21
November
2014
Permalink

Back in the day, when particle physicists were creating the list of subatomic particles and putting together what’s known as the Standard Model, they named the six types (“flavors”) of quarks as follows:

up
down
charm
strange
truth
beauty

I always thought those last two were particularly poetic, but unfortunately over time truth and beauty became known as top and bottom. A few years ago there was quite a bit of excitement when the top quark– the most massive one, and thus the most elusive to create in a particle accelerator– was “found”. It would have been fun to read about how “truth had been found” instead.

Anyway, I still like to refer to them as truth and beauty, just as I continue to refer to Pluto as a planet. This evening I was reading an article about the discovery of a couple of new elementary particles (Xi_b and Xi_b*) at the Large Hadron Collider. To my delight, the article I was reading mentioned that the particles are comprised of three quarks: strange, down, and beauty. Aha!

It’s good to know truth and beauty are alive and well.

14
November
2014
Permalink

The adventure continues. This afternoon Alex, Laralee, and I drove down to Boulder for a tour of the University of Colorado Boulder (CU) campus. It was about 35 degrees and we were walking around for over an hour, but at least it wasn’t 10 degrees like it was a few days ago!

CU is a big school, with about 30,000 students, and covers a lot of ground. It was definitely a different experience than our recent tour of Colorado School of Mines. Unlike Mines, which is almost entirely focused on engineering disciplines, CU is a true “university” and engineering makes up around 25% of student enrollment. Still, they have impressive research work, and their physics department is world-renowned (they have three Nobel laureates on the physics staff!). Alex doesn’t plan to go into physics, but it’s nice to know that CU has strong science programs.

Laralee said she was pretty bored after the tour. Like our earlier trip to Golden, I found it really exciting to see the campus and picture Alex attending college. And, yes, it brought back memories of my college days as well.

For the past few weeks I’ve been hounding Alex to work on scholarship applications. There are tons of scholarships available, and there are even web sites that consolidate them pretty nicely so you can skim lists of hundreds of them and select ones that seem interesting or applicable. He’s been working on the applications, albeit slowly, and today I hope some of the harsh reality of the cost of a college education will be motivating to him.

I did some quick research and found these estimated annual prices for the four schools Alex is considering:

Colorado School of Mines – $31,023/year
University of Colorado Boulder – $26,933/year
Brigham Young University – Provo – $16,163/year
Brigham Young University – Idaho – $11,483/year

Holy smokes. Those first two will cost over a hundred grand for a full degree. I sure hope he finds some sweet scholarships…

12
November
2014
Permalink

Monday night Kyra’s symphonic band performed with the University of Colorado band. The high school group had been invited to join the CU players, which was a pretty big honor.

Mom and Dad had commented in the past that if any of our kids had a special performance or event, they should invite Grandma and Grandpa to come visit. So Kyra did, and they were able to schedule the trip. It was really great.

When we arrived at the CU auditorium, Mom was concerned that we wouldn’t be able to see Kyra at all. There are a lot of players in the band, and only a few of them are visible– most are in the back or behind their music stands. Fortunately, Kyra is first chair flute which means she always sits on the right side of the conductor, on the end chair closest to the audience. Sure enough, when the students came out and took their seats, we could see her easily.

kyra-concert-1

The band played well, and Kyra had several solos that were really good. She’s definitely a strong flautist– it’s hard to remember the early days when she sounded more like a squeaky wheel.

Nice job, Kyra!

12
November
2014
Permalink

Zack has an iPad Mini for school– all of the students get to “lease” one for the year, and the teachers use them as part of their curriculum. It’s a nice program, and I think it helps the students learn how to use technology every day. Of course the students look at it as an opportunity to install the latest Minecraft mod or Candy Crush game.

Zack has tinkered with it a bit, and now he can enable Siri and ask her:

“Who am I?”

To which she replies:

“Your name is Popo, but you asked me to call you the Chinchilla Master.”

