.

But this year scientists have described a condition, aphantasia, in which some people are unable to visualise mental images.Niel Kenmuir, from Lancaster, has always had a blind mind’s eye.

He knew he was different even in childhood. “My stepfather, when I couldn’t sleep, told me to count sheep, and he explained what he meant, I tried to do it and I couldn’t,” he says.

Source: Aphantasia: A life without mental images – BBC News

Mark Turner : Alexander: Do those new chip-based credit and debit cards need protection? – StarTribune.com

September 02, 2015 06:23 PM

I was chatting with the cashier supervisor at the local Large Mart, asking if Large Mart would be going to the new, chip-based credit cards.

“Yeah, we’re going to get those within the next few weeks,” he said.

I nodded. “Well, I’ve been the victim of credit card fraud so many times that I welcome the extra security.”

“The new cards also have security problems,” the supervisor answered. “With the chip cards, thieves can read your cards while they’re in your wallet.”

That was news to me. The chip on my card is definitely a contact card, and any RFID-based credit card would be wide open to the world and truly offer zero security. Fortunately, banks aren’t using RFID, but Near-Field Communication (NFC), and only in some chips (i.e., not in the U.S. at this time). NFC has a range of 2-4 inches, which is about 1/12th the range of an RFID tag. Also, an NFC-capable device does encryption, while an RFID tag would only stupidly transmit static numbers.

So, tl;dr: current chip cards in the U.S. are contact-only, and NFC chips won’t be readable outside of your wallet. Bring on the chipped-card revolution, I say!

Q: Do the new EMV chip credit cards (named after the developers, Europay, MasterCard and Visa) require a protective cover so that they can’t be scanned by nearby thieves, just as RFID (radio frequency identification) cards do? Do other radio frequency ID cards, such as hotel key cards, pose a risk of identity theft?
Jan Sartee,
San Rafael, Calif.

A: There are two types of credit cards using EMV chip technology. One is read by a slot in a point-of-sale ­terminal; the other is read by holding the card near the sales terminal.

If your EMV card requires physical contact inside a reader, its transactions and account information can’t be scanned remotely by thieves. If it is a contactless card, there’s a chance it could be read by nearby spying equipment, although the credit card ­industry says that’s unlikely.

Source: Alexander: Do those new chip-based credit and debit cards need protection? – StarTribune.com

Mark Turner : The Strange Saga of the MH370 Plane Part — NYMag

September 02, 2015 04:33 PM

Speaking of MH-370, remember that Boeing 777 wing flapiron that washed ashore last month on Reunion Island? It turns out the ID plate on it is curiously missing, and the wing part appears to have been marinated somehow to artificially boost its barnacle growth.

This mystery gets stranger and stranger.

Tomorrow marks one month since a piece of a Boeing 777 washed up on the Indian Ocean island of La Réunion, but French investigators are no closer to confirming that the part came from missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. In fact, leaks from within the investigation suggest that the part might not have come from the plane at all.

Source: The Strange Saga of the MH370 Plane Part — NYMag

Joseph Tate : High School Memories

September 02, 2015 02:29 PM

A warning to my technical acquaintances who read this blog through syndication, this is a post targeted to the Highland High School Class of '95, so you will probably not understand any of this.

My 20 year reunion is coming up, and weird as it seems, through Facebook and other social media, I feel more connected to my classmates now than I did 20 years ago. Because of the buildup to the event (which I'll be unable to attend unfortunately due schedule and distance), I've been feeling nostalgic.

Continue reading "High School Memories"

Joseph Tate : High School Memories

September 02, 2015 02:29 PM

A warning to my technical acquaintances who read this blog through syndication, this is a post targeted to the Highland High School Class of '95, so you will probably not understand any of this.

My 20 year reunion is coming up, and weird as it seems, through Facebook and other social media, I feel more connected to my classmates now than I did 20 years ago. Because of the buildup to the event (which, thanks to the cross country travel I've been doing for work over the last few years, I'll be able to attend), I've been feeling nostalgic.

Continue reading "High School Memories"

Tarus Balog : I, Robot

September 01, 2015 09:20 PM

Today is the 11th anniversary of The OpenNMS Group. We started on September 1st, 2004 with little more than a drive to build something special, a business plan of “spend less than you earn” and a mission statement of “Help Customers, Have Fun, Make Money”.

Since I’m still working and people are using software other than OpenNMS to manage their networks, I can’t say “mission accomplished” but we’re still here, we have a great team and the best users anyone could want, so by that measure we are successful.

