Categories
Biking Hiking Work

Winter Routine

We’re coming up on a year since everything shut down in mid-March 2020, so this is the first January that I’ve been full-time working from home. For most of 2020, my morning routine several days a week was to take long bike rides before work. I would get out of the house at around 6:30am and ride for anywhere from 2 to 2.5 hours. I kind of suspected that the routine might change a bit come winter, and indeed, it has.

The first big change was in October, when I bought an under-desk treadmill. I had been considering getting one of these for a couple of years. I had been using a standing desk regularly at work, but quickly found that static standing didn’t work for me for long periods of time. I had to be moving around. While standing, I constantly found myself pacing around the office, wandering around the hall outside my office, etc. On the other hand, I could hike for hours and hours on end with minimal breaks. So, I figured that if there was a way to walk while working, I’d be able to stay on my feet and out of the chair for longer periods of time.

When the pandemic hit and I started working from home full-time, I found myself getting less exercise. My biking mileage didn’t drop, but it was all concentrated in the morning, vs. a morning and afternoon commute each day. On top of that, I found that I wasn’t getting out for afternoon walks as I used to do regularly at work, and with meetings shifting to Zoom/Webex, I wasn’t getting free exercise from walking between buildings for meetings, either. I needed something to fill the gap, and a treadmill seemed like the perfect answer: I could work and exercise at the same time. The treadmill has lived up to my expectations — I walk on it anywhere from 2 to 4 hours a day, and my average daily step count on work days has ballooned from under 10k to over 20k.

I kind of expected my biking mileage to drop in the winter, and it has, but not for the reasons I initially thought. I figured the cold temperatures would limit me to shorter rides, but so far, this has been another of Maryland’s famous warm, wet winters, and we haven’t really had a true cold snap yet. In actuality, running, hiking, and climbing have been reducing the frequency of my rides. Could be worse, I suppose. It will be interesting to see how my routine is affected if we ever get a true cold spell, or a significant snowstorm, but I’m not holding my breath for either of those things to happen this year.

Categories
Climbing Miscellany Weather Work

Xmas Break

It’s that time of year again, when work shuts down at the end of December. Most years, this is a complete break from my daily routine, with a 2-week absence from the office, and all of the usual holiday gatherings and activities filling our family schedule. I always look forward to the holidays, but usually, by January, I’ve had my fill, and am ready for things to get back to normal. It’s definitely a tiring time of year to be an introvert. This year is going to be quite a departure, though. My office is right downstairs in the basement, so I’m not really physically leaving it. We’ll celebrate Christmas with a couple of really small family gatherings, but other than that, the calendar is clear. The “holidaze”, as I’m fond of calling them, aren’t going to seem much different from the daily grind this year, other than the fact that I’m not working — and even that isn’t guaranteed, as I’ll be visiting the “office” occasionally to get some time in on my treadmill desk.

After a couple of mild, dry winters, it looks like we’re in for a wet one this year. I’m not sure if we’ll get much snow, as we’ve been in a “flood and freeze” pattern thus far — warm weather, followed by flooding rains, then a deep freeze, then a warm-up, whereupon the cycle repeats. Occasionally, an ice storm creeps into the mix. We’re due for a snowy winter, so it will be interesting to see if this pattern continues into January.

I’ve gotten myself into a pretty good routine of climbing once a week at Earth Treks. This morning, I climbed 8 routes: a 5.7, 5.9, 5.10a, 5.10a, 5.9, 5.10b, 5.8, and 5.9. Two of these routes were new to me, and the rest I had climbed previously. Most had a moderate amount of overhang, but I did tackle one rather slabby 5.9. 8 is a pretty good number for me for the time I was there, and I cleaned all 8 routes, so I’d say it was a good day. I guess I’m slowly getting better at this. I’ve been alternating between my newly-resoled La Sportiva TC Pros and my Scarpa Force Vs. I like them both. In the gym, I haven’t noticed a ton of difference as far as climbing goes. The Scarpas have velcro closures, and are easier to put on and take off. The TC Pros are lace-ups, but are more comfortable than the Scarpas, so there’s less need to take them off in between climbs. I have yet to climb outdoors with the Scarpas, but it will be interesting to see how that goes. I suspect the Scarpas will end up being my gym shoes, and the TCs will be my outdoor shoes. But you never know.

