Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Giving Thanks

(this is going to be a rambling affair, so feel free to tl;dr)

God has blessed me and my family beyond all reason.  Really.  We aren't deserving of all that he's given us, and so, we work hard to share His blessings as much as we can.  This great big house is more than the four (now three, with Josh at school) of us need, but when Josh brings over his dorm floors to watch football, or for their yearly Christmas party, it's the perfect size, as He intended.

I have an amazing job, and work with some truly amazing people.  I make games every day, who could ask for more?

I have some truly awesome kids.  Both of them are Godly, kind, gracious and loving.

And, as I've written here before, God gave me my Robin, who saved my life.

It's hard to feel like I deserve all that He has provided.  I am so far from a perfect human, that His Grace is clearly just that.  Grace.   Undeserved.  Unexpected.  Unearned.

I'm grateful nonetheless, and try to show my gratitude and love for Him by helping everyone I can. I can only pray that His light and Grace shines through me, unfiltered, and into the world.

But sadly, I'm broken and stained, and too often that light is filtered and dim.  But I'm trying, because I love Him more than anything.

The good news is that He loves ME more than anything, and his love is boundless and unending.  It's infinite and beyond the comprehension of our decidedly finite minds. And he has faith in ME.  How could I do less than love him and have faith in Him?

I am thankful for everything he's given us, but most of all I'm thankful for God's love and guidance. For His gift of life, His gift of my children and my wife, and both my puppies.  For his everlasting love for each of us.  For His perfect faith in us. For His example.  For His son's sacrifice. And for being the Father that I never had.

Server Changes

Well, I've gotten rid of my Solaris box, and have cut my home servers down to 2, a Windows Home Server (doing backups only) and a Windows Server 2008 R2 machine, hosting all my data.   I've got most machines backing up to Server 2008, so I'll be retiring my WHS machine shortly.

I bought a cheap Rosewill rackmount case, which holds 12 drives and is plenty for the new server.  It's a little noisy and it literally heats the room, so I'll likely move it somewhere out of the way.

ZFS, while great in theory, was awful from a performance perspective, at least as I was using it.  Granted, I didn't install a L2Arc SSD, and while read speeds were fine for my application, write speeds were atrocious.  I rarely got above 12MB/sec, while with my Server 2008 box, I regularly get near 100MB/sec.

I've come to realize that I liked the idea of ZFS far more than the practical application of it.  I've gone away from any kind of software RAID,and in fact, have no RAID at all on the server, having fully bought into the idea that RAID is only for availability and not data security.  I'm backing up the stuff I care about on the server to an external drive (photos, family movies, music, etc.) and will be rotating the drive(s) offsite periodically.

I'm using a couple of disks in a dynamic 'array', kinda like a JBOD, for the big video drives, and they're working great.

My movie library, while fully recoverable if I lose a drive or two, by re-ripping, will probably be backed up to a couple of 2 TB external drives that I'll just put in a drawer somewhere, and if I lose a drive, I'll pull them out again and save myself a ton of time.

Then again, with drive prices skyrocketing, I'm going to have to wait a bit before buying a couple more 2 or 3TB drives.

In any case, we mourn the retiring of the DragonLair and the Smaug servers, and hail the rise of the DragonServer server!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Orange Head Joke - By Request

(shamelessly stolen from Penn & Teller)

This guy named Bruce walks into a bar and notices a man at the end of a bar with an orange head.  Not an orange colored human head, but an actual orange for a head.

Curious, Bruce sidles up to the guy, and asks him about his head.

Orange Head guy says "Well, that's a story.  Buy me a drink and I'll tell it."

One day, I was walking on the beach, and I saw something glinting in the sand, so I went over to it and picked it up.  It was a funny looking thing, caked in sand, so I rubbed it trying to get the sand off, and lo and behold, a genie popped out!

He was big and blue, with a turban and everything, and he sounded a lot like Robin Williams.  'I am the genie of the lamp... Make three wishes...'

Figuring that this was odd, and maybe some kind of hallucination caused by heat stroke, I figured I'd make the best of it, shrugged and made my first wish.

"I want to be famous, and for women to love me, and I want people to adore me the world over."


Right after the genie spoke, I got a phone call.  The guy on the phone said he was my agent and that my latest album had just sold 200 million copies!  The weird thing was that he kept calling me Justin.  (my name is Harold)

While I was on the phone with my agent, I heard a beep signalling an incoming call. I looked at my phone and Selena Gomez was calling!  I switched over to it and she said 'You know you love me, and I know you care', to which, I felt compelled to respond with "Baby, baby, baby, ooh..."  It was bizarre.  I kinda freaked and hung up on both of them.

So, Bruce  said 'Wow, that's quite a story.  Keep going...'

So, I'm standing there, and I can hardly believe what's happening, and oddly, I keep winking at people as they're passing by, but I say to the genie:

"I want to be powerful, I want to save the world and I want to do miracles"


As soon as he spoke I got this weird pain in my forehead.  I reached up to it, when I noticed I'd been scratched, or something.  Just then, I saw a blinding flash, and this weird dude with no nose popped into existence!  He had a stick in his hand. It was black and stumpy.

