Category Archives: General Stuff

Test of my Havana setup

This is a simple test post to see how well my planned tech setup works. I’m typing this on a Logitech K380 Bluetooth keyboard, with my phone in a Stump stand. Wifi and cellular data are turned off. Here’s an embedded picture:


Why am I doing this? Well, Cuba doesn’t have much of an Internet infrastructure, both by design and by lack of investment. There are public wifi hotspots operated by ETESCA, the national PTT, and a functioning cellular data system. However, wifi access is limited to about 200 hotspots nationwide, and roaming data on AT&T is $2.05 per megabyte. My plan is to write blog posts and email while offline at la casa, then find a telepunto to upload and download once a day or so. I’ll still be able to send and receive ordinary texts and phone calls, but I don’t plan to given the expense. 

It’s an open question which real-time communications will work– I’ve read that consumer Skype and FaceTime are blocked, and that WhatsApp works. I don’t know about Signal, Facebook Messenger, or Skype for Business. My working assumption is that I’ll be reachable through at least one of these methods while I’m in wifi coverage, but if you really need to get a hold of me, use email.

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2016 in review: my reading list

Inspired by my mom, last year I started keeping a list of the books I read throughout the year. (See 2015’s list here). This year, I did the same, and I’m publishing it now in case anyone out there needs last-minute gift suggestions for a reader on their list. As with last year, I’ve added a brief summary for most of the books. Unlike last year, I’ve separated the books into categories, including a new “top 10” category. Although my list started in chronological order, unlike last year’s, it’s more or less random now.

Top 10

  • Boys in the Boat tells the story of the team that captured the Olympic men’s rowing medal at the Nazi-run 1936 Olympics. I never cared about rowing as a sport before. Riveting.
  • The Hybrid Athlete: the bible for concurrent strength and endurance training
  • Tyler Dilts‘ “Long Beach Homicide” series: A King of Infinite Space, The Pain Scale, A Cold and Broken Hallelujah, and Come Twilight. Superb writing and resonant, memorable characters.
  • Don Winslow’s two novels about the Mexican drug cartels, The Power of the Dog and The Cartel, are epic, almost literally (they aren’t poems, but they chronicle a hero’s journey). Except the hero is more of an anti-hero. Not light reading by any means, but rewarding.
  • Stephen King‘s Bill Hodges trilogy: Mr Mercedes (excellent audiobook, if that’s your thing), Finders Keepers, and End of Watch. This is King’s best stuff in a while— on a par with 11/22/63. King gives a master class in plotting, dialogue, and characterization throughout the 3 volumes.
  • Being Mortal: a difficult and thought-provoking read. Summary: we all die, so how can we make that process less wrenching for ourselves and our families?
  • Frozen in Time: combine the story of a doomed World War II bomber crew struggling to survive in the Arctic for months and the effort, 60 years later, to find their crash site, aircraft, and remains. Masterfully told.
  • Dave Hutchinson’s Europe trilogy: Europe in AutumnEurope at Midnight,  Europe in Winter. If you liked Gibson’s The Peripheral, you’ll love these. They’re far too rich and complex for my poor summarization skills to do them justice. Just read the first one, and you’ll see what I mean.
  • Redeployment: Phil Klay’s incredibly hard-hitting collection of short stories about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan should be required reading for everyone who’s ever put an “I SUPPORT OUR TROOPS” magnet on their minivan.

Nonfiction

  • You Are An Ironman: inspiring, but ultimately formulaic, chronicle of six athletes who train for the 2007 IRONMAN Arizona race. Still worth reading.
  • The Next Hour: The Most Important Hour in Your Logbook: if Richard Collins writes it, I want to read it. Not only is he an excellent writer, he is an extremely experienced pilot and this book taught me a great deal.
  • Full Body Burden: Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats: a memoir that juxtaposes the story of the author’s family disintegration and the growth of Rocky Flats… and the terrible pollution that followed.
  • Surely You’re Joking, Mr Feynman: a classic. I wish I could have met Feynman.
  • Masters of the Air: America’s Bomber Boys Who Fought the Air War Against Nazi Germany: I know a reasonable amount about aviation history, but until I listened to this book, I had no idea about the realities behind the bomber war in WW II. I am now doubly thankful for men like my grandfather, who flew and fought in an environment few of us can even imagine.
  • Thinking Pilots’ Flight Manual: interesting and useful collection of magazine columns. Some of the material’s not relevant to me (I won’t be landing ski-equipped airplanes any time soon) but there’s a lot of good stuff here.
  • Doper Next Door: summary: ordinary athlete starts testosterone replacement therapy. Hijinks mostly do not ensue. The author comes across as a self-involved man-child.
  • To Hell on a Fast Horse: meticulously researched history of the real story behind Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett. Pretty much everything I thought I knew about those two turned out to be wrong.
  • The Red Circle (audio): memoir of a Navy SEAL sniper. Tiresomely self-promotional and overall not nearly as good as I was hoping.