When it comes to the team, one thing I worry about is how to connect our remote people with the folks in North Carolina. We do a lot of Hangouts, etc, but they lack the aspect of initiative – the remote guys have to be passive and just sit there. Then I got the wild idea to investigate getting a telepresence robot. Wouldn’t it be cool if remote people could pop in and drive around the office, attend meetings, etc?

After a lot of research, I decided on a robot from Double Robotics.

Robot Tarus

The buying decision wasn’t a slam dunk. It is a very iPad/iOS centric solution which bothered me, and I had some issues concerning the overall security of the platform. So, I sent in a note and ended up having a call with Justin Beatty.

It was a great call.

Double is pretty serious about security, and assuming there are no firewall issues, the connection is encrypted peer-to-peer. While there are no plans to remove the requirement that you buy an iPad in order to use the robot, they are working on an Android native client. You can drive it on almost any platform that supports the Chrome browser (such as Linux) and you can even use it on Android via Chrome. There is a native iOS app as well.

What really sold me on the company is that they are a Y Combinator project, and rather than focus on raising more capital, they are focused on making a profit. They are small (like us) and dedicated to creating great things (like us).

Justin really understood our needs as well, as he offered us a refurbished unit at a discount (grin).

Anyway, I placed an order for a Double and (gulp) ordered an iPad.

It was delivered while I was away in England, but I was able to get it set up on Monday when I returned to the office. They have a number of easy to follow videos, and it probably took about 20 minutes to understand how everything went together.

You take the main body of the robot out of the box and place it on the floor. I had purchased an external speaker kit (otherwise, it uses the iPad speaker) which makes it look like a little Dalek, and you install that on the main post. Then you plug in the iPad holder and screw it to the post with a bolt. That’s about it for robot assembly.

The next step is to take the USB charging cable that came with your tablet and mount it inside the iPad holder. You then insert the iPad upside down and connect the cable so that the robot can power and recharge the iPad. The Double supports any iPad from version 2 onward, and they have a spacer to use for the iPad Air (which is thinner). Finally, you connect a directional microphone into the audio slot on the bottom of the iPad (or top, depending on how you look at it) and the unit is assembled.

Then I had to set up the iPad, which was a bit of a pain since I’m no longer an Apple person and needed a new Apple account (and then I had to update iOS), but once it was configured I could then pair the iPad to the robot via bluetooth. Next, I had to download the Double app from the App Store and create a Double account. Once that process was complete, I could login to the application on the tablet and our robot was ready to go.

To “drive” the robot, you log in to a website via Chrome. There are controls in the webapp for changing the height of the unit, controlling audio and video, and you move the thing around with the arrow keys.

It’s a lot of fun.

When moving you want to have the robot in its lowest height setting. Not only will it go faster, it will be more stable. This isn’t an off road, four wheeling type of robot – it likes smooth services. There is a little bump at the threshold to my office and once the robot has gone over that you want to wait a second or two because it will wobble back and forth a little bit. Otherwise, it does pretty well, and because the rubber wheels are the part of the robot that stick out the most in the front and the back; if you run into a wall it won’t damage the iPad.

I did have to mess with a couple of things. First of all, it needed a firmware upgrade before the external audio speaker would work. Second, sometimes it would keep turning in one direction (in my case, to the right), but restarting the browser seem to fix that.

You do need to be careful driving it, however. One of my guys accidentally drove it into a table, so it hit the table along the “neck” of the robot and not on the wheels. This caused the unit to shoot backward, recover and then try to move forward. It fell flat on its face.

Which, I am thankful, did no damage. The iPad is mounted in a fairly thick case, and while I wouldn’t want to test it you are probably safe with the occasional face plant.

I bought an external wireless charger which allows you to drive the robot into a little “dock” for charging instead of plugging it in. To help park it, there is a mirror mounted in the iPad holder that directs the rear camera downward so you can see where you are going (i.e. look at the robot’s “feet”). Pretty low tech but they get points for both thinking about it and engineering such a simple solution.

Everyone who has driven it seems to like it, although I’m thinking about putting a bell on the thing. This morning I was jammin’ to some tunes in my office when I heard a noise and found Jeff, piloting the robot, directly behind me. It was a little creepy (grin).

I bought it with a nice (i.e. expensive) Pelican case since the plan is to take it on road trips. I bought the iPad that supports 4G SIM cards so I should be able to use it in areas without WiFi. It’s first outing will be to the OpenNMS Users Conference, which is less than a month away. If you haven’t registered yet, you should do so now, and you’ll get to see the robot in action.

Robot Bryan

Bad Voltage will also be there, with Bryan Lunduke piloting the robot from his home in Portland. I had him try it out today and he commented “So rad. So very, very rad”.