He pointed it at me and said something that sounded like "witchita".  I heard a weird buzzing sound and saw a bolt of lightning coming at me!  I noticed I had a stick in my hand too, and my hand raised (all on it's own) and I hear myself say something that sounded like "kalamazoo" and pointed it at the no-nose guy.

Just then, the lightning bolt that was coming at me bounced off my wand and back at the nostrilly impaired guy, blowing him into a million pieces!

It was so bizarre, and just then I got a call from this chick named "Hermaninie" or something.  She said "Oh Harry, you did it!"   Again, feeling really weirded out, I hung up on her.

So, Bruce says "Man, for a guy with an orange head, that's some crazy story, but it still doesn't explain... um.  this.  What happened next?"

The guy paused, and then said.  "Well, then I wished for an orange head."

Saturday, October 8, 2011

IP Cameras

Recently, there have been a couple of break ins in nearby neighborhoods.  A couple of guys go door to door during the week, knock, and if someone answers, pretend to be an arborist offering to look at trees, or some other door-to-door type thing.

If they get no response, they break a window and let themselves in.  The police say that they're in and out in 10 minutes, and go first for the master bedroom for jewelry and then electronics.

I'm not one for worrying all that much about stuff, but my family are my jewels and I want to keep them safe. We have a rambling house, and a knock at the front door may or may not get an answer.  Or rather, a human answer.  The dogs will bark like crazy.  They're our own personal doorbells.

As a part of my normal curious nature, I've been messing with IP cameras, and with the break ins, it's a great excuse to buy a couple more and set them up.  Yeah, it won't stop someone for burgling, but now I can hang those "WARNING, VIDEO SURVEILLANCE ON SITE!" signs outside.

FI8918W (click to enlarge)
During my research, I came across Foscam IP cameras.  I bought one a couple of months ago (to mess around with) that's an indoor version.  It's an FI8918W.  It has both wired and wireless (802.11g), powered pan and tilt, but no zoom.  Getting full PTZ (adding zoom) seems to amp up the cost to $400+/camera.  This one was about $60 on sale. Sample pic to the right.  Yes, it's pointing outside my office at my bird feeder. Sue me.

Recently, I bought a couple of outdoor (waterproof) versions. FI8904W.  They're still (no pan/tilt/zoom(PTZ)), but have a wider angle of view and more IR (they see more, and can see farther at night.)  I put the two outdoor cameras on our shed to the side of the house, since it has power.  One pointing in front, one in back.
Front yard (click to enlarge)

Back yard (click to enlarge)

They are also wireless, so all I had to do was make sure they had power and were mounted to something.

To manage them, I did some research and found some great software called Blue Iris. After playing with the demo, I pulled the trigger and bought a full version.  Not only will it handle up to 64 (!) cameras, but it has built in motion sensing (including cropping), manages audio from the camera, and has some pretty good file management built in.  I've got it setup capture if it senses movement for more than 5 seconds, store them locally, and after 7 days (or 10GB used), copy them to the server, at which time it'll keep them for 28 days (or 100GB used.)

I'm running Blue Iris on one of the servers, and it even has a web interface, which I can use to setup view from outside the network (or my iphone.)
Blue Iris web view (click to enlarge)

I'm pretty pleased with the whole setup.  Haven't tried the outdoor cameras at night yet. We'll see how well they work. I suspect they only see about 40 feet away.  I'll try to update this with night pics.

Thursday, October 6, 2011


Since I've been up here in the Pacific Northwest, one thing I've missed is good Mexican food.  Yes, there are a couple of good places, especially here in Redmond (like El Toreador), but even so, I've been doing more and more Mexican food cooking. Over the next few days, I'll be posting my recipes. But for now, my favorite:

Jeff's Cooky Carnitas

4 chicken breasts
2 Cups water
Salt (to taste)
Ground Cumin
Chili Powder
Black Pepper
Garlic Powder
4-8 cloves of Garlic, diced (optional)
2 Cups fruit juice, the weirder the better.

The key to good carnitas is that they're cooked for a looooong time.  And they're twice cooked. And they are a little tart.  Ok, that's three keys.

Put the meat in a pot and season to taste.  Add 2 cups water. Sorry there are no specific measurements for the seasonings, you're gonna have to wing it.

Cook for 2 hours at 325 degrees until the meat is done. If the water cooks off, add another cup.

Chop the meat into cubes or loosely shred.  I prefer it shredded so there are more crispy bits (see below.)

Make up two cups of your favorite juice.  The safe ones are orange or pineapple. I like passionfruit or guava.  I use the frozen cans.  I take about half the can, put it in a 4 cup measure, then add 2 cups water and stir.  Makes for a light syrup.

Add the meat back into the pot, and pour the juice into the roaster (over the meat.)  This also has the advantage of deglazing the pot and getting the good juices out.  Add the garlic.

