Mark Turner : The NASA Space Treatment That Will Cure Your Seasickness – Condé Nast Traveler

January 22, 2019 03:50 PM

Packing for a two-week trip through the Arctic on a nuclear icebreaking ship sounds like an extraordinary endeavor, but it’s all part of the job for Dr. Joanne Feldman, Assistant Clinical Professor at UCLA’s Department of Emergency Medicine and a polar expedition physician with Quark Expeditions. Dr. Feldman, better known as Dr. Jo, has become an expert in motion sickness treatment through many seasons of braving the high seas on expedition ships to both the Arctic and Antarctic; and her specialty in wilderness emergency medicine and experience as a physician with the U.S. Antarctic Program at Palmer Station primed her for the challenges of experiencing life at the extremes. For the less seasoned on the seas, Dr. Jo is a resource as well as a potentially lifesaving presence. Condé Nast Traveler? spoke with her onboard the ship 50 Years of Victory as it powered through ice near the North Pole:

Source: The NASA Space Treatment That Will Cure Your Seasickness – Condé Nast Traveler

Mark Turner : Impeach Trump Now – The Atlantic

January 18, 2019 07:10 PM

On January 20, 2017, Donald Trump stood on the steps of the Capitol, raised his right hand, and solemnly swore to faithfully execute the office of president of the United States and, to the best of his ability, to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States. He has not kept that promise.

Instead, he has mounted a concerted challenge to the separation of powers, to the rule of law, and to the civil liberties enshrined in our founding documents. He has purposefully inflamed America’s divisions. He has set himself against the American idea, the principle that all of us—of every race, gender, and creed—are created equal.

This is not a partisan judgment. Many of the president’s fiercest critics have emerged from within his own party. Even officials and observers who support his policies are appalled by his pronouncements, and those who have the most firsthand experience of governance are also the most alarmed by how Trump is governing.

Source: Impeach Trump Now – The Atlantic

Mark Turner : If true, this could be one of the greatest discoveries in human history – U.S. News – Haaretz.com

January 14, 2019 02:56 PM

“I don’t care what people say,” asserts Avi Loeb, chairman of Harvard University’s astronomy department and author of one of the most controversial articles in the realm of science last year (and also one of the most popular in the general media). “It doesn’t matter to me,” he continues. “I say what I think, and if the broad public takes an interest in what I say, that’s a welcome result as far as I’m concerned, but an indirect result. Science isn’t like politics: It is not based on popularity polls.”

Prof. Abraham Loeb, 56, was born in Beit Hanan, a moshav in central Israel, and studied physics at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem as part of the Israel Defense Forces’ Talpiot program for recruits who demonstrate outstanding academic ability. Freeman Dyson, the theoretical physicist, and the late astrophysicist John Bahcall admitted Loeb to the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, whose past faculty members included Albert Einstein and J. Robert Oppenheimer. In 2012, Time magazine named Loeb one of the 25 most influential people in the field of space. He has won prizes, written books and published 700 articles in the world’s leading scientific journals. Last October, Loeb and his postdoctoral student Shmuel Bialy, also an Israeli, published an article in the scientific outlet “The Astrophysical Journal Letters,” which seriously raised the possibility that an intelligent species of aliens had sent a spaceship to Earth.

Source: If true, this could be one of the greatest discoveries in human history – U.S. News – Haaretz.com

Mark Turner : Earth’s magnetic field is acting up and geologists don’t know why

January 11, 2019 12:27 PM

Something strange is going on at the top of the world. Earth’s north magnetic pole has been skittering away from Canada and towards Siberia, driven by liquid iron sloshing within the planet’s core. The magnetic pole is moving so quickly that it has forced the world’s geomagnetism experts into a rare move.

On 15 January, they are set to update the World Magnetic Model, which describes the planet’s magnetic field and underlies all modern navigation, from the systems that steer ships at sea to Google Maps on smartphones.

The most recent version of the model came out in 2015 and was supposed to last until 2020 — but the magnetic field is changing so rapidly that researchers have to fix the model now. “The error is increasing all the time,” says Arnaud Chulliat, a geomagnetist at the University of Colorado Boulder and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA’s) National Centers for Environmental Information.

Source: Earth’s magnetic field is acting up and geologists don’t know why

Mark Turner : Opinion | Our Cellphones Aren’t Safe – The New York Times

January 09, 2019 02:18 PM

America’s cellular network is as vital to society as the highway system and power grids. Vulnerabilities in the mobile phone infrastructure threaten not only personal privacy and security, but also the country’s. According to intelligence reports, spies are eavesdropping on President Trump’s cellphone conversations and using fake cellular towers in Washington to intercept phone calls. Cellular communication infrastructure, the system at the heart of modern communication, commerce and governance, is woefully insecure. And we are doing nothing to fix it.

Source: Opinion | Our Cellphones Aren’t Safe – The New York Times

Mark Turner : The Lincoln Memorial During the Government Shutdown – The Atlantic

January 09, 2019 02:18 PM

We had made plans to go to Washington weeks ago, and there was no way to change the trip. The train was almost empty when it pulled into Union Station on Friday night. The next morning, we went out into the dead heart of the city. The government shutdown was in its third week. Nearly all the museums that would have interested the kids were closed, and so were the ones that would have bored them. There was nothing to do except wander around, but the crowds we expected in the district center were absent, the streets and sidewalks almost empty. Without people, the scale of the capital dwarfed us. Each mid-century concrete building looked like its own walled city, the National Mall was a vast plain, and an endless highway separated the White House and the Capitol dome. It was as if Washington had been stricken by a grotesque illness that caused the body to swell up and suffocate the spirit within. The federal city was one great sarcophagus.

Source: The Lincoln Memorial During the Government Shutdown – The Atlantic

Mark Turner : Gutenberg WordPress editor

January 09, 2019 02:47 AM

Tried WordPress’s new Gutenberg editor.

Hated it.

Back to Classic Editor for me.

Mark Turner : Rob Nordman

January 08, 2019 03:53 AM


The wonders of Facebook has connected me with new friends and reconnected me with old. It has allowed me to connect with people I would’ve given up for “lost” just ten years ago. I have been especially happy to rekindle friendships made while I served in the U.S. Navy aboard USS Elliot DD-967. There is nothing like the bond built by shipmates, forged in the unforgiving environment of the sea.

My shipmates are family, and like families everywhere we may have our differences but there’s no denying that bond. This brings me to my friend Robert P. Nordman.

Nordman, as I called him, joined Elliot about the time I did. He was trained as a Gas Turbine Systems Electrician Fireman (GSEFN) – an engineer or “snipe” as they’re proudly known. Nordman and I worked on completely different levels of the ship, him workspace being the engine room and mine the topmost deck of the ship. Still, I would joke with him on the messdecks, chat on the fantail during a break, or see him out on liberty. More often than not, though, Nordman would be late for liberty (or miss it altogether) because of the demands of his job. He would spend a lot of his liberty either preparing the ship to depart or preparing it to be in port.

Nordman’s dedication caught the attention of our captain, CDR T.W. LaFleur, who said:

“Fireman Nordman is one of the technicians responsible for maintaining the electronics which keep the electrical and gas turbine plants operating. Despite only limited formal Navy schooling, GSEFN Nordman is always there working, learning, questioning and striving to keep the engineering plant at peak efficiency. Despite incredible long hours and often missing out on liberty in some of the best ports in our cruise, you never find Fireman Nordman without a smile. Whenever we need a volunteer for a special project or a sporting event, Fireman Nordman is there. He is proud of ELLIOT and his contributions.”

Occasionally he would be the hero while underday. He liked to tell the tale of how the ship once lost power while underway, off the coast of the Philippines, I believe. The security alert team had locked down the ship’s passageways in the event it had been sabotage (a by-the-book precaution). When the power went out, Nordman knew what happened and raced down the passageways to restart the generators. A foolish sailor named TM1 Gorden on the security team challenged him as he approached.

“Sswitchboard operator, make a hole!” Nordman bellowed but still he was blocked.

Petty Officer Gorden challenged him again and Nordman got even angrier. “SWITCHBOARD OPERATOR! MAKE A HOLE!”

Nordman barrelled into Gorden, knocking him off his feet, and raced aft to the generator space.

By that time, every officer and chief onboard converged on the generator room where they found Gorden standing in front of Nordman with a loaded shotgun, yelling at each other. At least Nordman had time to restart the generator.

“If you EVER get in the way of my switchboard operator again, I’ll shoot YOU!” the captain screamed at the hapless guard. Nordman still laughed at it all these years later.

I became friends on Facebook with Rob in December 2010. We traded comments on each others posts from time to time, with him supporting a conservative view to my liberal one. Despite these differences in political outlooks we remained friends. After a spate of points and counterpoints in December 2015, I wrote an appreciation on his wall:

Though we may disagree sometimes, I do enjoy hearing your point of view, shipmate. Here’s wishing you and yours a Merry Christmas!

He responded:

Merry Christmas and a safe and Happy New Year. I wish others could disagree respectfully. Vigorously is great. Debating is how we get to the best solution. Respect is rooted relationally and need to be the block we are all common with

So while I was one of his dirty hippie friends, I was without a doubt his friend. And he, mine.

Time marched on. Facebook was a stream of endless updates from others, both meaningful and meaningless. Somehow in the noise I missed Rob’s post in April announcing his diagnosis of non-Hodgkin Lymphoma. He was in and out of Rex Hospital for treatment, chemotherapy and the like. His hair fell out, he grew weaker, yet he still found time to volunteer for the Battleship North Carolina in Wilmington.

He called me out of the blue one evening and we spoke for the first time in over two decades, telling me he was proud of how civically-minded I was, how he was proud of the kids he saw through my Facebook page, and how he respected me. It was great hearing from him, and though I thought it might be awkward speaking again to someone I hadn’t seen in a quarter-century, Rob made it very easy to simply pick up where we left off.

Then one night in October, fuming from some political idiocy I had seen on Facebook from what I thought were better-thinking friends, I reached out to my other local shipmate, Orlando. I wanted to chat about the state of American politics with Orlando since he thinks like I do. Orlando suggested we meet at a dive bar near his home. I agreed and drove out to the boonies way north of Raleigh to the bar near where he lives.

As I rounded the corner to the tables, I saw Orlando was there with Rob. The two lived within spitting distance of each other and occasionally got together. Though I hadn’t invited Rob I was overjoyed to see him and the plans for the discussion went straight out the window. Instead, old sea stories were shared again, injuries and illnesses were compared, and smiles more fit for twentysomethings appeared again on our faces.