Science fiction

  • The Cat Who Walks Through Walls: one of Heinlein’s final books; sadly not as good as I remembered it
  • Farmer In the Sky: a Heinlein juvenile that holds up quite well 50+ years later
  • Imhotep: surprisingly enjoyable… think “A Connecticut Yankee In Pharoah’s Court”
  • Crux: terrific, complex thriller with tons of plot twists
  • Fold (audio): this narrowly missed my year’s top 10. I wish the protagonist were a real person so we could hang out.
  • Written in Fire: final volume in Sakey’s “Brilliance” trilogy. Superb.
  • Exigency
  • Going Dark: third volume of the Red Trilogy
  • Chains of Command: for my money, Marko Kloos writes better military science fiction than anyone else since Joe Haldeman
  • The Forever War: hasn’t lost any of its bite since its debut. People will still be reading this book in 50 years.
  • Rich Man’s War, Poor Man’s Fight, Dead Man’s Debt: Can’t pay your student debt? Join the military to work it off. Not as good as Kloos but not bad.
  • Ctrl-Alt-Revolt: skip this. Now I know I don’t need to read any more Nick Cole books.
  • Slavemakers: what if there’s an apex predator that threatens humanity’s survival? Gripping.
  • The Black: mysterious deep-sea life form emerges, starts tearing stuff up. Nice mix of horror and tech.
  • Flex: “interesting” is the right word to use here.
  • Year’s Best SF: a mixed bag. Three stars at best. Loved some of the stories, while others were super tedious (if I never see another Aliette de Bodard or Kelly Link story in this anthology, I’d be delighted).
  • Dave vs the Monsters: Emergence: completely implausible, featuring a crude and unpleasant anti-hero. Birmingham is a better writer than this would indicate.
  • Dave vs the Monsters: Resistance: worse than the first one.
  • Anomaly: more like a philosophy lesson than an SF book.
  • Something Coming Through: if aliens appeared on earth and said “we’re just here to help,” would you believe them? Should you?
  • Windsweptsurprisingly enjoyable tale of a labor organizer on a faraway planet. She’s a badass.
  • Extremes: tedious second novel in the Retrieval Artist series. Liked the first one, but probably won’t bother with the others now.
  • Stalin’s Hammer: Paris: novella set in the “Axis of Time” universe. Good, but too short.

Thriller / spy

  • The English Spy (audio): Silva never disappoints, and the narration on this is terrific.
  • The Fall of Moscow Station: I hope Mark Henshaw writes more books, and very soon. Terrific spy thriller.
  • The Wolves: Berenson’s yearly John Wells thriller. Reliably good.
  • Darknet: meh
  • Little Sister: if James Bond were a hacker, this might be a Bond novel. Enjoyable but lightweight.
  • Unforgettable: what if a weird quantum effect made it impossible for anyone to remember your existence? You could be a spy. But you probably couldn’t have a girlfriend. A clever idea, well executed in this book.
  • Tier One: a decent thriller, if predictable.
  • Ghost Fleet: naval and cyber war with China. Not nearly as good as I was expecting based on its hype. Poyer’s two Lenson novels dealing with the same topic are far better.
  • Traitor’s Story: a deceptively quiet but clever book
  • Disciple of the Wind: Steve Bain’s latest “Fated Blades” novel. Just as good as the others.
  • The Low Bird: novel of USAF pararescue operations in Vietnam. Quite good.
  • Onslaught: Navy Captain Dan Lenson and USS Savo Island are back on the job. Excellent depiction of battle at sea in the modern Navy.
  • Red Sparrow: very good debut by a former CIA officer. I look forward to more from him.
  • Lights Out
  • Hard Road