Of course that’s in the semi-robotic voice of Siri, which probably makes it even funnier. I don’t know where the Chinchilla Master came from, but Zack chuckles every time he does it. I love it– his sense of humor is as goofy as mine.

12
November
2014
Permalink

Alex scored a 32 on the ACT twice but I encouraged him to take it again to see if he could improve on his score. Since he’s been working on college applications and scholarships, I think he saw the benefit an impressive ACT score could give him. So last month he went in for a third time.

Today he checked his score.

34!

Nice. He scored a perfect 36 in science (interestingly, the only section on which I did not score a 36 back in 1989). He’s pretty stoked about it, and hopefully it’ll translate into easier admissions to colleges and some more scholarship money.

3
November
2014
Permalink

We just came home from Alex’s black belt graduation ceremony. After about five years of hard work at Origin Martial Arts, he received his first-degree black belt and a pretty spiffy black gi.

He’s been attending two or three nights a week for all these years– quite a commitment, especially for someone as busy as he is lately. It’s been a lot of fun for him, and also very rewarding to finally achieve this. Nice job, Alex.

31
October
2014
Permalink

Well, tonight’s the night. We’ve had our Halloween decorations up for a couple of weeks now, and– like Christmas– all of the preparation always comes down to one final day. One of my favorite decorations is this little construction-paper craft that Alex made when he was something like five years old:

halloween-4

I don’t even know how it’s survived this long, but every year we tape it up on a wall somewhere.

Since Alex is 17 and Kyra is 16, neither of them felt like it would be appropriate to go trick-or-treating. Alex went over to a friend’s house where they were planning to jump off the roof (on to a crash pad) to scare kids. Uhh. I don’t think it happened, although it reminded me of the good old days when Dirk and I camped out on the roof of his house on Halloween and whenever someone approached the front porch, we’d drop a Cabbage Patch Kid who was tied to a noose. Hilarious! Kyra went to a friend’s house to watch a movie– apparently it was going to be something scary but ended up being The Dark Knight Rises. Go figure.

Anyway, Zack is the last trick-or-treater in the family, so he spent all of ten minutes planning and creating his costume. Behold… the hobo!

halloween-1

Basically these were some random old items I had stashed in our costume box in the crawlspace. After about five minutes he realized the afro wasn’t going to be a lot of fun as he walked the neighborhood, so it came off and he was basically some guy wearing torn jeans and the remains of a flannel bed sheet. Ahh, creativity these days.

I quit work a little early this afternoon because we’d planned to carve pumpkins as a family. Well, it turned out no one actually wanted to do it. We had five nice pumpkins on our front porch, so I went ahead and did a couple myself.

First there’s the classic one that I do every year:

halloween-3

Then we had a tall skinny one so I really went wild and did something completely different:

halloween-2

The other three? They sat on the porch as boring old pumpkins.

Despite the lack of enthusiasm from the fam about this holiday, I always think it’s a good time. Happy Halloween!

31
October
2014
Permalink

Today’s the deadline for Alex to send his senior picture to the high school. Of course we hadn’t done anything about it until now, and we weren’t really inclined to spend a few hundred dollars on the professional sitting because this photo will be used in the yearbook (which Alex doesn’t care about) and for a two-second part of the senior slide show. So Alex and I went to the back yard and he stood in front of the neighbors’ bushes.

alex-senior-pic

A bit of image editing to adjust the colors and remove a few prominent zits, and it turned out pretty decent.

I remember when I was in high school, I had a pretty bad situation with acne for a while. Back in those days, without digital photography they actually retouched the physical prints with some airbrushing. They removed all of my crazy zits, and the resulting picture didn’t even look much like me because I hadn’t had a complexion like that for years. At least Alex didn’t inherit that from me.

