The Sopranos

Back when the show was playing original new episodes on HBO, a good friend sang its praises. I didn’t have cable TV nor was I interested in paying (at that time) around $35/mo. to watch one show.

Some years later, I was visiting my parents in Omaha and saw an episode. I thought it was pretty good (from season 6B). I caught a couple more later on as I did have cable TV at this time and it had been syndicated. I liked it so much, I bought the entire box set, every episode on DVD.

I’ve watched all 6 seasons at least 3 or 4 times. I recently finished a run and for the first time ever, I’m starting the show again right away instead of waiting a few years like I usually do. Every time I watch an episode, I know what’s going to happen, but I still learn or spot something new from a scene or episode that I didn’t notice before. [Reading any literature is like that, especially Bible study].

Tonight, I took notice of a particular conversation between Tony and his teenage daughter Meadow. It reminds me of conversations I’ve had with my own daughter when she was younger.

Even today, she knows that all she has to do to make me cover my ears is to talk about that subject LOL…

Meadow Soprano: This country’s light-years behind the rest of the world. Most civilized countries have legalized prostitution.

Tony Soprano: Don’t you got somewhere to be?

Meadow Soprano: I mean, it’s a joke. Look what they’re putting the President through.

Carmela Soprano: He deserved what he got.

Anthony ‘A.J.’ Soprano, Jr.: He got Monica Kaczynski and the broad with the long nose.

Meadow Soprano: I just don’t think sex should be a punishable offense.

Tony Soprano: You know honey, that’s where I agree with you. I don’t think sex should be a punishable offense either. But I do think talking about sex at the breakfast table is a punishable offense. So no more sex talk, OK?

Meadow Soprano: It’s the 90s. Parents are supposed to discuss sex with their children.

Tony Soprano: Yeah, but that’s where you’re wrong. You see out there it’s the 1990s but in this house it’s 1954.

[points to the window]

Tony Soprano: 1990s.

[points to the floor]

Tony Soprano: 1954. So now and forever, I don’t want to hear any more sex talk, OK?

I’m with Tony on this one :-)

First day

The new office is pretty nice. It’s big, windowed, and has a door that closes. The view isn’t much but who cares? I can at least see the sky, a few trees, and my ride. The company occupies some offices connected to a warehouse in a neighborhood of several other very large warehouses. It’s low-traffic and quiet. I’ve joined the smallest company for which I’ve ever worked, only 12 people.

I think I’m going to like it here. Then again, I thought that at Dell last year and that experiment went straight to hell. This company is the complete opposite as far as operations, size, and culture. Works for me.

The desk is pretty big, a piece of about 4 feet connected to another at a rounded right angle that fills a corner of the office nicely. I have a long glass table behind me, 2 wood file cabinets, a guest chair, and fake plant (which I intend to replace with a real one, a small tree.)

The only downside is the company-issued laptop. The lil’ bastard runs Windows 8. I had planned to bring my own laptop to work anyway. It runs Linux Mint 17 and can boot into Windows 7 when/if needed. I’ve decided to build a system on a USB thumbdrive and boot into that on the work machine so I’ll have 2 good laptops to use.

The best part about all of this is that the boss doesn’t care what I do with the technology or the office, as long as it works for me. I told him about the CRM server I built and he’s curious to know how it will work out. I have a lot of freedom and almost no limits on who I can prospect.

The icing on the cake is the travel. I’ve always shied away from jobs that had a travel component because of my fear of flying. The doctor is going to help me overcome that fear. After all, over the next year, I’ll be spending a total of 2 weeks in Vegas and 6 weeks in Chicago. I’m really looking forward to that. I can also meet with customers in person, depending on the deal and their distance. Other than that, there are no restrictions. I do believe I will like it here.

Fear of flying, the new job, and my own CRM server

A few weeks ago, the vice president of a very small company emailed me about a sales position. The majority of emails I get from recruiters are people trying to get me to sell insurance. This was one of the more rare kind that actually caught my interest. Long story short, I start as Sales Manager this Thursday at a company of about 12 people.