Mystery / crime

Other fiction

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Nifty new auto-vacation feature for Outlook on the Web

This is a great example of Microsoft bringing useful innovation to end users by deploying new features in Office 365:

Outlook on the web now makes it easier to clear your calendar and automatically decline meetings before you head out for some time away from the office. When you set an automatic reply in Outlook on the web, Outlook will offer to do the following on your behalf:

  • Block your calendar so people know you’re away.
  • Clear existing meetings on your calendar by declining/canceling them.
  • Automatically send a response to incoming invitations while you’re away.

Of course, Outlook and Exchange have long had the ability to automatically send an out-of-office (or “OOF”, from “out of facility“) message when you specify the dates when you’ll be away. These new features extend the traditional OOF behavior by adding some business logic to the OOF process– after all, when you’re out of the office, it is logical to assume that you won’t be accepting appointments during that time, and that you want new invitations to be automatically declined. (There are exceptions, of course, which is why you can turn this business logic off.) I’m not in love with the fact that this feature requires you to set your  works in Outlook on the web, but I’m hopeful that it will make it into other versions of Outlook at some point.

Apart from the specifics of this individual feature, it’s really encouraging to see the Outlook team invest in innovation like this. Given the large feature gap between Outlook on the web and Gmail (the only real enterprise competitor to Exchange/Outlook) it would be easy for the Outlook team to coast. Part of the ethos of building software at cloud speed involves iterating rapidly, and that in turn means sometimes you build something that turns out to get a lukewarm reception because it’s not as useful as first thought. (Tony argues that this is the case for Outlook’s support for likes and @ mentions.) However, sometimes you build something that turns out to be really nifty, and I think this feature is a good example– I look forward to seeing it roll out more broadly.

(for another time: I know not every tenant admin will want this feature turned on for their users without prior notice or permission, and Microsoft has a lot of room to improve the way they deliver features so that administrators can control user access to them.)

 

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I’m coaching Tri201

I’m excited to announce that I’m going to be volunteering as one of the coaches for Fleet Feet Huntsville’s Tri201 program. It’s designed to take people who are already at an intermediate level of fitness (including people who haven’t done a triathlon yet but have completed 10K or longer races and meet the de minimus swim and bike distance requirements) and prepare them to successfully complete the Rocketman Olympic triathlon in August. After completing Tri101 in 2014 and Tri201 last year, I’m really looking forward to share what I’ve learned in my short triathlon experience with a new group of athletes. If you live in metro Huntsville and are interested in triathlon, come check us out!

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Training Tuesday: just call me Sir Paul

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about my plan to seek Knighthood. That’s how I spent Saturday, March 19th: on a bike, communicating with my fellow CHP athletes (including Rafe, who wrote his own Knighthood recap) via Skype and Facebook, and pedaling. A lot.

(Side note: if you don’t know what I’m even talking about, you might want to poke around the Sufferlandria web site, which explains the culture, customs, and traditions of that mysterious land.)

I set up my bike on the trainer in my living room, using a dog crate to hold my laptop (for communications), my iPad (for streaming video from the Sufferfest app), and snacks. It was cool outside, so I opened several windows and turned on the ceiling fan; one of my gripes about riding indoors is that you don’t get the cooling breeze from forward motion because there isn’t any.

The Sufferfest videos are organized into a few general categories: racing, endurance, climbing, and so on. They feature a mix of sustained riding at a predetermined pace, intervals at specific power levels, and race simulations (which include both). There are attacks, breakaways, climbs, and all sorts of goodies.

Here’s what happened, as best as I remember.

I got up, had a cup of coffee, checked all my equipment, and had a banana and a protein shake. The night before, I’d laid in a huge cache of supplies, including Oreos, beef jerky, M&Ms, and a bunch of other stuff I wouldn’t normally eat. I weighed in at 199.3 pounds, got dressed, and headed towards Sufferlandria.

(n.b. Cyclists take note: each of the video links below includes a description, a short trailer, and a ride profile showing the intervals and intensity levels.)