30
October
2014
Permalink

Zack had an appointment with the orthopedist on Monday to have his arm cast removed. However, when we first had the cast put on, the doctor told us that many people simply remove it themselves after six weeks. He said it’s possible to use tin snips or some other sturdy sort of scissors, although he’d heard of people using power tools and he didn’t recommend that approach. I can’t even picture what sort of power tool you’d apply to an arm cast– a very careful application of a circular saw? Yikes.

Anyway, tonight at dinner we were talking about this appointment and how it would save us $75 (thanks, Obamacare!) if we just took care of the cast ourselves. How hard could it be?

We finished dinner and Laralee went to the garage to grab our pruning shears. Of course she sterilized them in boiling water for five minutes before using them in this delicate surgical manner. No, wait, she didn’t, although I think she might have at least picked out a few of the remnants of twigs stuck in the blade.

zack-cast-1

It took a bit of work, and after about fifteen minutes she’d gone the length of the cast and was ready for the final cut.

zack-cast-2

Zack was pretty happy to see his arm again.

zack-cast-3

We weren’t too thrilled to smell his arm, though. Throughout these six weeks, he had to shower with a plastic bag over his arm, which means six weeks of sweat and grime had accumulated under this cast. It smelled like a high school locker room after two-a-day football practice in July. Holy cow. The inside of the cast could probably have been part of a science experiment.

He says his wrist feels “a little funny” but we keep assuring him it’s because he hasn’t flexed those muscles in over a month. By tomorrow all should be well again. And hey, it didn’t cost us 75 clams.

25
October
2014
Permalink

Every year I’m excited about Halloween and spend an inordinate amount of time working on a costume. This year I started early; back in early September I did some research to figure out what would be better: Kevin Flynn from Tron: Legacy or the Dread Pirate Roberts from The Princess Bride.

For the Tron costume, I’d need a robe with flexible glow panels sewn into it, as well as some custom boots and of course an identity disc. There’s a local electronics supplier that sells flexible panels and strips– really cool stuff. In the end, though, I decided it wasn’t going to work very well because the annual party we attend is well-lit so the glowing folds of the robe wouldn’t be as cool as they would be in a dim room.

So, I went to work on the Dread Pirate Roberts. I grabbed some screen captures from the movie so I could take a close look at the clothes and accessories he wore. Yes, I’m that thorough in my research.

dread-pirate-roberts

dread-pirate-roberts-1

Then I headed over to Amazon to buy a few things. After a few weeks I’d accumulated leather pirate boots, a black shirt, gauntlets, a frog (a leather device that’s used to attach a sword to a belt), and I’d made a sash, head wrap, and was working on a mask. I looked around for a good prop sword but just wasn’t satisfied with the cheap plastic ones. I wanted this costume to look good, not comical. After some thought I cashed in a few Amazon gift cards to buy a real rapier. As things came down to the wire and my attempts to create a mask continued to fail, I finally bought a masquerade-ball mask at Walmart for two bucks, stripped off the bling, and sanded it smooth. A few cans of black and gold spray paint were needed to touch up the accessories a bit.

Of course Roberts has a little mustache, and I wanted to be accurate in every detail so I spent the last week growing out my beard a bit.

halloween-1

I actually drew a few compliments on the beard– it’s been a while since I had facial hair. Anyway, today I shaved down to a rather pathetic mustache:

halloween-2

Yeah. This is why I’ve never had a mustache. But hey, it was the best I could do given the time.

This evening I put it all together and felt like it turned out quite well.

halloween-3

Yep, that’s a real sword.

halloween-4

True fans of the movie would notice that it’s Inigo’s sword, not Westley’s, but I figured it was okay. I even made a little vial of iocaine powder and tucked it into my sash.

Off to the party! I stopped at the grocery store on the way so I could pick up some ice cream. I got some great looks from people, and my conversation with the 20-year-old checker went something like this:

Him: Going to a Halloween party?
Me: No, this is how I dress every day.
Him: (after a pause) Are you Zorro?
Me: I’m the Dread Pirate Roberts.
Him: (blank stare)
Me: From The Princess Bride. Man, your generation missed out.