I have the potential to make a lot more money than in my previous position. The work is more relationship-based, account management vs. one-time transactions. I like fostering relationships with customers over time like I did back at the Dallas Morning News. Part of the job includes all-expense paid travel to Chicago and Vegas. They say 20% of our business comes from these trade shows. Sounds like fun!

…Except getting there. About 8 years ago, I took a flight from Dallas to Omaha which experienced some pretty rough turbulence over Kansas. I was scared shitless. On the way back, I gritted my teeth and kept my eyes focused on the pages of “Tuesdays with Mourie”, a book my dad gave me to help me focus my attention on something besides the airplane.

I have refused to set foot on a plane since. It’s somewhat ironic in that I had no problem putting my daughter on a plane several times when she was a teenager and I shared custody with her mom who lived 650 miles away. I did worry about her but I knew, deep down, that my fear is pretty much unwarranted.

Even still, the fear was, and still is, very real. I’m aware that more people are killed in car accidents than airplanes. But in the car, I have some control over most situations. I’ve had car accidents from which I’ve walked away. The chances of living through a car accident are actually pretty good. But in an airplane accident, no one lives. In a fatal car accident, you barely saw what hit you (if you saw it at all). Death is usually pretty quick. But when an airplane is going down, and you’re stuck in this aluminum tube 30k feet in the air, the thing is losing altitude quickly, and everyone knows they’re going to die, what the hell happens then? Are some on their knees? Are clergymen standing up and offering counsel? Is it anarchy as sadistic atheists take over and start living out their most henious fantasies? No thanks, I’ll pass. BUT, the new job requires I fly. The doctor told me the best way to get over fear of flying is to fly. She’s also giving me some anti-anxiety medicine to help on the way there and back.

The new gig looks like it will be fun as well as challenging. Only once before have I had my own office. This one is twice as big and has a window and – a door. Hell yeah. Except for the past 2 years I’ve worked from home, I’m used to living in cubicle farms. In addition to learning the business, the inventory, and the customers, I plan to bring my own CRM (Customer Relationship Management) software to the new office. I was surprised to see that the company still keeps its customer records (except financial) on paper. Being an open-source guy, I found SugarCRM Community Edition. It doesn’t cost a dime. I can install it either the company’s server or my own (to be determined). I’m used to tracking my customers electronically and I like the ability to access their information anywhere I happen to be, whether that’s in Austin, Dallas, Vegas, Chicago, or wherever else they send me. I may be the only one to use it but the others in the company are welcome to use it as well. I’ve also got some ideas for their website.

I look forward to the new adventure. God willing, it will be a fruitful one.

ISP vs. VPN

The experiment is to see how much (if any) loss in connection speed occurs when using a straight connection to the internet with one’s own ISP vs. using a VPN.

Straight connection (TWC):

 twc1 twc2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

VPN:

vpn1vpn2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More to come!

And back to Xubuntu 13.10

The adventure with Kubuntu was fun but unfortunately short-lived. I really do prefer the UI and I may try it out again with the release of 14.04 but I doubt it’s been fixed.

I work from home and I’m on the computer all day. I occasionally – accidentally – hit some unknown sequence/combination of keys in the lower-left of the keyboard and next thing ya know, the entire desktop disappears and then reappears looking like Kubuntu looks in it’s default, just installed state. My wallpaper is gone. But most importantly, my windows were gone. The applications were still running, but I had no way to access the open windows because they were no longer visible nor did they appear in the panel. A very puzzling experience.

So I asked on ubuntuforums.com and no one had ever heard of it. Here is my post at the Ubuntu Forums.

Twice in the past few days, I have run into a most odd situation. I work with 2 monitors and multiple windows open. All of a sudden, all of my windows disappear and the wallpapers revert to the default purple Kubuntu wallpaper. The buttons on the taskbar for each open program are gone, as if I had closed all of the windows. However, the programs are indeed still running. I can tell because I can still hear the audio from a video I am streaming. Alt-tab doesn’t show any of them. It’s as if the running programs are invisible to the GUI. I do not use multiple desktops, however the behavior is similar to what happens when you do switch desktops. The only way to recover is to reboot. When I do reboot, I have to go in and change my wallpaper back to what I normally use (custom images) as Kubuntu seems to have forgotten my wallpaper settings.