We started promptly at 0730 my time with The Rookie (55 minutes). This video’s theme is that you are the newest rider on the Giant/Shimano team, so you start riding as a domestique but actually get to lead a breakaway by the end through 3 10-minute race intervals. I rode this scaled to 75% of my FTP, so my threshold was 146W, and the app was smart enough to scale my performance targets accordingly. The ride went well– I felt good when I was done. Refreshed, you might say.

Next up was 48 minutes of The Wretched, the overview of which starts with “Perhaps one of the most difficult Sufferfests, The Wretched is the tale of a Sufferlandrian who has fallen from Local Hero to Zero.” The conceit here is that you’re simulating a stage of the Tour de France, so there are attacks galore. This one went well too; after finishing I had a few handsful of trail mix and a few Oreos, along with another shake (consisting of 1 scoop of Karbolyn and 1 scoop of Optimum Nutrition vanilla protein powder; I nicknamed this a “pain shake” after the famous Sufferlandrian beverage).

Video 3 was A Very Dark Place (51 minutes). I definitely felt this one.  It featured 5 4-minute high-speed intervals, each with a different theme (solo breakaway, holding onto the race leader’s wheel, etc), which provided pleasant variety in the midst of the pain. I hadn’t done this or The Wretched before, so it was fun experiencing them for the first time while watching Rafe, Todd, and Torrey suffering on Skype.

Power Station, video 4, is 50 minutes of climbing– low cadence, high-power climbing that will burn your quads to a crisp. I’d ridden it before so I knew what to expect. It’s a tough workout, especially after the preceding three, but I am lucky in that I have really big quads and hamstrings relative to the rest of my legs (or my entire body for that matter). That makes me a crappy sprinter and a comical rider at 100+ rpm cadences, but I can handle hard low-cadence work.

I had some more snacks. In fact, you should assume that I snacked in between each video because that’s exactly what I did.

Video 5 was Angels, which I hadn’t ridden before: 3 8-minute climbs, which were not fun even a little tiny bit. I had just saddled up when Dana came over with the kids… and more snacks. They kept me company through both Angels and Nine Hammers, the following video. Both were tough but the company made the time pass much faster than I would have expected. Lilly drew me two signs, one for each video, and Dana made me what I must say was the best PB&J I have ever eaten.

Coach Alex prophetically said “this will be the worst part of the day” about video #7, Hell Hath No Fury… 75 minutes in which you race 2 20-minute race intervals against professional female cyclists. a 20-minute race interval is no joke; two of them back to back even less so. I was certainly feeling the burn by the end of this one. By this point, I was starting to have some persistent discomfort in the IT bands of both knees, as well as an occasional twinge in my left ankle. My legs were burning more or less constantly. I’d been taking Sportlegs, in which I am a firm believer, and they helped, but I found myself muttering Jens Voigt’s famous mantra: “shut up, legs.”

Video 8 was Do As You’re Told (47 minutes), which I think was the first Sufferfest video I ever rode. Familiarity didn’t make it any more pleasant; this video is all intervals / sprints, so it was punishing. I hung on, grimly, and used every second of the 10-minute break to refill my bottle, snack up, and stretch out my aching quads.

Video 9 was The Best Thing in the World (48 minutes). This is a flat-out lie, as it contains two 13:30 race simulations, which are not even close to the best thing in the world.

We closed with Blender (1 hour and 40 minutes). That’s right: 100 minutes of various intervals at the end of the quest. Many of the folks in the Knighthood-attempt Facebook group were horrified that we finished with this instead of doing it earlier, but that’s how Alex rolls. I was really dragging during some of these intervals; the recovery intervals weren’t nearly long enough to suit me. However, I managed to struggle through, finally dismounting the bike after successfully completing Blender, to loud cheers from the cat.

I staggered around the living room for a bit, then sat down. This was a bit of a mistake, because it was mighty hard to get up again. Luckily Dana and her kids brought me a pizza, which I gleefully consumed along with a Belgian beer I’d been saving for the occasion. After dinner, I filled out the Knighthood submission form, and earlier today I was rewarded with mail from the Minions containing this beauty:

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I’m eagerly looking forward to the rest of the Knighthood swag I’ve earned, including some custom bike decals. More than that, I’m thankful to have had the opportunity to raise nearly $3,000 for charity along with my CHP posse, and to have completed the single most challenging athletic event I’ve ever attempted. Many thanks to all who donated or who supported us with moral support, snacks, drawings, or PB&J sandwiches.

