Tanner Lovelace : Two Triathlons in One Weekend? Why not?

September 20, 2017 06:41 PM

So, this past weekend, I did something I’ve never done before. I did back to back triathlons on subsequent days.  It started bright and earlyon Saturday, Sept 16th, 2017 with the Outer Banks Half Iron Triathlon. This was my 9th career half iron triathlon since I did my first one in October of 2014. I had done the Outer Banks Olympic Triathlon back in September of 2013 but hadn’t been back to the race since then. What I remember the most about that Olympic distance race was getting a face full of boat gas early on in the swim and then swimming the rest of the course with my head out of the water since I didn’t want that to happen again. I also remember having both legs cramp just as I saw the finish line. I hoped neither would happen this time around.

When I picked up my packet on Friday, they had me look up my race bib # first.  When I saw what number I had been assigned my mouth literally dropped.  I had bib #2! This is a number that I normally associate with professional triathletes but there weren’t any professionals at this race so they used the lower bib numbers for those of us doing the challenge of two races in two days.  Those of us doing the half and sprint combination had single digit numbers while those doing the Olympic and sprint combination had double digit numbers below 50.  Regardless, it’s an awesome number to have.

One of the nice things about having such a low number was that my bike position was right next to the swim entrance and run exit. I set up my transition on race morning, said hi to my friend Sarah, and then went down to get in a warmup swim before we started.  The swim is in the Croatan Sound from the island of Roanoke in the Outer Banks. The water is brackish and race morning it was not calm at all.  I got a bit of a swim in and then waited for the race to start.  Once the race started, I could definitely tell that I had progressed a lot since my last time here.  When I did the 1500m Olympic swim in 2013 I think I visited every single SUP.  This time, I did the entire 1.2 mile swim without stopping. The water was extremely choppy and I did end up swimming through a section of boat gas (although, not as bad as back in 2013) but I kept going.  My swim time ended up being 15 minutes longer than my swim at the Mont-Tremblant 70.3 back in June.  A significant portion of that can be attributed to the fact that I didn’t wear a wetsuit for this race and I did in Mont-Tremblant, but I don’t think that can explain the difference entirely. Instead, I think it’s a combination of being less prepared for this race (since I took a long time off after I broke my jaw in late June) and the choppy water.  Either way, though, I finished the swim in 55:04 and headed up to transition.

Transition 1 took perhaps a bit longer than I had hoped, but I made sure to dry off a bit and put on socks before putting on my bikes shoes, glasses, gloves, helmet and sweat band for under the helmet (because with the visor on my Giro Aerohead I can’t actually wipe any sweat off if it starts dripping into my eyes).  I managed all that and grabbed my bike and headed out to bike 56 miles.

Once out on the bike, I finally thought through the entire implications about a big reason why the water was so choppy.  Part of it was the jet skis moving around too much, but a bigger part of it was the wind. Now when on a bike, the wind can either be your biggest friend or worst enemy.  On this course, it would end up being both twice since it was a two loop course.  The bike course heads out from the airport on Roanoke Island and heads to the Manns Harbor Bridge, a 2.7 mile long bridge over the Croatan Sound. Going out on this bridge I was easily hitting 22-24 mph and I realized coming back would be a struggle because I was obviously getting helped by the wind.  At the halfway point of the bridge, there was a volunteer with a USA flag on his truck and the flag was out fully straight from the wind. I crossed over the bridge and then headed to the right for the first part of the mainland portion of the bike. Part of that section had some wind problems but not nearly as much as the bridge since it was partially shielded by the trees.  Coming back on that section at one point I was in some sort of zone where I wasn’t paying attention to anything else except the bike and what was in front of me.  It was at that point that my friend Sarah passed me going the other way and yelled out my name. That was enough to STARTLE me out of my zone and raise my heart rate for a bit! But, it quickly settled down and I finished up that first section and turned right with the rest of the half iron participants (the Olympic participants at that point headed back to transition) for the rest of the half iron course. Thankfully that section was short and I was soon headed back to the bridge to go back in and get ready to start the 2nd loop.  Coming up to the bridge I could tell the wind was going to be a huge problem going back over.  As I got onto the bridge my speed dropped dramatically.  While I had managed 22-24 coming out on the bridge, going back it was all I could do to maintain 13-14 mph!  So, I hunkered down in the aero position and just ground out the miles. Once I got off the bridge the trees gave us some cover and my speed went back up to around 20 mph.  At this point the Olympic participants turn right onto Airport Rd and head back to transition while the half iron participants go past the turn and down for a bit until we turn into a school parking lot and turn around for the 2nd lap.  Because it’s a nice sheltered location, there is an aid station here.  I was using Infinit Nutrition’s Go Far mix on the bike, so I didn’t need anything for nutrition but I wanted to grab a water bottle to squirt on me to help lower my temperature.  So, as I rounded the circle for the turn around I grabbed a water bottle and tried to squirt it on me but it didn’t work. Unbelievably, they had apparently neglected to tell the volunteers to remove the extra cap from the top of the water bottle and open them for us! I was a little ticked off but I ended up opening it with my teeth and then pouring about half of it over me. Not ideal but better than nothing. The second lap of the bike was about the same as the first — fast on the way out, long while on the mainland, and then slow as could be coming back across the bridge.  But, I finally finished and headed back on Airport Rd towards transition.  As I got close to the bike dismount I slipped my feet out of the bike shoes and prepared to get off the bike.  I still need to learn how to do a flying dismount, so I simply stopped at the bike dismount and got off the bike and ran it into transition.  Total bike time was 3:06:05 for an average speed of 17.6 mph.

In transition 2 I parked my bike, pulled off my helmet, sweat band, and gloves and then put on some more sunscreen before putting on my running shoes, visor, race belt with number bib and Camelbak loaded with 3 hours worth of Infinit Nutrition’s Jet Fuel before heading out on the run. Total time in transition 2 was 2:46.

The run is an out and back through Manteo. The first mile winds it’s way through the airport on a pretty horrible broken pavement with grass surface. The next couple of miles wind through the town before finally getting onto a greenway for the remaining 3 miles of the out and back course. That means that the first 3 miles and the last 3 miles of the run have basically no shade at all.  And, since at this point it was around 11:30am it was starting to get hot.  I started out at around 11 min/mi which is about the pace I was aiming for on the run.  But, the heat started taking it’s tole and my pace started slowing down at some point.  I managed to run for the first 6 miles and then started walking the aid stations.  Every single aid station I would grab 2 cups of cold water and pour them over my head. This really helped to keep my body temperature from rising precipitously.  And, since I learned my lesson last fall at Ironman Chattanooga about stopping something I made it a point to make sure I did that at every single aid station.  It really worked and although my run wasn’t as fast as I wanted it to be, I never felt really horrible or cramped up.  Final run time was 2:37:55.

Total time for the entire half iron ended up being 6:45:28 which is not really one of my better efforts but considering the conditions I’ll take it.  I spent about 30 minutes or more laying down at the finish and then as I was about to go look for pizza I saw the race results terminals and so on a lark decided to check my official results. When I saw my division ranking, I almost fell over. Apparently I managed to get 2nd in my age group! This is only the 3rd time ever I’ve made it on the podium and needless to say it was quite unexpected. But, I went over and collected my age group prize which was a nice silver pin that said “Age Group” to go onto the ribbon of my finisher medal. (1st AG was a gold pin and 3rd AG was a bronze pin.) I then got pizza and was disappointed there were no soft drinks at all unless I wanted to buy one. Since my wallet was at least a half mile away in my car, that didn’t happen.

After the race I packed up all my stuff and headed back to the hotel. I had thought about going out and getting lunch but instead I ended up dozing a bit before Sarah called about dinner plans. I grabbed a much needed shower and headed out to meet Sarah, Allison and Marianne for dinner at Trios in Nags Head. I had some fabulous manicotti and an interesting mango and habeñero hard cider for dinner. I had a great time talking with my friends and finally headed back to get to sleep so I could get up early for the race the next day. On the way back to the hotel, I stopped by Kill Devil Custard and Beach Fries and got a coconut cream malted shake.  Once back at the hotel, I worked on cleaning my bottles, laying out my clothes for the next day and drying out my running and biking shoes which were completely soaked even though they had been sitting on the AC vent for about 8 hours after the race! Thanks to a suggestion from my wife, I ended up using the hotel room’s hair dryer to dry my shoes and that worked well enough for me to pack them up for the race the next day.

The next morning again came very early. But, the weather looked like it would be much better for a race as long as the rain would hold off. I packed everything up in the car since I didn’t plan to come back to the hotel and headed off to the race.

I set my bike up again and decided not to worry about a warm up swim this time. The swim would be short enough that it wouldn’t really matter. The swim on Sunday turned out to be better than the swim on Saturday. Comparing my times, I was 15+ seconds/100 yards faster on Sunday and I’m sure most of that can be attributed to calmer water. I came out of the water feeling pretty good. Total swim time was 20:07.

Transition 1 for the sprint went faster but not as fast as I thought it could be. The one thing that was different from the day before was that I didn’t bother with wearing gloves for the sprint. Total T1 time was 3:05.

The sprint bike went out on the bridge just like the day before but then turned right around at about a half mile past the end of the bridge and came right back.  I was pushing more for the sprint (going for 100% effort for the sprint while for the half the day before I was aiming more towards 80%) so even though the wind was about the same as the day before I was faster on both the out and the back.  Going out I was averaging about 25 mph and that was a really awesome feeling.  Coming back, because I was pushing harder than the previous day, I managed about 15-16mph.  The thing I noticed the most about the bike was that it was over so soon compared to the previous day! Total bike time was 39:16 for a 19.6 mph bike average speed.

I pulled my feet out of the shoes again before dismounting the bike and this time around I ran the bike into transition as fast as I could. I wasn’t carrying my own water for the sprint so I just put on my running shoes and race bib belt and grabbed my hat before heading out for the run. Total time in transition 2 was 1:09.

The advice I’ve been given on race pacing for a sprint triathlon is to go out at 80% effort on the swim, hammer the bike as hard as you possibly can and then hold on on the run until you hear the crowd at the finish line and use that to propel you to the end.  So, I headed out on the run going as fast as I could.  Unlike the previous week at the White Lake Fall Sprint where I managed sub-9 minute miles for the run, today I could only manage 9-10 minute miles. But, thankfully the run was short and I was soon headed back.  Bib #1 was also in my age group and although I had managed to pass him on the bike he passed me at about 1.25 miles into the run.  I was determined, however, to try to not let anyone else in my age group pass me.  So, at the final aid station at 3 miles, 0.1 miles from the finish when I saw someone with a 46 for their age on their leg go past me I decided I wasn’t going to let that happen. So, I ended up taking off, passing him back and sprinting as fast as I possibly could to the finish line! I’m pretty sure I found my lactate threshold at that point since I was having trouble getting enough air.  But, once I crossed the finish line, I was able to just lay down for a couple of minutes on the grass and then I was ok.  Total time for the 5K run was 28:56 for a total race time of 1:32:36.

I grabbed my sprint triathlon medal and then the medal for doing the challenge and headed off to see what food there was. Instead of pizza, they had breakfast burritos of either ham, egg, and cheese or just egg and cheese. Since I don’t eat ham, I grabbed an egg and cheese and then went to transition, grabbed my wallet and came back to buy a coke.  I had the burrito and it was so good I went back for a second.  I checked my placing for the sprint race and it said I was 8th.  Looking later online it said I ended up 9th so not sure what was up there.  But, either way I hadn’t expected much so I wasn’t disappointed.  I ended up changing clothes in the parking lot using some beach towels to provide a private changing area and then headed out for lunch before heading home.  I stopped by Big Al’s Soda Fountain & Grill for dinner and had a mushroom swiss vege-burger and a butter beer milkshake.  After lunch, I was going to head home but because I was feeling a bit sleepy, not surprising after getting up at around 5am for the past two days, I stopped by the rest area just before leaving Manteo and dozed for a half hour or so before heading home.