To my dismay, he wasn’t the only person who thought I was Zorro. A lot of people at the party– even adults– didn’t recognize me. Ugh… I couldn’t believe the heathens. Everyone knows Zorro wears a hat. Maybe next year I’ll buy a wide-brimmed round hat and wear the same costume, except tell everyone I’m Zorro instead.

Anyway, it was a good party and a lot of fun to work on this costume. I sure enjoy Halloween.

21
October
2014
Permalink

This fall I did my first stint as an ultimate league coordinator, running a weekday evening league here in Longmont. It was awesome. We played under the lights every Tuesday through September and October. The weather was beautiful every week, which was unusual for this time of year but made for a good time.

I was also a team captain (as usual) and joined forces with my favorite co-captain ever, the indomitable Brenda (also as usual). We had won the summer league and picked another strong team at the draft. Brenda’s favorite color is orange, and just like in summer we chose that as our team color. When discussing names, the consensus was the Cuties. So, yep, I was a Cutie this fall.

cuties-logo

We ended up 8-3-1 for the season, which was enough to land us in second place. Tonight were the last games of the two-week tournament. We were bumped out of the semi-finals but enjoyed a fun game against another team, then went to watch the latter part of the final game. It was a close, hard-fought game and definitely worth the price of admission.

This evening we took a couple of team photos:

cuties1

cuties2

What a great group. We had a lot of fun together.

There’s one more week in the season: next Tuesday we’re having a Halloween hat, which means I’ll shuffle all of the players in the league and we’ll all play some ultimate in costume. That should be fun to see.

21
October
2014
Permalink

Wow, the beautiful fall weather continues. It’s been in the 60′s and 70′s throughout October, which is pretty unusual… but amazing. Today I enjoyed another great game of lunchtime ultimate, basking in the sun and running barefoot on the warm grass. Tonight we have a league tournament and it’ll be fun whether we win or lose (hopefully win!).

I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop and a blizzard to slam into us, but so far it’s been awesome. Global warming isn’t all bad.

19
October
2014
Permalink

After two and a half years, Laralee finally had her braces removed. It was a happy day for her.

la-no-braces

Of course there’s still some work to be done. She has titanium posts implanted in her jaw right now, and in a few months she’ll get permanent teeth attached to them. Total time: roughly three years. But it’ll be worth it… we hope.

17
October
2014
Permalink

My new duvet cover arrived, and it looks awesome on the bed!

galaxy-bedcover

Laralee isn’t all that excited, but for a guy who loves astrophysics, it’s perfect.

11
October
2014
Permalink

Here’s Thom at Beau Jo’s, posing in front of a big greasy pile of grease. Mmm!

greasy-pile-of-grease

11
October
2014
Permalink

Always a good motto.

life-is-good-bear

11
October
2014
Permalink

I’m working on my Halloween costume, and stumbled across this awesomeness:

iocaine-powder

8
October
2014
Permalink

This afternoon La, Alex, and I headed down to Colorado School of Mines in Golden. This is the first of a few campus tours we’ll be doing in the next few weeks, as Alex begins the process of choosing and applying to colleges. Wow, time sure flies.

It was a beautiful October day, and we had a 45-minute tour of campus with a student. She’s a sophomore majoring in geological engineering, and she was very nice and answered a lot of random questions we threw at her. I asked about campus life, living in the residence halls, scholarships, why she chose Mines, etc. Afterward we listened to a 30-minute presentation from one of the people in the Admissions office, and she answered a few questions from the group. Finally we went to the Financial Aid office to understand how to apply for scholarships, recommendations for the best things to do, and so on.

I really enjoyed it. Alex seemed moderately interested. For me, it totally took me back to my days at UMR in Rolla. The campus is pretty small– a ten-minute walk gets you across it– and their student body is about 5,000 strong. It’s almost entirely an engineering school, with a couple of majors like applied mathematics and physics to round out the curriculum. UMR was a true university in that it offered majors in, say, history and English, but very few people went to UMR for that reason. Mines had a very similar feel, so it was pretty cool to me.