This is a critical error and I simply can not have this happen while I’m working. I’m talking with customers on the phone and an error like that can cost the company (and me) money. So I’m back to Xubuntu.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always loved Xubuntu. I just prefer some of the eye candy that comes with KDE. Interestingly, I never had those stability issues with SUSE. There is too much I need in the Debian space that just isn’t available in SUSE.

I will next test a Red Hat – derived KDE and see what that’s like.

Update (June 15, 2014):

I actually found the solution to this problem by mistake. I was testing Kubuntu again and found that it’s actually a KDE/Kubuntu feature! I was accidentally hitting the “super” aka “meta” (Windows) key while hitting tab. Apparently that causes the machine to shift workspaces. I don’t use multiple workspaces. I was able to disable this by going into the Global Keyboard Shortcut settings and changing the hotkey to “none” for Activities, Next Activity, and Previous Activity under KDE Component Plasma Desktop Shell.

From Xubuntu to openSUSE to Kubuntu 13.10

openSUSE is great and it’s perhaps the best desktop for a Red Hat distro. Unfortunately for these FOSS acolytes, Kubuntu’s Debian/Ubuntu familiarity and ease of use continues to draw me back. I’ve always loved XFCE and I’ve used Xubuntu exclusively on my laptop for about 3 years. However, I’m really liking the improvements and much-needed bug fixes that have made Kubuntu 13.10 perhaps the best iteration I’ve seen so far.

I’ve tested this distro now and again over the years and have always found it wanting of basic needs. Thanks to some much-needed improvements, this version just might be “the” OS that will once and forever get me off Windows.

There is also a tremendous marketing opportunity coming in 2014: Microsoft ending Windows XP support. While my take on this is outside the scope of this post, I will say that the desktop operating systems I am configuring now are superior to Windows 8 in a multitude of ways.

I will soon (within a month) be publishing more information, including reviews, of these Linux distros. My goal is to find the best desktop version of the Linux operating system so that I can help promote its use in place of the very unpopular Windows 8. Microsoft arrogantly continues to ignore it’s customer base, doubling-down on a worthless user interface like Obama doubles-down on “Obamacare”.

I’ve been working on this project for several years and I look forward to publishing my findings. Stay tuned.

Testing, testing… 1, 2, 3.

Finally, after four years, I’m at the half-way mark for my college degree. I go half-time so it’s taking me twice as long as a traditional student. I also need to get some work experience in my new field and so far, I haven’t had much luck with that. Although I bring something most college students don’t have, 20 years of business experience, my resume screams “salesman!” so no one in a hiring position for any IT job will even look at me. On the advice of a school career counselor, I changed it from a chronological to a functional resume, highlighting my IT skills and knowledge and downplaying my work experience. I’m also starting to apply for internship-type jobs (I have bills to pay so I can’t work for free) and I’m looking into meeting people at computer user groups so that I can network. We’ll see how all that works out.

In the mean time, I’ve decided it might help my resume if I did some volunteer work on open source projects. I don’t have much time to devote to coding (my passion) but I have found a way to squeeze in some QA testing work. Every morning, I download the daily build for the next Xubuntu Linux release. I install it on my laptop and test the hell out of it. I have figured out a way to do this using USB thumb drives by actually installing the OS onto one thumb drive from an ISO image on another thumb drive. This keeps me from touching the actual hard drive in the laptop so it stays unadulterated. I got tired of monkeying with daily changes to Grub as this laptop has a regular, full-time installation of Xubuntu Linux (development release) and Windows 7.

Throughout the day, I put the OS through several tests as requested by the developers. I communicate with some of them through IRC chat in case I have questions. Once the tests are complete, I mark the image as either passed or failed. If I fail it, I either submit a bug report on Launchpad or confirm an already existing report made by another tester.