It seemed like those decades in-between had simply vanished and we were all kids again. Especially for Rob. Cancer by then had consumed a lot of Rob’s body but his smile never left his face. Last call arrived early (it was a weeknight) and we said our goodbyes, snapping a few photos to capture the moment. Rob was exhausted (and almost certainly in great pain) yet kept smiling and hung in there til the last. I had no idea it would be the last time I would see him.

Rob died on December 17th, surrounded by his family. He was just 48 years old. A great procession of firetrucks led to his funeral at Providence Baptist Church last Saturday and three of his Elliot shipmates were in attendance: Orlando; myself; and Jaime Lanaro, one of his engineering buddies. Many more offered their condolences.

Fair winds and following seas, GSE2 Rob Nordman. Until we meet again, shipmate.

Jaime, me, and Orlando at Rob’s funeral

Mark Turner : Repair Cafes Aim to Fix Our Throwaway Culture – CityLab

January 07, 2019 02:52 PM

Repair cafes. What a brilliant idea!

We were at a “repair cafe” inside the Elkridge Library in Howard County, Maryland. Instead of silence, we were surrounded by the buzzing of power drills and the whirring of sewing machines. Goedeke was one of the “master fixers” there. He doesn’t like the term, though; he says it should be reserved for the professionals. “We’re all just amateurs at this, and we’re just having fun, mostly,” the 67-year-old retired engineer said.

Around the room, 10 others were helping residents repair everything from tables and lamps to jewelry and clothing. In one corner, a handful of vacuums had begun to accumulate. These were things people normally threw away when they malfunction. “[Our society] has been inculcated in the last 50 years with this disposable concept and to buy the best and the latest,” Goedeke said. “We just don’t expect to keeps things around.”

Source: Repair Cafes Aim to Fix Our Throwaway Culture – CityLab

Mark Turner : Defense Department Announces Departure of Chief of Staff > U.S. DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE > News Release View

January 07, 2019 02:22 PM

RADM Kevin Sweeney stepped down as SECDEF chief of staff this weekend. I served with Sweeney when he was a mere lieutenant serving as Combat Systems Officer (CSO) on the USS Elliot DD-967. Though some considered him an “arrogant prick,” Sweeney seemed to me to be a brusque-yet-squared-away sailor and I have been pleased to learn of his career success.

Rear Admiral Kevin Sweeney, USN (Ret.), has stepped down as Chief of Staff to the Secretary of Defense. He has served in this role since January 2017. “After two years in the Pentagon, I’ve decided the time is right to return to the private sector. It has been an honor to serve again alongside the men and women of the Department of Defense,” said Sweeney.

Source: Defense Department Announces Departure of Chief of Staff > U.S. DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE > News Release View

Mark Turner : My daughter, Laura Riddick, is in prison. There’s nothing ‘light’ about her punishment. | News & Observer

January 07, 2019 02:16 PM

Cue the tiny violins. I understand the desire for Riddick’s father to defend his daughter but sometimes by doing so one does more harm than good.

In October, a News & Observer editorial endorsing Democratic Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman asserted that Freeman had agreed to “a relatively light sentence” in the embezzlement case of my daughter, former Wake County Register of Deeds Laura M. Riddick.

The newspaper was hardly alone in that assessment, but the common assumption is wrong. The truth is the opposite — and it’s time to respond to mistaken claims of “a relatively light sentence.”

Relative to what, exactly? Not compared to other embezzlers. Not as to other public officials across North Carolina, either. Not even other public-figure embezzlers in Wake County.

Source: My daughter, Laura Riddick, is in prison. There’s nothing ‘light’ about her punishment. | News & Observer

Mark Turner : Amazon and Facebook Reportedly Had a Secret Data-Sharing Agreement, and It Explains So Much

January 07, 2019 02:14 PM

Back in 2015, a woman named Imy Santiago wrote an Amazon review of a novel that she had read and liked. Amazon immediately took the review down and told Santiago she had “violated its policies.” Santiago re-read her review, didn’t see anything objectionable about it, so she tried to post it again. “You’re not eligible to review this product,” an Amazon prompt informed her.

When she wrote to Amazon about it, the company told her that her “account activity indicates you know the author personally.” Santiago did not know the author, so she wrote an angry email to Amazon and blogged about Amazon’s “big brother” surveillance.

I reached out to both Santiago and Amazon at the time to try to figure out what the hell happened here. Santiago, who is an indie book writer herself, told me that she’d been in the same ballroom with the author in New York a few months before at a book signing event, but had not talked to her, and that she had followed the author on Twitter and Facebook after reading her books. Santiago had never connected her Facebook account to Amazon, she said.

Source: Amazon and Facebook Reportedly Had a Secret Data-Sharing Agreement, and It Explains So Much

Mark Turner : Virginia Tech and UVa: Trademarks and tradition before the football begins | Webmin | roanoke.com

January 07, 2019 02:13 PM

“Every once in awhile, somebody new will come to our tailgate, and it will come up, ‘This is the guy that helped design the VT logo,’ and people are like, ‘No way,’ ” Craft said.

“I have to say, ‘Well, yeah, and I got $50 for it.’ ”

It could have been worse. Welsh said he received no compensation for designing the V-sabers logo, although he later turned it into an online business venture, thesabre.com.

Source: Virginia Tech and UVa: Trademarks and tradition before the football begins | Webmin | roanoke.com

Mark Turner : Mickey Mouse will be public domain soon—here’s what that means | Ars Technica

January 07, 2019 02:08 PM

As the ball dropped over Times Square last night, all copyrighted works published in 1923 fell into the public domain (with a few exceptions). Everyone now has the right to republish them or adapt them for use in new works.

It’s the first time this has happened in 21 years.

In 1998, works published in 1922 or earlier were in the public domain, with 1923 works scheduled to expire at the beginning of 1999. But then Congress passed the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act. It added 20 years to the terms of older works, keeping 1923 works locked up until 2019.

Many people—including me—expected another fight over copyright extension in 2018. But it never happened. Congress left the existing law in place, and so those 1923 copyrights expired on schedule this morning.

And assuming Congress doesn’t interfere, more works will fall into the public domain each January from now on.

Source: Mickey Mouse will be public domain soon—here’s what that means | Ars Technica

Mark Turner : I worked in a video store for 25 years. Here’s what I learned as my industry died. – Vox

December 30, 2018 11:17 PM

The independent video store where I’ve worked for 15 years is finally dead. After 28 years in business, we succumbed to the “disruption” of Netflix and Hulu, bled to death by the long, slow defection of our customer base. Once we announced our closing, the few who remained mourned — then we locked the doors. Our permanent collection is gone: boxed up and shipped off to the local library.

Videoport, of Portland, Maine, lasted longer than most. It was better than most. It owed its longevity to a single, engaged owner, to strong ties to the local film scene and a collection that put others to shame. I was proud to work there, alongside a staff that paired film knowledge and exceptional customer service skills like few other places I’ve known. We were a fixture in town, until we weren’t.

It hasn’t been so long since independent rental joints had the opposite problem. Before Videoport, I spent 10 years working at Matt & Dave’s Video Venture. In retrospect, it’s hard to believe that our downfall came at the hands of a buyout by a major rental chain. Suspiciously well-dressed guys with clipboards started dropping in; soon enough, we were gone, one of the estimated 30,000 video stores in America gobbled up by Blockbuster or Movie Gallery or Hollywood Video, each eager to dominate the booming VHS rental racket. If only those chains knew that within a decade, they’d be goners t

Source: I worked in a video store for 25 years. Here’s what I learned as my industry died. – Vox

Mark Turner : How naked World War II sailors ended up riding Mongolian ponies in the Gobi Desert to shoot bazookas at the Japanese

December 30, 2018 06:49 PM

“What the hell is the Navy doing here?”

That’s how U.S. Navy radioman Richard Rutan was greeted when he stepped down from a C-47 plane in central China in June 1944.

The question was somehow fitting for Rutan, a member of the Sino-American Cooperative Organization, or SACO.Its official insignia, after all, was a string of punctuation marks on a pennant, like cuss words in a comic strip, symbolizing SACO’s unofficial slogan, “What the Hell?”

Rutan’s arrival at Lüliang drew a crowd of Army Air Forces men eager to greet the first plane ever to land at the new base.He was almost as baffled about his presence on the desolate airstrip as they were. A few days earlier, the 21-year-old had been at Guilin, about 300 miles inland from Hong Kong, intercepting Japanese code with a dozen other radio operators when his officer tapped him on the shoulder and told him to get his gear together.

He flew into Lüliang with orders to find the major in charge and request private space without offering an explanation. To his astonishment, the major handed him the keys to an empty building.

Source: How naked World War II sailors ended up riding Mongolian ponies in the Gobi Desert to shoot bazookas at the Japanese

Mark Turner : Mattis Proved You Can’t Serve Both Trump and America – The Atlantic

December 23, 2018 06:42 PM

The story is told of Jim Mattis, when he was the commanding general at Quantico, relieving a young lance corporal on Christmas. The rest of that wintry day, those entering the front gate of the Marine base were startled to see that the sentry was a general, checking passes and waving cars through so that a young man could spend the holiday with his family. It is the kind of behavior animated by sentiments Donald Trump could not understand, and it reflected a kind of code by which he cannot live.

Source: Mattis Proved You Can’t Serve Both Trump and America – The Atlantic

Mark Turner : Rocket has cancer

December 23, 2018 03:22 PM

Our family dog, Rocket, has been a part of the Turner crew for ten years now. We’ve taken him on family vacations around the region, sailing at Lake Gaston, and on countless walks around the neighborhood.

We’d noticed recently that he was slowing down but some of that is to be expected for a dog that’s around 13 years old. He used to bound up and down stairs but now took his time. His hind legs appeared much weaker than his front legs. He sometimes stumbled, dragging his rear paw. We chalked that up to old age.

But then several weeks ago we noticed a occasional small drop of blood in his drool. A trip to the vet indicated a mass was growing on the back of his tongue, too far back (and attached to an uncooperative dog) for the vet to properly examine it. We were sent home with antibiotics in the off chance that our boneheaded dog had simply eaten something that scratched his tongue and created an infection.

As the weeks passed, the antibiotics did nothing to stem the blood. This blood became more common and frequent, soon erupting into full-scale bleeding. A trip back to the vet became a bloody mess when a vet tech offered Rocket a treat. After he gleefully accepted it, Rocket’s mouth became a bloody mess, thoroughly coating the exam room. We scheduled him for a real exam.

The next five days were dark days indeed. Worn out from the constant bleeding, Rocket became still and depressed. He showed no interest in his walks and at a meal he actually left food in his dish for the first time ever.  Kelly and I steeled ourselves and our kids for the possibility that Rocket would not be with us much longer.

