Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Clutch Repair: Round 1

A few days ago, the new clutch slave cylinder and braided stainless clutch line arrived. I asked Mr. Kimmelshue if he'd help me install them, and he said yes. I ran over to BAP Geon for some extremely over-priced ATE SuperBlue brake fluid, and got home yesterday with daylight left in the sky.

The project didn't seem too ambitious at first: remove the front passenger wheel, remove the slave cylinder, remove the soft line, and put in the new parts. No big deal.

Except that this car is 13 years old and spent its whole life in New Jersey. Yeah, it was a big deal. First we couldn't get access to any of the nuts for the clutch hard-lines, then we started to round them off where we could reach them.

I ran out for a 10mm flare wrench while Mr. K got the slave cylinder loose (plenty of space to reach it, but no room for a wrench). Eventually the hard line was so fouled that we decided to pull it and replace it, too. That meant the job would take several days of waiting for more parts, but there's a bonus: once I get the new hard line, I can assemble it, the stainless line, and the slave cylinder as one unit, install it, and fill it with fluid. Easy!

Baby Boys Don't Actually Bounce

They bounce right back, but they don't actually bounce.

This morning, Alastair decided to perform his first ever Ill-Conceived DareDevil Maneuver: lunging (and plunging) headlong off the bed.

Amanda felt awful, but there's no since crying too much about it: he'll be fine, and it happens to all parents. There comes that one moment when you know they're mobile, but you just don't realize how mobile until you turn your back for an instant.

She's keeping an eye on him for signs of concussion, but I doubt she'll see any. He does have a big ol' goose-egg knot on his head, though.

Poor little guy...

Monday, November 27, 2006


This weekend we took our change to the CoinStar machine. Ordinarily I don't believe in paying someone (or something) to count my money, but Amanda did some research and discovered that CoinStar is free if you use the money for an gift card.

Off we trundled with 4 milk jugs full of coins, and after feeding 515 quarters, 1026 dimes, and some number of nickels and pennies into the machine, we had our gift card!


Turkey Day was great. We got up bright and early, put Alastair in the car, and headed off to Greensboro, NC, for a tradition that dates back well before my time. This one meal is always my absolute favorite of the whole year, and Alastair and Amanda got to enjoy it with me!

Afterward, we went back to my grandmother's, where we stayed the night. Alastair did not appreciate being put to bed in his little tent, and he woke up and sat around for a while when we finally came to bed.

All in all, he did really well with family, but he got pretty cranky on the drive back home Friday. He's been a little sensitive all weekend, but that might have as much to do with teething as anything else. He has 5 now, and is trying to cut a 6th.

He's also unstoppable when he wants to get to something. Just laying in front of it is no longer a deterrent: he just climbs over me.

Anyway, that's all for now. Boy rocks, rocks, and work sucks. But that's life.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Alastair doesn't have time for Baby Steps

2 weeks ago, Alastair was fairly immobile. Sure, he could roll around and eventually get near where he wanted to be, but aside from some military-style elbow-crawling, he would pretty much stay where you put him.

About a week ago, he just got up and started crawling. No real catalyst or anything: apparently he just decided it was time to be mobile.

Then on Thursday, Amanda called and told me that Alastair had stood up in his crib and knocked the monitor into the floor. This was a first, but for the rest of the day, he stood up wherever he was. I lowered the crib when I got home, to keep him from pitching over the side, but he's undeterred. He's standing half the time we go in to get him up, and he's started motoring around on his feet inside the crib.

He'll take steps across the den floor (provided you're holding him), and took a nasty tumble when he stepped off the rug in his socks last night.

Finally, it seems he's getting interested in learning to speak. Amanda had him in her lap on Saturday, and Vivienne jumped up into my lap. He looked at her and shouted something that sounded for all the world like "kitty!". Later that night, his grandmommy was watching him, and she handed him his stuffed duck. He shouted "duh", or something very much like it. When I enter the room, he sometimes says "da da... dadadadadadada" (of course, he also sits around and mutters this when he's playing, so I'm probably reading too much into that one).

In short, the kids picking up skills like crazy, and treating them as if he'd been doing them for months already. I think he waits for Amanda to leave the room, then jumps up and runs around practicing all his advanced maneuvers.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Broke Down, Busted, Brutal Week

I'm submitting a timesheet for 64.5 hours tomorrow. I don't often get overtime, and when I do, it's generally 3 or 4 hours in a week. A couple of times I've submitted 50 hour timesheets, but this week I worked over 1.5 weeks in 6 days.