All in all it was a good weekend.  I’m not sure I would do the half/sprint challenge combination again, but I might try the olympic/sprint challenge.  It would have to wait until at least 2019, though, because for 2018 the plan is to do the Augusta 70.3 which will likely be the very next weekend. But, if you’re looking for a good, independent triathlon race you could do a lot worse than the Outer Banks Half, Olympic or Sprint triathlons.

I’ve got the YMCA Wrightsville Beach Sprint triathlon coming up next weekend and am using that as a preview of the 2nd half of the swim for the NC 70.3 coming up in 5 weeks. The NC 70.3 will be my last triathlon for the season and my 10th career triathlon overall. It will be nice to have it as the 10th as it was my first 70.3 back when it was Beach2Battleship. Here’s hoping I can better my time from that very first race.

 

Mark Turner : David Crabtree retiring from WRAL TV in late 2018 | News & Observer

September 20, 2017 06:35 PM

David Crabtree

I wish David Crabtree well in his new career in the clergy. On the eve of the Iraq War, he moderated a community forum about how America should respond and I won’t soon forget how bloodthirsty he was for vengeance.

I hope his religious studies have since made him a better person.

WRAL announced on Wednesday that longtime anchor David Crabtree will retire in late 2018.Crabtree has been in TV news for 35 years, taking over as the lead anchor at WRAL when Charlie Gaddy retired in 1994. He is a native of Tennessee who has lived in Raleigh since 1994.

According to WRAL, Crabtree, an ordained deacon, will take a permanent role in the Episcopal Church when he leaves the station. He is currently affiliated with St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in Raleigh and is on track to earn a master’s degree in Theological Studies from Duke Divinity School in the spring of 2018.

Crabtree is an award-winning journalist who has interviewed presidents and has reported from the Vatican, political conventions and from the funerals of Mother Teresa, Pope John Paul II and Nelson Mandela.

Source: David Crabtree retiring from WRAL TV in late 2018 | News & Observer

Tarus Balog : 2017 Ohio Linuxfest

September 20, 2017 02:56 PM

The Ohio Linuxfest was one of the first open source conferences I ever attended, way back in 2010. I had heard about it from the local Linux Users Group, TriLUG, and we ended up renting a van and taking a couple of other open source geeks with us, including “Mr. IPv6” Kevin Otte.

It was a blast.

Ohio Linuxfest Banner

This year looks like another great show, with one of my favorite people, Karen Sandler, giving a keynote on Friday and yours truly will be giving the last keynote on Saturday.

If you are into free and open source software and are able to make it, I strongly encourage you to check out the conference. You’ll be glad you did.

Tarus Balog : 2017 Australian Network Operators Group Conference

September 19, 2017 04:10 PM

Back in June I was chatting with “mobius” about all things OpenNMS. He lives and works in Perth, Australia, and suggested that I do a presentation at AusNOG, the Australian Network Operators Group.

One of the things we struggle with at OpenNMS is figuring out how to make people aware it exists. My rather biased opinion is that it is awesome, but a lot of people have never heard of it. To help with that I used to attend a lot of free and open source conferences, but we’ve found out over the years that our user base tends to be more along the lines of large enterprises and network operators that might not be represented at such shows.

Imagine my surprise when I found out that there were a whole slew of NOGs, network operator groups, around the world. It seems to me that people who attend these conferences have a more immediate need for OpenNMS, and with that in mind I submitted a talk to AusNOG. I was very happy it was selected, not in the least because I would get to return to Australia for a third time.

AusNOG David Hughes

I wasn’t sure what to expect, but was pleasantly surprised. The event was extremely well organized and I really liked the format. Many conferences as they become successful respond by adding multiple tracks. This can be useful if the tracks are easy to delineate, but often you can get “track bloat” where the attendees get overwhelmed with choice and as a presenter you can end up with a nearly empty room if you are scheduled against a popular speaker. At AusNOG there is only one track of somewhat short, highly curated talks that results in a very informative conference without the stress of trying to determine the best set of talks to attend.

AusNOG Program

(Note: Visit the “programme” site and click on talk titles to download the presentations)

The venue was very nice as well. Held at the Langham Hotel, the conference took place in a ballroom that held the 200+ people with a lobby out front for socializing and a few sponsor booths. The program consisted of 90 minutes of presentations separated by a break. They alternated sets of three 30 minute talks with two 45 minutes talks. I found all of the presentations interesting, but I have to admit that I spent a lot of time looking up unfamiliar acronyms. As network operators Autonomous System (AS) numbers were thrown around in much the same way SNMP Private Enterprise Numbers are shared among network management geeks. Australia is also in the process of implementing a nationwide National Broadband Network (nbn™) to provide common infrastructure across the country, so of course that was the focus of a number of talks.

In the middle of each day we broke for lunch which was pretty amazing. The Langham restaurant had a sushi section, a section for Indian food, a large buffet of your standard meat and veg, and at least three dessert sections: one with “healthy” fruit and cheese, another focused on ice cream and a chocolate fountain, and a large case full of amazing pastries and other desserts. All with a view out over the Yarra river.

AusNOG Yarra River

I really liked the format of AugNOG and suggest we adopt it for the next OpenNMS conference. For those few talks that were either over my head or not really of interest, they were over pretty quickly, but I found myself enjoying most of them. I thought it was interesting that concepts we usually equate with the managing servers are being adopted on the network side. One talk discussed topics such as running switch software in containers, while another discussed using Ansible and Salt to manage the configuration of network gear.

AusNOG Runing Switch Software in Containers

I was happy to see that my talk wasn’t the only one that focused on open source. Back fifteen years ago getting large companies to adopt an open source solution was still in the evangelical stage, but now it is pretty much standard. Even Facebook presented a talk on their open source NetNORAD project for monitoring using a distributed system to measure latency and packet loss.

I did have a few favorite talks. In “The Future Is Up in the Sky” Jon Brewer discussed satellite Internet. As someone who suffered for years with a satellite network connection, it was interesting to learn what is being done in this area. I used a system with a satellite in geosynchronous orbit which, while it worked, ended up with latency on the order of a second in real-world use. It turns out that there are a number of solutions using shorter distances with satellites in low earth or high earth orbit. While they present their own challenges, it is still the most promising way to get network access to remote areas.

Another talk by Mark Nottingham discussed issues associated with the increased use of encrypted protocols and the challenges they create for network operators. While the civil libertarian in me applauds anything that makes it harder for surveillance to track users, as a network monitoring guy this can make it more difficult to track down the cause of network issues.

And this will become even more important as the network changes with the adoption of Internet of Things (IoT) devices. Another good talk discussed the issue of IoT security. Even today the main consensus is that you protect weakly secured devices with a firewall, but a number of new exploits leverage infected systems within the firewall for DDoS attacks.

AusNOG Internet of Things Vulnerabilities

I think my own talk went well, it was hard to squeeze a good introduction to OpenNMS into 30 minutes. I did manage it – 30 minutes on the nose – but it didn’t leave time for questions. As a speaker I really liked the feedback the conference provided in the form of a rather long report showing what the attendees thought of the talk, complete with cool graphs.

AusNOG Speaker Response

I really enjoyed this conference, both as an attendee and a speaker. While I hope to speak to more NOGs I would much rather encourage OpenNMS users who are happy with the project to submit real-world talks on how they use the platform to their local tech groups. I think it tells a much stronger story to have someone a little less biased than myself talking about OpenNMS, and plus you get to visit cool conferences like AusNOG.

Tarus Balog : Help Get OpenNMS Packaged by Bitnami

September 18, 2017 07:55 PM

As someone who has used OpenNMS for, well, many years, I think it is a breeze to get installed. Simply add the repository to your server, install the package(s), run the installer and start it.

However, there are a number of new users who still have issues getting it installed. This is not a problem limited just to OpenNMS but can be a problem across a number of open source projects.

Enter Bitnami. Bitnami is a project to package applications to make them easier to install: natively, in the cloud, in a container or as a virtual machine. Ronny pointed out that OpenNMS is listed in their “wishlist” section, and if we can get enough votes, perhaps they will add it to their stack.

Bitnami also happens to have a great team, lead in part by the ever amazing Erica Brescia. As I write this we have less that 50 votes, with the current leaders being over 1200, so there is a long way to go. I’d appreciate your support, and once you vote you get a second chance to vote again via the socials.

Bitnami OpenNMS Wishlist

Thanks, and thanks to Bitnami for the opportunity.

Mark Turner : Sandra Boynton’s whimsical animals have been delighting kids for 40 years – The Washington Post

September 17, 2017 12:33 AM

I love this profile of children’s book author Sandra Boynton. Mentioning it at family dinner tonight elicited gleeful reminiscences of the favorite books the kids read (and were read) when they were little.

Sandra Boynton lives on a farm in rural Connecticut. She works out of a converted barn, surrounded by pigs in overalls, frogs wearing cowboy hats, a clutch of bemused chickens and a few skeptical sock puppets.Standing there, you get the feeling that at any moment they might all come alive and break into a high-stepping song-and-dance. Which they probably will. Because this is Boynton’s world, and in Boynton’s world, animals do whatever she wants. And what she wants them to do, mostly, is make her smile.

Source: Sandra Boynton’s whimsical animals have been delighting kids for 40 years – The Washington Post

Mark Turner : Weaponizing sound: Could sonic devices have injured diplomats in Cuba?

September 17, 2017 12:31 AM

Another story of the mystery Cuban sonic weapon. This story focuses more on the auditory effects but neglects the apparent concussions that also seems to be a symptom.

A mysterious illness has been striking people associated with the US Embassy in Cuba — and a secret sonic weapon is rumored to be the source. Over the past year, diplomats in Cuba have experienced an unusual collection of symptoms that range from hearing loss, vertigo, and nausea to concussions, CBS News reported.Yesterday, the mystery grew even more complex when the Associated Press reported that the number of US victims has climbed to 21 people. Canadian diplomatic households were affected as well, the AP says. The Cuban government has denied involvement, and no “piece of equipment” that might be causing the symptoms has been discovered yet, State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert told reporters.

Source: Weaponizing sound: Could sonic devices have injured diplomats in Cuba?

Mark Turner : Facebook handed Russia-linked ads over to Mueller under search warrant – Sep. 15, 2017

September 17, 2017 12:27 AM

Remember the 2012 election when I was tracking all the fake Facebook likes for Mitt Romney? Could this have also been an effort by Russia to influence the American Election by manipulating Facebook?

Special counsel Robert Mueller and his team are now in possession of Russian-linked ads run on Facebook during the presidential election, after they obtained a search warrant for the information.

Facebook gave Mueller and his team copies of ads and related information it discovered on its site linked to a Russian troll farm, as well as detailed information about the accounts that bought the ads and the way the ads were targeted at American Facebook users, a source with knowledge of the matter told CNN.

The disclosure, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, may give Mueller’s office a fuller picture of who was behind the ad buys and how the ads may have influenced voter sentiment during the 2016 election.

Source: Facebook handed Russia-linked ads over to Mueller under search warrant – Sep. 15, 2017

Mark Turner : How Bullwinkle Taught Kids Sophisticated Political Satire | Innovation | Smithsonian

September 16, 2017 01:32 PM

“Mr. Chairman, I am against all foreign aid, especially to places like Hawaii and Alaska,” says Senator Fussmussen from the floor of a cartoon Senate in 1962. In the visitors’ gallery, Russian agents Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale are deciding whether to use their secret “Goof Gas” gun to turn the Congress stupid, as they did to all the rocket scientists and professors in the last episode of “Bullwinkle.”Another senator wants to raise taxes on everyone under the age of 67. He, of course, is 68. Yet a third stands up to demand, “We’ve got to get the government out of government!” The Pottsylvanian spies decide their weapon is unnecessary: Congress is already ignorant, corrupt and feckless.