At the moment I’m very pleased with the Double from Double Robotics. It’s a little spendy but loads of fun, and I can’t wait to use it for team meetings, etc, when people can’t make it in person. You can also share the output from the unit with other people with the beta website, although you could always just do a Google Hangout and share the screen.

Double Logo

I even like the Double Robotics logo, which is a silhouette of the robot against a square background to form a “D”. I am eager to see what they do in the future.

Magnus Hedemark : update of random stuff

September 01, 2015 12:43 AM

I haven’t been blogging enough. I thought I’d just throw random updates out there and see what resonates.


Health & Wellness

Back in September we moved to a new office space that, from a sensory overload and anxiety perspective, has not been good for me. In that time, I’ve gained fifty pounds. I’ve been putting some effort recently into losing that weight. Starting from three hundred and twenty pounds, I’m down to three hundred and four in about a month. Not bad.


I’m still having a lot of fun with these things. I’m on my second Syma X11, though. The first one had its battery die while it was above the tree tops, so it was all too happy to rest there. These things fly high and fast, but be aware that they don’t give you any real warning that they are getting ready to die. I’ve gotten a bunch of spare batteries and props for it, too. I also have one more coming in so I can have one at work and one at home.

I have a couple more toy quadcopters on the way from China.

The curiosity about hexacopters has been strong. I’ve ordered a JJRC H20 hexacopter to scratch that itch.

The Cheerson CX-10 looks super tiny, and it’s about half the price of the similarly tiny Estes Proto X.

Speaking of the Proto X, I’ve ordered some replacement parts to get mine flying straight again. I’m able to fly it, but it’s a bit squirrely because of the cheap bendy plastic on one of the little baskets that the motors sit inside of. A plastic tab has sort of bent out which allows the motor to sit crookedly, which in turn allows the prop to spin on an axis that is not perpendicular to the airframe. So the whole thing wants to pitch forwards and left, moreso than I can compensate for reasonably with trim settings.


I recently finished Neil Gaiman’s “Trigger Warning“. While I’ve sort of lost my taste for science fiction, at least in long form, I’m not sure that what I was reading here was sci fi. Also, reading short stories was very satisfying. I had a sense of accomplishment every time I put down the book. And it ended on a particularly satisfying note. True to my normal pattern, I’m moving on from here to non-fiction.

The current reading project is “Sparks of Genius” which satisfies ever more of my ongoing curiosity about the nature of creativity in high-potential people. I’ve also got a personal ambition to make better use of the gifts I’ve been given in this department.

To that end…

Photography & Writing

I’ve more or less walked away from it, at least in the form which I’ve been practicing. While I think my later works were really something to be proud of, I didn’t like that I had to keep it relatively low profile to avoid making co-workers uncomfortable (since my work often featured the nude form). I’m not really happy about this. But I feel like spending more time exploring this outlet will only bring me suffering.

My real hope and ambition here is to gradually fill the creative void this leaves behind by writing more. I can write about a nude human being and people don’t get too upset. But if I put a picture of one on the Internet, people tend to lose their senses.

I’ve been sort of frustrated by the sense of feeling a lot of creative inspiration, especially around writing, but not having decent writing tools that I can carry with me. I used to carry a journal with a nice pen, but people got nosy and helped themselves to my writings, and I stopped. I’ve got a Macbook Air 11″ which is a fantastic writing tool, but not practical to carry everywhere. The mobile device (iPhone 6) is absolutely horrid, ergonomically speaking, to write with. I’ll have to do some more noodling on this. I really don’t want to start carrying a manpurse again, but it may come to that.

Eco Tourism


I’ve taken a couple of mini vacations back to back recently. I spent a few days at the Bald Head Island Conservancy in August with my family and it was nothing short of magical. This was our second trip there (the first being in 2010) and I think it’s fair to say this one was an order of magnitude better for all of us. In part, it’s just because the kids were older and thus more engaged. We ended up seeing two loggerhead sea turtle nest excavations, one planned nest hatching (a “boil”), and a second boil that was completely unexpected. We probably saw over two hundred baby loggerhead sea turtles from these four nests over the weekend.

We also managed to find a rumored alligator, who was hiding directly under the observation deck that people searched fruitlessly from. Peeking down between the floor boards revealed two reptilian eyes in close proximity looking right back at us.

A hike through the maritime forest revealed another world to me that was downright inspiring. I know I need to come back to this place. I know I need to bring an array of creative tools with me, and just listen to what this place is telling me. There’s more to the story, and it can’t be observed while traveling with an impatient family group. I’ll have to do this one alone.