The following week, Rocket was examined under sedative and the vet confirmed our fear: the growth was too far along to successfully remove. A chest X-ray showed no cancer in his lungs, however. Fortunately, in the day or two before his exam he had perked up considerably.

Thus it seems we may be facing a bittersweet future where the cancer won’t take Rocket’s life any time soon but those weeks or months will be bloody and likely painful for him. Our downstairs floor is covered in old towels to accommodate his bleeding as best we can, while he spends his nights secured in his crate.

A few veterinarian websites I’ve found seem to say that dogs with pigmented skin tend to be more susceptible to cancer (emphasis mine):

The growths found in a dog’s mouth may be identical in outward appearance. However, the severity of the harm they can do will depend on the type of tumor. Further investigation is paramount in order to assure a return to full health for your dog. Causes for a growth may be:

  • Older, male dogs are diagnosed with oral cancer more so than younger canines, or their female counterparts
  • Dogs with dark pigmented mucosa are more often diagnosed with cancerous growths
  • Periodontal disease can lead to a noncancerous lump
  • A damaged salivary gland may prompt the development of a growth

Since before he joined our family, Rocket has had a multi-colored tongue, with a large dark streak on his otherwise pink tongue. I’ve always though this was a cute quirk of our dog, perhaps a bit of Chow mixed into his Lab heritage, but it may have been evidence all along that he was susceptible to cancer.

Now we watch and wait, keeping him comfortable, relatively exercised, and as pain-free as possible while we manage the mess his damaged tongue is making and we await his ultimate fate. At least his spirits are high. As long as he continues to seem happy we will follow his lead and do what we need to do.

No matter what your species, growing old sucks.




Mark Turner : Hate To Break It To You, But The Amazing Glitter Bomb Package Video Is Pretty Much Staged

December 23, 2018 02:13 PM

Hey there, I’m back. This time with sort of sad but, “welp, obviously because it’s still 2018” news. Like most pure things, the fun, satisfying, viral video of a former NASA engineer pranking package thieves, which made the entire internet feel vindicated, is not what it seems.

Earlier this week, Mark Rober, an inventor-turned-YouTuber who worked on NASA’s Curiosity rover, among other impressive things, published an 11-minute video detailing how he spent six months creating the ultimate revenge contraption after someone stole an Amazon package off his porch. He called it his “Magnum Opus,” and it went mega, mega-viral, garnering more than 38 million views in three days, and elicited a collective “HELL YES” of joy and satisfaction from everyone who has ever had their stuff taken.

But shortly after the ode to all the packages we’ve lost before swept across the media landscape, viewers on the internet did what they do best: pick it apart.

Source: Hate To Break It To You, But The Amazing Glitter Bomb Package Video Is Pretty Much Staged

Mark Turner : North Carolina Republicans have a laughable new plan to save their gerrymander.

December 23, 2018 01:15 PM

North Carolina Republicans are in trouble. On Nov. 6, voters elected Anita Earls, a civil rights attorney, to the state Supreme Court, cementing a 5–2 progressive majority. One week later, voting rights advocates filed a lawsuit in state court alleging that North Carolina’s gerrymandered legislative districts run afoul of the state constitution. Because the case revolves around the North Carolina Constitution and does not even touch on federal law, Republican legislators would seem to be stuck in the state judiciary, hurtling toward Earls’ court. There is simply no federal question for federal judges to adjudicate.

Source: North Carolina Republicans have a laughable new plan to save their gerrymander.

Mark Turner : Tech Workers Got Paid in Company Stock. They Used It to Agitate for Change. – The New York Times

December 18, 2018 04:12 PM

SAN FRANCISCO — Silicon Valley technology firms are known for giving stock to their workers, a form of compensation that often helps employees feel invested in their companies.

But tech workers are now starting to use those shares to turn the tables on their employers. As many tech employees take a more activist approach to how their innovations are being deployed and increasingly speak out on a range of issues, some are using the stock as a way to demand changes at their companies.

Source: Tech Workers Got Paid in Company Stock. They Used It to Agitate for Change. – The New York Times

Tarus Balog : Review: Serval WS Laptop by System76

December 17, 2018 03:36 PM

TL;DR; When I found myself in the market for a beefy laptop, I immediately ordered the Serval WS from System76. I had always had a great experience dealing with them, but times have changed. It has been sent back.

I can’t remember the first time I heard about the Serval laptop by System76. In a world where laptops were getting smaller and thinner, they were producing a monster of a rig. Weighing ten pounds without the power brick, the goal was to squeeze a high performance desktop into a (somewhat) portable form factor.

I never thought I’d need one, as I tend to use desktops most of the time (including a Wild Dog Pro at the office) and I want a light laptop for travel as it pretty much just serves as a terminal and I keep minimal information on it.

Recently we’ve been experimenting with office layouts, and our latest configuration has me trading my office for a desk with the rest of the team, and I needed something that could be moved in case I need to get on a call, record a video or get some extra privacy.

Heh, I thought, perhaps I could use the Serval after all.

I like voting for open source with my wallet. My last two laptops have been Dell “Sputnik” systems (2nd gen and 5th gen) since I wanted to support Dell shipping Linux systems, and when we decided back in 2015 that the iMacs we used for training needed to be replaced, I ordered six Sable Touch “all in one” systems from System 76. The ordering process was smooth as silk and the devices were awesome. We still get compliments from our students.

A year later when my HP desktop died, I bought the aforementioned Wild Dog Pro. Again, customer service to match if not rival the best in the business, and I was extremely happy with my new computer.

Jump forward to the present. Since I was in the market for a “luggable” system, performance was more important than size or weight, so I ordered a loaded Serval WS, complete with the latest Intel i9 processor, 64GB of speedy RAM, NVidia 1080 graphics card, and oodles of disk space. Bwah ha ha.

When it showed up, even I was surprised at how big it was.

Serval WS and Brick

Here you can see it in comparison to a old Apple keyboard. Solidly built, I was eager to plug it in and turn it on.

Serval WS

The screen was really bright, even though so was my office at the time. You can see from the picture that it was big enough to contain a full-sized keyboard and a numeric keypad. This didn’t really matter much to me as I was planning on using it with an awesome external monitor and keyboard, but it was a nice touch. I still like having a second screen since we rely heavily on Mattermost and I always like to keep a window in view and I figured I could use the laptop screen for that.

I had ordered the system with Ubuntu installed. My current favorite operating system is Linux Mint but I decided to play with Ubuntu for a little bit. This was my first experience with Ubuntu post Unity and I must say, I really liked it. Kind of made me eager to try out Pop!_OS which is the System76 distro based on Ubuntu.

When installing Mint I discovered that I made a small mistake when placing my Serval order. I meant to use a 2TB drive as the primary leaving a 1TB drive for use by TimeShift for backup. I reversed them. No real issue, as I was able to install Mint on the 2TB drive just fine after some creative partition manipulation.

Everything was cool until late afternoon when the sun went away. I was rebooting the system and found myself looking at a blank screen (for some reason the screen stays blank for a minute or so after powering on the laptop, I assume due to it having 64GB of RAM). There was a tremendous amount of “bleed” around the edges of the LCD.

Serval WS LCD Bleed

Damn.

Although it probably wouldn’t have impacted me much in day to day use, especially with an external monitor, I would know about it, and as I’m somewhere on the OCD spectrum it would bother me. Plus I paid a lot of money for this system and want it to be as close to perfect as possible.

For those of you who don’t know, the liquid crystals in LCD displays emit no light of their own and they get their illumination usually from a fluorescent source. If there are issues with the way the LCD panel is constructed, this light can “bleed” around the edges and degrade the display quality (it is also why it is hard to get really black images on LCD displays and this is fueling a lot of the excitement around OLED technology).

I’ve had issues with this before on laptops but nothing this bad. Not to worry, I have System76 to rely on, along with their superlative customer service.

I called the number and soon I was speaking with a support technician. When I described the problem they opened a ticket and asked me to send in a picture. I did and then waited for a response.

And waited.

And waited.

I commented on the ticket.

And I continued to wait.

The next day I waited a bit (Denver is two hours behind where I live) but when I got no response I decided, well, I’ll just return the thing. I called to get an RMA number but this time I wasn’t connected with a person and was asked to leave a message. I did, and I should note that I never got that return call.

At this point I’m frustrated, so I decided an angry tweet was in order. That got a response to my ticket, where they offered to send me a new unit.

Yay, here was a spark of the customer service I was used to getting. I’ve noticed a number of tech companies are willing to deal with defective equipment by sending out a new unit before the old unit is returned. In this day and age of instant gratification it is pretty awesome.

I wrote back that I was willing to try another unit, but would it be possible to put Pop!_OS on the new unit on the 2TB drive so that I could try it out of the box and know that all of the System76 specific packages were installed.

A little while later I got a reply that it wouldn’t be possible to install it on the 2TB drive, so I would end up having to reinstall in any case.

(sigh)

When I complained on Twitter I was told “Sorry to hear this, you’ll receive a phone call before EOD to discuss your case.” I worked until 8pm that night with no phone call, so I just decided to return the thing.

Of course, this would be at my expense and the RMA instructions were strict about requiring shipping insurance: “System76 cannot refund your purchase if the machine arrives damaged. For this reason, it is urgent that you insure your package”. The total cost was well over $100.

So I’m out a chunk of change and I’ve lost faith in a vendor of which I was extremely fond. This is a shame since they are doing some cool things such as building computers in the United States, but since they’ve lost sight of what made them great in the first place I have doubts about their continued success.

In any case, I ordered a Dell Precision 5530, which is one of the models available with Ubuntu. Much smaller and not as powerful as the Serval WS, it is also not as expensive. I’ll post as review in a couple of weeks when I get it.

Tarus Balog : #OSMC 2018 – Day 3: Hackathon

December 15, 2018 05:21 PM

For several years now the OSMC has been extended by one day in the form of a “hackathon”. As I do not consider myself a developer I usually skip this day, but since I wanted to spend more time with Ronny Trommer and to explore the OpenNMS MQTT plugin, I decided to attend this year.

I’m glad I did, especially because the table where we sat was also home to Dave Kempe, and he brought Tim Tams from Australia:

OSMC 2018 Tim Tams

Yum.

You can find them in the US on occasion, but they aren’t as good.

I have been hearing about MQTT for several years now. According to Wikipedia, MQTT (Message Queuing Telemetry Transport) is a messaging protocol designed for connections with remote locations where a “small code footprint” is required or the network bandwidth is limited, thus making it useful for IoT devices.

Dr. Craig Gallen has been working on a plugin to allow OpenNMS to consume MQTT messages, and I was eager to try it out. First, we needed a MQTT broker.