Hahahahaha. Oh, Washington.

That joke was a wheeze half a century ago, a cornball classic that demonstrates the essential charm of the “Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends,” the cartoon show that originally aired between 1959 and 1964 about a moose and a squirrel navigating Cold War politics.

Source: How Bullwinkle Taught Kids Sophisticated Political Satire | Innovation | Smithsonian

Mark Turner : Cuba mystery grows: New details on what befell US diplomats

September 16, 2017 01:24 PM

Quite a mystery.

WASHINGTON (AP) — The blaring, grinding noise jolted the American diplomat from his bed in a Havana hotel. He moved just a few feet, and there was silence. He climbed back into bed. Inexplicably, the agonizing sound hit him again. It was as if he’d walked through some invisible wall cutting straight through his room.

Soon came the hearing loss, and the speech problems, symptoms both similar and altogether different from others among at least 21 U.S. victims in an astonishing international mystery still unfolding in Cuba. The top U.S. diplomat has called them “health attacks.” New details learned by The Associated Press indicate at least some of the incidents were confined to specific rooms or even parts of rooms with laser-like specificity, baffling U.S. officials who say the facts and the physics don’t add up.

“None of this has a reasonable explanation,” said Fulton Armstrong, a former CIA official who served in Havana long before America re-opened an embassy there. “It’s just mystery after mystery after mystery.”

Source: Cuba mystery grows: New details on what befell US diplomats

Mark Turner : Bay Area housing: Sunnyvale home sells $800,000 above asking

September 15, 2017 02:35 PM

This story caught my eye, when a modest, 2,000sf home in Sunnyvale, CA sold for $800,000 over asking price. True, there is a little real estate sleight-of-hand going on here with how it was priced but there’s no denying that this is an eye-popping sale.

This kind of outrageous housing market is what comes to mind when I think of what might happen if Amazon chooses to set up its second headquarters in the Triangle. I think of the stunning metamorphosis that’s taken place this year in the neighborhood surrounding East Raleigh’s Ligon Middle School, where affordable homes have been all but demolished in favor of fancy new homes, and I wonder how long it will be before no one here but stock-option millionaires can live where they work.

Be careful what you wish for, Raleigh. More on this in an upcoming blog post.

A house in Sunnyvale just sold for close to $800,000 over its listing price.

Your eyes do not deceive you: The four-bed, two-bath house — less than 2,000 square feet — listed for $1,688,000 and sold for $2,470,000.

“I think it’s the most anything has ever gone for over asking in Sunnyvale — a record for Sunnyvale,” said Dave Clark, the Keller Williams agent who represented the sellers in the deal. “We anticipated it would go for $2 million, or over $2 million. But we had no idea it would ever go for what it went for.

”This kind of over-bidding is known to happen farther north in cities including Palo Alto, Los Altos and Mountain View. But as those places have grown far too expensive for most buyers, future homeowners have migrated south to Sunnyvale, a once modest community that now finds itself among the Bay Area’s real estate hot spots.

Source: Bay Area housing: Sunnyvale home sells $800,000 above asking

Mark Turner : Hacking. Still relevant after 164 years.

September 14, 2017 02:23 PM

Rudimentary Treatise on the Construction of Door Locks for Commercial and Domestic Purposes


A book from 1853 seems like an unlikely place to find wisdom about the need for hacking culture, yet these words are still true today. An excerpt from “Rudimentary Treatise on the Construction of Locks” by Charles Tomlinson:

A commercial, and in some respects a social, doubt has been started within the last year or two, whether or not it is right to discuss so openly the security or insecurity of locks. Many well-meaning persons suppose that the discussion respecting the means for baffling the supposed safety of locks offers a premium for dishonesty, by showing others how to be dishonest. This is a fallacy. Rogues are very keen in their profession, and already know much more than we can teach them respecting their several kinds of roguery. Rogues knew a good deal about lockpicking long before locksmiths discussed it among themselves, as they have lately done. If a lock — let it have been made in whatever country, or by whatever maker — is not so inviolable as it has hitherto been deemed to be, surely it is in the interest of honest persons to know this fact, because the dishonest are tolerably certain to be the first to apply the knowledge practically; and the spread of knowledge is necessary to give fair play to those who might suffer by ignorance. It cannot be too earnestly urged, that an acquintance with real facts will, in the end, be better for all parties.

Some time ago, when the reading public was alarmed at being told how London milk is adulterated, timid persons deprecated the exposure, on the plea that it would give instructions in the art of adulterating milk; a vain fear — milkmen knew all about it before, whether they practiced it or not; and the exposure only taught purchasers the necessity of a little scrutiny and caution, leaving them to obey this necessity or not, as they pleased.

…The unscrupulous have the command of much of this kind of knowledge without our aid; and there is moral and commercial justice in placing on their guard those who might possibly suffer therefrom. We employ these stray expressions concerning adulteration, debasement, roguery, and so forth, simply as a mode of illustrating a principle — the advantage of publicity. In respect to lock-making, there can scarcely be such a thing as dishonesty of intention: the inventor produces a lock which he honestly thinks will posess such and such qualities; and he declares his belief to the world. If others differ from him in opinion concerning those qualities, it is open to them to say so; and the discussion, truthfully conducted, must lead to public advantage: the discussion stimulates curiosity, and curiosity stimulates invention. Nothing but a partial and limited view of the question could lead to the opinion that harm can result: if there be harm, it will be much more than counterbalanced by good.

Mark Turner : I Shot a Hurricane Irma Photo That Went Viral, and I Wasn’t Paid a Dime

September 14, 2017 01:19 AM

As an amateur lenslinger who’s had my photographs garner the attention of news media in the past, I take the moral to this story very seriously. I give away a lot of my photographs to Wikipedia but if a commercial news organization wants a shot I believe I will negotiate with them from now on.

Google told me today that a photo I randomly took in a restaurant in Spain has crossed the 300,000 views mark. Imagine if I had even a penny for every one of those views.

Virality is an odd thing. You don’t see it coming, but you can feel the momentum building while it’s happening. My phone notifications started going off like popcorn. One here, one there, then many more at once. People were tagging and sharing in an attempt to find someone to help these guys, while also hunkering down for the storm.

The first request for usage came from Fox News Desk. I froze. At this point, it was still very local, and I couldn’t see where it was going. Also, I was very distracted by the hurricane outside. I didn’t even know if I could ask for licensing because other photos were floating around (although not as good).The key part here is that I also didn’t know how. What did I ask for? How much should I ask for? Did they even care? Did I have to copyright or license it somehow?

So I told Fox they could use it as long as I was given credit. Unfortunately, this might have invalidated any other requests for compensation, but at the time I was clueless.

Source: I Shot a Hurricane Irma Photo That Went Viral, and I Wasn’t Paid a Dime

Mark Turner : Back in 1982 I was dealing acid at Jim Morrison’s grave and that’s when I first met Vladimir Putin.

September 12, 2017 10:06 PM

A surreal retelling of an early encounter with Vladimir Putin.

So anyway, it was something like my third day on the job and along with the Norwegians, Danes and Swedes there’s this quiet Russian dude with a guitar, Vladimir, who’s there to pay his respects like the rest of us.  Although he wasn’t interested in my product, when he found out I was from San Francisco he got really animated and wanted to hear everything I could tell him about it – the music especially. I guess like a lot of people he thought it was just 1967 forever by the bay with the Airplane and the Dead still playing in the park…  I told him about the handful of Dead shows I’d seen, and he got a far off look and said  “Just to see Jerry…Y’know? Just to be there and see his fingers and lips moving and hear the music at the same time… Man…” he sighed.  “Hey now,” I said, “it’ll happen.”  He just shook his head in that way people do when there’s just too much to explain. Vlad was like that a lot.

Source: Back in 1982 I was dealing acid at Jim Morrison’s grave and that’s when I first met Vladimir Putin.

Mark Turner : Be Like Miss Ruth

September 11, 2017 03:37 PM

Miss Ruth

This is my wonderful former neighbor, Ruth Gartrell, a.k.a., Miss Ruth. What made Miss Ruth a wonderful neighbor? Well,

  1. Miss Ruth would never let her psycho dog bark non-stop all hours of the day and night. For one, Miss Ruth’s dogs are (naturally) well-behaved. Even if they weren’t, Miss Ruth would be mortified if her dogs disturbed her neighbors after 11 PM by barking their heads off.
  2. Miss Ruth would never cheer on her favorite sports team by watching television on her back porch after 11 PM. Miss Ruth does her television watching inside the way God intended.
  3. Miss Ruth would never stand in her back yard at 2:45 AM, drinking and laughing with her friend right outside my bedroom window. If Miss Ruth drinks she has the good sense to do it indoors, and at a reasonable hour. What’s more, if I politely asked her to take the conversation indoors, she would not simply respond with a half-hearted “sure,” but would profusely apologize for keeping me awake.

I miss Miss Ruth.

Mark Turner : Three Things You Should Know About Spaghetti Model Forecasts for Hurricanes, Tropical Storms and Developing Tropical Waves | The Weather Channel

September 02, 2017 04:18 PM

The Weather Channel also produced a great primer on hurricane “spaghetti models” and what they show and (more importantly) leave out.

There’s a delicious-sounding term that’s about to make its way back into the weather forecasting lexicon as hurricane season ramps up, but it has nothing to do with food.Spaghetti weather models, also known as spaghetti plots, are a simplistic way of conveying a lot of tropical information quickly, but there can also be downfalls to relying on these plots.

1. Spaghetti Plots Do Not Portray Any Impacts

Although most models show possible impacts, to present many models succinctly on a single chart, meteorologists generally produce spaghetti plots that usually only show the “where” and a loose representation of “when” for tropical systems.

To get to this level of brevity, meteorologists must only focus on the center point of a tropical system, which may or may not be accurate. We’ll get to more on that limitation later, but for now, let’s focus on the lack of impacts.

Source: Three Things You Should Know About Spaghetti Model Forecasts for Hurricanes, Tropical Storms and Developing Tropical Waves | The Weather Channel

Mark Turner : Why the Hurricane Irma Forecast for the U.S. Is Still Uncertain and Difficult | The Weather Channel

September 02, 2017 04:15 PM

Here’s a good explanation for why one shouldn’t panic about a hurricane that’s a week away from approaching. Pay attention, yes, but there’s no need for panic.

Hurricane Irma will be a formidable hurricane for days to come in the Atlantic Basin, but its future impact in the U.S. remains unknown.Given the record-setting, catastrophic flooding, storm surge and wind damage from Hurricane Harvey, it’s understandable why Irma is making U.S. East Coast and Gulf Coast residents unnerved.

You may wonder why we can’t yet nail down anything specific on Irma’s future potential impact in the U.S. Wouldn’t that help people prepare?

First, we’ll explore why that is. Then we’ll go over some atmospheric patterns typically in place that increase East Coast hurricane risk.

Source: Why the Hurricane Irma Forecast for the U.S. Is Still Uncertain and Difficult | The Weather Channel

Mark Turner : Is Indy up to the task of covering local news?

September 02, 2017 03:55 PM


I had been feeling encouraged that the Indy Week newspaper has been sending reporters to the local government meetings that the News and Observer has apparently chosen to skip. Raleigh desperately needs a local paper of record and the N&O has opted to cast a wider net.