Coming home from Bald Head Island was difficult. Home took a few days to feel like home again. I felt like there was another entirely different life waiting for me in a place like Bald Head Island, a better life than what I could live in Raleigh. One where I was in better communion with the world around me, and which still had quiet places in which I could be alone and contemplate the nature of the Universe.

We also went to Hanging Rock State Park last weekend. This one was a mixed bag. The park itself is lovely. Some of the scenery is truly breathtaking. The rustic cabins, though, were a bit too rustic for this family. The smells were odd and unsettling, the appointments were cheap and insufficient. I think we all woke up the first morning feeling sore and ill-rested from the uncomfortable beds. The family took a vote, four out of five voted to finish the last hike and then go home a day early. If we go back here, we’ll look for accommodations outside of the park that are more comfortable. Just to be clear, spartan appointments are not necessarily a bad thing. But if we knew it was going to be this bad, we would have been more comfortable tent camping. On the plus side, I did get quite a good bit of reading done.

We talked about these experiences as a family, and compared them to last year’s vacation to Walt Disney World. My wife and I, as well as two of the three kids, overwhelmingly feel that eco tourism was way more fun than Disney. All three kids are science enthusiasts, but let’s just say one is better suited to lab work while the other two would be more comfortable doing field research.


Honestly, I’ve not had much time to do anything here. Also, the heat from the servers in my home office is hard to vent out, and the electric bill is pretty bad. This may not have been my best idea.9:00

Mark Turner : Malaysia Airlines MH-370

August 31, 2015 05:28 PM

A few of my friends asked how we can so easily track mobile phones but a jumbo jet like Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 can disappear without a trace. First off, one of these is designed to transmit all the time, but aside from that difference it is a big ocean out there and it’s still possible to lose things in it.

I responded to my friends with this:

Radars don’t reach everywhere. Polar-orbiting satellites scan the globe but are not always around. Mobile phones have a hard enough time connecting to a tower when turned on in a plane at the terminal. Over the ocean? Forget it.

Then I remembered the U.S. has a fleet of fire-detecting satellites overhead, used to detect missile launches (and also said to be powerful enough to detect artillery). Surely one of these would have seen the plane if it exploded, right?

If the plane blew up in a fiery crash there’s a good chance we might have detected it with our SBIRS missile-surveillance satellites but I have not heard any mention of this.

This could mean a few things:
1. The plane didn’t explode
2. The plane exploded somewhere we weren’t looking (I find this unlikely for a system tuned to detect submarine missile launches).
3. The plane exploded but it’s infrared signature did not draw attention from SBIRS (too weak, etc).
4. The plane exploded and SBIRS detected it but this information has not been released.

It’s quite possible the infrared-detecting satellites we have in orbit were not overhead when MH-370 did its disappearing act. Either way, I haven’t heard any word from government sources about any signs of MH-370 appearing on these satellites.

Warren Myers : on-demand, secure, distributed storage – one step closer

August 31, 2015 12:24 PM

In follow-up to a post from 2013, and earlier this year, I’ve been working on a pointy-clicky deployable MooseFS+ownCloud atop encrypted file systems environment you can rent/buy as a service from my company.

I’ve also – potentially – kicked-off a new project from Bitnami to add MooseFS to their apps list.

Mark Turner : Boat tour of Kenai Fjords National Park

August 31, 2015 02:20 AM

Cruising Resurrection Bay

Cruising Resurrection Bay

On the morning of the 13th (a Thursday), we hustled to get out the door to make the hours-long drive to Seward, where we would be taking a boat tour around the Kenai Fjords National Park. If we had to boil our whole vacation down to one activity, this would be it. This tour was a truly amazing experience!

We arrived a bit early at Kenai Fjords Tours in Seward to check in, knowing that the Alaska Railroad was soon to bring another load of tourists to town. We then had a few minutes to walk around the docks and get a quick peek at Seward.

The marina was alive with activity. Pleasure boats and commercial fishing boats occupied every slip. The smell of fresh halibut (which wore on me after a short while), filled the air. The strong morning sun lit up the brightly-painted boats and cast the clear sky in a dazzling blue. It was a postcard-perfect scene. The town of Seward was just as welcoming, with many shops and restaurants lining the main street. Pedestrians and cyclists wandered through town. Beautiful parks and community spaces provided inviting places to play. It seemed far more cheerful than Anchorage to me.

After a quick look around the dock, we joined a line of passengers waiting to board our boat. Kelly’s eyes rolled as one tour worker told a cheesy joke as he made a boarding announcement. We handed in our tickets and climbed aboard the modern, two-level tour boat. We found an unoccupied four-spot table on the top deck but soon left it for spots on the more exciting bow.