My Life in Hell started Tuesday night, with a fun-filled evening of backing up 162GB of data, replacing one rack of old & busted servers with a new rack of shiny new servers, and moving an extremely heavy RAID system. I was at work until 1am, and when I tried to leave work, I learned that my car (the Miata) was busted, too. I couldn't engage any gear with the car running, and the car wouldn't start with a gear engaged. The problem? A leaky clutch slave cylinder. I had a coworker help push me out of my parking spot, then push my car to a running start, whereupon I jumped in and wrangled it into gear. I couldn't bring the car back to a complete stop without killing the engine, which would mean getting it back to a running start, so I had to run a red-light on my way home.

Fortunately, the Miata's transmission is very amenable to clutch-less shifting, so I got home quite safely (it was, after all, after 1am, so there was very little traffic). I remembered on Wednesday afternoon that I have access to the Mazda Motorsports Development Program, which gets me steep discounts on parts, so I ordered up a new slave cylinder and a braided stainless clutch line.

But the week was just warming up.

Wednesday afternoon began the joy of conference calls. We were migrating a set of systems from being hosted locally to a remote site, which called for testing in a staging enclave, removing the systems from our domain, dropping the remote systems in the production network, joining them to the domain, and then ensuring connectivity.

Only nobody ever bothered to analyze the infrastructure systems to see what hurdles we might encounter. As soon as our proxy servers were stood up in the production network, we lost them. Countless hours were spent on a "war line" with reps from our site, their site, and even some outside experts who tried to lend a hand.

I got home every night from Wednesday to Friday sometime between 5 and 6 pm, got on conference calls from 7 to 8:30, and then back on more calls around 9pm, which would, in turn, end at around 10 or 10:30. Friday I got to work early, still trying to troubleshoot our busted proxy servers, but finally with a plan.

It was 10pm Friday night before I finally got one of our load-balanced proxy servers working correctly, and much later before I got the other busted one taken off the network.

Then Saturday morning I got up and tried to get to the one remaining system to get configured and redeployed. It wasn't until several hours later that I finally get a tech on the phone and got him to reset the system before I could log onto it. 5 hours after that, the system was essentially hosted.

Throughout the week, I think I saw my son for a grand total of about 6 or 7 hours. Saturday was better, but I was on the phone while interacting with him, which is less than ideal.

I'm so pooped I think I'll be in bed by 9:30 tonight. But first, I have to get through my 7pm conference call. Fun.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Maymont Rocks!

Friday was a federal holiday, so I got to spend the day with Amanda and Alastair. We decided we were way overdue for a trip to Maymont, so after his morning nap, we packed boy and a lunch into the CR-V and headed off.

After a great lunch under a big shady tree (with Boy grabbing at every leaf), we headed over to the Nature Center, where the river otters live. Sadly, they weren't to be seen, but Alastair positively flipped out over the aquariums. He loved seeing the big fish right at eye-level. He loved watching the water, and the Sun reflecting through the water. He loved the turtles, and reached for them. He even loved the catfish, sturgeons, and eels. The owls weren't a big hit, but primarily because they didn't really move.

After the Nature Center, we trucked his butt back down the extremely steep hill and over past the aviary, along the little creek. At this point the Sun was bothering him, so we quickly trudged up to the fox pen. For the first time ever, we saw both foxes. They were relaxing and lounging around like the kitties, which made Beeboo get all giddy (he LOVES the kitties). After he'd watched the foxes and flirted with all the passers-by, we moved on to the deer.

One of the deer was right up at the fence, and we got within a couple of feet of him. Alastair was reaching like crazy, and started to get a bit silly. We then went on to see the bull, and there was another mommy there with her young son. She was feeding the bull grass, and that just delighted Alastair to no end. He was twisting and writhing and kicking like crazy.

THEN we went to see the goats and sheep. Two of the goats came over to check him out. Again: thrilled. Then on to the baby goats, the geese, the hens, bunnies, and pigs, and throughout it all you'd have thought the kid was in heaven. He was laughing and just such a joy to behold.

The whole experience barely lasted 2.5 hours, but he was beat. We'd no more than pulled out of the parking lot before he passed out, and he napped for almost 3 hours.