My cheering for the Indy comes to a crashing halt, though, when I read stories like this one. Indy reporter Thomas Goldsmith asks the valid question of whether Seth Crossno’s “ITB Insider” blog is right to claim a sponsored blog post is an in-kind political donation. All fine and good, but Goldsmith loses me when he writes “candidate Bonner” instead of calling Raleigh City Councilor Bonner Gaylord, “candidate Gaylord.”

Bonner Gaylord

An announcement of candidate Bonner’s candidacy was labeled as humor. Crossno says the in-kind donation for that story has been submitted and will be listed on a future disclosure form.

Gaylord has been serving as a Raleigh city councilor since 2009. There is no excuse for a reporter writing about local politics to not get his name right. What’s worse, this is not the first time I’ve seen Indy make this mistake.

Come on, Indy. Don’t destroy your credibility right from the get-go. You’re the only game in town now and we need you to get it right.

Tarus Balog : 2017 Australian Network Operators Group (AusNOG) Conference

September 01, 2017 04:25 PM

I am excited to be returning to Australia for the third time next week. This trip is to speak at the Australian Network Operators Group (AusNOG) annual conference in Melbourne.

AusNOG Promo Graphic

I can’t believe I’ve gone for so long and not known about Network Operator Groups (NOGs). There are quite a few of them and I think they would be a perfect audience to introduce to the OpenNMS Project. One of our users on the OpenNMS chat server is from Perth and he made me aware of the conference, and I was humbled and delighted to have my presentation accepted.

At OpenNMS we strive very hard to separate the project (.org) from the commercial entity that supports the project (.com) and this presentation will be strictly focused on the project. It’s a wonderful thing about OpenNMS: if it meets your needs, cool. If not, also cool. I just want more people to be aware of open source options, especially in the carrier and enterprise space.

And it looks like open source is definitely making inroads at AusNOG. The talk before mine is about Ansible and Salt. There is another talk on using open source to build a version of NetNorad, and another one on open source for big data analytics. The one after mine is about modern network monitoring, so I hope I tick at least a few boxes on his list.

I hope to see you there (although it looks like it is sold out) but let me know if you are in the area and perhaps I can at least say “hi”.

Mark Turner : Belarus at ‘war’ with imaginary country of Veyshnoria – BBC News

September 01, 2017 12:22 AM

One of the reasons I love the Internet. Wags can give life to their own fake country!

A country invented as part of military exercises in Belarus has caught the imagination of locals, who have created a foreign ministry, flag, history and even its own Wikipedia page for the fictional nation.

Veyshnoria is one of three states made up for the Zapad 2017 military drills, which – according to the scenario – seek to invade Belarus and sow discord between Minsk and Moscow.

The map of the exercise, made public during the General Staff briefing on 29 August, shows Veyshnoria in the north-western regions of today’s Belarus, with Vesbaria and Lubenia lying in Lithuania and Poland, the Nasha Niva website reports.

Some commentators noted that the border between Belarus and Veyshnoria “strongly resembles” the border between the Soviet Union in Poland in 1920-39. “This means that under the Zapad 2017 scenario, Belarusians will have to attack the territory of Belarusians,” lifestyle website kyky.org said.

Political historian Pavel Usov, blurring reality and fiction on his Facebook page, said that “Veyshnoria is a peaceful democratic country which has never been aggressive towards its neighbours.

Source: Belarus at ‘war’ with imaginary country of Veyshnoria – BBC News

Warren Myers : fallocate vs dd for swap file creation

August 31, 2017 08:04 PM

I recently ran across this helpful Digital Ocean community answer about creating a swap file at droplet creation time.

So I decided to test how long using my old method (using dd) takes to run vs using fallocate.

Here’s how long it takes to run fallocate on a fresh 40GB droplet:

root@ubuntu:/# rm swapfile && time fallocate -l 1G /swapfile
real	0m0.003s
user	0m0.000s
sys	0m0.000s

root@ubuntu:/# rm swapfile && time fallocate -l 2G /swapfile
real	0m0.004s
user	0m0.000s
sys	0m0.000s

root@ubuntu:/# rm swapfile && time fallocate -l 4G /swapfile
real	0m0.006s
user	0m0.000s
sys	0m0.004s

root@ubuntu:/# rm swapfile && time fallocate -l 8G /swapfile
real	0m0.007s
user	0m0.000s
sys	0m0.004s

root@ubuntu:/# rm swapfile && time fallocate -l 16G /swapfile
real	0m0.012s
user	0m0.000s
sys	0m0.008s

root@ubuntu:/# rm swapfile && time fallocate -l 32G /swapfile
real	0m0.029s
user	0m0.000s
sys	0m0.020s

Interestingly, the relationship of size to time is non-linear when running fallocate.

Compare to building a 4GB swap file with dd (on the same server, it turned out using either a 16KB or 4KB bs gives the fastest run time):

time dd if=/dev/zero of=/swapfile bs=16384 count=262144 

262144+0 records in
262144+0 records out
4294967296 bytes (4.3 GB, 4.0 GiB) copied, 4.52602 s, 949 MB/s

real	0m4.528s
user	0m0.048s
sys	0m4.072s

Yes, you read that correctly – using dd with an “optimum” bs of 16KB (after much testing different bs settings) takes ~1000x as long as using fallocate to create the same “size” file!

How is fallocate so much faster? The details are in the man pages for it (emphasis added):

fallocate is used to manipulate the allocated disk space for a file, either to deallocate or preallocate it. For filesystems which support the fallocate system call, preallocation is done quickly by allocating blocks and marking them as uninitialized, requiring no IO to the data blocks. This is much faster than creating a file by filling it with zeroes.

dd will “always” work. fallocate will work almostall of the time … but if you happen to be using a filesystem which doesn’t support it, you need to know how to use dd.

But: if your filesystem supports fallocate (and it probably does), it is orders of magnitude more efficient to use it for file creation.

Mark Turner : The Great Mordecai Ferret Escape

August 31, 2017 06:27 PM

A ferret, as NOT seen in Mordecai.


Raleigh’s Mordecai neighborhood is in a panic as a hundred ferrets were reported to have escaped, allegedly from the home of a neighborhood ferret breeder. As neighbor Lauren Carter posted on Facebook last week:

Lauren Carter24 August at 19:23   Attention Mordecai residents in Downtown Raleigh! There is a ferret breeder that lives in Mordecai, and they managed to accidentally let loose over a hundred ferrets in Mordecai over the past day. Watch out for these literal vicious little ankle biters. They are meat eaters, and I hope they don't mess with our local wildlife. Police and Animal Control are out trying to catch them.

Ferret Report

Lauren claims some nearby Raleigh police officers told her of the loose ferrets. To her dismay, she later got a call from the Raleigh Police Department, claiming they were unaware of any ferret invasion.

Though people are posting on Facebook and NextDoor, no one has identified the ferret breeder and no one has reported any roaming packs of ferrets out terrorizing the neighborhood.

It sounds very much like the joke of a bored police officer. 🙂

Update:
Inconceivably, this is not the first ferret report from a Raleigh cop. I found the following tweet from 17 April:

Looks like a Raleigh cop was just having a little fun with the populace!

(Wikimedia Commons photo by Luciando Bernardi)

Warren Myers : simple ip address check – ipv4.cf

August 30, 2017 11:58 PM

I’ve published another super-simple tool.

A la whatismyip.com, but with no extra cruft (and no queer formatting of the IP address under the hood), welcome IPv4.cf to the world with me!

Mark Turner : Houston Is Drowning—In Its Freedom From Regulations

August 30, 2017 12:22 PM

Nice commentary on how Houston’s lack of regulations might, just might have played a role in it being swamped with historic flooding.

We do value our freedom here in Texas. As I write from soggy Central Texas, the cable news is showing people floating down Buffalo Bayou on their principles, proud residents of the largest city in these United States that did not grow in accordance with zoning ordinances.

The feeling there was that persons who own real estate should be free to develop it as they wish. Houston, also known as the Bayou City, is a great location because of its access to international shipping in the Gulf of Mexico. It is not a great location for building, though, because of all its impervious cover. If water could easily sink into the ground, there would be less of it ripping down Houston’s rivers that just a week ago were overcrowded streets.

Source: Houston Is Drowning—In Its Freedom From Regulations

Mark Turner : How Waffle House opens so fast after a hurricane

August 29, 2017 12:46 AM

The day after 1996’s Hurricane Fran devastated Raleigh, the only place in town one could get a cup of coffee was the Hillsborough Street Waffle House. Now I know why. Waffle House engineers its restaurants to weather storms.

One of the ways the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) measures hurricane damage is by the Waffle House Index. Waffle House, a popular 24-hour fast food chain in the Southeast, has a unique ability to operate solely on gas if necessary, so a closed Waffle House is often tantamount to disaster.

And while we won’t know yet how Hurricane Harvey will fare on the index, the attitude at Waffle Houses across Texas has been calm. The company’s staff has been preparing for months.

“We have our own special disaster teams and generators waiting to be shipped,” said one Waffle House employee in Galveston, Tex. “We’re open up until the city makes us close, probably later on tonight. As soon as it’s over we’ll be right back open.”

Source: How Waffle House opens so fast after a hurricane

Mark Turner : N&O losing impactful, dogged investigative reporter in Neff – Raleigh & Company

August 28, 2017 10:44 PM

R. L. Bynum at Raleigh & Company talks to departing N&O investigative reporter, Joe Neff. As I mentioned yesterday, Joe is leaving the N&O.

Joseph Neff projects his passion as an investigative reporter as his voice breaks up relating one of the highlights of his impressive career at The News & Observer.

Neff, who announced last week that he is leaving the newspaper he joined 25 years ago, was talking about the day in March 2016 that Howard Dudley — wrongly convicted of sexually assaulting his 9-year-old daughter — was freed. Eleven years earlier, Neff wrote a series called “Caught in a Lie” that documented the problems with the case.

Source: N&O losing impactful, dogged investigative reporter in Neff – Raleigh & Company

Mark Turner : Current Affairs | Culture & Politics

August 28, 2017 12:36 PM

Ouch.

It really does seem as if people do not quite appreciate just how evil Joe Arpaio truly is. If they did, this pardon would not just be ill-advised, it would be toxic. There would be no controversy. As it is, however, Arpaio remains “controversial”: some say he’s a bigot, some say he’s a righteous vigilante. But what people need to say is the truth, which is that Joe Arpaio is not only a bigot, but a vicious sadist who abused his power more than perhaps anyone else to hold public office in the United States during the 21st century.

Source: Current Affairs | Culture & Politics

Mark Turner : The Long, Lawless Ride of Sheriff Joe Arpaio – Rolling Stone

August 28, 2017 12:19 PM

Hey! You! Get off of my cloud!

Joe Arpaio, the 80-year-old lawman who brands himself “America’s toughest sheriff,” is smiling like a delighted gnome. Nineteen floors above the blazing Arizona desert, the Phoenix sprawl ripples in the heat as Arpaio cues up the Rolling Stones to welcome a reporter “from that marijuana magazine.”

Hey! You! Get off of my cloud!

The guided tour of Arpaio’s legend has officially begun. Here, next to his desk, is the hand-painted sign of draconian rules for Tent City, the infamous jail he set up 20 years ago, in which some 2,000 inmates live under canvas tarps in the desert, forced to wear pink underwear beneath their black-and-white-striped uniforms while cracking rocks in the stifling heat. HARD LABOR, the sign reads. NO GIRLIE MAGAZINES!

Source: The Long, Lawless Ride of Sheriff Joe Arpaio – Rolling Stone

Mark Turner : When Silicon Valley Took Over the ‘New Republic’ – The Atlantic

August 28, 2017 12:58 AM

A good read from Gary’s article on the N&O about how chasing clicks killed the New Republic.