Cook at 325 degrees for an hour or two. Stir occasionally .  The liquid will cook down. I prefer it to cook away altogether, myself, but if you want your carnitas a little wet, stop sooner.

Take the meat and put onto cookie sheets in a single layer. Broil for 5-10 minutes until carmelized and brown.  Watch it carefully, there's a fine line between brown and burned.

They should look something like this:

Serve with fresh tortillas and fresh salsa.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Odes to a special lady

Various short poems to one of my favorite ladies...

Your light brown skin,
your light brown eyes,
your light brown clothes,
your heavenly sighs

Your yellow hat,
your reddish label,
you belong,
on my table.

Mrs Butterworth
She giggles when I squeeze her
Butter worth Indeed.

Some mornings, when I'm waken
I hanker for some pancake maken
With your buttery smoothness, I'm taken
You could only be better if you were made of bacon.

I hope that I shall never see
Another syrup as buttery as thee
You pour so smooth, you taste so rich
C'mon baby, be my ....

My wife has approved this message.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Low Flow Irrigation and Yard lights

I spent much of the morning and afternoon extending our sprinkler system into Robin's flower beds using some low flow sprinklers.   The advantage to them is that you can water JUST what you want, rather that the driveway, dirt, etc.

Some things I've learned over the years with low-flow systems:

  1. You have to make 3-5 trips to home depot before you're done.
  2. Run 1/2" tubing from a normal sprinkler head along the bed your planning to water.  This ensures you have enough water to go around.
  3. 8 way manifolds are useless.  4 way are just fine.
  4. No-name parts will cost you hours of wasted time.
  5. Run 1/4" tubing out to the individual sprinklers. Using T's to run long lengths of 1/4" is a bad idea.  Better to run separate sprinklers from the manifold to ensure you get enough water.
  6. Use 1/2" to 1/2" Ts, then use 1/2" cut off risers to the manifolds. This will make sure you have enough height.
  7. Having several filters between the 1/2" tubing and the sprinkler head just means less water. I've never had a clog.
  8. When you buy the little sprinkler heads, look at them very carefully to make sure they'll cover the area that you want.
  9. Use manifolds that have the ability to turn off individual sprinklers.
  10. Bury the 1/2" tubing.  Don't bother with the 1/4".  Your wife will move the sprinkler heads around anyway.

Not having to trench PVC, and the low cost of the tubing, manifolds and sprinklers made this a quick and cheap project.

A couple of weekends ago, I put in some more yard lighting.  Cost was a concern, as was power usage.  Last year we tried some solar lighting, but up here in the NW, there simply doesn't seem to be enough sunlight to power the things for longer than an hour past sunset.  So, I went with low voltage lighting.

I bought a 600 watt transformer (yeah, way overkill, but I wasn't sure how much power I'd need. MAN was it expensive, too!) When I started buying lights, I realized quickly that the nice metal ones cost at least $24 each.   Not only that, they often use as much as 20 watts each.   They DO look good though.

To save on power (and money), I ended up using some LED lights.  They're about half as bright as the 20 watt incandescent, but use 1/20th the power.  I was able to buy brinkman sets on sale through home depot online for $30 for 4 lights and 2 spots. They were partly plastic, but matched the metal lights pretty well.

One thing about the LED lights, is that they don't use the usual vampire tap connectors that the malibu type lights use.  The reason is that LEDs have polarity, and if you were to tap them in the wrong way, they just wouldn't work.  So, the special, polarity based connectors are what they come with.

Because I wanted to use them with my 12 gauge low voltage wire, I simply snipped off the special connectors and spliced them into the 12 gauge using butt-splices.  I'd have rather used T splices, but couldn't find any that were useful for the gauge I wanted to use.

Because of the polarity, I had to make sure I kept the positive leads consistent.  Since most low-voltage type wire has two leads, and one of them usually has writing on it, I tend to make the wire with the writing positive and the other one negative.  So, I simply made sure I wired up wire with writing up to wire with writing on the various pieces and it all worked like magic.

I'll post pictures of the lighting later...

Overall, the yard is starting to look fantastic.  Just in time for it to rain for 9 months...

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Of Sleep and Worry

For some reason, when I post to the blog, it's usually after I've been up too late the night before because I can't sleep. Last night was no exception.

One of the things I worry about, especially late at night, is EVERYTHING.   Yes, I tend to worry about things when I'm tired.  Work, my kids, the house, money.  It all gets pretty overwhelming. I can't imagine that I'm too different than most people, but since it's MY worry, I'll own it.

I used to struggle quite a bit more with worry, and to a degree, better sleep habits and sleep hygiene have made it much better, but growth in my faith has also helped.

From a sleep hygiene point of view, and this is something I tell Beth all the time as she's showing some signs of insomnia as well, there are a couple of rules:

1. Avoid caffeine 4 hours before bed.  Since I'm hyper sensitive to it, I avoid it completely.
2. No spicy or sugary foods 4 hours before bed.
3. If you don't fall asleep in 15 minutes and your mind won't stop spinning, get out of bed.
4. Use a consistent "to bed" and "wake" time. 