I found that the OpenHAB project supports an MQTT broker called Mosquitto, so we decided to go with that. This immediately created a discussion about the differences between OpenHAB and Home Assistant, the latter being a favorite of Dave. They looked comparable, but we decided to stick with OpenHAB because a) I already had an instance installed on a Raspberry Pi, and b) it is written in Java, which is probably why others prefer Home Assistant.

Ronny worked on getting the MQTT plugin installed while I created a dummy sensor in OpenHAB called “Gas”.

OSMC 2018 Hackathon

This involved creating a “sitemap” in /etc/openhab2:

sitemap opennms label="My home automation" {
    Frame label="Date" {
        Text item=Date
    }
    Frame label="Gas" {
        Text item=mqtt_kitchen_gas icon="gas"
    }
}

and then an item that we could manipulate with MQTT:

Number mqtt_kitchen_gas "Gas Level [%.1f]" {mqtt="<[mosquitto:Home/Floor1/Kitchen/Gas_Sensor:state:default]"}

To install the MQTT plugin:

Ronny added the following to the configuration to connect to our Mosquitto broker on OpenHAB:

<mqttclients>
  <client clientinstanceid="client1">
    <brokerurl>tcp://172.20.11.8:1883</brokerurl>
    <clientid>opennms</clientid>
   <connectionretryinterval>3000</connectionretryinterval>
    <clientconnectionmaxwait>20000</clientconnectionmaxwait>
    <topiclist>
      <topic qos="0" topic="iot/#">
    </topic>
    <username>openhabian</username>
    <password>openhabian</password>
    </client>
</mqttClients>

Now that we had a connection between our OpenHAB Mosquitto broker and OpenNMS, we could try to send information. The MQTT plugin handles both event information and data collection. To test both we used the mosquitto_pub command on the CLI.

For an event one can use something like this:

#/bin/bash
mosquitto_pub -u openhabian --pw openhabian -t "iot/timtam" -m "{ \"name\": \"6114163\",  \"sensordatavalues\": [ { \"value_type\": \"Gas\", \"value\": \"$RANDOM\"  } ] }"

On the OpenNMS side you need to configure the MQTT plugin to look for it:

<messageEventParsers>
  <messageEventParser foreignSource="$topicLevels[5]" payloadType="JSON" compression="UNCOMPRESSED">
    <subscriptionTopics>
      <topic>iot/timtam/event/kitchen/mysensor/doorlock</topic>
    </subscriptionTopics>

    <xml-groups xmlns="http://xmlns.opennms.org/xsd/config/xml-datacollection">
      <xml-group name="timtam-mqtt-lab" resource-type="sensors" resource-xpath="/" key-xpath="@name">
        <xml-object name="instanceResourceID" type="string" xpath="@name"/>
        <xml-object name="gas" type="gauge" xpath="sensordatavalues[@value_type="Gas"]/value"/>
      </xml-group>
    </xml-groups>
    <ueiRoot>uei.opennms.org/plugin/MqttReceiver/timtam/kitchen
  </messageEventParser>
</messageEventParsers>

Note how Ronny worked our Tim Tam obsession into the configuration.

To make this useful, you would want to configure an event definition for the event with the Unique Event Identifier (UEI) of uei.opennms.org/plugin/MqttReceiver/timtam/kitchen:

<events xmlns="http://xmlns.opennms.org/xsd/eventconf">
  <event>
    <uei>uei.opennms.org/plugin/MqttReceiver/timtam/kitchen</uei>
    <event-label>MQTT: Timtam kitchen lab event</event-label>
    <descr>This is our Timtam kitchen lab event</descr>
    <logmsg dest="logndisplay">
      All the parameters: %parm[all]%
    </logmsg>
    <severity>Normal</severity>
    <alarm-data reduction-key="%uei%:%dpname%:%nodeid%:%interface%:%service%" alarm-type="1" auto-clean="false"/>
  </event>
</events>

Once we had that working, the next step was to use the MQTT plugin to collect performance data from the messages. We used this script:

#!/bin/bash
while [ true ]
do
mosquitto_pub -u openhabian --pw openhabian -t "Home/Floor1/Kitchen/Gas_Sensor" -m "{ \"name\": \"6114163\",  \"sensordatavalues\": [ { \"value_type\": \"Gas\", \"value\": \"$RANDOM\"  } ] }"
sleep 10
done

This will create a message including a random number every ten seconds.

To have OpenNMS look for it, the MQTT configuration is:

<messageDataParsers>
  <messageDataParser foreignSource="$topicLevels[5]" payloadType="JSON" compression="UNCOMPRESSED">
    <subscriptionTopics>
      <topic>iot/timtam/metric/kitchen/mysensor/gas</topic>
    </subscriptionTopics>
    <xml-groups xmlns="http://xmlns.opennms.org/xsd/config/xml-datacollection">
      <xml-group name="timtam-kitchen-sensor" resource-type="sensors" resource-xpath="/" key-xpath="@name">
        <xml-object name="instanceResourceID" type="string" xpath="@name" />
        <xml-object name="gas" type="gauge" xpath="sensordatavalues[@value_type="Gas"]/value"/>
      </xml-group>
    </xml-groups>
    <xmlRrd step="10">
      <rra>RRA:AVERAGE:0.5:1:20160</rra>
      <rra>RRA:AVERAGE:0.5:12:14880</rra>
      <rra>RRA:AVERAGE:0.5:288:3660</rra>
      <rra>RRA:MAX:0.5:288:3660</rra>
      <rra>RRA:MIN:0.5:288:3660</rra>
    </xmlRrd>
  </messageDataParser>
</messageDataParsers>

This will store the values in an RRD file which can then be graphed within OpenNMS or through Grafana with the Helm plugin.

It was pretty straightforward to get the OpenNMS MQTT plugin working. While I’ve focused mainly on what was accomplished, it was a lot of fun chatting with others at our table and in the room. As usual, Netways did a great job with organization and I think everyone had fun.

Plus, I got to be reminded of all the amazing stuff being done by the OpenNMS team, and how the view is great up here while standing on the shoulders of giants like Ronny and Craig.

Mark Turner : John Dingell: How to Fix Government – The Atlantic

December 06, 2018 02:08 PM

Some interesting ideas here. America probably would be better off with a unicameral legislative branch. And certainly without the Electoral College. Perhaps we no longer need the divisions we’ve had in the past and should focus more on acting as a unified body. At any rate, it’s worth considering.

As an armchair activist, I now have the luxury of saying what I believe should happen, not what I think can get voted out of committee. I’m still a pragmatist; I know that profound societal change happens incrementally, over a long period of time. The civil-rights fights of the 1950s and ’60s, of which I am proud to have been a part, are a great example of overcoming setbacks and institutional racism. But 155 years after the Emancipation Proclamation and less than two years after our first African American president left office, racism still remains a part of our national life.

Just for a moment, however, let’s imagine the American system we might have if the better angels of our nature were to prevail.Here, then, are some specific suggestions—and they are only just that, suggestions—for a framework that might help restore confidence and trust in our precious system of government:

Source: John Dingell: How to Fix Government – The Atlantic

Mark Turner : Raleigh’s Civil War Breastworks – the original “Beltline”

December 05, 2018 03:48 AM

Raleigh’s original “Beltline” – the Civil War breastworks

Hours of toiling with Google Earth (GE) has allowed me to get a good feel for how the 1865 map of Raleigh’s breastworks matches up to local landmarks. I created an image overlay in GE, then marked with a pushpin landmarks that are still around today. A bit (okay, hours) of stretching and rotating the overlay image got me a close match of where things were as compared to today.

Enjoy!

Mark Turner : Behold Camp Holmes

December 05, 2018 03:43 AM

The Google Earth mashup of Camp Holmes

After messing with Google Earth for hours tonight I finally got a rough idea of the location of one of Raleigh’s Civil War “camps of instruction,” Camp Holmes. It seems to have been west of the modern-day intersection of Capital Boulevard and Wake Forest Road, where the Raleigh Bonded warehouses and Norfolk Southern’s Raleigh Yard are today. Being that most of the camp is now a railyard, poking around there is not feasible. Still, there might be interesting finds on the periphery, perhaps the treeline south of Georgetown Road.

Who knew that those dingy warehouses and railyard was once the site where 9,000 Confederate conscripts trained to become soldiers?

Mark Turner : Camp Holmes – Raleigh’s Civil War “Camp of Instruction”

December 04, 2018 10:44 PM

Camp Holmes (including “officers quaters”)


A friend shared a historical map this morning that caught my eye. It is a map of the old breastworks built by the city of Raleigh to impede approaching Union troops near the end of the Civil War. I’d seen the historical marker (H-30) a mile away from my home, mentioning that breastworks were nearby but I’d never seen them and didn’t think much about them until now. So, one of my upcoming projects is to trace the path of the old earthen walls so that I can visit these sites to see if there’s anything left (update: found them!). After 153 years, it’s unlikely I’ll find any remnants of the five-foot-tall earthen walls and gravel but you never know.

Another detail of the map caught my eye, however: Camp Holmes. Curious about what this is, I did a few Google searches and was surprised to learn that nobody really knows where it was. It’s plainly on this old map, however, so a bit of Google Earth magic should show me roughly where I can physically search for it (update: found it!)

My Camp Holmes searches brought up a few lonely hits, one of which is a letter detailing an inspection made of Camp Holmes by Confederate assistant adjutant-general LtC Archer Anderson in June 1864. It provides an interesting look at the camp. There are others online, too, in the form of handwritten letters which will take some deciphering before being posted online.

As the letter appeared in a US Congressional publication in 1900 it is now in the public domain. Here it is in its entirety. I’ll post more stories as I learn more about the camp.

June 16, 1864.

Report of inspection of Camp Holmes, a camp of instruction near Raleigh, commanded by Major Hahr, with the following: staff: One first lieutenant, adjutant; one first lieutenant, receiving officer; one assistant quartermaster; one assistant commissary of subsistence; one surgeon and one assistant surgeon; one chaplain; one first lieutenant, commanding guard; four second lieutenants, drill-masters.

As the conscripts come in their names are recorded with a statement of their age, county, the officer by whom enrolled, and other facts entering into a descriptive list. When they leave the camp the assignment made of them is recorded in the same book, which thus presents a complete history of the connection of each conscript, passing through this camp with the conscription authorities. Nine thousand and fifty-seven are shown to have been enrolled at Camp Holmes during the year ending June 13, but this figure does not indicate the whole number enrolled in the State in that period, as many are detailed for various duties without passing through the camp of instruction. The names thus recorded are classified in three other books as follows: 1. The principals of substitutes — 430 so far. 2. Persons exempt prior to act of February 17 otherwise than by substitution. 3. Those not previously exempt. All conscripts fit for the field are examined by the Medical Board and classified according to their special fitness for artillery, cavalry, or infantry service. Besides the above the following books are kept:

1. A record of the absentees, deserters, etc., arrested and sent to their commands. Three hundred odd of these arrests were made in May; over 6,000 have been returned through this camp.
2. Morning report book showing all present in camp.
3. Order book. These books preserve a record of all the facts which would seem to be essential.