Sea otter

Sea otter

The cheesy banter soon gave way to the very knowledgeable talk of the boat captain as he steered us out of the harbor. The captain soon drew our attention to a scattering of objects floating near the harbor. We soon learned that these were actually otters, who take a rest from swimming by floating still on their backs just like logs. Many of them stared quietly back at us through bushy eyebrows as we rolled slowly by them, though a few ducked under water when we got too close for comfort. They were really adorable.

As the boat picked up speed outside of the wake zone, the captain pointed out the alpine glaciers still capping the peaks to our left. The majestic blue ice of a glacier is truly striking to behold. I spent a lot of time with my eyes glued to the binoculars.

We got an oral history of Western exploration of Resurrection Bay and a geological history lesson on the forces that created the fjord. Passing by these glacier-carved cliffs, I could picture them as they were being ground down by the once-enormous but now-vanishing ice thousands of years ago.

Alpine Glaciers

Alpine Glaciers

We proceeded directly over to Fox Island where a buffet lunch was awaiting us. Safely docked at the pier, we snagged an outside table and walked into the banquet hall to get our meal. Kelly and Hallie weren’t impressed with their meals, thinking the mashed potatoes were weak and the Alaska King Crab legs lacking, but Travis and I gobbled ours up without complaint. I was a little disappointed there was no dessert but still enjoyed it.

A second tour boat brought a new crowd of tourists as well as a Park Ranger, who began a presentation on the National Park complete with stunning photographs. We sat for some of that before heading back to the boat for our departure.

Once underway, the captain pointed us towards sea, where we idled a bit while we searched the surface for signs of any whales. After several minutes, the captain steered us towards the tell-tale water spray of a whale off our port bow. Soon we were right next to a humpback whale!
Kelly and I shared a laugh. “Third time’s the charm?” she said.

“Yup!” I answered. After trying twice to see whales in the San Juan Islands, we’d finally succeeded in Alaska.

The whale really put on a show for us. Every two minutes or so, it would roll above the surface and under again, sometimes flipping its tail as it went. We were captivated as we watched, and I was glued to my camera snapping photos as fast as it would go. It seemed like we circled each other for an hour but I’m sure it was a lot less than that. With one last breach of the surface, the whale seemed to wave goodbye with its pectoral fin as the captain steered us towards the unexplored coastline, the next part of our tour.

Magical mountain goats

Magical mountain goats

As we slowly trolled along the rocky coast of the National Park we saw thousands of pigeons roosting among the rocks. The captain steered us into a cove where earlier he had seen a bald eagle’s nest. We strained to see any eagles but it seemed only the captain had spotted the eaglet in the nest (later I saw it, too, upon checking my photos). As we drifted around staring up at the nest, I spotted two white shapes rustling behind the bushes high above on the cliff. Mountain goats! They had brilliant white coats and looked almost magical, like unicorns, as they watched us from above. I got bored watching yet another bald eagle fly by while these magical beasts were lurking in the hills. It became a contest to see who could first spot the little white coats of the mountain goats as we went along.

We also passed close by a pod of seals, sunning themselves lazily on the rocks. I snapped several pictures which wound up looking all the same because these guys were like giant slugs out there. Just not moving a flipper. Occasionally, one would lift up his head and yawn but otherwise they were dead to the world. Nice life those seals live.

Snoozing seals

Snoozing seals

Finally our tour was wrapping up. We cruised again by the alpine glaciers and then set a course for the harbor. Gathering our things, we stepped off the boat and headed back to our car. It was a wonderful experience, far exceeding my expectations. Our visit to Seward wouldn’t quite be complete without a visit to Exit Glacier, so that’s where we headed next.

Mark Turner : Cold Fusion Heats Up: Fusion Energy and LENR Update | David H. Bailey

August 30, 2015 10:06 PM

A friend forwarded this HuffPost story on cold fusion research and I was surprised to learn that a Raleigh-based company called Industrial Heat is said to have working technology.

Perhaps the most startling (and most controversial) report is by an Italian-American engineer-entrepreneur named Andrea Rossi. Rossi claims that he has developed a tabletop reactor that produces heat by an as-yet-not-fully-understood LENR process.Rossi has gone well beyond laboratory demonstration; he claims that he and the private firm Industrial Heat, LLC of Raleigh, North Carolina, USA, have actually installed a working system at an (undisclosed) commercial customer’s site.

According to Rossi and a handful of others who have observed the system in operation, it is producing 1 MWatt continuous net output power, in the form of heat, from a few grams of “fuel” in each of a set of modest-sized reactors in a network. The system has now been operating for approximately six months, as part of a one-year acceptance test. Rossi and IH LLC are in talks with Chinese firms for large-scale commercial manufacture.