QA testing is easy, fun, gives me a way to contribute to the open-source community, and an opportunity to learn more about this great operating system. It helps the developers and users of Xubuntu and in it gives me real-world IT experience I can put on a resume. It’s kind of like giving myself a job; I don’t get paid for it, but I do benefit from it. As I learn more about software development in school, I hope to put what I’ve learned about Java into practice where I can actually contribute to the code base of open-source projects. Eventually, I might even get someone to pay me for it in the form of an actual job. That is the goal and some how, some day, I will reach it.

The battle for 802.11

I recently moved into a home with some relatives, lots of relatives. Including 3 small children, there are 10 of us. Before I moved in, there were 5 laptop computers and twice as many hand-held devices including Android phones, iPhones, iPods, 2 X-Boxes, and a Playstation, all fighting for their piece of 2.4 GHz goodness. They’ve always had trouble getting reliable wireless internet access to work. Suddenlink, the local cable company, sent out a tech who installed a wireless router and coverage was lousy, leaving people unable to connect. The tech couldn’t figure it out so they gave up and switched to Clear. Unfortunately, Clear was unreliable and slow. Besides, they had around 15 devices trying to share one 4G connection. What can you expect?

The first thing I did when I moved in (besides adding 4 more computers and my Android phone to the mix) was to install my own routers. I had Suddenlink come back out and install a regular cable modem in the home office from which I work my day job, Monday through Friday. The installer was a little surprised that I didn’t want a wireless modem. The office is in the corner of the house and I shun any wireless router with internal antennas. Instead, I connected the regular cable modem to a wired router and then ran 50 feet of Cat 6 to the kitchen where I installed an access point. Let the games begin.

The wired router was a D-Link DI-604 and the AP was an Asus RT-N12 (version 1). I was already running Tomato (Teddy Bear) firmware on the Asus from my previous apartment and never had a problem. I ran it with external high-gain antennas, centrally located in the kitchen on top of some cupboards. Everything worked fine until I started tweaking things.

I had read about a Tomato mod called Toastman, which would allow me to more closely monitor per-IP traffic. I figured that if someone was hogging bandwidth, I could immediately tell which machine was at fault. I installed it on the AP. Unfortunately, it didn’t work. I came to discover that the IP monitoring will only work from the wired router (the one handing out the IP addresses). So I went out and got a new Asus RT-N12 (now version 2) and flashed Toastman onto it. I turned off the radio and have it working as a wired router in the office. I assigned static IPs to all devices and all was bliss, except for the fact that the AP kept locking up about twice a day. Connection speeds were slow for some devices, fast for others. Add in about 15 other wireless LANs that are visible from the house and we had real trouble.

I struggled for about 2 weeks getting it to work. Amazingly, I discovered that the stock antennas on the new RT-N12 (about 5″ long) worked BETTER than the aftermarket antennas I had been using. I chalk this up to either an impedance mismatch or lossy cabling (probably the latter). On a hunch, I flashed the AP back to the original Teddy Bear firmware it was using before.

FINALLY, everything worked as it should. I kept Toastman running on the wired router as it has experienced no problems. A day passed, no lockups. 2 days passed and it’s still holding up. It has now been a week and I’m proud to report that we haven’t had to reboot the AP once. Everything connects at high speed and there have been no problems. I think everyone else is happy with it too, now that they’re not getting disconnected on a daily basis.

It’s interesting how much a difference the correct firmware makes. The AP was indeed running the correct Toastman build for it’s model and version number, yet it just couldn’t do the job. The new router (also an Asus RT-N12, but version 2) runs it’s build of Toastman just fine. Note: these are TWO DIFFERENT Toastman builds. The build for the Original RT-N12 is RT-std while the one for RT-N12 v2 is RT-N-std. The RT-std is NOT STABLE while the RT-N-std IS stable. However, the RT-N-std can only be run on the version 2 router, not the version 1 router (the one I’m using as an AP). Therefore, Teddy Bear stays on the AP and Toastman stays on the wired router. And finally, everyone connects, all the time, with no complaints.