There are 136 enlisted men in camp. Of these, sixty-four disabled conscripts and soldiers constitute the camp guard. The remainder are conscripts whose permanent assignment is delayed for obvious causes. Colonel Mallett, commandant of conscripts, thinks the guard which has been limited by the Bureau to the above number too small to prevent the escape of conscripts, and entirely insufficient to furnish traveling guards for the conscripts, deserters, and others sent to the various armies. Sixty men are needed for this duty alone, he says. The average time this year which conscripts have remained at Camp Holmes is less than a week. They are not drilled during that time, it is stated, because better employment has been found for the drill-masters. This I should think a mistake. Even a week’s drilling would do something to set the conscript up as a soldier, and would at least keep him in good health and spirits. With the present organization I see no reason why the few conscripts in camp should not be industriously drilled three times a day.

Staff departments. — The assistant quartermaster, besides discharging the appropriate duties of the camp, pays all the enrolling officers of the State and provides them with stationery. Every conscript is clothed by him before he leaves the camp. Employees: One clerk, one forage-master, one overseer of wood-choppers — all disabled soldiers or conscripts.

The medical officers are the physicians of the camp, and constitute a board for the duties before mentioned. The senior officer has the supervision of all the district medical boards, and is charged with the duty of keeping them filled with proper officers. Every conscript is vaccinated here. A neat hospital with eighteen beds is attached. Employees: One hospital steward, regularly appointed; one clerk, a disabled conscript.

The assistant commissary of subsistence draws his supplies from the district commissary at Raleigh. Ration: One and one-eighth pounds flour, one-third pound bacon or one pound salt fish, the latter two days out of three, one-tenth pound rice, and salt as usual. During the past month two quarts of molasses to the hundred rations have been issued. Employees: Two clerks and one teamster, each a disabled soldier or conscript. A fine garden of twenty acres filled with vegetables will materially improve the fare and contribute to the health of the conscripts this summer. It is cultivated by six conscripts unfit for field service. The men are quartered in log huts. There is abundance of room, but the police of the quarters might be improved. The guard-house is dirty and too confined. It appears that of some 250 conscripts who had been doing duty for two years in Mallett’s battalion as a camp guard and supporting force, 100 men without any experience on the water selected the naval service when their temporary organization was disbanded a few weeks since. Thus 100 trained soldiers are lost to the Army when every man is needed. I mention the incident, as it may be thought proper to take measures for their transfer to the Army, or for the alteration of the law at the next session of Congress. With the instructions on this subject under which commandants are now acting (issued by General Rains) it is matter of surprise that a single conscript goes to the Army.

Respectfully submitted.
ARCHER ANDERSON, Lieutenant-Colonel and Assistant Adjutant-General.

Mark Turner : 5 people died from eating lettuce, but Trump’s FDA still won’t make farms test water for bacteria

November 26, 2018 12:18 AM

William Whitt suffered violent diarrhea for days. But once he began vomiting blood, he knew it was time to rush to the hospital. His body swelled up so much that his wife thought he looked like the Michelin Man, and on the inside, his intestines were inflamed and bleeding.

For four days last spring, doctors struggled to control the infection that was ravaging Whitt, a father of three in western Idaho. The pain was excruciating, even though he was given opioid painkillers intravenously every 10 minutes for days.

His family feared they would lose him.

“I was terrified. I wouldn’t leave the hospital because I wasn’t sure he was still going to be there when I got back,” said Whitt’s wife, Melinda.

Whitt and his family were baffled: How could a healthy 37-year-old suddenly get so sick? While he was fighting for his life, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention quizzed Whitt, seeking information about what had sickened him.

Finally, the agency’s second call offered a clue: “They kept drilling me about salad,” Whitt recalled. Before he fell ill, he had eaten two salads from a pizza shop.

Source: 5 people died from eating lettuce, but Trump’s FDA still won’t make farms test water for bacteriaReveal

Mark Turner : An Oral History of “We Built This City,” the Worst Song of All Time | GQ

November 21, 2018 03:19 AM

I found this amusing. The members of Starship discuss “We Built This City,” arguably the worst song of all time.

Thomas: Bernie didn’t say “mambo,” he said “mamba,” which is a snake. Marconi created the radio. Maybe Bernie meant to say “mambo.” Maybe it means: If you don’t like this music, some really angry snakes are gonna come out of the speakers.

Thomas: At one point I did start to sing “mambo,” to try and be more grammatically correct, and after a while I thought, “Fuck it,” and went back to “mamba.”

Source: An Oral History of “We Built This City,” the Worst Song of All Time | GQ

Tarus Balog : #OSMC 2018 – Day 2

November 20, 2018 04:47 PM

Despite how long the Tuesday night festivities lasted, quite a few people managed to make the first presentation on Wednesday morning. I’m old so I had gone to bed fairly early and was able to see “Make IT Monitoring Ready for Cloud-native Systems” bright and early.

OSMC 2018 RealOpInsight

This presentation focused on a project called RealOpInsight. This seems to be a sort of “Manager of Managers” for multiple monitoring applications, and I didn’t really see a “cloud-native” focus in the presentation. It is open-source so if you find yourself running many instances of disparate monitoring platforms you may find RealOpInsight useful.

This was followed by a presentation from Uber.

OSMC 2018 Uber

One can imagine the number of metrics an organization like Uber collects (and I did refrain myself from making snarky comments like “what database do you use to track celebrities?” and “where do you count the number of assaults by Uber drivers?”). Rob Skillington seemed pretty cool and I didn’t want to put him on the spot.

Uber used to use Cassandra, which is a storage option for OpenNMS, but they found when they hit around 80,000 metrics per second the system couldn’t keep up (one of the largest OpenNMS deployments is 20,000 metrics/sec so 80K is a lot). Their answer was to create a new storage system called M3DB. While it seems pretty impressive, I did ask some questions about how mature it was because at OpenNMS we are always looking out for ways to make things easier for our users, and Rob admitted that while it works well for Uber it needs some work to be generally useful, which is why they open-sourced it. We’ll keep an eye on it.

The next time slot was the “German only” one I mentioned in my last post, so I engaged in the hallway track until lunch.

OSMC 2018 Rihards Olups

It was lovely to see Rihards Olups again. We met at the first OSMC I attended when he was part of the “Latvian Army” at Zabbix. He gave an entertaining talk on dealing with the alerts from your monitoring system, and he ended with the tag line “Make Alerts Meaningful Again (MAMA)”. Seems like a perfect slogan for a ball cap, preferably in red.

OSMC 2018 Dave Kempe

Another delightful human being I got to see was Dave Kempe, who came all the way from Sydney. While we had met at a prior OSMC, this conference we ended up spending a lot more time together (he was in the Prometheus training as well as the Thursday Hackathon). He gave a talk on being a monitoring consultant, and it was interesting to compare his experiences with my own (they were similar).

For most people the conference ended on Wednesday. I said goodbye to people like Peter Eckel and looked forward to the next OSMC so I could see them again.

Speaking of the next OSMC, we are going to be doing OpenNMS training on that first day, November 4th, so save the date. It is the least we could do since they went to the trouble to advertise OpenNMS Horizon® on all their posters (grin).

OSMC 2018 Horizon

Ronny and I were hanging around for the Hackathon on Thursday, and for those attendees there was a nice dinner at a local restaurant called Tapasitos. It was fun to spend more time with the OSMC gang and to get ready for our last day at the conference.

OSMC 2018 Tapasitos

Mark Turner : California fire: What started as a tiny brush fire became the state’s deadliest wildfire. Here’s how – Los Angeles Times

November 19, 2018 01:33 AM

Terrifying accounts of escape from the California Camp Fire.

The fire caught up to Jolly on Pearson Road, blasting her car with heat. She reached for the stethoscope slung around her neck and flinched as the metal burned. Her steering wheel was melting — the plastic stuck to her hands.

As her car caught fire and began to fill with black smoke, she called her husband. “Run,” he told her.

Jolly fled for safety to the car ahead of hers, but it too was abandoned. She ran on.The rubber on her shoes melted into the asphalt. The back of her scrubs caught fire, blistering her legs. She tried another car, but it wasn’t moving.

“I can’t die like this,” she told herself. “There’s no way I’m going to die sitting in a car. I have to run.”

Source: California fire: What started as a tiny brush fire became the state’s deadliest wildfire. Here’s how – Los Angeles Times

Tarus Balog : #OSMC 2018 – Day 1

November 16, 2018 05:03 PM

The 2018 Open Source Monitoring Conference officially got started on Tuesday. This was my fifth OSMC (based on the number of stars on my badge), although I am happy to have been at the very first OSMC conference with that name.

As usual our host and Master of Ceremonies Bernd Erk started off the festivities.

OSMC 2018 Welcome

This year there were three tracks of talks. Usually there are two, and I’m not sure how I feel about more tracks. Recently I have been attending Network Operator Group (NOG) meetings and they are usually one or two days long but only one track. I like that, as I get exposed to things I normally wouldn’t. One of my favorite open source conferences All Things Open has gotten so large that it is unpleasant to navigate the schedule.

In the case of the OSMC, having three tracks was okay, but I still liked the two track format better. One presentation was always in English, although one of the first things Bernd mentioned in his welcome was that Mike Julian was unable to make it for his talk on Wednesday and thus that time slot only had two German language talks.

If they seem interesting I’ll sit in on the German talks, especially if Ronny is there to translate. I am very interested in open source home automation (well, more on the monitoring side than, say, turning lights on and off) so I went to the OpenHAB talk by Marianne Spiller.

OSMC 2018 OpenHAB

I found out that there are mainly two camps in this space: OpenHAB and Home Assistant. The former is in Java which seems to invoke some Java hate, but since I was going to use OpenHAB for our MQTT Hackathon on Thursday I thought I would listen in.

OSMC 2018 Custom MIB

I also went to a talk on using a Python library for instrumenting your own SNMP MIB by Pieter Hollants. We have a drink vending machine that I monitor with OpenNMS. Currently I just output the values to a text file and scrape them via HTTP, but I’d like to propose a formal MIB structure and implement it via SNMP. Pieter’s work looks promising and now I just have to find time to play with it.

Just after lunch I got a call that my luggage had arrived at the hotel. Just in time because otherwise I was going to have to do my talk in the Icinga shirt Bernd gave me. Can’t have that (grin).