Of course, when I screw up on one of the above and have a bad night, I'm wrecked until I get back into a rhythm. And when I'm not sleeping, I worry more. And when I worry more, I don't sleep. Bit of a cycle.

It's easy to believe that prayer is the cure-all for worry, but alas, like everyone else in this world, I'm not perfect, and it's easy to take everyone's problems on my shoulders instead of putting them on His. 

Sometimes prayer helps.  It's not unusual for me to lie in bed and pray to take my mind off everything else, but it seems like it rarely helps, at least right away.  

I know that the bible says that I shouldn't worry, that I should cast all my anxieties on him. 

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. - Philippians 4:6

And it points out that if God takes care of the birds of the air, and since I'm so much more valuable, He'll take care of me MORE.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 

So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.  But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." Matthew 6: 24-36

I wish it were that easy.  But alas, I'm broken.  Not just a little bit, but seriously broken.  I can read scripture, I can pray, but still I worry, still I rely on myself when I know I should rely on God. Scripture is comfort, prayer is comfort, but still I fail.

A recent Amy Grant song REALLY bugged me for a while.  On first listen, it seemed to point out that God liked our pain. 

"God loves a lullaby
In a mothers tears in the dead of night
Better than a Hallelujah sometimes.
God loves a drunkards cry,
The soldiers plea not to let him die
Better than a Hallelujah sometimes.

We pour out our miseries
God just hears a melody
Beautiful the mess we are
The honest cries of breaking hearts
Are better than a Hallelujah

The woman holding on for life,
The dying man giving up the fight
Are better than a Hallelujah sometimes
The tears of shame for what's been done,
The silence when the words won't come
Are better than a Hallelujah sometimes.

We pour out our miseries
God just hears a melody
Beautiful the mess we are
The honest cries of breaking hearts
Are better than a Hallelujah

Better than a church bell ringing,
Better than a choir singing out,singing out.

We pour out our miseries
God just hears a melody
Beautiful the mess we are
The honest cries of breaking hearts
Are better than a Hallelujah" Amy Grant - Better than a Hallelujah

But the more I listened, the more it started to make sense. I think what it's saying is that God loves it more when we come to him in our need, than when we praise him in our pride.  That when we're broken, and hurting, and worrying, coming to Him is more valuable because it's more genuine than when we're in church in our Sunday best, putting on a public face, and singing his praises. 

If I were somehow perfect, and had a perfect faith, and always relied on him, and worried about nothing, and slept like a baby every night, would that faith be worth anything to Him?  To Me?  What would I learn? Where would I grow?  It's like starting a trip at your destination, when there's value in the journey.

Sometimes I worry that when I write these blog posts, I come across as some kind of perfect disciple. That the insights that He grants me are something special that He gives only to me. 

I'm sorry to say that these insights are only single grains in the sand in the vast infinite span of His beach, and that I'll spend a lifetime gathering sand.  

The good news is that I'm still on the path.  The bad news is that I stray.  But the better news is that he calls me back.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Of sheep

When thinking back to some of the darker times of my life, I hear this phrase in my head:

In my despair, I didn't find God. He found me.

When I was 16, I was living alone in an apartment in Redondo Beach.  I'd moved out of my parent's house and they'd moved to Kentucky.  It was a rather lonely time for me, and depression was a constant problem.  I'm going to shy away from the details of that time except to say that I was certainly at my lowest, and I was considering terrible options.

Looking back, I can clearly see that He reached into my life to bring me out of my despair.  It was unasked for, and surprising, considering my ignorance of all things spiritual. I did not seek him, but still he saved me.

"So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you." Luke 11:9

So, I get that if I search for Him, I will find him. But, how is it that I didn't seek him, yet I found him? How is it that I'd lost myself, yet he cared enough to search for me? In my ignorance, and often willful denial of him, why would he seek ME.

The parable of the lost sheep provides some insight.

‘Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, “Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.” I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent’” - Luke 15: 3-7

As do the Psalms.

"I have loved you, my people, with an everlasting love. With unfailing love I have drawn you to myself." - Psalm 33:18, 20

"The Word became human and lived here on earth among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the only Son of the Father." - Psalm 32:10-11

He Loves us. He searches for us. He Yearns for us.

"He is jealous for me
Love's like a hurricane
I am a tree
Bending beneath the weight of
His wind and mercy
When all of a sudden, I am unaware of these afflictions eclipsed by glory
and I realize just how beautiful You are and how great your affections are for me. " - David Crowder "How he Loves Us"

And so he reaches out.

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal." - John 3:16

"And I, the Son of Man, have come to seek and save those who are lost. " - Luke 19:10

"For people can't come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them to me" - John 6:44

Even when we again stray, he comes back and beckons us. I found this poem from the 17th century that I really love:

"Love bade me welcome;
yet my soul drew back,
Guiltie of dust and sinne.
But quick-ey'd Love, observing me grow slack,
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
If I lack'd any thing.