Journalism has performed so admirably in the aftermath of Trump’s victory that it has grown harder to see the profession’s underlying rot. Now each assignment is subjected to a cost-benefit analysis—will the article earn enough traffic to justify the investment? Sometimes the analysis is explicit and conscious, though in most cases it’s subconscious and embedded in euphemism. Either way, it’s this train of thought that leads editors to declare an idea “not worth the effort” or to worry about whether an article will “sink.” The audience for journalism may be larger than it was before, but the mind-set is smaller.

Source: When Silicon Valley Took Over the ‘New Republic’ – The Atlantic

Mark Turner : Joe Biden Addresses Charlottesville and Its Aftermath – The Atlantic

August 28, 2017 12:00 AM

Joe Biden writes about Charlottesville in The Atlantic.

In January of 2009, I stood waiting in Wilmington, Delaware, for a train carrying the first African American elected president of the United States. I was there to join him as vice president on the way to a historic Inauguration. It was a moment of extraordinary hope for our nation—but I couldn’t help thinking about a darker time years before at that very site.

My mind’s eye drifted back to 1968. I could see the flames burning Wilmington, the violence erupting on the news of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, the federal troops taking over my city.

I was living history—and reliving it—at the same time. And the images racing through my mind were a vivid demonstration that when it comes to race in America, hope doesn’t travel alone. It’s shadowed by a long trail of violence and hate.

Source: Joe Biden Addresses Charlottesville and Its Aftermath – The Atlantic

Mark Turner : Clicking The N&O – Talking About Politics

August 27, 2017 11:48 PM

I’m not the only ink-stained traditionalist concerned about the N&O’s new direction. Former newsman Gary Pearce says his piece over on his blog, Talking About Politics.

In these Trumped-up times, we need good journalism more than ever. Which is why readers of The News & Observer paid careful attention to the recent column by Executive Editor John Drescher on changes there. What he wrote told us three things:
• How much journalism and The N&O are changing,
• How much readers are concerned about the changes, and
• How much editors are concerned about readers’ reactions to the changes.

Readers are concerned that the old wall of separation between news and ads is being replaced by a chart measuring how many clicks stories get and, thereby, how many ads get sold.

Drescher’s column, “On the new N&O menu: Less spinach, more reader-focused coverage,” reassured us that the changes will be positive:

“Starting this week, we’ll be working harder to answer your questions and present the news in a way that is more relevant, with more video and more focus on topics that we know you care about.

“When most of our readership was of the print paper, we never knew with precision how much each story was read. Now we know how much digital readership each story has, and we’ve used that as a guide for which stories we will cover.

“While measuring readership is important to us, it’s not the only factor we’ll consider when deciding what to cover.”

Drescher vowed that the pursuit of digital clicks won’t imperil quality.

“Our core values remain the same. We’ll continue to provide the kind of watchdog reporting that has distinguished The N&O. Check out ‘Jailed to Death,’ our new report on deaths in county jails….We want to give you the news and information that means the most to you in the form and at the times you want it.”

He chided “ink-stained traditionalists” who “worry that we’ll publish nothing but click-bait stories about cats. They (the traditionalists, not the cats) underestimate the intelligence of the readers in this region.”

Well, call me an ink-stained traditionalist. I do worry. Not so much for now, because I know the editors at The N&O today. They are serious, committed journalists.

But they’re under a lot of pressure from business people, bean-counters and click-counters who live on the West Coast. While I trust John Drescher and his colleagues, I don’t know who or what will come after him and them.

Source: Clicking The N&O – Talking About PoliticsTalking About Politics

Also last week, superstar investigative reporter Joseph Neff turned in his typewriter at the N&O. He’ll be joining the Marshall Project:

Warren Myers : crowdsourcing patronage

August 27, 2017 09:21 PM

Just what is journalism going to look like in the future?

It’s a question that’s been bouncing around my head for a while, and articulated in various pieces by Ben Thompson (in a nichification process), my friend Eric Hydrick, and others.

Eric brought up the idea of supporting “special” journalism through services like Patreon.

I think that’s a start … but still limits – as do paywalls, subscriptions, etc – informing the populace to those who care enough to pay intentionally and specifically for that publication / journalist / etc.

I think an improvement upon that is a bucket approach. I outlined one such possible technique in my recent critique of Pi-hole:

Maybe there needs to be a per-hour, per-article, per-something option – a penny for an hour, for example (which, ftr, comes out to a monthly fee of about $7)- so that viewers can toss some scrilla towards the creators, but aren’t permanently encumbered by subscriptions they’ll soon forget about

I’ll go out on a limb and predict “journalism”, as we have known it for hundreds of years, is going to completely disappear in the next 10 years. Now, that doesn’t mean it’s completely going away (though, with the general willful ignorance of people…maybe it will). It does mean, though, that it’s going to be radically different in form.

With the rise of decentralized (and, nowrecentralized) publishing with widespread adoption of the world wide web, everyone can (and, maybe, should) be a publisher.

The overwhelming majority of publishers are not receiving anything from their writing – except personal satisfaction (that includes myself .. in 20+ years of having websites, blogs, etc, I’ve made about $35 online). And publishing for “free” (ie, self-funded) should always be an option: as a content creator, it should always be up to you as to whether you wish to charge for what you’ve made.

But if you want the possibility of getting paid for your work, that should be an option, too: and while you might be “worth” subscribing to, the odds are very good you are not. And that leaves a quandary: how can you get paid for your work (if you want), without encumbering your audience into either leaving instantly, or succumbing to pressure to subscribe.

Which is why I think a bucket approach could work well – you’d know how much you had available in your balance, recharging would be simple (could even be automated – hit a threshold, recharge to some preset amount), and you’d know exactly who was getting your money, and, more importanly, for what – it’s not some ambiguous “subscription” to a “site”, but paying for precisely the content you see (or want to see).

In many ways, it’s extending the Patreon idea, which is really just a modern reimagining of patronage, from mere individual shows, sites, etc, down to a granularity of specific pages, articles, images, etc.

And let’s not even talk about the analytics that could be performed on payments and page views under such a model: identifying regions that are interested in certain content, audiences that like certain things, what are immediate turn-offs, etc. Incorporate some form of solid feedback/interaction mechanism, and you could possibly develop healthy gamification of your site: maybe even waiving monetary contribution if you hit certain levels of interaction on the site.

Active community building via people who actually care (and that just happens to fund the service).

Now that would be something.

Mark Turner : North Raleigh development reveals Isaac Hunter’s Tavern | News & Observer

August 26, 2017 02:41 PM

While I was away last week, Craig Jarvis’s story on Isaac Hunter’s Tavern ran in the News and Observer. Craig did a nice job summarizing the current state of things and included some bonus photos and video of me traipsing through the woods that day. Had I known I would be populating pixels I would’ve dressed more like Indiana Jones than Mike the Mechanic!

It was fun rediscovering the tavern and I’m happy that I got a mention, though I’m just one of many who have helped bring attention to the Tavern.

RALEIGH Forty-eight years ago, a pair of state archaeologists went in search of a 200-year-old tavern that was the scene of an historic event in North Carolina history but had seemingly disappeared.

When they found it, the dilapidated tavern — near Wake Forest Road just north of what is now the Beltline — the scientists urged immediate action to preserve the structure. But that didn’t happen.

Instead, Isaac Hunter’s Tavern slipped from sight again, disappearing over time into acres of trees and dangling vines until few clues were left that it had ever stood there. Until now, after development plans for the woods were announced this summer, once again stirring the saga of the old tavern.

The story of Hunter’s tavern shows how easily history slips through a community’s collective memory in a fast-growing place like Raleigh.

Source: North Raleigh development reveals Isaac Hunter’s Tavern | News & Observer

Warren Myers : wonder how many zombie film/tv/game creators are/were computer science nerds

August 23, 2017 06:13 PM

As you all know, I am a huge zombie fan.

And, as you probably know, I was a CIS/CS major/minor at Elon.

A concept I was introduced to at both Shodor and Elon was ant colony simulations.

And I realized today that many people have been introduced to the basics concepts of ant colony simulations through films like Night of the Living Dead or World War Z and shows like Z Nation or The Walking Dead.

In short, ant colony optimization simulations, a part of swarm intelligence, use the “basic rules” of ant intelligence to game-out problems of traffic patterns, crowd control, logistics planning, and all kinds of other things.

Those basic rules the ants follow more or less come down to the following:

  • pick a random direction to wander
  • continue walking straight until you hit something
    • if you hit a wall
      • turn a random number of degrees between 1 and 359
      • loop up one level
      • if you hit food
        • if you are carrying trash
          • turn a random number of degrees between 1 and 179 or 181 and 359
          • loop up two levels
        • if you are carrying food
          • drop it
          • turn 180 degrees, loop up two levels
        • if you are not carrying anything
          • pick it up
          • either turn 180 degrees and loop up two levels, or
          • loop up two levels (ie, continue walking straight)
      • if you hit trash (dead ants, etc)
        • if you are carrying trash
          • drop it
          • turn 180 degrees, loop up two levels
        • if you are carrying food
          • turn a random number of degrees between 1 and 179 or 181 and 359
          • loop up to levels
        • if you are carrying nothing
          • pick it up
          • either turn 180 degree and loop up two levels, or
          • loop up two levels (ie, continue walking straight)
      • if you hit an ant
        • a new ant spawns in a random cell next to the two existing ants (with a 1/grid-shape probability, in a square grid, this would be a ~10% chance of spawning a new ant; in a hex grid, it would be a ~12.5% chance of a spawn), IF there is an empty cell next to either ant
        • if you are both carrying the same thing,
          • start a new drop point
          • turn around 180 degrees
          • loop up two levels
        • if you are carrying different things (or not carrying anything)
          • turn a random number of degrees between 1 and 359
          • loop up two levels
    • if you have been alive “too long” (parameterizable), you die and become trash (dropping whatever you have “next” to you in a random grid point (for example, if the grid is square, you’re in position “5”, and your cargo could be in positions 1-4 or 6-9:

There are more rules you can add or modify (maybe weight your choice of direction to pick when you turn based on whether an ant has been there recently (ie simulated pheromone trails)), but those are the basics. With randomly-distributed “stuff” (food, walls, ants, trash, etc) on a board of size B, an ant population – P – of 10% * B, a generation frequency – F – of 9% * B, an iteration count of 5x board-size, a life span – L – of 10% * B, and let it run, you will see piles of trash, food, etc accumulate on the board.

They may accumulate differently on each run due to some of the random nature of the inputs, but they’ll accumulate. Showing how large numbers of relatively unintelligent things can do things that look intelligent to an outside observer.

And that’s how zombies appear in most pop culture depictions: they wander more-or-less aimlessly until attracted by something (sound, a food source (aka the living), fire, etc). And while they seem to exhibit mild group/swarm intelligence, it’s just that – an appearance to outside observers.

So if you like zombie stories, you might like computer science.

Mark Turner : DefCon 25

August 15, 2017 03:06 AM

Having worked in IT for (gasp!) twenty-five years, I have long enjoyed the side of my job that deals with securing the networks I am responsible for. Network security is a game to me; trying to find and stop hackers before they find and stop me. As my blogging has revealed over the years, I enjoy solving a good mystery. How far back can a track an attacker? Or an adversary? How much knowledge can I dig up? This is all very fun.

My current job doesn’t deal with this directly as I am lucky to have a great team who watches the network. Still, I have to pay some attention to what’s what. So, when the department budget allowed for sending me to my first DefCon, I was delighted to go. Two weeks ago, I was on a plane to Las Vegas to join 25,000 other “hackers” in an intense, three-day powwow of matching wits, sharing forbidden knowledge, and proving points.