My talk was lightly attended, but the people who did come seemed to enjoy it. It was one of the better presentations I’ve created lately, and the first comment was that the talk was much better than the title suggested. I was trying to be funny when I used “OpenNMS Geschäftsbericht” (OpenNMS Annual Report) in my submission. It’s funny because I speak very little German, although it was accurate since I was there to present on all of the cool stuff that has happened with OpenNMS in the past year. It was recorded so I’ll post a link once the videos are available.

In contrast, Bernd’s talk on the current state of Icinga was standing room only.

OSMC 2018 State of Icinga

The OSMC has its roots in Nagios and its fork Icinga, and most people who come to the OSMC are there for Icinga information. It is easy to why this talk was so popular (even though it was basically “Icinga Geschäftsbericht” – sniff). The cool demo was an integration Bernd did using IBM’s Node-RED, Telegram and an Apple Watch, but unfortunately it didn’t work. I’m hoping we can work up an Apple Watch/OpenNMS integration by next year’s conference (should be possible to add hooks to the Watch from the iOS version of Compass).

The evening event was held at a place called Loftwerk. It was some distance from the conference so a number of buses were chartered to take us there. It was fun if a bit loud.

OSMC 2018 Loftwerk

OSMC celebrations are known to last into the night. The bar across the street from the conference hotel (which I believe has changed hands at least three times in the lifetime of the OSMC) becomes “Checkpoint Jenny” once the main party ends and can go on until nearly dawn, which is why I like to speak on the first day.

Mark Turner : Critic’s Notebook: ‘Frontline’ Doc ‘The Facebook Dilemma’ May Scare You Off Social Media | Hollywood Reporter

November 15, 2018 01:37 PM

The two-part ‘Frontline’ special presents a chilling portrait of a social media behemoth that cares more about profits than its users’ privacy.If you’re reading this article, you’ve presumably taken a break from logging on to Facebook to catch up with such important developments as your cousin’s recent trip to Disney World. But if you really want to end your addiction to the social media monolith, watch the two-part Frontline documentary The Facebook Dilemma, airing Monday and Tuesday night on PBS. If this deeply disturbing investigative report doesn’t scare you straight, nothing will.

Directed by James Jacoby, the film recounts how Facebook’s success at connecting the world has come at a very high cost. In the old days before the internet, people would get their information from reputable print and broadcast media that was actually curated and edited. Now the vast majority get the news from a website that takes almost no responsibility for what it spews into the world. Say what you will about The New York Times and CNN, but unless Dean Baquet and Jeff Zucker are Manchurian Candidates, Russia hasn’t managed to infiltrate, either.

Source: Critic’s Notebook: ‘Frontline’ Doc ‘The Facebook Dilemma’ May Scare You Off Social Media | Hollywood Reporter

Mark Turner : How Your Gut Bacteria May Be Controlling Your Brain

November 15, 2018 01:35 PM

The gut has made a sudden rise to prominence as an arbiter of overall health. It’s well established that gut bacteria, also known as the microbiome, can influence digestion, allergies and metabolism. But these microbes’ reach may extend much further – into the brain. Conditions including depression and anxiety are now being linked to the digestive system.

The brain may be one of the most complex objects known to humankind, but science has suggested the digestive system is of equal importance, especially when it comes to our emotional health. Your gut is teeming with trillions of bacteria, making up what’s known as the microbiome. Collectively weighing up to two kilograms (heavier than the average brain), the microbiome plays a vital role in your health, breaking down food, supporting immunity and, perhaps surprisingly, affecting mood. Nutritionist Rebecca Pilkington believes keeping the microbiome balanced is the key to optimal physical and mental health. “If your gut is out of whack,” she says, “this can lead to inflammation, believed to be one of the biggest causes of depression.”

Source: How Your Gut Bacteria May Be Controlling Your Brain

Mark Turner : This North Carolina gerrymandering lawsuit is poised to save democracy in the state by 2020.

November 15, 2018 01:33 PM

Slate covers the gerrymandering lawsuit.

North Carolina Republicans have spent the last eight years ruthlessly undermining democracy in their state. The key to their extraordinary success is a series of partisan gerrymanders that dilute the power of Democrats’ vote, allowing the GOP to maintain a firm grasp on the state legislature. But Republicans failed to subvert the one institution capable of reversing this damage to fair representation: the state judiciary. Now voting rights advocates are poised to score a legal victory in North Carolina that could wipe out the GOP’s legislative gerrymander—with the help of civil rights attorney Anita Earls, who was elected to the state Supreme Court last week. The case could give Democrats a real shot at retaking the legislature in 2020, or at least contesting it on an even playing field.

Source: This North Carolina gerrymandering lawsuit is poised to save democracy in the state by 2020.

Mark Turner : Michael McFaul | Containing Putin’s Russia

November 15, 2018 01:30 PM

Relations between Russia and the United States have deteriorated to their most dangerous point in decades. The current situation is not, as many have dubbed it, a new Cold War. But no one should draw much comfort from the ways in which today’s standoff differs from the earlier one. The quantitative nuclear arms race is over, but Russia and the United States have begun a new qualitative arms race in nuclear delivery vehicles, missile defenses, and digital weapons. The two countries are no longer engulfed in proxy wars, but over the last decade, Russia has demonstrated less and less restraint in its use of military power. The worldwide ideological struggle between capitalism and communism is history, but Russian President Vladimir Putin has anointed himself the leader of a renewed nationalist, conservative movement fighting a decadent West. To spread these ideas, the Russian government has made huge investments in television and radio stations, social media networks, and Internet “troll farms,” and it has spent lavishly in support of like-minded politicians abroad. The best description of the current hostilities is not cold war but hot peace.

Source: Michael McFaul | Containing Putin’s Russia

Mark Turner : Behind the Scenes at a Bundy Rally | Outside Online

November 14, 2018 02:34 PM

If there was a defining trait among the several dozen people who gathered recently to hear Ammon Bundy speak at the New Code of the West conference in Whitefish, Montana, it was their age—on average, well into eligibility for Social Security benefits. I don’t mention this to promote ageist ideas about who should be involved in political activism—the baby boomers comprise the largest voting bloc in America—but rather to suggest that the “Bundy movement,” such as it exists, appears conspicuously long in the tooth.

Source: Behind the Scenes at a Bundy Rally | Outside Online

Mark Turner : The lost art of whistling loudly with your fingers – if stranded it could save your life – Outdoor Revival

November 14, 2018 02:32 PM

When most people think about loud whistling, they often think about trying to get someone’s attention or perhaps even using it as a survival skill in the woods.

Although humans have used loud whistling for hundreds, and perhaps thousands of years, it is a dying art. Here’s how you can learn to do it, and the history behind your newest survival skill.

There are many different ways to achieve a loud whistle with your fingers. According to the Art of Manliness, regardless of which finger placement you choose, the next steps are all identical; it is simply a matter of finding what works for you.

First, you need to wet your lips and curl them back over your teeth as if you were imitating an old person who’d forgotten to put in their dentures that morning.Next, you put your fingers in your mouth using your desired placement and hold your bottom lip curled in while pushing your tongue back in your mouth.

This step is a little complicated and can take some practice to get right, but generally, you push on the bottom of the tip of your tongue so that it curls upwards while simultaneously being pushed back by your fingers. Then, keeping your lips curled, you close your mouth over your fingers creating an airtight seal — and blow.

Source: The lost art of whistling loudly with your fingers – if stranded it could save your life – Outdoor Revival

Mark Turner : Alan Frederick Swanstrom Obituary – Cary, NC

November 14, 2018 02:28 PM


I learned last night that my friend Al Swanstrom died last week. I originally knew Al through my working with his wife, Pam, back at HAHT Software over twenty years ago. Al was so sharp, friendly, and funny. It was always fun trading quips with him. When he campaigned for a state senate seat a few years ago I did not think twice about standing for hours outside a polling place in “unfriendly territory” to help support him. It was sad to learn he was ill.

My thoughts are with Pam and her family in this difficult time.

Having been born in Green Bay, Wisconsin, Al was an avid Packers fan. He was also very proud of his father’s Swedish heritage and recently connected with his Swedish relatives.

Al was an IBMer for over 30 years and traveled worldwide in various roles. During his career, Al was granted several patents. After retirement, Al dedicated his time to public service, including serving on the Town of Cary Planning Board, Wake County Planning Board (Chair), and North Carolina Turnpike Authority. Throughout, Al was a tireless volunteer for Triangle Wine Experience and Leukemia/Lymphoma Society.

Al was the architect of his life and many things of beauty. He was happiest sailing and diving with his family, woodworking, working on his cars, designing a new technical solution and spending time with the “Coffee Gang.”

He was an officer of the Triangle Bailliage de North Carolina of the Chaîne de Rotisseurs and a past Maître of the Triangle NC Chapter of the Commanderie de Bordeaux. Al shared his knowledge of wine and passion for culinary arts with friends in both organizations. He was a great host and welcomed friends into his home.

Source: Alan Frederick Swanstrom Obituary – Cary, NC

Mark Turner : Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi Have No Idea What Kind of Fight They’re In | GQ

November 14, 2018 02:19 PM

Democrats need to do better at building our bench – I’m not anti-Pelosi but it’s long past time to be grooming new leadership.

One day. All I wanted was one little day to bask in the election results and delude myself into thinking that, by taking the House, Democrats would provide at least some bulwark against the wave of right-wing fascism that is currently holding this nation hostage. I wanted a day. Instead, we got Chuck Schumer.

Here is a great waste of a man: spineless, craven, utterly terrified of being disliked by the opposition. The past two years have been an ongoing national emergency, with a deranged liar sitting in the Oval Office and a Republican Party newly emboldened by that president’s racism and disregard for facts and law. They’re robbing taxpayers blind. They’re menacing the vulnerable. They’re overseeing sham investigations into corrupt judges and ramming them through. They’re trying to stop ballot counts in Florida as we speak. The White House press secretary literally sent out doctored footage of a reporter to accuse him of assault. There’s no hope of good faith with these assholes. They are EATING America alive, and the proof is on the ground. Mass shootings are happening daily. Kids are locked in jails. We need goddamn Superman to fix this, and instead we’re getting these two:

Source: Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi Have No Idea What Kind of Fight They’re In | GQ

Mark Turner : 2018 midterms: New scientists elected to US House, Senate – Business Insider

November 14, 2018 02:13 PM

We definitely need more scientists and more veterans on Capitol Hill. I found 314 Action a few years ago and enthusiastically support its work.

The faces of Capitol Hill are changing.

When the 116th Congress heads to Washington in January, there will be a record number of women in the ranks — at least 123, according to the news website Axios, including the first Muslim women, the first Somali-American, and the first Native American women.