Tomorrow, we’ll be in the flood phase of our flood-freeze weather cycle, but I’m hoping the deluge will hold off for an hour or two so I can get a run in. If not, I guess I’ll be running Christmas morning. It’s not like the kids get up early any more. 😃

Categories
Biking Work

T-Day Week

It’s a short work week, so I’m working on wrapping a few things up at work ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday. Next week, we have our second virtual Shibboleth training class of the year. These seem to be popular, as the last one sold out, and we’re pushing 30 registrants for this go-around. I think we’re pulling in a new audience that we wouldn’t ordinarily see at our in-person trainings. The online format has given us an opportunity to revamp our course and training materials, which was overdue, and we’ve identified some things along the way that we can use to eventually improve the in-person training as well. I still greatly prefer the in-person format (and the travel) but can definitely see us continuing to offer some online training even after in-person resumes.

Early this morning, I rode my regular pre-COVID commuting route out to UMBC and back, which I try to do every week or two. BGE has been replacing gas lines in Relay since late spring, and the workers have dug up and patched (literally) every single road in town. It’s still ongoing, but seems to be nearing completion. I suspect next spring will bring a massive repaving project. Should be nice once it’s all finally done, but in the meantime, I’m glad I don’t have to commute through there every day any more.

Speaking of commuting, two and a half years ago, I bought a new commuter bike. It is a Surly Disc Trucker. It served me well as a 3.5-season commuter bike, until I stopped commuting. Since then, it’s been my go-to bike for road riding, splitting duty with my venerable 2009 Masi single speed. Truth be told, it’s better suited for commuting and long-distance touring than it is for my typical 25-to-30-mile morning road rides. It’s quite the beast, with racks, lights, and full fenders, and it is a great rain bike. But, it’s heavy and kinda slow, and while I still ride in the rain occasionally, telecommuting has made it unnecessary, so I’ve been gravitating towards alternative ways to stay active on rainy days. Once I finally start going back to the office, it’ll be nice to use the Surly for its intended purpose again.

Categories
Work

Electric

I don’t post much about work on my blog, unless you count the act of getting to and from work on my bike.  This past weekend, UMBC lost power for around 72 hours, and the IT support/admin guys in our area were scrambling around madly the entire weekend, almost 24/7, trying to keep key systems and infrastructure functioning so the University could continue to do business.  Having been a systems administrator for a good spell in the ’90s, I know firsthand what a thankless job it is.  Everyone takes computers and network infrastructure for granted, until it goes down.  When a systems admin does a good job, and everything is working normally, no one notices.  Admins rarely hear from anyone unless something is down or broken. Systems admins are kind of like the white-collar equivalent to the BGE guys who go around restoring power after an outage.  IT infrastructure has become as important as electricity: when it works, it’s taken for granted; when it doesn’t, the world grinds to a halt.

Back in my day, when we didn’t have things like whole-building generators, everything would have just gone down and stayed down during an extended power outage.  This past weekend, save for a few minor glitches, UMBC’s IT infrastructure stayed largely intact and functional.  That’s a testament both to the increased importance of our infrastructure vs. 20 years ago, and the herculean efforts of the support staff to keep everything running.

My role during all of this mess, was just to be available in case one of the services for which I serve as designated babysitter needed attention, as the admins shuffled around the physical hardware to deal with the power issues.  Again thanks to these guys, none of my stuff broke down, and everything pretty much worked as it always had.  If it weren’t for having an unexpected day off on Friday, and the text messages from our emergency alert system, I might not even have known that the power was out.  Remarkable.  If you see one of these guys, make sure to thank them and buy them a beverage of their choosing.

Categories
Calendar Pool Work

Saturday update

Got a start on winterizing the pool today, with occasional breaks to shoo Andrew off the pool cover.  I drained the water down below the tile line and added chlorine and algaecide.  The water was nice and clean even after a month of neglect.  Wonder if the algaecide I added last month helped.  Anyways, tomorrow I hope to get out earlier and get the bulk of the work done.  Not sure if I’ll get to blowing out the return lines.  We’ll see.

On the calendar front…  turns out Sunbird is not buggy after all as I had assumed yesterday.  Apple’s iCal exhibits similar behavior.  It appears that if I have events with RECURRENCE-ID properties, somewhere there needs to be an event that “defines” the recurrence with an RRULE or RDATE property.  Oracle Calendar’s output is missing this “defining” event.  I thought briefly about trying to “fix” the recurrences by adding RDATEs, etc. to the iCalendar output, but I think that’s more trouble than it’s worth.  I’m just going to try rewriting the recurring events as separate events, giving them unique IDs based on the start date of the event.  I’ll try it out Monday and see how it goes.

