Monday, March 24, 2014

I don't do hobbies very well

Years ago I got into rock climbing. Ordinarily this would be No Big Deal, as many other people were into rock climbing at the time. All I should have needed was a harness, shoes, maybe a chalk bag, and partial ownership of a rope. But that is not how I do things. I had to have my own rope, rope bag, helmet, spare harness (just in case), webbing, carabiners, ascenders, belay devices, and eventually a rappelling rope, because you know: the elasticity is different.

Then came computers. I worked as a tech at several PC shops around town, so I collected everything I could get my hands on, while my rock climbing equipment gathered dust. I had, at one time, a computer room with no heat or AC that stayed warm in the Winter and blistering in the Summer because it had 8 workstations in about 80-sq-ft of space. This obviously wouldn't do, so I built a rack with help from a friend, and grew my collection to 11 workstations, a KVM to manage it all, a domain (for educational purposes, dontcha know), a huge homemade L-shaped desk built on 4x4 posts, laser printers, color printers, laptops, Macs, and I think at one point a Linux box that I was never quite sure what to do with.

Then came fitness. In 2002 (I think?) I signed up for a gym membership. Numbers became my obsession. Weight, weights, reps, cardio. 3 nights per week, 2.5 hours at a time. Rock climbing equipment came back out for a brief foray, but how can you track numbers if you're out getting dirty on the rocks? You can't: that's how. So back into the shed it went, and over the next 3 years I got into a shape that I was VERY pleased with. I even ran my first 5K. Numbers were my life.

Then I found a new set of numbers. Horsepower. Torque. Lap times. Towing capacities. PSI. Fuel-flow rates. I (have) spent 8 years (so far) chasing automotive performance numbers, while blithely ignoring the financial numbers (I do track them, but it's far more depressing).

When the race car broke, that attention turned to slot cars. 15 digitally-chipped cars, ~80 meters of track, a purpose-built 8'x8' table, and 2 digital powerbases can attest to that. Since we won't have full-time access to the house until June or July, though, that's on hold. Le sigh.

So when I decided to buy my son a new bike a few months ago, it should have come as absolutely no surprise to anyone that I would obsess over it. They tell you to buy the biggest frame your kid can fit on, so that your kid will get the most use out of the bike. But at his size, he could barely hold the steel bikes that fit him upright. So I looked at aluminum and bought him the nicest thing I could afford: a Specialized Hot Rock 24'. It's nice, light, and while it's huge for an 8-year-old, the seat post fits low enough into the frame to just barely fit him. This bike should honestly last him several years.

So if he can have a nice bike, why shouldn't I? Uh oh.

I got it in my head about a month ago that my old bike, a Roadmaster Savage 21-speed, is just painful to use. It was inherited, so it was never sized properly, and half of the hardware has spent way too much time in the elements. Riding with my son would not be fun on the ol' rusty girl.

I started looking, and realized that I didn't want to spend more than $1000, because I know how poorly I do hobbies. I looked at Specialized, Trek, and ultimately a Giant Roam 2. It has hydraulic brakes, Shimano Acera shifters, all aluminum construction, a 27-speed drivetrain, and rang in way under the prices of similarly-equipped bikes from other brands.

But as soon as the credit card came out, I realized I'd done it again. 4 days have passed since I bought the bike, and in that time I've ordered luggage racks & luggage (for picnics in the park!), lights, lock, bottle cage, cell phone mount, tools, gloves, and I'm starting to look at cycling clothes (blech). I've found an app that can track my rides and report on fitness numbers (because after gaining ~20lbs in the past 2 years, that obsession is back in full force, too), and I'm actively looking for parent/child cycling groups. I found a bike-rack that Katelyn's parents gave me a couple years ago which now lives in the Miata's trunk, and Alastair and I went for rides both Saturday and Sunday.

And now that I've ridden with him, I'm getting itchy to upgrade his bike. With only 7 speeds, he does a great job climbing, but has no cruise speed to speak of (front derailleur: $$$), and his rim-brakes are always on, even when they're not, so he cannot coast very well (disc brakes: $$).

But so far, while my butt may be a bit sore, we are LOVING our bikes. Alastair has never really had an opportunity to get out and ride free, and the idea of tossing the bikes on the back of the car and just going out to explore has really resonated with him. And now that I can get my all-important data, I think we've found our 2014 obsession.

Maybe my 2015 obsession will be 'saving for retirement', because so far that's not a hobby I've excelled at.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Here Be Dragons

The inside of my head is a terrifying place.