Source: Cold Fusion Heats Up: Fusion Energy and LENR Update | David H. Bailey

Warren Myers : automation is a multiplier

August 28, 2015 12:23 PM

Multipliers. They’re ubiquitous – from ratchet wrenches to fertilizer, blocks-and-tackle to calculators, humans rely on multipliers all the time.

Multipliers are amazing things because they allow an individual to “do more with less” – a single person can build a coral castle with nothing more complex than simple machines. Or move 70 people at 70 miles per hour down an interstate merely by flexing his foot and twitching his arm.

Feats and tasks otherwise impossible become possible due to multipliers.

Automation is a multiplier. Some automating is obviously multiplicative – robots on assembly lines allow car manufacturers to output far more vehicles than they could in the pre-robot era. Even the assembly line is an automating force, and multiplier regarding the number of cars that could be produced by a set number of people in a given time period.

In the ever-more-constrained world of IT that I orbit and transit through – with salary budgets cut or frozen, positions not backfilled, and the ever-growing demands of end-users (whether internal or external), technicians, engineers, project managers, and the like are always being expected to do more with the same, or do more with less.

And that is where I, and the toolsets I work with, come into play – in the vital-but-hidden world of automation. Maybe it’s something as mundane as cutting requisition-to-delivery time of a server or service from weeks to hours. Maybe it’s something as hidden as automatically expanding application tiers based on usage demands – and dropping extra capacity when it’s no longer needed (one of main selling points of cloud computing). The ROI of automation is always seen as a multiplier – because the individual actor is now able to Get Things Done™ and at least appear smarter (whether they are actually any smarter or not is a totally different question).

Go forth and multiply, my friends.

Warren Myers : reverse proxying from apache to tomcat

August 24, 2015 08:26 PM

After much hemming and hawing, I was able to get Apache working as a reverse proxy to Tomcat today.

<VirtualHost *:80>
    ServerName domain.com
    ServerAlias www.domain.com
    ProxyPreserveHost on
    ProxyPass / http://localhost:8080/path/
    ProxyPassReverse / http://domain.com:8080/path/

That’s all you need (though you can add much more). Note the trailing slashes on the proxy paths – without them, you have no dice.

Tarus Balog : OUCE 2015: Bad Voltage Live

August 21, 2015 04:35 PM

Every year at the OpenNMS Users Conference (OUCE) we have a good time. In fact, learning a lot about OpenNMS goes hand in hand with having fun.

At this year’s SCaLE conference, the team behind the Bad Voltage podcast was there to do a live version of the show. You can watch it on-line and see it went pretty well, and this gave me the idea to invite the gang over to Germany to do it again at the OUCE.

Since there may be one or two of my three readers who are unaware of Bad Voltage, I thought I’d post this little primer to bring you up to speed.

Bad Voltage is a biweekly podcast focused on open source software, technology in general and pretty much anything else that comes across the sometimes twisted minds of the hosts. They deliver it in a funny manner, sometimes NSFW, and for four guys with big personalities they do a good job of sharing the stage with each other. As I write this they have done 47 episodes, which is actually quite a nice run. For anyone who has done one or thought about doing a periodic podcast or column, know that after the first few it can be hard to keep going. It is a testament to how well these guys work together that the show has endured. Believe it or not, I actually put time into these posts and even I find it hard to produce a steady amount of content. I can’t imagine the work needed to coordinate four busy guys to create what is usually a good hour or three of podcast. (grin)

Bad Voltage as The Beatles

Anyway, I want to introduce you to the four Bad Voltage team members, and I thought it would be a useful analogy to compare them to the Beatles. As I doubt anyone who finds this blog is too young to not know of the Beatles, it should aid in getting to understand the players.

Bad Voltage - Jono Bacon Jono Bacon is Paul. If you have heard of anyone from Bad Voltage, chances are it is Jono. He’s kind of like the Elvis of open source. He was a presenter for LugRadio but is probably best known for his time at Canonical where he served as the community manager for Ubuntu. He literally wrote the book on open source communities. He is now building communities for the XPRIZE foundation as well as writing articles for opensource.com and Forbes and occasionally making loud music. He’s Paul because is he one of the most recognizable people on the team, and he secretly wishes I had compared him to John.

Bad Voltage - Bryan Lunduke Bryan Lunduke is John. He gets to be John because he has heartfelt opinions about everything, and usually good arguments (well, arguments at least) to back them up. He has passion, much of which he puts into promoting OpenSUSE. I’ve never met Bryan in person, but we’ve missed each other on numerous occasions. I missed him at SCaLE, he missed the Bad Voltage show I was on, and I missed him again at OSCON. And I’ll miss him in Fulda, as his wife is due to deliver their second child about that time, but he will be there virtually. He adds depth the the team.