That was probably the most fun we've ever had as a family of 3.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Hate Crime

Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of Law:
a crime that violates the victim's civil rights and that is motivated by hostility to the victim's race, religion, creed, national origin, sexual orientation, or gender

American Heritage Dictionary:
A crime motivated by prejudice against a social group

Yesterday, Virginia put it's first legislated hate crime on the books. Good job, Virginia.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Virginia needs all its citizens to vote NO

I feel like I could write for hours on this, but I'm so emotionally wrapped up about it that I'll probably go awry in the first couple paragraphs...

On Tuesday, Virginians vote on whether or not to amend our constitution to only recognize marriage as a legal union between 1 man and 1 woman. Same-sex marriages and "common law" marriages will be officially precluded if this amendment passes. Depending on one's interpretation of the amendment, anyone under 18, even if they petition for the right to marry, will be denied.

We're treading on dangerous ground here. Never before has Virginia placed constitutional restrictions on the rights of its citizens. The US has denied the vote to African Americans and women, but constitutional amendments explicitly later granted those rights. The US also banned alcohol, and that didn't work out too well, either.

That forces the question: what is a constitution? As far as I understand it, it's a framework for government and a list of basic rights never to be denied. You won't find any statements that begin "No person shall..." in a well-written constitution. It is supposed to declare how the government will be arranged, the proper method to redress grievances and prosecute offenders, and declare where the legislative bodies may not tread.

In a sense, we look to our constitution to guarantee our freedom.

I've heard from my cube-mate that we can always overturn the amendment, but that scares me even more. If we start kicking our constitution around every few years as a method of political grandstanding, what good is it? Soon we'd find new amendments making it easier to make even more new amendments, and most of our legislation would fall out of the purview of the courts.

Imagine a world where moral legislation is out of reach of the courts. That would allow the majority party to present unchallengable legislation to the voters, who, by and large, tend to vote yes to anything they don't understand.

Speaking of which, what business do we have legislating morality anyway? How is it that "conservatism" has come to be synonymous with moral law? My understanding is that a true conservative believes in minimal government. I suppose that makes the Libertarian party the party of choice for those who don't care what you do in your own home.

Back on target...

I've read various statistics over the years, but the general consensus is that non-heterosexuals (homo-, trans-, bi-, tri-, etc) comprise somewhere between 10% and 12% of the general population. That's similar to the overall percentage of African Americans in the US. What we're effectively doing is deciding on Tuesday if sexuality comprises a minority, and if that minority deserves the same treatment as other historical minorities.

Nobody would ever assay to deny African Americans the right to marry, and yet there are statistically almost as many homosexuals. But African Americans stood up for their rights, and they're easy to recognize. For all you know, the man or woman right next to you could be gay. But the fact that you can't tell makes that person an easy person to victimize. A victim without a face isn't a victim, right? This is the logic used by millions of people who steal copyrighted songs and movies every single day.

But now were trying to legislate against this faceless force. They're "just a bunch of gays". Many people believe they're out to get their children, or that somehow they undermine the fabric of our society. If that's true, then so do black people. Because they compose as much a part of our societal structure as any other minority group.

Last point, and I'll shut up: the "sanctity of marriage".

What exactly is that? Is there an assertion that marriage is a holy, unbreakable union ordained by God, the State, and man? I don't deny that my marriage is ordained by God, the State, and me, but while I'd like to think that mine is unbreakable, statistics say there's a 50% chance that I'm wrong.

Furthermore, how does God fit into the equation when you're looking at this from a legislative perspective? The US Constitution, in its un-sullied Bill of Rights, guarantees freedom of religion. If my religion does not include God, then that point is moot.

Ah, but what if my religion recognizes unions between 2 men? Constitutionally, I'm guaranteed the right to practice my religion uninhibited. That right supercedes the Virginia constitution through the 10th Amendment to the US constitution, which precludes states from reversing the rights and laws of the US Constitution.

Most would agree that the above scenario is pedantic and unlikely, but there are churches popping up explicitly for this purpose.

Without losing sight of the goal, the point is simple: this amendment does nothing good and a lot bad. It precludes common-law marriage, preventing long-term noncommitted lovers from having any legal right to make power-of-attorney arrangements for their loved ones (without explicit authorization). It doesn't actually preclude homosexual unions, since there's already a law against that, but it does take the issue away from the courts (our only constitutionally mandated system for redress of grievances). It attempts to deify heterosexual unions, which have a 1 to 2 failure rate. And last, but not least, it disenfranchises a huge minority.

What's next: separate bathrooms and drinking fountains for gay people? Mandatory bussing of homosexuals to all school districts? Come on folks! We're already mucking around in the constitution, what would you like? I say no more Cherry Garcia ice cream. That stuff always freaked me out.