This year is the 25th anniversary of DefCon (i.e. “DefCon 25”). DefCon gets its name partly from the U.S. Department of Defense’s “Defense Condition” levels, as popularized by the movie “War Games.” Partly, it’s a made-up word with the “Con” meaning “convention.” DefCon was started (if I am correct) by Canadian bulletin-board owners who decided that on-line meetings were not enough. It has continued to be one of the premier conferences/training sessions that draws attendees from around the world.

Now, the term hacker in the public mind tends to have a negative connotation but this is not entirely true. The title of hacker in the industry vernacular is actually a badge of honor, bestowed upon a developer who can quickly kick out computer code. You’ll find many computer people proud to call themselves hackers yet they don’t break into computers. In an effort to protect the positive connotation of the term hacker, the IT community introduced a new phrase to describe computer criminals as “crackers.” This term has more or less failed to catch on, so “hacker” now describes both types.

It takes a lot to willingly get me to Las Vegas. It’s a fake city out to take my money and I don’t particularly enjoy having my money taken. Only if there’s an interesting conference am I likely to go. DefCon qualified so I booked my plans.

DefCon fully complies with the “what goes on in Vegas stays in Vegas” saying. DefCon organizers have no idea who will attend or who has attended. There is no way to register for the conference, and thus no way for DefCon (or the authorities) to track who shows up. Everyone pays cash at the door, whether you’re a government employee, a computer geek like me, or a journalist. I was not sure how this would work in practice but somehow it did.

There are several accounts out there that describe more of the DefCon experience so I’ll focus on my own here.

I’d never seen so many geeks in one place. I’m also not used to going “full geek” in public for three days straight but it’s easy at DefCon. No matter how “leet” you think you are, there is someone here who is eons more masterful at doing what you do. You just go with the flow.

My colleagues and I picked out talks we wanted to attend from a large list of concurrent discussions. There were workshops and villages also, where attendees could roll up their sleeves and practice the skills that were being discussed. Vendors were also present to sell hacker tools of various varieties. It was mind-boggling! I shopped the vendors, practiced my lock-picking skills, and observed the various ways that cars could be controlled via computer. Never have so many warranties been voided in one place.

I was even bold enough to connect my phone to DefCon’s WiFi network. DefCon is said to be the “world’s most hostile network environment” and it’s easy to see why. Fake wireless access points and cell towers abound. Any device that connects here must be considered hacked and then wiped clean after the conference. That’s why you’ll see more flip phones and other “burner” phones here than probably anywhere else.

Still, I couldn’t resist trying my own burner phone on DefCon’s network. I figured if it got hacked I wouldn’t really lose anything and later I could study how it happened. DefCon was smart with its network this year, however, and required WiFi clients to use a cryptographic certificate to connect (called 802.1x). This seemed to eliminate all but the most dedicated hackers and I did not hear of anyone who used this new procedure having falling victim to hackers. Impressive!

At past conferences, DefCon used to play a game called “Spot the Fed.” Lately Feds have been welcome. Feds even give talks and panel discussions. Indeed, I attended many talks were by private-sector security professionals who were often collaborating with federal agencies on cases. I was pleased to see this kind of trust displayed though there is still so much more to be done.

The real adversary here seemed to be state-sponsored Russian and Chinese cyber criminals. Most people I heard from seemed to have their sights on these bad guys. As such, I came away from DefCon thinking not that these DefCon hackers have the goal of disrupting society but that of improving society. The aim is to point of the flaws in the things we use because pretending something works when it actually doesn’t doesn’t do anyone any good but the bad guys. Though it’s sometimes not easy for an outsider to see, DefCon attendees have morals (some of them strongly held) and the overall vibe I got was that if you’re a company or government that is being a dick to others you just might get some electronic karma sent your way. Like, for instance, the Anonymous group taking down the website of some jerk who really deserved it. This action may even be considered a touch patriotic. I was glad to meet the people who really are keeping everyone safe by their calling out when the emperor has no clothes. That’s how we progress.

There were too many talks to attend them all, and too many conversations which could’ve lasted longer. It was exhausting, fun, eye-opening, and mind-blowing. I cannot wait to go back.

Warren Myers : pi-hole revisited

August 11, 2017 05:59 PM

Back in November, I was really up on Pi-hole.

But after several more months of running it … I am far less psyched than I had been. I’m sure part of that is having gotten better internet services at my house – so the impact of ads is less noticeable.

But a major part of it is that Pi-hole is just too aggressive. Far far too aggressive. Aggressive to the point that my whitelist was growing sometimes minute-by-minute just to get some websites to work.

Is that a problem with the site? No doubt somewhat. But it’s also a problem of blacklists. When domains and IPs are just blanket refused (and not in a helpful way), you get broken experience.

Pi-hole has also gone to a quasi-hijack approach: when a domain has been blocked, instead of it just silently not working, it now returns a message to contact your Pi-hole admin to update the block lists.

I hate intrusive ads as much as the next person .. but that shouldn’t mean that all ads are blocked. I have unobtrusive ads on a couple of my domains (this one included).

But even with Pi-hole, not all ads are blocked.

Part of that is due to the ever-changing landscape of ad servers. Part of it is due to the inherent problems with the blacklist/whitelist approach.

Content creators should be entitled to compensation for the efforts (even if they voluntarily choose to give that content away). Bombarding visitors with metric buttloads of advertising, however, makes you look either desperate, uncaring, or greedy.

The current flipside to that, though, is the pay-wall / subscription approach. Surely subscriptions are appropriate for some things – but I’m not going to pay $1/mo (or more) to every site that wants me to sign-up to see one thing: just today, that would’ve encumbered me with over $100/mo in new recurring bills.

Maybe there needs to be a per-hour, per-article, per-something option – a penny for an hour, for example (which, ftr, comes out to a monthly fee of about $7)- so that viewers can toss some scrilla towards the creators, but aren’t permanently encumbered by subscriptions they’ll soon forget about (though, of course, that recurring subscription revenue would surely look enticing to publishers).

As with the per-song/episode purchase model that iTunes first made big about 15 years ago, you could quickly find out what viewers were most interested in, and focus your efforts there. (Or, continue focusing your efforts elsewhere, understanding that less-popular content will not garner as much revenue as popular content will).

Imagine, using my example of $0.01/hr, how much more engagement you could end up garnering while visitors are actively on your site! A penny is “nothing” to most people – and probably just about all who’re online. Maybe you’ll have a handful of people “abusing” the system by opening a thousand pages in new tabs in their hour … but most folks’ll drop the virtual coin in the nickelodeon, watch the video / read the page / whathaveyounot, and move on about their day.

And not everyone will opt for the charge model. Sites that do utilize it can have some things marked “free” or “free for the next 24 hours” or “free in 7 days” or whatever.

Ad companies like Google could still work as the middleman on handling transactions, too – any time you visit per-X content, there could be a small pop-up that indicated you’d be withdrawing Y amount from your balance to view the site (I’m sure there’ll be competition in the space, so PayPal, Facebook, Stripe, Square, etc etc can get in on the “balance management” piece). And at the end of whatever period (day, week, month), Google can do a mass-settle of all the micropayments collected for each site from each visitor (with some percentage off the top, of course).

No ads. You’d actually Get What Your Pay For™, and issues like the recent Admiral thing would go in a corner and die.

Mark Turner : What if the president ordering a nuclear attack isn’t sane? An Air Force major lost his job for asking. – The Washington Post

August 11, 2017 02:15 AM

Like any good student with a sensitive question, Harold Hering approached his teacher after class, out of earshot from his classmates.

“How can I know,” he asked, “that an order I receive to launch my missiles came from a sane president?”

It was 1973. President Richard M. Nixon was seriously depressed about Watergate. Hering, an Air Force major who rescued downed pilots in Vietnam, was training to be a missileer — the guy who turns the keys to commence nuclear Armageddon.

“I assumed there had to be some sort of checks and balances so that one man couldn’t just on a whim order the launch of nuclear weapons,” Hering, now 81, told Radiolab in a remarkable interview earlier this year.

Hering was wrong. And decades later, so is anyone who thinks President Trump, having recently threatened “fire and fury” for North Korea, can’t order a nuclear attack anytime he darn well pleases, even from a fairway bunker on the golf course.

Source: What if the president ordering a nuclear attack isn’t sane? An Air Force major lost his job for asking. – The Washington Post

Mark Turner : As a Woman in Tech, I Realized: These Are Not My People – Bloomberg

August 11, 2017 02:12 AM

A woman in tech suggests there’s a kernel of truth in the “Google Memo.”

No, the reason I left is that I came into work one Monday morning and joined the guys at our work table, and one of them said “What did you do this weekend?”

I was in the throes of a brief, doomed romance. I had attended a concert that Saturday night. I answered the question with an account of both. The guys stared blankly. Then silence. Then one of them said: “I built a fiber-channel network in my basement,” and our co-workers fell all over themselves asking him to describe every step in loving detail.

At that moment I realized that fundamentally, these are not my people. I liked the work. But I was never going to like it enough to blow a weekend doing more of it for free. Which meant that I was never going to be as good at that job as the guys around me.

Source: As a Woman in Tech, I Realized: These Are Not My People – Bloomberg

Mark Turner : The N&O called him an ink-stained traditionalist. Watch what happened next!

August 11, 2017 01:49 AM

Courtesy North Carolina State Archives

I spent my lunch hour tromping through the woods, showing the N&O’s Craig Jarvis the ruins of Isaac Hunter’s tavern. Craig had discovered my posts on the tavern and wanted to see it for himself. When my vague, emailed descriptions of the spot didn’t get him there I offered to take him there myself. After five or more minutes of us ducking under fallen trees and getting all turned around, I practically cheered when I found the foundation stones again! Craig was just as excited as I was, snapping photos on his phone and pondering how it all once looked.

I was happy to share it with him and didn’t think twice about meeting him there. I don’t know anything about the story he’s writing nor do I know (or particularly care) if I’ll be mentioned in it. What matters to me is that he’s telling the story of a place that was very important in making Raleigh what it is today.

OK, so maybe I was a little hard on the News and Observer. I know the paper has to adapt to changing conditions but I do not want to see the coverage dumbed down just to generate more clicks. I also don’t want to see journalists forced to pimp their articles just to remain in good graces with their boss. But I absolutely do want journalism to succeed. I want the News and Observer to succeed.

I also want the spinach. Lots of spinach. I want local coverage, even if it means fewer clicks. Tell me about the city’s budget, and about the controversy surrounding the latest audacious development project. Let me know about disagreements between city and county officials. Convey the complex jargon of transportation plans (rail realignments, commuter rail plans, etc) in terms I can understand. Be firm but be fair.

So while I was very, very close to canceling my N&O subscription again, I will give the paper’s new plan a chance to prove itself.

But don’t expect me to like the clickbait headlines, ok?

Mark Turner : Running for my life

August 10, 2017 01:03 AM


Update 11 Aug: I fixed a few of these stats, thanks to actually checking Strava this time. 🙂

Fifty-two times this year, I’ve hauled myself out of bed in the morning and shoved one foot in front of the other in an effort to get healthier. That’s a total of 158 miles so far this year. It wasn’t a new year’s resolution thing but simply a challenge to myself to see if I could do it. Somehow I’m still sticking with it, showing some real improvement in my stamina and my speed. I just ran a mile this week in 8:03 (averaging 9:40) and when I began on March 8th I averaged 11:01.

How’s my health doing? I definitely have more stamina for exercise now and enjoy those endorphins post-run. Running’s become a habit, so that’s good. I’ve dropped most of my flab, too. Last weekend I was pleasantly surprised to find my swim trunks are now too big for me. That said, I still run out of energy late in the day and have been hitting the sack well before 10 PM many recent nights. I’m hopeful that’s just jet lag residue from my trip to Las Vegas last week so hopefully it’s just temporary.

You can follow my progress on Strava if you like. I’ll follow you back (and cheer you on, too).

Mark Turner : What’s your preference, clickbait or spinach?