Personal cloud storage

I’ve long poo-pooed cloud storage as not being worthy of secure, long-term storage of important files. While my opinion hasn’t changed, I have found a very practical, in fact killer-app use for these various services such as Dropbox, Google Drive, Microsoft Skydrive, etc.

When my HTC Sensation hit the toilet water a couple of months ago, the insurance company replaced it with an HTC One S. While it’s a superior phone in all other respects, it doesn’t have provisions for a Micro SD card. I spent good money for the 32 GB one I had in the Sensation and was annoyed that I could no longer use it in the phone. The employee at T-Mobile made a good point however, noting that the phone actually works faster without it. But what sealed the deal was the 20 GB of Dropbox space I get free for 2 years (after which time there is small monthly fee). The very reason they offer this at no extra charge is because of the lack of Micro SD. I’ve long had a Dropbox account with 5 GB of storage so this was a nice upgrade.

Dropbox account has served me very well. There have never been any problems and I use it to keep all my documents, pictures, NetBeans projects, and other files in sync across 3 different computers, all dual-booting Windows and Linux as well as my smartphone. It’s absolutely brilliant.

However, I still recognize that it’s only as safe and reliable as the good guys at Dropbox keep it. I make sure to back it up occasionally on a local hard drive just in case.

It recently occurred to me that I have almost a full 150 GB of storage on my web hosting account at 1-and-1 that goes unused. I pay for it so I may as well use it. Been making good use of FTP lately.

I’m also experimenting with Google Drive and Microsoft SkyDrive. They all work very well on PC and Android. The only downside I see so far is they they don’t work on Linux except through web access. This is ironic for Google as they use Linux for most of their servers. For the record, Dropbox makes a Linux version that works very well in Debian and Red-Hat based systems.

The bottom line is that these services are almost identical and they all have free and paid offerings. There are other services too, such as box.com (5GB free). There is Ubuntu One which works on Windows, Android, and, of course, Ubuntu. Sign up with all five and you get a total of 25 GB of free online storage that keeps files and folders in sync across multiple devices. But always remember to make a backup and just to be on the safe side, I wouldn’t store anything such as commercially-made music, videos, or software – legally owned or otherwise – on a remote server.

Not enough hours in the day

I went back to school four years ago and it looks like I’ve got about three or four more to go. It’s hard going part-time because it takes forever. I look forward to the day when I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Every day is essentially the same. I work eight hours and I spend about half of the the evening doing homework. The rest of the time is for recreation, whether that be watching TV shows my computer has recorded for me, playing OpenArena, or general monkeying around on the computer. On a rare occasion, I find time to enjoy playing the guitar or talking with someone on amateur radio. Many of these things are often done simultaneously.

I try to set aside time for reading and practicing my Java programming skills. There are more languages I want to learn like C#, HTML/CSS, and PHP. At the rate I’m going, it will be years before I’ve mastered one or two of them. Learning a programming language is difficult. Not because of the subject matter at hand, but because it takes discipline. The kind of discipline I use up doing homework. After two or three hours reading and taking notes, the last thing I want to do is read and take notes. I’ve also been dual-booting with Xubuntu Linux for a little over a year now and I always enjoy learning something new about the OS. There’s so much to learn and so few hours in the day.

Life is about to change in a big way come January. I’ll be around my daughter and her family every day. I very much look forward to it but it will bring its own challenges to my already busy schedule. Just how exactly I’ll divide up my time will be interesting. I’ll be working from home so the fact that I won’t have a commute will certainly help. My day is short enough as it is so I’ll welcome the additional time I get by not having to drive to and from work. If only I could add a few hours to the day.

Patience is a virtue I’ve learned to exercise with others quite well. Being patient with myself is another story. I can’t learn everything all at once nor can I learn it all as fast as I’d like. But I can learn to accept the fact that there are only 24 hours in a day. May God help me to make the most of every one.