Laralee contrasted it with her experience at BYU, where 35,000 students attend, you need a bike or car to get anywhere, and their Division I sports teams are really good (UMR games were free to students and seldom had a big crowd, because no one goes to places like UMR or Mines to play football).

I’m hoping today’s experience gets Alex excited about college, and he starts digging into scholarships and applications and all that. It’s sort of scary to contemplate, but I think it’ll be a load of fun for him. The journey begins.

csm-logo

24
September
2014
Permalink

We’ve had kids for almost eighteen years, and none of them have ever broken a bone… until today. Zack took the prize.

In gym class today, the kids were playing soccer and Zack was the goalie. Apparently at the end of the game there was a penalty shot, and one of the guys on the other team kicked a real bullet at Zack. He deflected it with his arm (and saved the goal) but immediately felt a sharp pain. Laralee picked him up from school and he spent some time on the couch while we thought about whether to take him over to an urgent care center. (It wasn’t worth an emergency room visit, since it was hardly life-threatening.)

After a while, and the advice of a neighbor who’s a nurse, we felt it would be best to get it checked. Laralee took him in and sure enough, the x-rays showed a slight fracture in his radius, just above his wrist. The doctor wrapped it in a thick bandage because they can’t put on a cast until the swelling goes down. I guess that’ll be a few days from now.

zack-arm-xray

Now, a little after midnight, the poor kid is having trouble sleeping because his arm is throbbing. He popped some ibuprofin and hopefully it’ll kick in soon so he can get some rest. I’m sure it’ll feel a lot better in the morning, and he can show off his injury to his friends.

19
September
2014
Permalink

Last night was the final server move for my company BitRelay. I’ve been running 100+ servers at a co-location facility managed by Sungard, but after ten years there I decided to move to a smaller facility owned by ViaWest. They were able to give me a substantial break on pricing, which means BitRelay’s co-location costs are going to be about $25,000 less per year. Nice.

I’ve learned that moving servers– especially those that have been in place for ten years and built up gradually over those years– is a huge endeavor. At times it felt sort of like moving from one house to another, where you have to plan where everything will go in the new place, find out something isn’t going to fit like you thought, and of course do all sorts of heavy lifting (servers are bulky) in the process. Oh, and all of it has to be coordinated with several hundred clients who don’t want their web sites to go down during the process.

My clients, as well as my team at Zing, have been very patient as I’ve worked through all of this over the past few months. I gave up many Friday nights in August and September, mostly because those were the nights when it was easiest to stay up until one or two in the morning moving servers between datacenters. Last night was the final one. I started at 5:30 in the evening and thought I might be there until midnight, but it turned out to be nine hours so I wasn’t home until after 2:30 in the morning. But hey, it’s done.

It’s sort of sad to leave Sungard, because in general they’re a really good company, but I couldn’t ignore the cost savings. Hopefully I won’t have to move out of ViaWest any time soon!

One of the funniest moments was when I was shutting down an old Windows 2000 server that I’d been managing for a client. The server was used infrequently, so I didn’t do much to upgrade it. In fact, for the last few years, I don’t know if it was used at all but I kept it running just in case. When I shut it down, out of curiosity I checked the logs to see how long it had been running.

bitrelay-windows-uptime

Hmm, that’s a little over eight years, running non-stop 24/7 without a single reboot. I think that’s the record for my longest uptime, although I’m a little disappointed it’s a Windows server instead of a Linux one. Oh, the irony. Maybe Windows 2000 is a champ.

I also took a shot of all of the servers after they’d been installed in their racks. It’s tricky to get a good angle in the walkways between racks, but I think it gives a good idea of what 100+ servers looks like.

bitrelay-servers

So, with all of this behind me, I guess I can take a nap to catch up on all of those long nights…