This evening I sat down to bang out a dispassionate reply to a business email, and before I knew it I had as many Powershell sessions open on about as many servers as my wife does tabs in Chrome. I will point out that her idea of browsing the internet typically comprises opening a tab for every page. She commits chromacide on a regular basis.

So there I was, trying to put together a simple checklist for a simple request, when I started wondering the stupidest thing ever to wonder before bed: what if? What if I was wrong about access restrictions? What if I can't manage this step? What if I try these steps in a stable environment?

Seemed simple enough, but invariably those questions lead me to the discovery that the 'stable environment' I intended to test was not quite so stable, and that of course meant more work, diagnostics, testing, querying, ooh-shiny-object-ing, and suddenly I'm migrating file servers in the middle of the night. And demoting domain controllers. And testing attribute-manipulation and export. And by God if I've gone that far, why not migrate DHCP and print servers? Maybe it's time for some overdue patching, too. Wonder if those SQL databases are in production. Why not screw around with those, too? And now I'm remembering why in hell I logged onto a RADIUS server 2 hours ago and abandoned the session.

It's a terrifying thing to be in here with all this crap. There's hardly any room for me. Because in spite of what I may be accomplishing in the middle of the night for my clients, I have yet to suspend my home phone or my satellite service, in spite of the fire having been almost 2 weeks ago.

But that's another part of my brain. One that I truly do not like to access: the one that uses the phone. Phones make me angry on principle. I find it far simpler to convey my thoughts in written form than verbally, even though others tend to disagree after reading one of my technical documents. I can be more specific where I think it's necessary and gloss over the minutiae. When I'm on the phone I tend to blather and over-share (who, me?), and I have trouble hearing people clearly on the other end. And the delay that cell phones impose is enough to make me want to scream. I...did...no, you...sorry...wha...GODDAMMITFUCKALLWHOGETSTOTALKFIRST?

So rather than take care of a few undoubtedly simple phone calls that would make me stop paying for services that I can't currently use, I sit here in the dark banging away at Powershell commands, making incredible discoveries that greatly simplify my job and increase my capacity to service my clients, assuming I remember them in the morning.

And wait...wasn't I working on some sort of checklist?

Dragons, indeed.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Le Feu, Part Deux

Today was a flurry of meetings and contractors and business cards and epic unyielding cold. We got to the house promptly at 9:30am to meet the cause & origins expert, who showed us a most startling thing: the fire started not necessarily by original 1973 aluminum wiring, but by a fascinating bundle of totally not-up-to-code wiring that included:

  • At least 2 14-3 in-wall wires, possibly aluminum
  • several low-voltage wires, including at least 2 for the alarm system and one phone line
  • an orange outdoor 10A or 13A extension cord, used as proper wiring
All of this was zip-tied together.

To make things even more interesting, this bundle of bullshit was draped over a joist and rubbing against a nail. Seems it's time to have a talk with both the home inspector and the home warranty folks...

The other fascinating revelation was that the abandoned home security system did not, in fact, save our lives. Of all things, it was the doorbell. That bundle of low-voltage wires also included a line from the side door buzzer, and when the wires all melted into one, what was coming out of the speaker was the 60Hz hum of standard household current. So there ya go, folks: don't bother with fancy smoke detectors, just lay wiring for your doorbell all across the crawlspace of your house (I kid--don't do that).

After the cause & origins guy got started, the electronics cleaners came and cataloged all of my fun toys. They also did me the courtesy of writing off every appliance we weren't in love with in our kitchen, from the dated refrigerator to the slapdash cheap-o dishwasher to the 15-year-old microwave oven I've dragged along on every move since I first paid a rent. Those guys, bless 'em, were there for almost 9 hours. We evidently had a bunch of crap. They even took the washer & dryer.

Then while they were going the structural adjustor showed up with her crew and the fire restoration guy, and they gave me an overview of what will be replaced, what options I have in selecting my new stuff, even telling me that any structural upgrades we want to pursue can be done at the same time. Yay!

Finally the property adjustor showed up and wrote off some damaged furniture and estimated the amount of food we will have lost.

All that's left is for the temporary housing company to find us a home to live in for the next 3 to 4 months, and demo should begin just about immediately.

It's weird to walk into the house now. With all the fabrics and electronics removed, it looks kind of like either we were fleeing Chernobyl, or we're in the process of moving out. Plus it's only about 42 degrees in there, so interesting other things are happening, like the floors are becoming uneven. Crown-molding is separating from the ceiling. It looks really sad. Alastair went in on the first day--it was important for him to see that the house and his stuff were ok--but I don't think I'll take him back in unless he really needs something specific until reconstruction is under way. He misses the house dreadfully, but he's hanging in there.