On to my 70.3!

 

 

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Training Tuesday: get knighted or die tryin’

I have become a big fan of the cycling training videos from The Sufferfest. They provide high-intensity workouts with a nifty backstory: you are a citizen of the nation of Sufferlandria, a cycling-obsessed country with a completely unique culture. The videos present various entertaining scenarios, such as riding high-power intervals for an hour and forty minutes or trying out for the Giant-Shimano cycling team. The videos are well-produced, feature great music, and are damn challenging.

One feature of Sufferlandrian culture is their titled nobility: Knights of Sufferlandria earn that title by completing 10 of the videos, back to back with no more than a 10-minute break in between. This totals out to between 10 and 13 hours of riding, depending on which videos you choose. There are some other rules, explained at the link above, but the bottom line is that you have to Suffer, ideally while raising money for charity, in order to earn the coveted title. Only about 600 people worldwide have done so… so naturally, when Alex Viada suggested that we do a group Knighthood attempt at CHP, I was all over it.

On Saturday, March 19, I will undertake to earn my Knighthood (along with Alex, Kelly, my lifting buds Derek and Rafe, and about a dozen coaches and athletes). Our team is spread all over the US and UK, and we’ll all be riding at the same time. As a team, we chose two charities: Oxfam and Puppies Behind Bars. “Who?” you ask. Here’s what PBB does:

Puppies Behind Bars (PBB) trains prison inmates to raise service dogs for wounded war veterans and explosive detection canines for law enforcement. Puppies enter prison at the age of eight weeks and live with their inmate puppy-raisers for approximately 24 months. As the puppies mature into well-loved, well-behaved dogs, their raisers learn what it means to contribute to society rather than take from it. PBB programs bring the love and healing of dogs to hundreds of individuals every year. The dogs bring hope and pride to their raisers, and independence and security to those they serve.

I am excited by this opportunity and look forward to Suffering for a good cause. Hopefully we’ll be able to get a live stream put together, too. I invite you to consider donating– 100% of the proceeds are going 50/50 to our two target charities.

For more details on the event, and to donate, please visit this page.

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Why I donated to the Sanders campaign

So here’s a sentence I never thought I’d write: I just gave Bernie Sanders’ campaign some money, despite the fact that I disagree with many of his specific beliefs and policies. Why did I make a campaign contribution?

  1. Sanders has a high degree of personal integrity. I would rather have a person of character and integrity with whom I disagree as our President than someone who’s politically closer to me but lacks those attributes.
  2. Hilary Clinton is fundamentally, thoroughly, reflexively corrupt and dishonest. The thought of her becoming President, and thus sweeping her equally corrupt clique of advisors and hangers-on into positions of power, repels me. If giving Bernie money helps keep her out of office, I’m ready to write a check.
  3. If elected, I don’t believe that the non-interventionist Sanders will be actively dangerous to our country. I can’t say the same about Clinton or any of the Republican contenders except perhaps Rand Paul– and let’s face it, there is no chance in hell that Paul will win the nomination. Sanders’ economic policies are unlikely to get broad traction in a Republican Congress, so I’m not concerned that he is single-handledly going to destroy the economy and the American way of life.
  4. None of the existing Republicans have shown that they deserve my support. Most of them fail on points #1 and #2 above, and the few who don’t (Kasich and Paul, maybe the somnolent Carson) have no chance of beating Clinton in a general election.
  5. In fact, the entire Republican party leadership has shown that they don’t deserve my support as evidenced by their shameful failure to recruit and promote good candidates. If you could take the list of current Republican candidates and their resumes back in time and show it to Eisenhower, Reagan, Carter, Johnson, or Kennedy they would be horrified.
  6. Because of the way our electoral system is currently structured, early money has a bigger leverage effect. If Sanders wins Iowa and/or New Hampshire, that will make him much more competitive against Clinton on Super Tuesday.

I’m definitely soft on Bernie. I’d love to see a last-minute convention miracle on the GOP side (or a well deserved, but unlikely, federal indictment of Secretary Clinton for mishandling of classified information), in which case I’d reconsider my support. But until then, I’m in for Bernie.

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