A guest, I answer'd worthy to be here.
Love said, You shall be he.
I the unkind, ungratefull? Ah my deare,
I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
Who made the eyes but I?

Truth Lord, but I have marr'd them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, sayes Love, who bore the blame?
My dear, then I will serve.
You must sit down, sayes Love, and taste my meat:
So I did sit and eat." - George Herbert

Where would I be if God hadn't found me that fateful night?

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Forgeworld Ork in Mega Armor

Finished this piece a couple of days ago.  It's a very rare ForgeWorld Model in resin.  I've had it for several years, and it's been on my workbench for a long time.  Forgive the poor photos, I couldn't find my portable "studio" setup.

It's about 5 inches high, and way bigger than the standard Games Workshop model:

Next to it you can see my old Ork in Mega Armor from many moons ago.

I'd painted his torso before I even left So Cal, and recently finished his arms and base.  Decided to try some new techniques on his arms.  His right arm (with the big scissors, don't worry, he can't run in that getup) was done with the hairspray and salt method.  Base it, spray hair spray over it, sprinkle salts with varying coarseness in a couple of layers, let dry, do your top layer, and then remove the salt with an eraser.  Didn't work out as well as I'd liked.

His right arm was done using rubber cement.  I painted all the metal in rust colors (base in dark brown, splotch with dark flesh, various reds and oranges), then took rubber cement and covered ("protected") various spots where it might rust.  Then I painted it in my usual "Yellow", which is about 7-10 layers of various colors, with 2-3 washes, and then removed the rubber cement, exposing the rust.  It was finished with pastel chalk pigment.   This one worked much better than the other arm.

Orks are SO much fun to paint.  I think my next project is either a Looted Shadowsword or a Stompa with full interior. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Blue Skies

Some of you know that my family has been going through a bit of a storm for the past few weeks. My personal response to this storm has been variably:

  • Resignation
  • Outrage
  • Depression
  • Hope
  • Despair
  • Fervent Prayer

With some of them all in the same hour!

I've been praying a bunch for the last few weeks, and it seems that God has answered my prayers, to the letter.  I've been praying for a change in my situation where I could be in a position to help many people, and that it be close to home (yeah, that part is selfish, I know.) 

Well, I'm now in a position to be a light on the hill, and my commute is only about 12 minutes. :)  God is good, all the time. 

As I write this, I'm sitting in a new office, and the sun is streaming in. I'm beginning to see blue skies again.

"Blue skies and rainbows and sunbeams from heaven
Are what I can see when my Lord is living in me." - Author unknown

Monday, July 11, 2011

Before and After

This is what I looked like when I was younger.

This is what I expect I'll look like when I'm older

Thursday, June 30, 2011

I Love and Fear my Shop Vac

My shop vac is amazing. I've had it for like 20 years and it still works like a champ.  It picks up lots and lots of things that I simply don't want to pick up!

I also use it to imprison spiders.   Our garage seems to be a haven for them. I don't know why, but what I do know is that rather than getting on a ladder to smush one, or spraying some toxic chemical to kill one, I'd much rather just use the Shop Vac.

Cindy, yes, I know.  Spiders should be free to live their own lives, they kill other bugs, etc.  But i'm sorry.  Some spiders need to die.

But here's the thing.  I guess all this time, I've had it in my head that it works something like this:

That is, I can use it to trap scary things.  Like spiders.

The problem is, even in Ghostbusters, they've got to open the trap to put the scary things somewhere.


I haven't emptied the shop vac in years.  I guess I'm afraid that inside is one alpha zombie spider that lives on the flesh of the spiders that I suck up, and that he's just waiting in there for me to open it.

Have I told you that my mom took me to see Giant Spider Invasion when I was 7?

Cindy, I think my fear of my Shop Vac is Karma.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

New PC

Prior to the big ch-ch-changes last week, I'd bought parts for a new PC.  We've been a couple of PCs down at home (due to conversion of one to a Solaris file server, and Robin's laptop being flaky) and I wasn't able to get PC time.

It's been running for a week or so now, and so far, it's been fantastic.  Here are the specs:

Intel I7-2600k Overclocked to 4Ghz
Corsair H70 Water Cooling
16GB GSkill DDR3-1600
Radeon 6870
Corsair White 600T Case
Corsair 650W PSU
Hitachi 3TB Data drive
Corsair 60GB SSD
Old 750GB drive I had laying around as the system drive.
Gigabyte Z68 Motherboard (forget the model)

Now that the arctic silver thermal paste has, ehem, burned in, I'm getting idle CPU temps (overclocked) at 28 degrees C.   Fully Loaded (PRIME95), they don't get above 50 degrees C.

Since I have the Z68 chipset, I configured the SSD as a Intel Ready Response disk cache for the 750GB system drive.  Now that the cache has warmed up, boot times are super fast, as are app load times.

I'm super happy!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Storms and ch-ch-changes

Our pastor Matt did a sermon out of Mark on Sunday and part of it was about Storms.  