Categories
Calendar Work

Calendaring revisited

It’s been a year or so since I gave up on my home-grown calendar sync setup.  It was nice for awhile, then we upgraded our Oracle Calendar server, it broke, I tried to fix it and didn’t get very far, and that was the end of that.  Well, as it happens, there’s been some recent interest in an Oracle-calendar-to-iCalendar gateway at work, so I decided to drag my old stuff out and try again.  And it turns out, things have improved in a year’s time.  First off, the Oracle Calendar SDK seems to be more reliable.  I used to get lots of internal library errors, particularly when trying to download large chunks of calendar data.  But that doesn’t seem to be happening now (I know, famous last words).  And on top of that, the iCalendar output is much cleaner.  For example, recurring events are now properly tagged with RECURRENCE-ID properties, so recurrences “just work” now without any extra work on my part.  There are still a few little quirky things, but by and large, it’s a huge improvement.

Also improved is Sunbird, Mozilla’s standalone calendar app.  It’s still a little rough around the edges, but it seems much more robust than previous versions.  I’d eventually like to use Sunbird as my main calendaring app everywhere, because it’s cross-platform and it allows interactive editing of subscribed WebDAV calendars (unlike Apple’s iCal).  The only stumbling block is my old, crusty Palm PDA, which only syncs with iCal.  Much as I’ve liked the Palm PDAs I’ve used over the years, I’m wondering if it isn’t time to start thinking about something different.  It’d be great to have something with functionality similar to Sunbird’s, in a PDA form factor.  Never going to get that with something that relies on desktop sync.

Categories
Work

Retro coding

’tis been awhile.. but I’m currently writing some code (the Student Parking Registration rewrite) that communicates directly with our system of record for SIS, the HP3000 mainframe. I haven’t done this for 6 or 7 years (although I’ve made tweaks here and there, this is the most I’ve done with it since 2000 or so). And I had forgotten how comically antiquated the whole process is. Now, I don’t write code on the HP (God forbid.. it’s all Cobol), but I do interact with a TCP/IP socket-based server that runs on the HP. And, I have to send data buffers over the socket in a format that the HP will understand. It’s remeniscent of FORTRAN, or Assembly Language, or something like it. The HP is very fussy about field width, positions of parameters within buffers, etc. If I’m off by a character, for example, subsequent fields all end up shifted over too far. Suffice it to say, it’s not much like the stuff I’m doing nowadays – Java, PHP, XML, etc. It’s quite nostalgic. It makes me want to go log into the VAX 4000 and run my old 4-bit assembly simulator.

Oh well.. back to work. I’d hate not to finish this, and have 13,000 students unable to be billed by Parking Services next fall. That might affect my next raise…

Categories
Work

Kids are back

Just got back from my first outdoor run in what seems like forever, so I’m sure I’ll be nice and sore tomorrow. I’ve really fallen off with the biking (and exercising in general) recently, and I do hope to ride in several more times this year, but this is definitely the time of year when I start to transition from biking to running as my main form of exercise. Which reminds me that I need to pick up a new pair of shoes.

Work has been absolutely insane lately, as it always is this time of year (the kids are back). However this year has been rockier than recent years. myUMBC always gets pounded at the start of the fall semester, and this year we’ve had problems with almost all of our back end systems at one point or another: the HP3000, the Oracle database, and even our enterprise filesystem. myUMBC is kind of like a canary in a coal mine. It relies on a complex, fragile infrastructure of systems and services, and if any one of them goes down, myUMBC is usually the first thing to die. Here’s a rundown of emergency work performed in the last few days to try and keep myUMBC running:

  • Late-night database reconfiguration to make Oracle less of a dog
  • Shuffling Easipipe around to attempt to fix flakiness on the HP3000 (it didn’t work)
  • Reconfigured myUMBC web server to work around IE SSL weirdness
  • Turned off Tomcat clustering stuff that wasn’t working and was possibly screwing stuff up

Things seem to be improved today, with the HP3000 thing the only unresolved issue. We’re keeping our fingers crossed.

On the home front, we’ve got tulip poplar leaves all over the place. I would so love to cut those things down. I guess I shouldn’t complain too much, because they at least waited until the end of August. The drier the weather is, the earlier they start dropping leaves. We’re in a semi-drought now, although it didn’t start until mid-summer. If the entire summer had been dry, I probably would have been dealing with leaves in late July. I really need to get a leaf net for the pool.

And of course, the semi-drought likely will end tomorrow with the tropical system that’s supposed to pass through and give us more biblical flooding. It’s really feast-or-famine with rain around here these days, and it seems like it’s been that way for about a year now. Afterwards I guess I’ll have to mow again, which I haven’t done in quite awhile, and haven’t really missed.

If previous years are any indication, we’ve got at best another month of swimming left. And this year, we’ll be at the beach the last week of September (T-minus 3 weeks). So I guess we should toss Michael into the pool while the tossing’s good. On that note, I’m outta here for today.