There will be more scientists too.

On Tuesday, at least eight new science-credentialed candidates were elected: one senator and seven members of the House. Full results are not yet available in Washington state, where a pediatrician is likely to be elected to the House.

The members of the 115th Congress include one physicist, one microbiologist, and one chemist, as well as eight engineers and one mathematician. The medical professions are slightly better represented, with three nurses and 15 doctors.

The new winners will bolster those science ranks. The Democratic candidates who won all ran successful campaigns with the support of a nonprofit political-action committee called 314 Action, which started in 2016 and is dedicated to recruiting, training, and funding scientists and healthcare workers who want to run for political office. (One Republican engineer-turned-businessman won a race in Oklahoma, without support from the PAC.)

“Scientists are essentially problem-solvers,” Shaughnessy Naughton, the president of 314 Action, told Business Insider before the election results came in.

Source: 2018 midterms: New scientists elected to US House, Senate – Business Insider

Mark Turner : Gerrymandering lawsuit on NC legislative districts for 2020 | News & Observer

November 14, 2018 02:09 PM

So this happened yesterday: I joined a lawsuit against the state to end gerrymandering. This makes me the second member of my family to sue the state of North Carolina.

RALEIGH – Common Cause and the North Carolina Democratic Party are suing for state House and Senate districts to be redrawn for the 2020 election, claiming the districts are partisan gerrymanders that violate the state constitution.

The lawsuit was filed Tuesday morning in Wake County Superior Court against state legislative leaders and the state elections board.

It will likely eventually be heard in the state Supreme Court. With the election of Anita Earls last week, Democrats will hold a 5-2 advantage on the state’s highest court.

“North Carolina’s state legislative maps are among the worst partisan gerrymanders in North Carolina’s history, and indeed, in American history,” said Stanton Jones, a lawyer with the Washington, D.C., law firm Arnold & Porter.

Source: Gerrymandering lawsuit on NC legislative districts for 2020 | News & Observer

Mark Turner : The Curse of the Honeycrisp Apple – Bloomberg

November 11, 2018 02:17 PM

I’m not sure what the “curse” here is, other than the Honeycrisp apple is in high demand and West Coast orchards are beating out East Coast ones in supplying it. As for the Turners, we love Honeycrisps and always look for them when we go to Costco.

Bite into a Honeycrisp apple and you understand why consumers are willing to pay so much for a piece of fruit: the crunch.

That’s no accident. In the pre-Honeycrisp era, apples had just two textures: “soft and mealy (that nobody liked), and then we had the good apples, the hard, crisp and dense,” said David Bedford, one of the original breeders of the Honeycrisp.

Unlike the vast majority of modern commercial produce, the Honeycrisp apple wasn’t bred to grow, store or ship well. It was bred for taste: crisp, with balanced sweetness and acidity. Though it succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest dreams, along the way it became a nightmare for some producers, forcing small Northeastern growers to compete with their massive, climatically advantaged counterparts on the West Coast.

Source: The Curse of the Honeycrisp Apple – Bloomberg

Mark Turner : Just a volunteer

November 08, 2018 02:42 AM

It was the end of a long day volunteering at the polls when I arrived at the polling place with a young voter whom I’d volunteered to drive there. As she went inside to vote, I headed over to say hello to the campaign volunteers milling about outside.

“Hi, I’m Mark Turner,” I said as I shook the hand of Denise, a Democratic Party volunteer handing out slate cards. She kindly returned the greeting and turned back to greet more arriving voters.

Across the sidewalk stood a Republican Party volunteer, stumping for a Republican candidate.

“Hi, I’m Mark Turner,” I said with a smile, extending my hand. “Thanks for being out here.” Looking somewhat startled, he smiled and shook my hand.

I had continued towards the next set of volunteers when I heard a voice call out.

“What do you do?” the Republican volunteer called out with some admiration.

“Beg your pardon?” I answered, not sure what he had meant.

“What do you do?

A beat went by and then it dawned on me what he was getting at.

“Oh, I’m just a party volunteer,” I replied, laughing as I walked away.

Just a volunteer. This time around, at least.

Tarus Balog : #OSMC 2018 – Day 0: Prometheus Training

November 07, 2018 07:04 AM

To most people, monitoring is not exciting, but it seems lately that the most exciting thing in monitoring is the Prometheus project. As a project endorsed by the Cloud Native Computing Foundation, Prometheus is getting a lot of attention, especially in the realm of cloud applications and things like monitoring Kubernetes.

At this year’s Open Source Monitoring Conference they offered a one day training course, so I decided to take it to see what all the fuss was about. I apologize in advance that a lot of this post will be comparing Prometheus to OpenNMS, but in case you haven’t guessed I’m biased (and a bit jealous of all the attention Prometheus is getting).

The class was taught by Julien Pivotto who is both a Prometheus user and a decent instructor. The environment consisted of 15 students with laptops set up on a private network to give us something to monitor.

Prometheus is written in Go (I’m never sure if I should call it “Go” or if I need to say “Golang”) which makes it compact and fast. We installed it on our systems by downloading a tarball and simply executing the application.

Like most applications written in the last decade, the user interface is accessed via a browser. The first thing you notice is that the UI is incredibly minimal. At OpenNMS we get a lot of criticism of our UI, but the Prometheus interface is one step above the Google home page. The main use of the web page is for querying collected metrics, and a lot of the configuration is done by editing YAML files from the command line.

Once Prometheus was installed and running, the first thing we looked at was monitoring Prometheus itself. There is no real magic here. Metrics are exposed via a web page that simply lists the variables available and their values. The application will collect all of the values it finds and store them in a time series database called simply the TSDB.

The idea of exposing metrics on a web page is not new. Over a decade ago we at OpenNMS were approached by a company that wanted us to help them create an SNMP agent for their application. We asked them why they needed SNMP and found they just wanted to expose various metrics about their app to monitor its performance. Since it ran on Linux system with an embedded web server, we suggested that they just write the values to a file, put that in the webroot, and we would use the HTTP Collector to retrieve and store them.

The main difference between that method and Prometheus is that the latter expects the data to be presented in a particular format, whereas the OpenNMS method was more free-form. Prometheus will also collect all values presented without extra configuration, whereas you’ll need to define the values of interest within OpenNMS.

In Prometheus there is no real auto-discovery of devices. You edit a file in which you create a “job”, in our case the job was called “Prometheus”, and then you add “targets” based on IP address and port. As we learned in the class, for each different source of metrics there is usually a custom port. Prometheus stats are on port 9100, node data is exposed on 9090 via the node_exporter, etc. When there is an issue, this can be reflected in the status of the job. For example, if we added all 15 Prometheus instances to the job “Prometheus” and one of them went down, then the job itself would show as degraded.

After we got Prometheus running, we installed Grafana to make it easier to display the metrics that Prometheus was capturing. This is a common practice these days and a good move since more and more people are becoming familiar it. OpenNMS was the first third-party datasource created for Grafana, and the Helm application brings bidirectional functionality for managing OpenNMS alarms and displaying collected data.

After that we explored various “components” for Prometheus. While a number of applications are exposing their data in a format that Prometheus can consume, there are also other components that can be installed, such as the node_exporter which displays server-related metrics and to provide data that isn’t otherwise natively available.

The rest of the class was spent extending the application and playing with various use cases. You can “federate” Prometheus to aggregate some of the collected data from multiple instance under one, and you can separate out your YAML files to make them easier to read and manage.

The final part of the class was working with the notification component called the “alertmanager” to trigger various actions based on the status of metrics within the system.

One thing I wish we could have covered was the “push” aspect of Prometheus. Modern monitoring is moving from a “pull” model (i.e. SNMP) to a “push” model where applications simply stream data into the monitoring system. OpenNMS supports this type of monitoring through the telemetryd feature, and it would be interesting to see if we could become a sink for the Prometheus push format.

Overall I enjoyed the class but I fail to see what all the fuss is about. It’s nice that developers are exposing their data via specially formatted web pages, but OpenNMS has had the ability to collect data from web pages for over a decade, and I’m eager to see if I can get the XML/JSON collector to work with the native format of Prometheus. Please don’t hate on me if you really like Prometheus – it is 100% open source and if it works for you then great – but for something to manage your entire network (including physical servers and especially networking equipment like routers and switches) you will probably need to use something else.

[Note: Julien reached out to me and asked that I mention the SNMP_Exporter which is how Prometheus gathers data from devices like routers and switches. It works well for them and they are actively using it.]

Mark Turner : How the EPA and the Pentagon downplayed a growing toxic threat

November 05, 2018 01:40 PM

Great investigation by ProPublica into the dangers of Teflon and Scotchgard.

The chemicals once seemed near magical, able to repel water, oil and stains.

By the 1970s, DuPont and 3M had used them to develop Teflon and Scotchgard, and they slipped into an array of everyday products, from gum wrappers to sofas to frying pans to carpets. Known as perfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, they were a boon to the military, too, which used them in foam that snuffed out explosive oil and fuel fires.

It’s long been known that, in certain concentrations, the compounds could be dangerous if they got into water or if people breathed dust or ate food that contained them. Tests showed they accumulated in the blood of chemical factory workers and residents living nearby, and studies linked some of the chemicals to cancers and birth defects.

Now two new analyses of drinking water data and the science used to analyze it make clear the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Defense have downplayed the public threat posed by these chemicals. Far more people have likely been exposed to dangerous levels of them than has previously been reported because contamination from them is more widespread than has ever been officially acknowledged.

Source: How the EPA and the Pentagon downplayed a growing toxic threat 

Mark Turner : Evacuated after ‘health attacks’ in Cuba and China, diplomats face new ordeals in U.S.

November 05, 2018 01:24 PM

Here’s a frightening, detailed account of what it’s like to become a victim of the mystery sonic/microwave attacks that have plagued our diplomatic corps.

WASHINGTON — Alone in her bed in a sprawling Chinese metropolis, Catherine Werner was jolted awake one night by a pulsing, humming sound. It seemed to be coming from a specific direction.

Perhaps the A.C. unit in her upscale Guangzhou apartment was malfunctioning, the American diplomat thought. But at the same moment, she also noticed intense pressure in her head.

The sounds and sensations returned, night after night, for months. When Werner’s health began declining in late 2017 — vomiting, headaches, loss of balance — she brushed it off at first, thinking China’s polluted air and water were getting to her.

It wasn’t until months later — after her mother, Laura Hughes, grew alarmed, flew in from the U.S. and then got sick, too — that Werner was medevaced from China back to the States. Doctors at the University of Pennsylvania found a vision disorder, a balance disorder and an “organic brain injury” — diagnoses similar to those of 26 U.S. diplomats and spies in Cuba who started hearing strange sounds and falling ill in late 2016.