Bad Voltage - Jeremy Garcia Jeremy Garcia is George. Although none of these guys could be described as “quiet”, he is the most reserved of the bunch, but when he opens his mouth he always has something interesting to say. You can’t be part of this group and be a wallflower. I’m not sure if he has a day job, but fifteen (!) years ago he founded Linuxquestions.org and has been a supporter of open source software even longer. He adds a nice, rational balance to the group.


Bad Voltage - Stuart Langridge Stuart is Ringo, known to his friends as “Aq” (short for “Aquarius” – long story). He is pretty unfiltered and will hold forth on topics as wide ranging as works of science fiction or why there should be no fruit in beer. He was also a member of LugRadio as well as an employee of Canonical, and now codes and runs his own consulting firm (when he is not selling his body on the streets of Birmingham). If there was a Bad Voltage buzzword bingo, you could count on him to be the first to say “bollocks”. He adds a random element to the group that can often take the discussion in interesting directions.

They have been working hard behind the scenes to plan out a great show for the OUCE. Since many of the attendees tend not to be from the US or the UK, it is hoped that the show will translate well for the whole audience, and to make sure that happens we will be serving beer (if you are into that sort of thing). If you were thinking about coming to the conference, perhaps this will push you over the top and make you register.

But remember, you don’t have to attend the OUCE to see the show. We do ask that you register and pony up 5€. Why? Because we know you slackers all too well and you might sign up and then decide to blow it off to binge on Regular Ordinary Swedish Meal Time. Space is limited, and we don’t want to turn people away and then have space left open. Plus, you’ll be able to get that back in beer, and the show itself promises to be priceless and something you don’t want to miss.

If that isn’t enough, there is a non-zero chance that at least one of the performers will do something obscenely biological (and perhaps even illegal in Germany), and you could say “I was there”.

Magnus Hedemark : Head in the Clouds

August 20, 2015 01:58 AM

When I was a kid, I remember thinking I might like to be a helicopter pilot when I grew up. Movies like Blue Thunder got way too much love from me as a kid (really, it was an awful movie). I looked forward to every new episode of Airwolf, and even watched the reruns. But then I grew up, and I learned how godawful expensive it was to fly helicopters recreationally, and how unlikely it was I could ever get paid to fly them because of medical reasons.

Radio controlled helicopters seemed fascinating, but they had a reputation for being very difficult to learn to fly, and for being very expensively crashy.

But something really neat started happening in recent years. Sites like DIY Drones started hitting my radar. Open Source hardware/software projects like APM:Copter took off. Technology was now making multirotor drones like quadcopters and hexacopters affordable and easier to fly. Videos started popping up on YouTube showing off how these hobbyist aircraft would loiter in one spot, stubbornly returning to where they were told to remain if somebody walked up to it and forcefully shoved it out of its chosen airspace.

My fire had over the years become a small, warm ember. But these new developments in the hobby had fanned the flame anew.

Before long, toy manufacturers entered this space and presented dumbed-down versions of these smarter aircraft. They offered a promise of being more controllable, newbie friendly. I pulled the trigger and bough a Syma X1 quadcopter in January, 2014. While it was a little fun, it was a sort of wild and untamed thing. It was pretty easy to crash hard into walls, ceilings, etc. So it spent a lot of time on a shelf while I played with other flying toys, mostly helicopters.

There was a lot of news going on about what was happening in the high end of this space. Commercially produced quadcopters were being offered at a price point near $1,000. Not something I could justify spending as a hobbyist, and my interest wasn’t in perving on my neighbors. But other aircraft started popping up on the toy scale, and at a very sweet price point. Sometime in 2015, I noticed one could buy decently flying toy quadcopters and hexacopters for $18 to $35.

Toward the $30 end of the price range was the Estes Proto XTruly a “nano” sized aircraft, the full airframe could fit on a playing card with room to spare. My Syma X1 was by now badly beaten up and flying poorly. The plastic pots that the motors rest in were breaking apart. It was time to upgrade the fleet.

So I bought the Proto X!

Honestly, I would not suggest this as a first quadcopter for beginners. It’s a deceptively powerful zippy little thing for its size, so it’s quite easy to accidentally overdrive it. And as any Proto X owner will tell you, these things throw propellers as if they cost pennies. Sadly, a propeller costs you about a buck or more. This is probably a really good second quadcopter, but not a good first. Learn to fly on something more predictable, more rugged, and cheaper to maintain. This little guy is super fun, but it’s rather like trying to control a bumble bee. Mine is no longer flying too well as a hard crash has broken one of the plastic pots for its motor, but happily that’s available as a replacement part. You can bet I’m going to be making this one good as new.