August 09, 2017 01:18 AM

847″ /> Serious journalism, like spinach, is good for you.

Update 10 Aug: Perhaps I was a little hard on the N&O. I’m giving it a chance.

What’s everyone talking about today? Spinach, that’s what. N&O Executive Editor John Drescher compared “obligatory” stories about government process to spinach and apparently our spinach days are over. Instead, the paper is apparently now all about chasing clicks.

And local voices don’t matter anymore, apparently, so away with the metro columnists, Barry Saunders and the like. Quirky cat stories will now rule the day. I’m left with the impression that local matters – the stuff where a local newspaper shines like none other – will no longer be a priority for the N&O. If it doesn’t have national appeal it’s gone.

Can I be honest here? I hate, hate, hate the N&O’s new clickbait headlines (and yes, John, no matter how hard you go lipstickin’ this pig these headlines are absolutely clickbait). This is one step away from putting emojis and text shortcuts in headlines (“Y U NO PASS BUDGET, COUNCIL? LOL”). My intelligence is insulted every time I see one. In fact, I make it a point not to click on any story with an asinine headlines. Nothing good is ever behind a clickbait headline.

The N&O website is also bogged down by the worst pop-up advertising you’ll find on the web, here or anywhere else. While some of my media pals might look down on my use of ad blocking software, I would not need it if sites like the N&O weren’t full of exploding ads and self-playing videos. There are rules of decorum on the web and assaulting your web visitors has always been frowned upon, no matter how lucrative it might seem.

Last week I got notice that my N&O subscription is due for renewal. The notice is still sitting on my desk. I am torn between my fervent desire to support serious, take-no-prisoners journalism and my growing realization that the News and Observer no longer supplies it. I don’t want to hurt the newspaper but I also don’t want to reward its retreat.

We’ve fed you some spinach over the years — undercooked and not tasty. “Spinach” is what we sometimes call the obligatory stories about government process, as we dutifully report incremental changes recommended by a subcommittee of a blue-ribbon panel.

Enough with the spinach. Starting this week, we’ll be working harder to answer your questions and present the news in a way that is more relevant, with more video and more focus on topics that we know you care about.When most of our readership was of the print paper, we never knew with precision how much each story was read. Now we know how much digital readership each story has, and we’ve used that as a guide for which stories we will cover.

While measuring readership is important to us, it’s not the only factor we’ll consider when deciding what to cover.

Source: New coverage in The N&O about state employees, television and religion | News & Observer

For the record, my wife prefers her spinach lightly cooked (some would say undercooked) while I prefer it on the slimy side. 🙂

Wikimedia Commons spinach photo by Victor M. Vicente Selvas. Thanks for contributing to the public domain!

Mark Turner : A Total Solar Eclipse Feels Really Really Weird | WIRED

August 08, 2017 10:07 PM

A great account of what to expect during this month’s solar eclipse.

Have you ever witnessed a total solar eclipse? Usually when I give a lecture, only a couple of people in an audience of several hundred people raise their hands when I ask that question. A few others respond tentatively, saying, “I think I saw one.” That’s like a woman saying, “I think I once gave birth.”

What these people are remembering is some long-ago partial solar eclipse. These are quite common. They occur every few years in various places across the globe. But believe me, if you’ve seen a total solar eclipse—when the moon passes directly between the sun and the earth—you’ll never forget it.

Part of what makes a total eclipse so breathtaking has to do with invisible light. During the “moment of totality”—the minutes when sun is completely blocked—observers experience the exquisitely odd and wondrous sensation of solar emissions, both visible and invisible, vanishing right in the middle of the day.

Source: A Total Solar Eclipse Feels Really Really Weird | WIRED

Mark Turner : Brian Shul, SR-71 pilot

August 08, 2017 01:44 AM

Author Brian Shul

Someone shared a clip from a talk Maj. Brian Shul (USAF, ret.) gave on his seven years as an SR-71 Blackbird pilot and I found myself looking up his whole talk and becoming captivated by it. Shul not only piloted the world’s highest-performing aircraft, he is an excellent photographer, too, and captured many once-in-a-lifetime photos of this glorious aircraft in action. Shul’s talk is funny, poignant, and inspiring as he expresses his love for flying, photography, and his love for life. It’s an hour long but well worth watching!

Mark Turner : Minutes from my April 2014 city council petition for a Frank Street sidewalk

August 07, 2017 02:12 AM

To go along with my last post on the Frank Street sidewalk, here are the official minutes from my petition to the City Council for a Frank Street sidewalk, from the Council’s session of 1 April 2014. Don’t think I ever blogged about this here, for whatever reason (oh yeah, because I had just started a new job). One councilor told me afterward it was one of the most engaging presentations he had seen at City Council.

SIDEWALK – FRANK STREET – REQUEST RECEIVED; REFERRED TO LAW AND PUBLIC SAFETY COMMITTEE

Mark Turner was on the agenda to request that a sidewalk be installed on the south side of Frank Street between Brookside Drive and Norris Street. He read the following statement into the record:

Good evening. I’m Mark Turner and I live at 1108 Tonsler Drive in East Raleigh. Tonight I’m here to ask that Frank Street be added to the City’s list of Sidewalk Projects.

Conn Elementary School has served the surrounding neighborhoods for almost 60 years. Generations of kids have walked to and from this school and dozens still do every school day. During October’s national Walk To School Day, Conn families were featured on the school system’s website when they demonstrated how much they value walking to school.
Over the years that my own kids have attended Conn, I’ve watched families walk down Frank Street along a dirt path (seen here on the lower right). This path often becomes muddy when it rains, forcing some to walk in the road to avoid the mud. I became concerned that these families did not have a safe and convenient way to get to school, so I decided to petition the property owners to approve a sidewalk.
The proposed sidewalk would be located on the south side of Frank Street between Brookside Drive and Norris Street. Roughly half of the property is City-owned as part of Meadowbrook Open Space (or known to the kids as “The Creek”). The other half is owned by a single owner. This presents an unusual situation. One-half of the affected property is publicly-owned and one-half has a single, private owner. Because City staff does not factor any City-owned property into sidewalk petitions, this means that just one signature made the difference of whether this project would live or die.

Well, in spite of two years of petition attempts (and all of these signatures I delivered on a thank-you card to the property owner), I have twice been unsuccessful at obtaining the property owner’s permission for a sidewalk, and that’s why I’m here before you this evening. The lack of just one signature keeps dozens of kids and their parents walking in the mud … instead of walking on a sidewalk.
Now, I think this is a shame and I hope you’ll agree. Sixty years with no sidewalk is long enough. Please consider adding Frank Street to the list of Sidewalk Projects for the benefit of our community. Thank you.

City Manager Ruffin Hall said Assessment Supervisor Jimmy Upchurch was present to answer questions. The petition process is the subject, so this request could be approached through regular sidewalk funds. If Council decides on that approach, staff suggests a public hearing be held.

Assessment Supervisor Upchurch stated Mr. Turner did not indicate there is existing sidewalk on the north side of Frank Street from Brookside Drive to Wake Forest Road. He learned from his conversations with the property owner through the petition process that she is reluctant to sign a petition because her thought is the existing sidewalk is already there and pedestrians choose not to use it. There was some thought that pedestrians might use the sidewalk if the crosswalk at the intersection was on the other corner; the crosswalk to the school is on the south side of the intersection instead of the north side where the existing sidewalk is located. He thinks the school system provides a crossing guard at that intersection. Mayor McFarlane asked if the crosswalk could be moved. Assessment Supervisor Upchurch replied he had talked to City Transportation staff. They looked at the intersection and indicated it is not conducive to relocate the crosswalk due to sight reasons. There is a lot of traffic coming over hill to the signalized intersection and the crosswalk’s location on the south side of the intersection provides an additional distance barrier.

Mr. Gaylord asked if the property owner understands she would not have to pay for sidewalk installation. Assessment Supervisor Upchurch replied the first petition was submitted under the City’s prior process where there was sidewalk assessment, and he is not sure whether that affected her decision not to sign. It was clearly indicated in the second petition that there would be no cost to her. The woman’s daughter spoke to Assessment Supervisor Upchurch on her mother’s behalf. The woman who owns the property is an elderly woman and the property is rental property with a quadraplex unit on the site. The owner has several concerns/reasons for not wanting a sidewalk on the south side of Frank Street. She believes the existing sidewalk could be utilized in a better fashion, especially if the existing crosswalk could be relocated. She is not interested in signing the petition. The City’s policy has always been that the City remains neutral in a petition so it does not sway a petition one way or the other. City-owned property is not counted in the requirement for sufficiency and the City does not sign to promote or block a petition. Since there is only one property owner, her signature is needed to validate the petition.

Mr. Odom asked if this involve a full-length sidewalk or just a section. Assessment Supervisor Upchurch responded it is a section. Ms. Harris’ property and the City’s property are bounded by Norris Street, Brookside Drive, and Frank Street. Parents park on Norris Street while dropping their children off for school in the morning and when waiting for them to get out of school in the afternoon. The children coming up Norris Street have to cross Frank Street to get to the north side to walk on the sidewalk. That is why they tend to walk on the dirt path on that side. If a sidewalk was installed, there would be a safe place for children to walk on both sides of the street for that block. There has not been a petition request to install sidewalk all the way down Frank Street on the south side in that block.
Mr. Gaylord noted this is a good example of the challenge caused by the high percentage requirement of property owner signatures under the City’s current policy. This is a public right-of-way being used by the public, and this property owner gets to decide whether the City proceeds with a public amenity being used by the public in a public right-of-way. He would like an analysis of the number of projects approved under the new process v. the old process.

City Attorney Tom McCormick reminded the Council members they can authorize sidewalk installation without a petition. This is a unique situation where the Council may want to exercise that authority. Mr. Gaylord said he was going to suggest that. Ms. Baldwin stated this seems an appropriate conversation to be having because it reflects what Council spent a long time discussing this afternoon relative to school safety, sight lines, and leapfrogging other projects. She drives by this area frequently and there are a lot of issues with sight lines and safety. This falls under the bigger issue Council discussed today, i.e., school safety and how Council moves request like this forward. She thinks it should be discussed with the item that was referred to the Law and Public Safety Committee earlier today. Ms. Baldwin offered to have an off-line discussion with Mr. Turner about the discussion that took place during the Council’s afternoon session. Mr. Gaylord asked that staff come back to Council with statistics regarding the adoption rates of sidewalk projects as he mentioned earlier. Mr. Weeks said he agrees with Mr. Gaylord’s comments.
Without objection, Mayor McFarlane referred this request to the Law and Public Safety Committee.

Mark Turner : Frank St. Sidewalk is finally here!

August 07, 2017 02:04 AM

Frank Street sidewalk is a reality!

At first I didn’t believe her. My friend Dana Deaton sent me a message and offhand at the end she asked me “have you seen the sidewalk at the end of Frank Street? It’s a miracle. Thanks for your work on that project.”

Wait, what? WHAT? You mean, the City of Raleigh finally put a sidewalk in on Frank Street? It did not matter that I had just driven 150 miles from the beach and had yet to unpack, I had to drop everything and take a look at this miraculous public works project.

It was over five years ago that I pulled out all the stops to convince the City to install this sidewalk. In 2012, I filled out the city’s petition, knocked on the requisite doors, and came within one vote of success. That one vote, though, was impossible to acquire, even though I went the extra effort to show what it would mean to the neighborhood kids and their parents.

I begged. I pleaded. I charmed. And when that didn’t work I may have even pestered a bit. A bit.

But I never gave up. I could not let this one vote deep-six a project that would be so beneficial to the community.

It was time to regroup, so now I went directly to council. One vote is preventing this project, I told them. I need your help to make this worthy project a reality.