Categories
Work

Cisco VPN client for Linux

Well.. after quite a bit of fiddling (what else is new) I managed to get Cisco’s VPN Client working on my Linux box. OIT provides a download for this, but it’s just a tar file of the client software.. no docs or any other info.

Details: I run Debian, and most of my Linux boxes have custom-built kernels; I don’t use the pre-packaged Debian Kernels. For some reason, I’ve found that things “work better” like that, at least for servers. Case in point: I initially tried to build the VPN stuff on a freshly-installed box with the stock Debian kernel, and it bombed spectacularly. I then built a custom Kernel, tried again, and it worked.

I run 2.4.x. Specifically, the two machines I’ve built VPN on run 2.4.32 and 2.4.33. I have no idea if the stuff works on 2.6 or not.

Installation:

  1. Untar the distribution, VPNClient.tar.gz, and cd into the resulting vpnclient directory.
  2. Become root and run the installation script:

    ./vpn_install

    It should be safe to accept the defaults for all of the prompts. One of the prompts is whether to start the VPN Service at boot time. Since I rarely use VPN, I elected not to do this. I ended up with an init script, /etc/init.d/vpnclient_init, which I need to run manually. Presumably, if you tell it to start at boot time, it’ll create the appropriate link in /etc/rc2.d or wherever.

  3. UMBC includes two VPN “profile” files, "UMBC OffCampus.pcf" and "UMBC OnCampus.pcf". Copy these into the directory /etc/opt/cisco-vpnclient/Profiles. Make sure they are set to mode 644.

    cp UMBC* /etc/opt/cisco_vpnclient
    chmod 644 /etc/opt/cisco_vpnclient/UMBC*

  4. Check the file /opt/cisco-vpnclient/bin/cvpnd and ensure the setuid bit is set. For some reason, after installing on two different machines, one of them had the bit set and the other didn’t. This file must be setuid root or vpnclient will not run for a non-root user.

    chmod 4111 /opt/cisco-vpnclient/bin/cvpnd

  5. Try it out:

    vpnclient connect UMBC\ OnCampus
    or
    vpnclient connect UMBC\ OffCampus

Problems? Make sure all the files are in the locations they should be (no filenames misspelled etc) with the exact permissions specified above. It’s very picky about this, and the errors it gives aren’t too helpful. strace is definitely your friend here.

In other news.. I think I’m going to try setting up a personal Wiki to document stuff like this. Using the blog for this kind of stuff does work (i.e. I’m documenting stuff that I previously wasn’t, and I have a resource I can refer to for stuff now), but the diary-like nature of the blog doesn’t lend itself too well to organizing information. With a Wiki, I’ll be able to organize stuff for future reference, and I can keep the Blog for the stream-of-consciousness type stuff. I think I’ll try MediaWiki initially, because I’m familiar with it and like its look. My only concern is that it might be overkill, so I’ll have to see what kind of footprint it has.

Categories
Work

Parking Permits and EasiPipe hacking

I bit the bullet today and bought a UMBC Parking Permit. Now, for someone who works at UMBC, this may not seem too remarkable. But, this is the first time I’ve had a parking permit in about 4 years. I’ve always had philosophical issues with the University charging its employees for parking, but that’s kinda beside the point — I originally worked in a remote area of campus (TRC building) with a lot of nearby street parking. So, it was kind of a no-brainer to eschew the permit and just park on the street. A few years ago I moved to main campus, which is about a 20-minute walk from where I was originally parking. But up till now, I remained permit-less. I would either park off-campus and walk the mile or so to my office, or I’d ride my bike in, or have my wife drop me off. It worked, for awhile. Now with two kids, it’s becoming too inconvenient. So, I got the permit. I’ll actually miss the occasional walks to/from my car, but it’ll be nice not to have to worry about getting to my office in bad weather. And, I don’t really feel the need to beat the system any more just to save a few hundred bucks. Sometimes convenience is worth paying for.

In other news, I hacked a bit on Easipipe today. Easipipe is the program that brokers connections between myUMBC and the HP3000 mainframe that serves as our SIS system of record. This is all part of the big project to move all our stuff off of SGI hardware. Easipipe is a big piece of that. It’s written in C, and required a bit of porting to get it running under Solaris. But it wasn’t too difficult after I dusted off my long-neglected C programming skills. Since we have two clustered portal web servers, I’ve decided to try running two Easipipe instances, one on each web server. It required a bit of hacking to prepare the code for the new configuration. The HP3000 listens on a total of 20 contiguous TCP ports. Each web server will use a block of 10 of those ports. The code needed to be hacked so each Easipipe instance could figure out the correct block of ports to use. Right now, I’m doing that by checking the hostname. I’m going to cut over to this setup tomorrow morning, so I can babysit it over the course of the day. I think it’ll work fine, but ya never know.