"A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, 
so that it was nearly swamped.
Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. 
The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves,
Quiet! Be still!"
Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.
He said to his disciples,
"Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?
They were terrified and asked each other, 
“Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” Mark 4:35-41

Over the past few days, our family has found ourselves in a storm.  Not your usual squall, but a true storm.  

"The clouds prepare for battle in the dark unmoving silence 
Bruised and sullen storm clouds have the light of day obscured 
Looming low and ominous in twilight premature 
Thunderheads are rumbling in a distant overture" - "Jacob's Ladder" - Rush

It's been tough on everyone, but I find myself reasonably calm in the midst of the storm. Not that I haven't had my moments where I doubted, or was horribly depressed, but I know that it's in these storms that our faith is tempered and made stronger. Sometimes it seems small comfort, but for the most part, I'm doing OK. 

"I come into this place
Burning to receive your peace
I come with my own chains
From wars I've fought for my own selfish gain
You're my God and my Father
I've accepted your Son
But my soul feels so empty now
What have I become?

Lord, come with your fire,
Burn my desires; refine me
Lord, my will has deceived me
Please come and free me
Refine me" 

- "Refine Me" - Jennifer Knapp

I love the part of the Mark passage where Jesus is sleeping in the midst of the storm.  It's not that Jesus is unaware, but what's important is that He's both unconcerned about it, and that and He's with us in that storm.  He's in the boat with us, and His presence provides comfort.

A couple of days ago, I posted about God saying "No" and how he always has something better planned.  Well, it seems God hand is moving in my life.  My prayers are being answered.  Not in the way I expect, or even want, but His hand driving the boat, and I'm confident of the destination.

"All at once the clouds are parted 
Light streams down in bright unbroken beams 
Follow men's eyes as they look to the skies 
The shifting shafts of shining weave the fabric of their dreams" - Jacob's Ladder, Rush.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

When God says No

I tend to pray. A Lot.  I pray every night with Beth before she goes to bed. I try to pray while I'm lying in bed, before I go to sleep. And all day long, I'm offering "breath" prayers, about things both mundane and glorious.  For example, today, we had a sun break, so I thanked God for seeing the blue sky again. 

"This is the day which the Lord has made; 
we will be full of joy and delight in it." - Psalm 118:24

Lately, I've been praying for something big.  I try to stay away from "I want" prayers, but they always creep in, and this is one of them.  I believe that it's aligned with God's will, and will give me a chance to sow his seeds more widely.  Having said that, I'm pretty self aware, and part of this prayer is selfish and in answer to some of my own pain.  And for this particular prayer, it sure seems like God is saying "No".  

Over the years, I've had lots of misguided "big" prayers, and when I heard God saying "No", I railed against Him.  Much like Jacob, I wrestled with God, but the funny thing is, I never really lost the battle.  However, I was always humbled, and His will was ALWAYS done...

So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. 
When the man saw that he could not overpower him, 
he touched the socket of Jacob's hip 
so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. 
Then the man said, "Let me go, for it is daybreak." 
But Jacob replied, "I will not let you go unless you bless me." 
The man asked him, "What is your name?" 
"Jacob," he answered. 
Then the man said, 
"Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with
 God and with men and have overcome." 
Jacob said, "Please tell me your name." 
But he replied, "Why do you ask my name?" 
Then he blessed him there. 
So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, "It is because I saw God face to face, 
and yet my life was spared." The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip. (Genesis 32:24-31) 

Like Jacob, I'd wrestle with God, often not realizing who it was that I wrestled with, but I have always come out of if blessed, but rarely in the way I expected.  

I've come to realize that I thought I heard God saying "No", when what he was really saying was "Patience, son, I have something better."  Every one of these misguided prayers was answered, and every one was better in the light of God's will, both for me, and for everyone involved.

One by one He took them from me,
All the things I valued most,
Until I was empty-handed;
Every glistening toy was lost.

And I walked earth’s highway, grieving,
In my rags and poverty.
Till I heard His voice inviting,
“Lift those empty hands to Me!”

So I held my hands toward Heaven,
And He filled them with a store
Of His transcendent riches
Till they could contain no more.

And at last I comprehended
With my stupid mind and dull,
That God COULD not pour His riches
Into hands already full.

Martha Snell Nicholson, “Treasures,” Ivory Palaces 
(Wilmington, Calif: Martha Snell Nicholson, 1946), 67

It's hard to remember, in the midst of pain, that God always has a better plan for us.  I've never been good with patience, but I must find a way to cheerfully endure until His plan is revealed and unfolds.

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. (James 1:2-4)

Sunday, June 5, 2011

God is bigger

I've come to the realization that I often try make God smaller   I try to fold him, I try to squeeze Him down to a manageable size, and I try to limit Him, if only so I can try to better comprehend Him and His purpose.  Needless to say, I fail miserably. 