I made my case and they agreed! My project was added to the list. I thought my sidewalk might appear with 2-3 years and went about my business. Here is the report to Council after the item returned from the Public Works committee:

SIDEWALK/CROSSWALK – FRANK STREET – PUBLIC HEARING AUTHORIZED
Chairperson Baldwin reported, by split vote, the Law and Public Safety Committee recommends waiving the 75% requirement for accepting a petition to include a sidewalk/crosswalk on Frank Street with the understanding the project would go through a public hearing process. On behalf of the Committee, Ms. Baldwin moved the recommendation be upheld. Her motion was seconded by Mr. Maiorano. Mr. Odom stated he thinks this is a real problem and we need to look at the entire policy. Mr. Crowder talked about the possibility of changing the policy to 50 plus 1. The motion as stated was put to a roll call vote which resulted in all members voting in the affirmative except Mr. Odom and Mr. Crowder who voted in the negative. The Mayor ruled the motion adopted on a 6-2 vote.

Later in the meeting under Council report, Mr. Crowder talked about reallocation of sidewalk, funding, etc. He asked that an item be placed on the next agenda as a special item to talk about the percentage a person needs to get for a sidewalk improvement petition. He stated 75% is not democratic. He feels we need to consider this and it was agreed to place it on the next agenda.

But even though Council approved it it still languished. There are more city sidewalk projects and not enough funding. I knew Frank St. would have to compete with the other projects. Still, with city staff saying it was one of the most worthy projects they had seen I thought it would move sooner. When it did not materialize after a few years, though, I supposed the city had somewhere put the brakes on it and I wondered if I would ever see it.

So today was a victory for me that was a long time coming.

Mark Turner : Read the Full Text of Bill Browder’s Testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee – The Atlantic

August 04, 2017 11:45 PM

Bill Browder explains how Putin became the biggest crook in the world.

For a time, this naming and shaming campaign worked remarkably well and led to less corruption and increased share prices in the companies we invested in. Why? Because President Vladimir Putin and I shared the same set of enemies. When Putin was first elected in 2000, he found that the oligarchs had misappropriated much of the president’s power as well. They stole power from him while stealing money from my investors. In Russia, your enemy’s enemy is your friend, and even though I’ve never met Putin, he would often step into my battles with the oligarchs and crack down on them.

That all changed in July 2003, when Putin arrested Russia’s biggest oligarch and richest man, Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Putin grabbed Khodorkovsky off his private jet, took him back to Moscow, put him on trial, and allowed television cameras to film Khodorkovsky sitting in a cage right in the middle of the courtroom. That image was extremely powerful, because none of the other oligarchs wanted to be in the same position. After Khodorkovsky’s conviction, the other oligarchs went to Putin and asked him what they needed to do to avoid sitting in the same cage as Khodorkovsky. From what followed, it appeared that Putin’s answer was, “Fifty percent.” He wasn’t saying 50 percent for the Russian government or the presidential administration of Russia, but 50 percent for Vladimir Putin personally. From that moment on, Putin became the biggest oligarch in Russia and the richest man in the world, and my anti-corruption activities would no longer be tolerated.

Source: Read the Full Text of Bill Browder’s Testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee – The Atlantic

Mark Turner : Somehow I went from a social media producer to a consumer

August 03, 2017 05:16 PM

A colleague will soon be working in Australia. It reminded me of my visit to the country eleven years ago, and how I crafted several blog posts to describe my trip. Such as this one:

We bought tickets for the jetcat ferry to take us to Manly, where we could walk to Bondi Beach. The ferry provided gorgeous views of the Opera House, the Harbour Bridge, and my personal favorite: the sailboats racing through the harbor! It was cruel to pass these beautiful sailboats as they raced across the water, all the time knowing I didn’t have time to join them! I can’t remember a harborside city I’ve visited that had more sailboats in the water.

Clinton was amused at my happy trigger finger. “Settle, nettle!” he chided me as my camera whipped around this way and that. With a grin he reported eleven shots taken of a passing sailboat.

“Cut me some slack,” I said in defense. “You gotta understand. Not only can I not believe I’m here, it’s been winter for me for the past few months. I’m soaking all of this up!”

And this one:

As the crowd milled around the front of the bar, I again pulled out my camera and took a shot of the festive crowd. As I snapped the picture, I heard a voice beside me.

“Why are you taking pictures?” came the not-exactly-friendly voice. Had I known what was to follow I would’ve answered “I’m shooting pictures for Girls Gone Wild In Full-Length Lab Coats!” Alas, I did not.

“Because you just don’t see this kind of thing in the States,” I answered, looking up. Next to me were too mall-security types. One had a walkie-talkie microphone on his shoulder. I looked for badges but didn’t see any.

“Why,” I asked, sizing up the situation. “Is there something wrong?”

“Are you with them?”

“Uh, no. I’m an American tourist,” I answered. “I just wanted to capture this on film.”

“You can’t take pictures here,” one of them motioned. “Its to protect their privacy.”

I considered the privacy of a crowd of rowdy people on a public street, but gamely played along.

Then the other one leaned in. “There are females over there,” he said. I almost expected him to do the Monty Python “wink-wink-nudge-nudge” bit.

Oh my god!! He was right! There really were females over there, outnumberd by guys two-to-one in the crowd thirty feet away from me. If you squinted really hard, you could even tell!

It’s a reminder that I used to write pretty well and that I don’t really do this much anymore. I blame the lure of social media, catching up with everyone else. Those short snippets of updates don’t seem like much on their own but they do add up. And perhaps I’ve become a bit more private lately.

At any rate, I miss crafting scenes out of words and will strive to do more of it. Writing is still fun.

Tarus Balog : 2017 Dev-Jam – Days 4 and 5

August 03, 2017 04:26 PM

Apologies to my three readers for the two-plus week delay in writing this up. I know you’ve been waiting for this post with more anticipation than Season 7 of Game of Thrones, but things have been crazy busy in OpenNMS-land of late.

As you know, this year’s Dev-Jam was held at Concordia University in Montréal. For most of the week we had access to a nice, large space which included air conditioners (the Grey Nuns building does not have central air), but due to a scheduling conflict we had to move out for the day on Thursday.

We moved to the basement cafeteria, which worked out rather well.

Dev-Jam: Grey Nuns Cafeteria

There were no A/C units but with the windows open there was a good cross breeze and it was comfortable. By the fourth day of Dev-Jam people are pretty much settled into a routine, so the day was mostly spent working to finish up various projects.

On Friday we moved back upstairs. The last full day of Dev-Jam is always bittersweet for me, as I love the “show and tell” part where people share what they have been working on, but I hate the fact that it is over for another year. We also forgot to bring the equipment we usually use for video capture (it was left back in Minnesota) so while the sessions were recorded, they haven’t been posted to Youtube yet.

Dev-Jam: Jesse White presents on Minion

Jesse kicked off the presentations talking about work he was doing to assign specific monitoring tasks to particular Minions.

Dev-Jam: Markus presents on Doughnut Graphs

Markus followed that with his work on adding “doughnut” graphs to the user interface. These resemble the graphs available with Compass™, our mobile app. That is supposed to be a green doughnut and not a grey one but the projector didn’t render it very well.

Dev-Jam: Christian presents on IFTTT

As OpenNMS wants to be the monitoring platform of choice for the Internet of Everything, Christian did some work on integrating it with “If This, Then That” (IFTTT)

Dev-Jam: Ronny presents on ASCIIBinder

Ronny is our “documentation czar” who led the effort to create the most awesome docs.opennms.org site. He explored using ASCIIBinder to manage our growing collection of documentation.

Dev-Jam: Seth presents on ReST

I work with some amazing people, and years ago they saw the potential in adding ReST functionality to OpenNMS. It was a great decision and makes OpenNMS extremely flexible when integrating with other systems. Seth presented some of the work he is doing to extend that feature.

Dev-Jam: Alejandro presents on Drools

OpenNMS has a couple of ways to correlate alarms. The basic method is using the “vacuumd” configuration and SQL, but a stronger (although more complex) method is to used the Drools business intelligence engine. Alejandro presented some work he is doing to move some of the legacy vacuumd tasks to Drools.

Dev-Jam: Jeff presents on CLA Assistant

Contributor License Agreements are a controversial topic in open source, but we use one for OpenNMS. The main reason is to ask any contributor to certify that they have the right to contribute the code. It may seem trivial, but not only does signing such an agreement make the person think about it, it does give the project some cover in case of a dispute.

We currently manage our own CLAs, but the website CLA Assistant aims to make it easier. Jeff presented on what he found out about the service, and we may be migrating to it in the future.

Dev-Jam: Antonio presents on Enhanced Linkd

And last but not least, Antonio talked about the work he is doing on Enhanced Linkd. This is the process that figures out Layer 2 connections between devices. It is non-trivial as vendors seems to relate this information in different ways, and we really appreciate the time he has put into that part of the project.

It was great seeing everyone again, and it was also cool to hold the conference in a new location (well, cool once it was over, it added a lot of stress to my life). I’m eager to start planning next year’s conference.

Warren Myers : i wrote a thing – paragraph, a simple plugin for wordpress

July 29, 2017 12:06 PM

Along with becoming more active on Mastodon,  I’ve been thinking more about concision recently.

One of the big selling points for Mastodon is that the character limit per post is 500 instead of Twitter’s 140.

And I was thinking, “what if there was a way to force you to write better by writing less / more compactly / more concisely?”

So after a couple weeks, I sat down and wrote an incredibly simple WordPress plugin. Introducing Paragraph.

Paragraph removes all formatting of a post or page, effectively turning it into a wall of text.

How does this help you?

If you see your writing as an uninterrupted wall of text – or a “paragraph” – you may notice that what you’re trying to say is getting lost in the noise.

It could also help force you to write more often but shorter each time.

Or maybe you’ll find it completely useless: and that’s OK, too.

Mark Turner : Media notes: Sanders says N&O told him ‘goodbye’ and that his ‘services were no longer needed’ – Raleigh & Company

July 24, 2017 01:28 AM


There’s turmoil at the News and Observer, with columnist Barry Saunders getting shown the door last week. I didn’t always agree with Barry but I enjoyed reading his columns. He was one of the outsized personalities that give the hometown paper real flavor and his loss is devastating to the N&O in my opinion. I’ve long said that there were two main reasons I kept subscribing to the N&O: Joe Miller’s Take It Outside column and Barry Saunders’ column. Now both are gone.

At a time when newspapers around the country are demonstrating their value in holding the powerful accountable, McClatchy seems to be going in the opposite direction. It’s sad, because it doesn’t have to be this way.

Some say the N&O is all about “generating clicks” nowadays, and reporters are being pushed to produce clickable content. As someone else said, reading social media is like reading the National Enquirer. Is this really the direction a media company wants to go?

I miss the days when the News and Observer was fully in the game. We need good journalism now more than ever.

As The McClatchy Company’s reinvention initiative continues to roll out at The News & Observer, changes are ongoing.Reporters met with editors in recent days to discuss how the initiative relates to their job and what changes may be coming for their roles. Others are finding out that they have lost their jobs.

The most prominent change, revealed in this story, is the departure after 24 years of columnist Barry Saunders, 59. According to multiple sources, the move wasn’t his decision. Saunders didn’t respond to a voicemail message.

But during an appearance Saturday night on WRAL-TV’s public-affairs program “On the Record,” he confirmed that he was forced out.

“I can tell you that that decision was made above my pay grade,” Saunders said on the show, which was taped Friday. “I was told that they were saying goodbye. Remember the old Manhattans song, ‘we called you here today for a bit of bad news’? I was just told my services were no longer needed there.”

Source: Media notes: Sanders says N&O told him ‘goodbye’ and that his ‘services were no longer needed’ – Raleigh & Company