Source: Evacuated after ‘health attacks’ in Cuba and China, diplomats face new ordeals in U.S.

Mark Turner : Private Equity Controls the Gatekeepers of American Democracy – Bloomberg

November 05, 2018 01:20 PM

Here’s yet another reason why we need open-source, fully auditable voting machines.

Millions of Americans will cast votes in Tuesday’s midterm elections, some on machines that experts say use outdated software or are vulnerable to hacking. If there are glitches or some races are too close to call — or evidence emerges of more meddling attempts by Russia — voters may wake up on Wednesday and wonder: Can we trust the outcome?

Meet, then, the gatekeepers of American democracy: Three obscure, private equity-backed companies control an estimated $300 million U.S. voting-machine industry. Though most of their revenue comes from taxpayers, and they play an indispensable role in determining the balance of power in America, the companies largely function in secret.

Source: Private Equity Controls the Gatekeepers of American Democracy – Bloomberg

Mark Turner : 26 Years of Growth: Shanghai Then and Now – The Atlantic

November 05, 2018 01:19 PM

Reuters photographer Carlos Barria recently spent time in Shanghai, China, the fastest-growing city in the world. A week ago, he took this amazing shot, recreating the same framing and perspective as a photograph taken in 1987, showing what a difference 26 years can make. The setting is Shanghai’s financial district of Pudong, dominated by the Oriental Pearl Tower at left, and the new 125-story Shanghai Tower, China’s tallest building and the world’s second tallest skyscraper, at 632 meters (2,073 ft) high, scheduled to finish by the end of 2014. Shanghai, the largest city by population in the world, has been growing at a rate of about 10 percent a year the past 20 years, and now is home to 23.5 million people — nearly double what it was back in 1987. This entry is focused on this single photo pairing, with several ways to compare the two.

Source: 26 Years of Growth: Shanghai Then and Now – The Atlantic

Tarus Balog : #OSMC 2018 – Day -1

November 05, 2018 07:23 AM

The annual Open Source Monitoring Conference (OSMC) held in Nürnberg, Germany each year brings together pretty much everyone who is anyone in the free and open source monitoring space. I really look forward to attending, and so do a number of other people at OpenNMS, but this year I won the privilege, so go me.

The conference is a lot of fun, which must be the reason for the hell trip to get here this year. Karma must be trying to bring things into balance.

As an American Airlines frequent flier whose home airport is RDU, most of my trips to Europe involve Heathrow airport (American has a direct flight from RDU to LHR that I’ve taken more times than I can count).

I hate that airport with the core of my being, and try to avoid it whenever possible. While I could have taken a flight from LHR directly to Nürnberg on British Airways, I decided to fly to Philadelphia and take a direct American flight to Munich. It is just about two hours by train from MUC to Nürnberg Hbf and I like trains, so combine that with getting to skip LHR and it is a win/win.

But it was not to be.

I got to the airport and watched as my flight to PHL got delayed further and further. Chris, at the Admiral’s Club desk, was able to re-route me, but that meant a flight through Heathrow (sigh). Also, the Heathrow flight left five hours later than my flight to Philadelphia, and I ended up waiting it out at the airport (Andrea had dropped me off and I didn’t want to ask her to drive all the way back to get me just for a couple of hours).

Because of the length of this trip I had to check a bag, and I had a lot of trepidation that my bag would not be re-routed properly. Chris even mentioned that American had actually put it on the Philadelphia flight but he had managed to get it removed and put on the England flight, and American’s website showed it loaded on the plane.

That also turns out to be the last record American has on my bag, at least on the website I can access.

American Tracking Website

The fight to London was uneventful. American planes tend to land at Terminal 3 and most other British Airways planes take off from Terminal 5, so you have to make your way down a series a long corridors and take a bus to the other terminal. Then you have to go through security, which is usually when my problems begin.

I wear contact lenses, and since my eyes tend to react negatively to the preservatives found in saline solution I use a special, preservative-free brand of saline. Unfortunately, it is only available in 118ml bottles. As most frequent fliers know, the limit for the size of liquid containers for carry on baggage is 100ml, although the security people rarely notice the difference. When they do I usually just explain that I need it for my eyes and I’m allowed to bring it with me. That is, everywhere except Heathrow airport. Due to the preservative-free nature of the saline I can’t move it to another container for fear of contamination.

Back in 2011 was the first time that my saline was ever confiscated at Heathrow. Since then I’ve carried a doctor’s note stating that it is “medically necessary” but once even then I had it confiscated a few years later at LHR because the screener didn’t like the fact that my note was almost a year old. That said, many times have I gone through that airport with no one noticing the slightly larger size of my saline bottle, but on this trip it was not to be.

When your carry on items get tagged for screening at Heathrow’s Terminal 5, you kind of wait in a little mob of people for the one person to methodically go through your stuff. Since I had several hours between flights it was no big deal for me, but it is still very annoying. Of course when the screener got to my items he was all excited that he had stopped the terrorist plot of the century by discovering my saline bottle was 18ml over the limit, and he truly seemed disappointed when I produced my doctor’s note, freshly updated as of August of this year.

Screeners at Heathrow are not imbued with much decision making ability, so he literally had to take my note and bottle to a supervisor to get it approved. I was then allowed to take it with me, but I couldn’t help thinking that the terrorists had won.

The rest of my stay at the world’s worst airport was without incident, and I squeezed into my window seat on the completely full A319 to head to Munich.

One we landed I breezed through immigration (Germans run their airports a bit more efficiently than the British) and waited for my bag. And waited. And waited.

When I realized it wouldn’t be arriving with me, I went to look for a BA representative. The sign said to find them at the “Lost and Found” kiosk, but the only two kiosks in the rather small baggage area were not staffed. I eventually left the baggage area and made my way to the main BA desk, where I managed to meet Norbert. After another 15 minutes or so, Norbert brought me a form to fill out and promised that I would receive an e-mail and a text message with a “file number” to track the status of my bag.

I then found the S-Bahn train which would take me to the Munich Hauptbahnhof where I would get my next train to Nürnberg.

I had made a reservation for the train to insure I had a seat, but of course that was on the 09:55 train which I would have taken had I been on the PHL flight. I changed that to a 15:00 train when I was rerouted, and apparently one change is all you get with Deutsche Bahn, but Ronny had suggested I buy a “flexpreis” ticket so I could take any train from Munich to Nürnberg that I wanted. I saw there were a number of “Inter-City Express (ICE)” trains available, so I figured I would just hop on the first one I found.

When I got to the station I saw that a train was leaving from Platform (Gleis) 20 at 15:28. It was now 15:30 so I ran and boarded just before it pulled out of the station.

It was the wrong train.

Well, not exactly. There are a number of types of trains you can take. The fastest are the ICE trains that run non-stop between major cities, but there are also “Inter-City (IC)” trains that make more stops. I had managed to get on a “Regional Bahn (RB)” train which makes many, many stops, turning my one hour trip into three.

(sigh)

The man who took my ticket was sympathetic, and told me to get off at Ingolstadt and switch to an ICE train. I was chatting on Mattermost with Ronny most of this time, and he was able to verify the proper train and platform I needed to take. That train was packed, but I ended up sitting with some lovely people who didn’t mind chatting with me in English (I so love visiting Germany for this reason).

So, about seven hours later than I had planned I arrived at my hotel, still sans luggage. After getting something to eat I started the long process of trying to locate my bag.

I started on Twitter. Both the people at American and British Airways asked me to DM them. The AA folks said I needed to talk with the BA folks and the BA folks still have yet to reply to me. Seriously BA, don’t reach out to me if you don’t plan to do anything. It sets up expectations you apparently can’t meet.

Speaking of not doing anything, my main issue was that I need a “file reference” in order to track my lost bag, but despite Norbert’s promise I never received a text or e-mail with that information. I ended up calling American, and the woman there was able to tell me that she showed the bag was in the hands of BA at LHR. That was at least a start, so she transferred me to BA customer support, who in turn transferred me to BA delayed baggage, who told me I needed to contact American.

(sigh)

As calmly as I could, I reiterated that I started there, and then the BA agent suggested I visit a particular website and complete a form (similar to the one I did for Norbert I assume) to get my “file reference”. After making sure I had the right URL I ended the call and started the process.

I hit the first snag when trying to enter in my tag number. As you can see from the screenshot above, my tag number starts with “600” and is ten digits long. The website expected a tag number that started with “BA” followed by six digits, so my AA tag was not going to work.

BA Tracking Website - wrong number

But at least this website had a different number to call, so I called it and explained my situation once again. This agent told me that I should have a different tag number, and after looking around my ticket I did find one in the format they were after, except starting with “AA” instead of “BA”. Of course, when I entered that in I got an error.

BA Tracking Website - error

After I explained that to the agent I remained on the phone for about 30 minutes until he was able to, finally, give me a file reference number. At this point I was very tired, so I wrote it down and figured I would call it a night and go to sleep.

But I couldn’t sleep, so I tried to enter that number into the BA delayed bag website. It said it was invalid.

(sigh)

Then I got a hint of inspiration and decided to enter in my first name as my last, and voila! I had a missing bag record.

BA Tracking Website - missing bag

That site said they had found my bag (the agent on the phone had told me it was being “traced”) and it also asked me to enter in some more information about it, such as the brand of the manufacturer.

BA Tracking Website - information required

Of course when I tried to do that, I got an error.

BA Tracking Website - system error

Way to go there, British Airways.

Anyway, at that point I could sleep. As I write this the next morning nothing has been updated since 18:31 last night, but I hold out hope that my bag will arrive today. I travel a lot so I have a change a clothes with me along with all the toiletries I need to not offend the other conference attendees (well, at least with my hygiene), but I can’t help but be soured on the whole experience.

This year I have spent nearly US$20,000 with American Airlines (they track that for me on their website). I paid them for this ticket and they really could have been more helpful instead of just washing their hands and pointing their fingers at BA. British Airways used to be one of the best airlines on the planet, but lately they seemed to have turned into Ryanair but without that airline’s level of service. The security breach that exposed the personal information of their customers, stories like this recent issue with a flight from Orlando, and my own experience this trip have really put me off flying them ever again.

Just a hint BA – from a customer service perspective – when it comes to finding a missing bag all we really want (well, besides the bag) is for someone to tell us they know where it is and when we can expect to get it. The fact that I had to spend several hours after a long trip to get something approximating that information is a failure on your part, and you will lose some if not all of my future business because of it.

I also made the decision to further curtail my travel in 2019, because frankly I’m getting too old for this crap.

So, I’m now off to shower and to get into my last set of clean clothes. Here’s hoping my bag arrives today so I can relax and enjoy the magic that is the OSMC.