"God is bigger than the boogie man.
He's bigger than Godzilla and the monsters on TV.
Oh, God is bigger than the boogie man,
And he's watching out for you and me." - Veggie Tales

Pastor Matt, at Duvall Church, has been doing a series on Mark for the past few weeks, and did a sermon on how biblical movements often turn into religious movements.   It got me thinking about the role of religion in our faith, and how it can often get in the way of our relationship with Jesus and God. 

When I was much younger, I used to attend Mass with my step-grandmother, Luz. I was in awe of the amazingly beautiful church, and all of the solemn ritual.  I really, really wanted to take communion, not because I understood it's significance, but because I wanted to belong, to participate. I look back and realize that I didn't correlate going to Mass with worshiping God. 

I've been to other churches over the years, where the success of the church often felt like the goal.   I've watched 'cult-of-personality' preachers on TV shame people into giving, promising Grace. And over and over, I've seen churches split, over what seems the smallest points of doctrine. We seem to often miss the point of the church.  That WE are the church and that we give our lives to the worship of God.

I've certainly been guilty of caring more about trivial points of doctrine than Jesus.  Having come from a restoration movement church (Church of Christ), we moved up here to Washington, and when looking for a church, we automatically looked at CoC churches first.  We loved the theology, the lack of a 'band' accompaniment, and the familiar music.  However, none of the churches, CoC or otherwise, seemed to live up to our expectations.  We went to a few churches that we dismissed seemingly only because they had a band and didn't sing the same songs.  Trite, I know.  But we were only seeing the surface, and never looked deeper into the body of believers that made up the church.

My family and I went and saw Gungor in concert a couple of days ago.  They played a song that they sing in their church:  God is not a white man. It managed, in the space of 3 minutes, to remind  me that I often try to change God into what I want Him to be.

"They tried to keep you in a tent
They could not keep you in a temple
or any of their idols
to see and understand

We cannot keep you in a church
We cannot keep you in a Bible
it's just another idol 
to box you in

They could not keep you in their walls
We cannot keep you in ours either
for You are so much greater

Who is like the Lord?
The maker of the heavens
Who dwells with the poor
He lifts them from the ashes
and seats them among princes
Who is like the Lord? " Cannot Keep You - Gung

How do we manage, time and again, to make the church bigger than God? To make the ritual more important than worship? To make religion the goal? To try to change the unchangeable? To somehow limit Him, and ultimately, to desire to have him serve us by changing to suit US?

All of this has led to a lot of praying and thinking on my part. I've come to realize that very often, I put my desires over His.  That I often worship my career and 'status'.  That often my goals are more important than His glory.

Over the last few weeks, I think that rather than me trying to make God smaller, with the help of Pastor Matt, the Bible, a Gungor concert, and lots of thinking and praying, I've become smaller.  And I think that's how it should be.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Fuchsia 2007

Yeah, this one.   Painted this a couple of years ago, and frankly, really don't like it.  Not even sure why I still have it, except that it was an early painting.  Acrylic on canvas.  Forgive the poor picture.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Snowball December 2009

This is a drawing I did of our Malti-poo, Snowball. I rather like this one too. I drew it while in Ohio visiting brother John Pfleiderer.   I was particularly interested in showing just how fuzzy she is, and how her hair gets in front of her eyes.  Graphite and Ink on 300# watercolor. Currently hanging in the art room. (c) 2009 Jeff Brown

Tomorrow, I'll post a couple paintings that I don't like all that much...

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Moon 2007

Painted this in 2007.  I rather like this one.  It's a somewhat idealized view of something I saw one night when up in the mountains, the moon between two trees.  Stuck with me, so I painted it to get it out of my head.  Currently in my home office above the door. Acrylic on canvas, (c) Jeff Brown, 2007

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Photo Organization

I recently bought Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3 as I need to organize the photos I've taken over the years.  I have over 70k photos that I've taken digitally since 2001, and they take up almost 500gb.

I imported my pictures from the file server pictures share, and it took about 3 hours, then I spent a couple of hours cleaning up my many (failed) efforts at tagging the pictures over the years.  At this point, I realized that I really should come up with a tagging scheme that I was going to stick with.

My photos are broken down into a couple of broad categories:

Art - Photos I've taken as art pieces
Reference - Photos I've taken as reference (or stock).
Family - Family pics.  The vast majority are these pics.
Friends - Pictures of friends
Church - Pictures taken at church events
Travel - Pictures taken on my various travels

I realize that some of those are less 'categories', and more a description of the subjects of the pictures.  And so my new task: Figure out how to tag them in such a way that I can do searches on the database efficiently.

Anyone have a good strategy for tagging pics?