I learned a bit about different flight modes through the Proto X. You see, many quadcopters boot up into a more limited flight program that optimizes for stability and more deliberate movements. This is great while you’re learning, but not as fun when you’re outdoors (especially if there’s any kind of wind going on, which the slow/stable default settings often have a hard time coping with). Tap the right incantation on the controller, hear two audible beeps, and now the quadcopter is way more responsive, pitching hard on your whim. I was now able to fly outdoors rather like a hooligan. And it was brilliant fun!

I managed to get the old X1 out for just one more flight, held it together long enough to get it going in its high performance program, and it too was far more fun on this setting. So much so that I might even go to the trouble to repair it and start flying it again.

Let me tell you really quickly that there is an enormous amount of quadcopter content out there on sites like YouTube. One of my favorite channels right now is run by a guy who goes by the username of Quadcopter 101. Talk about a guy who has his head in the clouds! This man buys one of just about every single popular and obscure quadcopter that’s out there, but each of them is on the affordable end of the spectrum. He takes them out to the desert and flies them around and tells you what’s good and bad and ugly about each one. And he might take an older one out every now and then and teach it a new trick with something like a camera upgrade. If you’re at all curious about quadcopters and hexacopters, I can’t recommend highly enough binge watching everything on his channel.

I mention this because it was through Quadcopter 101 that I learned about the Syma X11. Folks, this is the one. If you’re interested in learning to fly a quadcopter, start here. Syma has come a long way, both with the airframe design and the flight software, since introducing the X1 that I first flew. This is a really versatile quadcopter that is easy enough for my kids to learn to fly inside of the house. It’s got a rather generous propeller protector, and such stable flight characteristics, that I was able to intentionally bump it into the walls and into the ceiling without a crash. The propellers are geared, which allows them to use very small motors running at a slower speed. And that equates into better stability and flight time. Most of these cheap toy type quadcopters use direct drive propellers.

But take the X11 outside, remove the propeller protector (which now improves weight and aerodynamics). Then bump it into the high performance program and take to the open skies. I was able to maintain control of this micro quadcopter out to fairly irresponsible distances (well above the tree canopy). And in its high performance mode, it’s capable of some fairly hair raising dives and swoops and turns.

Compared to the popular DJI quadcopters (that are, to be fair, way more capable in a very different way), these X11’s are cheap thrills. You can fly it like it’s stolen, because you can get one for about $17 if you’re patient and $26 if you’re in a hurry and have a Prime membership. That’s a steal for this level of fun. And I did. I flew it like it was stolen. I didn’t suffer any terrible crashes outside.

But then tonight something weird happened. I was flying around at dusk, in the open space between the oak trees. First a bird, maybe a mockingbird, came out of a tree and took a swipe at my quadcopter. He chickened out at the last moment and didn’t come back. Then the bats came out. They didn’t attack it, but they were definitely curious about it. They flew around it, without getting too close. If I changed direction and flew towards them, they evaded, but then quickly fell back in line behind the quadcopter.

This was too much fun! I was flying with bats! We flew higher, higher, ever higher. We flew above the canopy. I was so enjoying this moment, and I was so carried away, that I’d forgotten to consider the state of the battery.

One thing you really need to know about these low end toy quadcopters is that they don’t give you any real warning that the battery has run down. The sort of give you a courtesy “screw you, I’m out” blinking of lights when they are done, and then the aircraft will suddenly power off. This is not universally true, but it is certainly common in quadcopters in this price range.

So that’s exactly what happened. There I was, high above the trees, using the LED lights on the quadcopter to see where it was and which way it was oriented. And then the lights blinked.

Oh, shit!

I had about one or two seconds of controlled descent. I tried moving the aircraft out into the open so it would free-fall between the trees. But this was not to be. The craft went into a free-fall, and a breeze gently pulled the limp airframe to an area just out of sight, just above the tree canopy. I heard no crashing branches. I saw nothing hit the ground. I’m fairly certain that the quadcopter came to rest at the top of the big oak tree on the corner of my property.

Then I got on Amazon, and ordered two more (one on Prime, one at a bargain price with a longer shipping lead time), and spent under $40 on the pair. Because they are that good, I want to have one at home, and one in the office. I also ordered spare props, spare batteries, and a fast charger.

If you’re at all curious about flying quadcopters, stop thinking about it. Check out the Quadcopter 101 channel on YouTube, buy yourself an X11 or something like it, and learn to fly it!