ZFS and Scrubbing, update

Quick update:  The scrubbing cron job is working beautifully.  This is what I get when the second scrub is done:

2011-05-08 10:50:00: starting scrub on rpool
2011-05-08 10:57:08: scrub ended on rpool
2011-05-08 10:57:08:   pool: rpool
 state: ONLINE
 scrub: scrub completed after 0h6m with 0 errors on Sun May  8 10:56:33 2011

       rpool       ONLINE       0     0     0
         mirror-0  ONLINE       0     0     0
           c1d0s0  ONLINE       0     0     0
           c2d0s0  ONLINE       0     0     0

errors: No known data errors
2011-05-08 10:57:08:  - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
2011-05-08 10:57:08: starting scrub on shares
2011-05-09 02:02:38: scrub ended on shares
2011-05-09 02:02:38:   pool: shares
 state: ONLINE
 scrub: scrub completed after 15h4m with 0 errors on Mon May  9 02:02:05 2011

       NAME                       STATE     READ WRITE CKSUM
       shares                     ONLINE       0     0     0
         raidz2-0                 ONLINE       0     0     0
           c5t5000CCA222D9CA4Dd0  ONLINE       0     0     0
           c5t5000CCA222DB965Fd0  ONLINE       0     0     0
           c5t5000CCA222DB9446d0  ONLINE       0     0     0
           c5t5000CCA369C3C68Bd0  ONLINE       0     0     0
           c5t5000CCA369C0423Ed0  ONLINE       0     0     0
           c5t5000CCA369C3075Bd0  ONLINE       0     0     0
           c5t5000CCA369C65150d0  ONLINE       0     0     0

errors: No known data errors
2011-05-09 02:02:38:  - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Woot!  Now I just need to backup the critical bits to an esata drive so I can store it offsite.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

ZFS and Scrubbing

So, I've been on call most of the last week, which basically means I can't stray from a PC for long, and so I've been messing with zfs scrub automation.

One of the nice things about zfs is that you can run a scrub, which will check for consistency, checksum and mirroring errors.  Since I'm using consumer grade drives, I want to run it once a week or so.  Using bits and pieces of scripts from across the interwebs, I've managed to cobble together a bash script that I run out of crontab.  Original was from here.  It runs once a week on sundays early in the morning and scrubs each of the files systems:

#!/usr/bin/env bash
#AUTHOR: gimpe
#EMAIL: gimpe [at]
#DESCRIPTION: Created on FreeNAS 0.7RC1 (Sardaukar)
# This script will start a scrub on each ZFS pool (one at a time) and
# will send an e-mail or display the result when everyting is completed.
# 0.2: 2009-08-27 Code clean up
# 0.1: 2009-08-25 Make it work
# scrub-your-zfs-file-systems-regularly/
# e-mail variables
SUBJECT="Scrub of Pools on smaug"

# arguments
# work variables
SEP=" - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - "

# commands & configuration

# print a message
function _log {
   DATE="`date +"%Y-%m-%d %H:%M:%S"`"
   # add message to e-mail body
   BODY="${BODY}$DATE: $1\n"
   # output to console if verbose mode
   if [ $VERBOSE = 1 ]; then
      echo "$DATE: $1"


# find all pools
pools=$($ZPOOL list -H -o name)
# for each pool
for pool in $pools; do
   # start scrub for $pool
   _log "starting scrub on $pool"
   zpool scrub $pool
   # wait until scrub for $pool has finished running
   while [ $RUNNING = 1 ]; do
   # still running?
   if $ZPOOL status -v $pool | /usr/xpg4/bin/grep -q "scrub in progress"; then
     sleep 60
   # not running
      # finished with this pool, exit
      _log "scrub ended on $pool"
      _log "`$ZPOOL status -v $pool`"
      _log "$SEP"
      # check for errors
      if ! $ZPOOL status -v $pool | /usr/xpg4/bin/grep -q "No known data errors"; then
         _log "data errors detected on $pool"

# change e-mail subject if there was error
if [ $ERROR = 1 ]; then
   SUBJECT="${SUBJECT}: Error(s) Detected"
# send e-mail
if [ $SENDEMAIL = 1 ]; then

So, of course, I wanted it to send me an email with the results of the scrub.  Since I didn't want to end up in sendmail hell, I ended up installing postfix, which is MUCH easier to use, and setup only took a couple of hours.  More on setting up postfix in another post.

Adventures with ZFS and Solaris

Ok, this post is somewhat off the beaten path for this blog, but I've been dorking around with Solaris and ZFS for the last month or two as a replacement for my Windows Home Server for serving media.  I'm still keeping the WHS server for backing up the PCs, but as a media server, the hitches casued by some of it's internal 'balancing' services was causing all manner of problems with high bit rate movies.

Using mostly spare parts, I built a X86 solaris box:

Quad core Core2
4GB Ram
7 2TB 7200rpm drives
2 500GB 5400 drives
Antec Twelve Hundred case

The two 500GB drives are mirrored and hold most of the filesystems (and the OS, swap, etc.)  I mirrored them using ZFS.

The seven 2TB drives are in a raidz2 configuration, which is much like raid6.  Which is to say that I can lose up to two drives of the array and be OK.  Gives me a net of 10TB.

I'm sharing the 'shares' pool via SMB across gigabit to the theater and my media machine, running XBMC, and so far, it's been awesome. Narry a hitch in sight.  So far, so good.